Rabbi Shmuel Reiner

On spitting and human dignity: "The weapon of the weak and the poor"

Jews spat on pilgrims, adding insult to injury by saying that this was an ancient Jewish custom. There were times when there were indeed good and worthy reasons for hostility between Jews and Christians, but today we live in a different world. A halachic and moral perspective

Christian priests in Jerusalem (Photo: Eric Marmor, Flash90.)

I try not to write in Chol HaMoed, even for 'the lost thing'. However, there are things that cannot help but to get responded loudly. Failure to respond is a terrible blasphemy. That's why I allowed myself to write the following things in Chol HaMoed time.

"Dad told me: 'You don't spit'"

We heard today that Jews spat on pilgrims, and added sin to crime by saying that this was an ancient Jewish custom. Woe to the ears that hear like that! I grew up in a Jerusalem neighborhood that had several monasteries and quite a few priests, monks, and nuns went there. Once, when I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade, my late father and I passed by the Ratisbonne Monastery, which was close to the school I attended (perhaps it is not superfluous to mention that in those days the Eichmann trial was shown on a huge screen in Ratisbonne). My father, who was an ultra-orthodox rabbi, told me that the monastery was founded by the son of a rabbi who was a converted Jew ( apostate).

I told Father that every time we pass by this monastery, or by another monastery that is nearby, on our way back from school one of the friends spits in the direction of the monastery gate. Father said to me with an exclamation point: "You don't spit! Neither at a church nor at priests. We don't spit!

"Our attitude towards the minorities that live among us must be different"

There were times when there were indeed good and worthy reasons for hostility between Jews and Christians. And there were times when there were Christians for whom the phrase idolaters may be true. But we live in a different world, in a different reality. Christianity has changed. In the reality we live in, it is not so simple to claim that Christianity is idolatry. You need a great knowledge of Christian theology on the one hand and in the Shas and rulings on the other hand, to claim that this is idolatry about which it is said: "perish, perish, etc..". Moreover, it is not simple at all and the main thing is that the Christians themselves violate the prohibition of idolatry in cooperation.

Due to the sanctity of the time, we will not go into the halakhic discussion of why the attitude towards Christianity should be different today, and many have already discussed this. The reality of our lives has also changed. We are no longer scattered among the nations, miserable and persecuted. Spitting is a weapon of the weak and the poor. As a sovereign people in a Jewish state, it is clear that our attitude to others, and especially to the minorities that live among us, must be different. We must conduct ourselves out of the kindness and generosity of those in power, and not out of the memory of past tragedies.

"There are Christian clerics with whom I have a common language, they are partners"

I want to say something complex. I am a conservative and an orthodox Jew and proud of it. For example, I do not enter churches under any circumstances, except to save a soul! But I feel that there are Christian clergy and of course, others too, with whom I have a common language. I could even say: We are partners, we are soldiers in the same army that is fighting in our world to accept the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. There is acceptance of the yoke of our heavenly kingdom as covenant members, and there is acceptance of the yoke of heavenly kingdom of other covenant members. These priests - despite the reservation and even though I demanded that they ask for forgiveness for their ancestors slaughtering my ancestors - in our world they are the partners of the kingdom of heaven in this world.

You don't spit on partners! Not in the synagogue, when Aleinu leshabei'ach is said in praise: "They bow down to vanity and emptiness and pray to a God who will not save", and even more so not about real people in the street. There is a wonderful saying of the "Holy Jew", who says this: There is a faith of the nations of the world and it is based on the verse: "Lift up your eyes and see who created these..." and there is an Israeli belief based on "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt" and the Ten Commandments.

So there is their faith and there is our faith. I prefer my faith, but because of that I should reject the other? Because of this, I will humiliate the other?

"Huge damage to the people of Israel"

And we still haven't talked about the enormous damage to the people of Israel and the terrible Chillul Hashem. And we did not come except to do a Kiddush Hashem. In this case, we need the weight answer. Wherever someone spits, we must give a hug, and say out loud: despite differences and disputes, the dignity of the human being is precious to us! Not only this, but today, we have common challenges.

Nevertheless, on Shabbat I will continue to say Av HaRachamim and I know and remember very well what this prayer was about. After many years, I don't remember why, I reminded my late father of the story. He told me more or less in the same language: The only commandment in the Torah about spitting is a young widow who is commanded to spit on her husband's brother who refuses to establish a name for his brother.

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