Over the last two weeks, three Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized (St. Louis, Philadelphia and then Rochester). In addition to the vandalized cemeteries, we have also been witnessing bomb threats at JCC’s and Jewish schools around the country including at our very own Bender JCC in Rockville and at the CESJDS. These events are very distressing and they must stop.
At the same time, we have seen unprecedented gestures of support from those outside of the Jewish community. Now that I am on facebook, I have learned about all of these amazing things! Last week, a crowd-funding campaign was started by two American Muslims to raise money to restore the vandalized cemeteries and provide funds for targeted Jewish organizations. The Campaign raised more than $150,000. One of the organizers of the campaign, Tarek El Messidi of Philadelphia, was planning on going out of town on Sunday night. When he heard that a second Jewish cemetery was vandalized on Sunday in Philadelphia, he cancelled his trip so that he could help mobilize the Muslim community to support the clean up!
Finally, there is a new campaign made of Muslim US Army veterans who are volunteering to stand guard outside synagogues, JCC’s and cemeteries. I literally saw posts from Muslims saying “my name is ________. I am a Muslim American Army Veteran living in _______. If your Jewish Organization needs protection, please contact me.”
But, I also learned (from Facebook of course!) that some in the Jewish community are not so excited about these gestures of generosity coming from the Muslim community. People are questioning motives and wondering if this will legitimize and normalize positions on Israel (including BDS) which are held by some of the Muslim do-gooders. I have been thinking that one of the saddest outcomes of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is that when someone offers the Jewish community a gesture of love and support, instead of accepting it and saying “Thank You,” we feel like we have to immediately ask, “what is the their angle?” Why are they doing this? Is it good or bad for the Jews and Israel?”
Please don’t misunderstand me. I understand the questions. Support for the State of Israel is very important and BDS is a very dangerous movement. It just saddens me that we are so traumatized that we cannot just be a normal recipient of a gesture of support and just say thank you.
So does our Tradition have anything to say about this issue? What should we do when people, with whom we strongly disagree on Israel, offer to help us here with our cemeteries and JCC’s?
The Shulchan Aruch (16th century code of Jewish Law) has a very strong statement that would seem to oppose not only taking money or support from pro-BDS Muslims but from any non-jew.
אסור לישראל ליטול צדקה מן העובד כוכבים בפרהסיא (יורה דעה רנ"ד)
“It is forbidden for a Jew to take charity from a non-jew in Public.” (Yoreh Deah #254)
This is pretty explicit but don’t worry! There are many rabbinic workarounds, so if you can find someone who is not jewish to retire our shul’s mortgage, we will accept the donation!
Why would the Shulchan Aruch forbid us from taking money from Non-Jews?
Rashi explains (on the gemara which is the source of this halacha) that it is a Chilul Hashem (a desecration of G-d’s name).
Why would it possibly be a Chilul Hashem to accept charity from non-jews?
Rabbi Mordechai Yoffie (author of 16th century halachic work called, “Levush”), offers a fascinating insight as why it would be a Chilul Hashem to accept charity from non-jews.
אומרים, אין אומה זו יכול לפרנס את ענייה (this is from memory, I still need to find exact quote – NA)
People will say that this nation (the Jews) cannot or will not take care of their own poor. This is why it is a Chilul Hashem. Could you imagine if we had security concerns at our Beth Sholom cemetery and then Muslim or Christians seeing that we were not taking care of it, volunteered to stand guard. It would be a Chilul Hashem.
Could you imagine if we couldn’t find enough volunteers to do Bikur Cholim or support our schools and shuls and Muslims volunteered and offered funds to support our needs. Could you imagine if holocaust survivors in our community were in need (they are) and Muslims seeing that we were not taking care of our own, raised money for them, this would also be a chilul Hashem.
This is the basic halacha and I think it still makes sense today unless we make the following shift which I will demonstrate from another amazing story that I heard about on Facebook!
Two weeks ago a mosque in Tampa was greatly damaged after an arson attack. Adil Kareem (a muslim member of the mosque) set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to repair the mosque. He raised nearly $60,000 in a week but realized that many of the donations were coming in at $18 and $36. This was certainly strange! He then looked at the names which were, Schwartz and Levine and Goldberg….
He then learned that Jews give in increments of Chai – 18. He was blown away, He reported this on facebook and concluded his post with #chaidelivered!
This is the answer to the the Shulchan Aruch’s prohibition of receiving money from non-jews. It assumes a society in which each faith community would only think about supporting itself. If the Jews need Muslims or Christians to help it is a Chilul Hashem as it demonstrates that we cannot or are unwilling to take care of our own. If, however, we are supporting torched mosques and Muslims are donating to our JCC’s and cemeteries, it is not a Chilul Hashem. It is the greatest Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name)! We are showing that we are united against Hate and ready to embrace the Tzelem Elokim (image of G-d) in all of us!
To be sure, we each have and should have our own parochial and religious specific needs. We should of course do everything to affirm our uniqueness in a world where sometimes everything seems to be just one big melting pot. But, where we can come together against hate and show love and support for each other, this is beautiful! This is a Kiddush Hashem. I pray that we can continue to find ways to strengthen these bonds and begin a much needed process of healing the rifts between the Jewish and Muslim communities.