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26.03.2015 20:34    Comments: 0    Categories: Weekly Parashah      Tags: torah  shabbat  parashah  tzav  

Crime and Criminals: To Hide or Publicize?

Leviticus 6:17-18 reads: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons thus: This is the ritual of the sin offering: the sin offering shall be slaughtered before the Lord, at the spot where the burnt offering is slaughtered: it is most holy.” Rabbi Levi, citing Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish, comments on this verse in the Jerusalem Talmud, Yevamot 8.3: The sin offering shall be slaughtered before the Lord, at the spot where the burnt offering is slaughtered—in order not to publicize the sinners.” Korban ha-Edah explains this remark: “A place of its own was not designated for the sin-offering so that onlookers would not know it was a sin offering and thus [the person bringing the offering] would be shamed.”

The idea of not making a person’s sin known publicly in order not to shame the person can be found in several other sources of the Sages. For example, the Babylonian Talmud (Sotah 32b) says: “Why was it instituted that the ‘prayer’ [Amidah] should be recited softly? So as not to put transgressors to shame; for behold, Scripture made no distinction as to the place of a sin-offering or burnt-offering!”[1] Rashi interprets this: “In order not to embarrass transgressors who might be confessing their sins in their prayers.”

Midrash Ha-Gadol says on this verse in Leviticus: “Transgressors are not made public in order to encourage them to repent. No other offering is specified as being made in the same place as another offering, save for the guilt-offering, which is like the sin-offering.” Midrash Tadshe[2] further elaborates, relying on the verse (19) that follows:

[The priest who offers it as a sin offering shall eat of it;] it shall be eaten in the sacred precinct, in the enclosure of the Tent of Meeting—Why was it decreed that the priests not eat the sin-offering of an ordinary priest outside the Sanctuary, but rather within the enclosure of the Tent of Meeting? So that no one finds out that the ordinary priest had sinned and he be shamed.

In other words, the priest is to eat his portion of the sin-offering in the enclosure of the Tent of Meeting and not outside so that he not be able to identify the person who brought the sin-offering and know that he indeed had sinned.

As mentioned, the Amidah prayer is recited silently so that others not hear individuals’ petitions to be forgiven for their sins. Thus the commentary attributed to Rashi[3] explains the text in Tractate Avot (5.5) about one of the ten miracles that occurred in the Temple, namely that “people would stand crowded together, but when they prostrated themselves they had room between them”—when they would bow down before the Divine Presence to petition and beg of the Lord, each according to his needs, there were four arms’ lengths between one person and the next, “so that one person not hear the prayers of his fellow.” Suffice this for now.

Likewise, we read in Moshav Zekenim by the Tosafists, in the name of Rav Hai Gaon:

Therefore there were four arms’ lengths between one person and the next, so that no one hear the confession of the other and become disgraced in the other’s eyes, for the Torah took care to keep the transgressor discrete.

This general principle, acknowledging the transgressor’s right to dignity to the extent of covering up his sin, is far from simple. All the sources cited above deal with sinners who wished to repent, and brought a sin-offering or prayed to the Lord for forgiveness and pardon. But what about a person who persists in sinful ways and shows not the slightest inkling of repentance? Are the wrongdoings of such a person also to be covered up? Explicit reference to this is found in Numbers Rabbah (21.4) with regard to publicizing Zimri’s name (Num. 25:14):

The name of the Israelite who was killed, the one who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri son of Salu, chieftain of a Simeonite ancestral house—just as the Holy One, blessed be He, concerns Himself with the praise of the righteous, to publish it throughout the world, so He concerns himself with the blame of the wicked, to publish it throughout the world. He made Phinehas famous and Zimri infamous. Of them it says, The memory of the righteous shall be for a blessing; but the name of the wicked shall rot (Prov. 10:7).[4]

Maimonides writes in his commentary on the Mishnah (Avot 1.17):

The fourth part, which is to be desired, is speaking in praise of logical and estimable virtues, and in condemnation of deficiencies of both types…praising the rabbis and recounting the importance of their good qualities in order to make their practices favored in the eyes of man, so they follow in their ways, and censuring the wicked and their deficiencies, in order that their deeds and their memory be distasteful in the eyes of man, and they keep themselves apart from them and not follow in their ways.

