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What is Chillul Hashem?

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

In recent months, the observant Jewish world has been inundated with incidences, occurrences, activities, and statements that clearly constitute Chillul Shaim Shamayim.  Yet, to the dismay of many, there are members in our community that do not see it that way.  They view the revelation of such incidents and activities as merely a manifestation of anti-Semitism or even view some of what has occurred as a Kiddush Hashem.

A somewhat appalling incident comes to mind.  Apparently, a Hispanic bicyclist was riding in the middle of the street in such manner as to not allow other cars travelling faster than he was, to pass him.  A Hasidic driver was rather incensed at the actions of the cyclist and blocked the cyclist from moving forward.  Is this a Kiddush Hashem – a display of strength and power not letting someone get away with abusive cycling?  Or is it a Chillul Hashem – in behaving obnoxiously to the cyclist?

Perhaps this question is best answered with yet another question:  What would Aharon HaKohain have done in a similar situation?  The likely response would apply in this case as well.

To appreciate the enormity of Chillul Hashem, perhaps a brief introduction is in order.


The world was created for Torah and its study (See Midrash Tanchuma Bereishis 10).  Since this is the case, there is a difficult Gemorah (Shabbos 31a) that requires explanation.  The Gemorah tells us that the very first question we are asked in the world to come is, “Were you honest in your business dealings?”

Why should this be the first question?  Since Torah is more important than anything else, the next question that the Gemorah tells us is asked should rather be asked first, “Did you set times for Torah study?”

The Pri Magadim in his Aishel Avrohom (OC 156:2) cites the Eliyahu Rabba’s grandfather’s answer to this question, that if Heaven forbid he was not honest in his business dealings – his entire Torah learning constitutes a Chillul Hashem! 

In other words, this question is a prerequisite for Torah study, because if he is not honest with others in business, the Torah learning is not a source of merit.  It is the opposite.  The Torah learning itself is the source of Chillul Hashem.

This shows how very serious and fundamental the concept of Chillul Hashem actually is.


Every Jew is commanded not to desecrate Hashem’s Name, as the pasuk states:  “Lo sechalalu es shaim kodshi.”  The Mitzvah is listed in the 613 Mitzvos of the Rishonim and in the Sefer haChinuch 295.  Indeed, if someone causes others to make Chillul Hashems –  the Shulchan Aruch rules that he should be put in Cherem (YD 334).


The Rambam Yesodei Torah 5:4 explains that Chillul Hashem is actually the opposite of Kiddush Hashem.  This is a good rule of thumb to follow when one wishes to explore what exactly is a Chillul Hashem.  Nonetheless, it is also important to examine what Chazal tell us specifically.  The lack of clarity on the issue has created a situation where it could reasonably be said that one man’s Kiddush Hashem is another man’s Chillul Hashem.    For example, some people think that show of strength is an example of Kiddush Hashem.  Others feel that an abuse of strength is, in actuality, a grave Chillul Hashem.  It is thus important to see what Chazal and Poskim tell us in order to have a better gauge of the issue.  It is not that this examination will resolve any issues between people who are arguing points among each other.  But, hopefully, it will give a number of us greater insights.  For example, before we saw the Pri Magadim that introduced this essay, most of us were of the opinion that if someone is dishonest, it is a bad thing, but not that it converts the very Torah that he had learned into an object of Chillul Hashem.  Now we know otherwise.


Chillul Hashem can be categorized in different ways.

1] There are a number of different categories of Chillul Hashem that are differentiated in some of the Rishonim.

2] There are Aveiros that the Psukim in the Torah call a Chillul Hashem.

3] There are behaviors that, no matter who the Jew actually is, also constitute a Chillul Hashem.

We will begin with the three different categories found in the Rishonim.

  • One category is when one if forced to violate one of the three cardinal sins that we must give up our lives for.  If someone did not do so, this is a Chillul Hashem according to Sefer HaMitzvos (#63).
  • A second category is whenever one purposefully does an Aveirah out of spite – this too is considered a Chillul Hashem (Sefer HaMitzvos, ibid).
  • A third category is when an important person does something that causes people to talk – even if it would generally not be considered an Aveirah (Shabbos 51b).  This is considered a Chillul Hashem because people will learn from him. The Gemorah explains that greater the person is the more careful he must be.

According to the SMAG #2 and SMaK #85, however, category three is even if is not an important person but a regular Talmid Chochom whose actions cause people to talk – this too is Chillul Hashem.  These authorities also say that when a Jew does any action that will cause Goyim to say, “The Jews have no Torah”  – this is a Chillul Hashem.

