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What should I do if I see someone violating the Torah?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht


Library » Mitzvot » Prohibitions | Subscribe | What is RSS?


A. The Torah addresses all sides of life, including the idea of “do your own thing.” With the Torah lifestyle, there’s no such thing as doing your own thing and letting others do theirs. If you see your friend violating the Torah, don’t say, “Hey, I’m cool... it’s your own thing!” Positive Mitzvah #205 says you gotta tell him to stop. HOWEVER (and that’s a very big however):

B. Any criticism must be motivated by love; any words of criticism must be saturated with palpable love. If you’re the criticizer and he’s the criticizee, make sure the words you say are words you’d listen to yourself. Think of him as your brother: what would you say to your brother in the same situation? Now, say those things to your friend. And don't stop his Torah violation by embarrassing him — publicly embarrassing a fellow Jew is Negative Mitzvah #303.

Think of him as your brother: what would you say to your brother in the same situation? Now, say those things to your friend
The main thing to think about is: Am I rebuking him for his good or am I doing it because it makes me feel good?

C. Judaism is not a domineering religion. There are numerous conditions and qualifications in the Talmud and other Jewish books that greatly detail the philosophies and practicalities of bawling someone out. Today, this has limited application, since society has primed most people to bristle at discipline, perceiving it as holier-than-thou preachiness. See the 1-2-3's for what it means today.

How do I actually do it?

1. Rules of qualification

To put someone in his place, he first must be someone you know, and at least fairly well—no shouting at strangers, no street-corner sanctimoniousness. He must be either your peer and/or equal, or someone who will listen and will take it well. And, of course, it’s gotta be about something you don’t violate yourself—can’t tell someone to not eat on Yom Kippur if you do. Friends can afford to fight. If your Torah-violating fellow will listen to your rebuke, let him hear it. If he won’t or you’re otherwise not in the position to talk down to him, just clam up and let it slide.

2. Use your imagination

Picture him or her saying it to you: does it wound your pride? Would the right words elicit the right reaction? Play with the mental picture until it’s something you’d be comfortable hearing.

3. Just do it

Have you already determined that they’ll be all right if you give it to them? Then don’t worry—make like Nike and just say it.


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Mitzvot » Love thy Neighbor
Jewish Identity » Love thy Neighbor

(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.