Rabbenu Yonah writes:[5]

If the sinner is a person who does not fear G-d, such as those who reject the commandments, and is not mindful to avoid a specific transgression that all around him know is a transgression, he may be put to shame and denounced. For thus our Rabbis said (Bava Metzia 59a): “What is meant by the verse, ‘Do not wrong one another’?—Wrong not [with words] those who are with you in learning and good deeds.” But those who pay no heed to the word of the Lord may be put to shame for their deeds, their abominable ways may be proclaimed, and derision may be poured out on them. They said further (Yoma 81b): “One should expose hypocrites to prevent the profanation of the Name.” However, if someone happens to sin by way of reading [of Scripture] and most of his life he is careful to avoid sinning, then his transgression should not be made public, as we have explained.

The message is that a person who sins and persists in evil ways may, and even must, be publicly exposed. This publicity is intended to keep others away from him and his ways. With a person who is widely accepted by others, and whom people follow, public denouncement is not a transgression rather an obligation, to warn the people and keep them away from sin.

In this regard one should note Professor Nahum Rakover’s words of warning in his important book, Gadol Kavod ha-Briyot:[6]

One must closely examine when, how, and to what extent it is permissible to denounce the wicked. Before doing anything to hurt the transgressor one must first be sure that the attitude towards the transgressor does not stem from ignoring human dignity, nor is the result of personal relations, but is for the sole purpose of punishment or deterrence, all the while weighing the opposing values with the utmost caution.

May we be blessed with knowing when to publicize and when to avoid doing so.[7]

Translated by Rachel Rowen

* Prof. Daniel Sperber is President of the Ludwig and Erica Jesselson Institute for Advanced Torah Studies and a recipient of the Israel Prize, 1992.

[1] The gemara goes on to raise the issue: “But it is not so, for there is a difference in the treatment of the blood. The blood of a sin-offering [was applied] above [the red line which ran round the altar], whereas the blood of a burnt-offering [was applied] below it!—Only the priest would know that. There is, however, the difference that for a sin-offering a female animal was sacrificed and for a burnt-offering a male!—Being covered by the fat tail [the sex would not be recognized].”

The Sages raised the objection that there is a difference regarding where the blood is sprinkled, the blood of the sin-offering being sprinkled above the halfway line of the altar, and the blood of the burnt-offering below the halfway line. This is answered: the priest officiating knows, but others who are standing there do not. Another issue raised was that of a visible difference in the offerings, namely that female animals are given as sin-offerings while males, as burnt-offerings, so one can see what the person brings. This is answered: the sex of the female animal is hidden under the tail and not readily visible. See Lev. 4:24: “He shall lay his hand upon the goat’s head, and it shall be slaughtered at the spot where the burnt offering is slaughtered before the Lord; it is a sin offering.” That spot is the north side of the altar, as it says of the burnt offering in Lev. 1:11: “It shall be slaughtered before the Lord on the north side of the altar.”

[2] A. Jellinek, Beit ha-Midrash, 2nd edition, Jerusalem 1938, part 3, p. 182.

[3] Joseph Wikhleder, Ha-Pulmus “Mi Hibber et Perush Rashi le-Avot?” [The Debate over the Authorship of the Rashi Commentary on Avot], Ha-Mevasser Torani, 6-12 Tamuz 2011.

[4] Numbers Rabbah, Soncino ed., Vol. 6, p. 830.

[5] Sha`arei Teshuvah, 3.219.

[6] Jerusalem 1999, p. 40

[7] Of course there are other aspects to this issue, such as the attitude one should take towards bad-mouthing and gossip; on this see the Hafetz Hayyim Hilkhot Issurei Rekhilut, rule 9. Also see the Ministry of Justice’s booklet by N. Rakover, “Ma`amado shel `Avaryan she-Ritza `Onsho” [“The Status of a Criminal who Has Served His Time”], Jerusalem 1970 (in Sidral Mehkarim u-Sekirot ba-Mishpat ha-Ivri, booklet 5), later great expanded upon in his book, Takanat ha-Shavim: `Avaryan she-Ritza et `Onsho, Jerusalem 2007, especially pp. 88-93 there.

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