This week, the New York Times published an article that described the displeasure of many Chinese officials at the American Embassy’s insistence on publishing information about China’s horrendous air quality. The article cites a Chinese official who says that it’s not that they don’t want to regulate their air quality, they just don’t want results of observations to be publicized to the world.
To an American, this sentiment is troubling, to say the least. Orwell’s 1984 and similar dystopic warnings have instilled within us the value of transparency; WikiLeaks taught us how to take that sentiment to the extreme. Americans pride themselves on never allowing issues to slip under the rug and “not be discussed.”
As Jews, however, the relationship between truth and publication of truth, especially when it relates to the Jewish community, is more complicated. The imperative to avoid a chilul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) and create a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name) seems to imply that we can’t really just say whatever we want about the Jewish community, if we think it may give our community a bad name.
Those who have made especially incendiary comments have sometimes been criticized for airing the laundry of the Jewish community. But others feel that this value of keeping the good name can be taken to an extreme and can serve to cover up serious issues.
On Wednesday June 13th, Uri L’Tzedek will be hosting a Social Justice Beit Midrash at the JCC in Manhattan on the topic of Child Abuse Intervention. While there is certainly a value in Jewish tradition to make a good name for the Jewish people, there is also a value to explore difficult issues and the possibility of taking action when things are not right. Pinchas, the Torah’s token kanai (zealot), acted to save the Jewish people from improper action. He recognized that by mixing with the Midianites, Bnei Yisrael’s commitment to God was compromised and the name of God was tarnished. At times, our community must act as Pinchas, evaluating our values and acting out in support of them, despite the discomfort and difficulty in doing so.
Join us at the Social Justice Beit Midrash to hear author Talia Carner and founder of JSafe, Rabbi Mark Dratch, speak about the issue and learn what we can do to help!