There is actually a debate as to the reason for the third category of a great person.  Is it because he has a higher standard in which to comply with?  This is what Rabbeinu Yonah (Avos Mishna 4:4) and the Rambam (Maamar Kiddush Hashem) write.  Others understand it because other people will learn from him.  Other Rishonim hold that it is because the Torah will be lessened in the eyes of others because of him (Rashi on tractate Shabbos 33a).

What are examples of category three?  The Gemorah (Yuma 86a) gives us illustrations.  Rav gives an example of a Talmid Chacham that doesn’t pay the butcher bill right away. Rav Yochanan gives as an example of Chillul Hashem of a Talmid Chochom that goes without Torah and without Tefillin for 4 amos.  Rav Yochanan’s explanation assumed that the onlooker does not realize that the Talmid Chochom just had a marathon session of Torah study and did not have the strength to continue further or the strength of intent to wear the Tefillin properly.

There are some observations that can be made from these illustrations.  In regard to Chillul Hashem, according to Rabbi Yochanan, “perception is reality.”  According to Rav, we have established the notion that it also involves a Middah, a character trait, or behavior and not just an actual sin.



There are specific Aveiros that the Torah itself specifically calls Chillul Hashem (See, for example, VaYikra 19:12).  Most of these have to do with false Shavuos (See Rashi Taanis 23a), although giving one’s child to the Molech (VaYikra 18:21) is also called a Chillul Hashem by the Torah.  Abusing justice by the judges is also a grave Chillul Hashem.   The Gemorah will also provide Psukim that back up the idea that certain activities such as going to Goyish courts is a grave Chillul Hashem (Gittin 88b).

Anything having to with Avodah Zarah (See Rabbeinu Yona Avos 4:4 based on Yechezkel 20:39) is also considered a Chillul Hashem.


Anyone who sins and causes others to sin – choteh umachti es harabbim is actively being mechalel shaim Hashem (Rashi Yuma 86a).


Another form of Chillul Hashem is when it is pointed out to the world that Klal Yisroel is not doing their job.  The Beis Yoseph explains (YD 254) that if a poor person needs to be supported through gentiles – this is a situation of Chillul Hashem.  It is, in fact, forbidden for him to do so unless he has nothing to eat.  Regardless, it is forbidden for us, the community, to allow the situation to continue.


If Jews are aware that someone Jewish is going to falsely swear in front of gentiles that he does not owe money, when the gentile knows that he does – this is a situation of Chillul Hashem.  The Jews must stop him from swearing falsely and rather must work it out with the gentile.  This is a ruling in the Ramah in Shulchan Aruch in the laws of Shvuos ( YD 239:1).


Generally speaking, we are permitted to take donations from a gentile for a synagogue.  However, if the gentile gave it to something specific in shul – we may not change it for anything else because of the Chillul Hashem aspect of it.  One may do so, however, under certain circumstances if the donation was made by a Jew.  [TaZ’s explanation of ruling in Shulchan Aruch YD 259:6]


The Bach in a responsa (#111, old) cites the Sefer Chassidim (#829) that if it is the custom among the gentiles to forbid a certain food because a horrible sin was done with it– then Jews should also refrain from eating it.  This is on account of Chillul Hashem.

Publicizing a previously performed Aveirah that was unknown may also be a form of Chillul Hashem (see Tehillim 32:1 from Yuma 86a.)  Therefore, when an Aveirah is not known publically one should not say a public vidui.

  • Sexual relations with gentiles is also considered a Chillul Hashem (Rambam Issurei Biah 12:6).


Whenever it is possible to minimize a Chillul Hashem we should do this.  This is seen from many Poskim, for example, Chsam Sofer (OC Vol. I #61).  One such illustration, an extreme one, can be seen from the following idea:

Even though we no longer have the ability to deal with cases of capital punishments – there are times when Bais Din must act out of Migdar Milsa, especially out of Chillul Hashem.  There was such a case where a person [warning: impending euphemisim]  “blessed” Hashem and he was punished most severely because of the Chillul Hashem involved (See Teshuvos HaRosh 17:8 cited in Darchei Moshe CM 425).

What is shocking about this latter illustration is that nowadays we cannot perform capital punishment and if we do, it would constitute a capital offense on us as well.  And yet to prevent Chillul Hashem, Beis Din allowed it in that instance, in order to minimize the Chillul Hashem of someone “blessing” Hashem.  It is this author’s belief that the very term for the prohibition is referred to by the sages as “Blessing Hashem” in order to minimize the Chillul Hashem of the entire idea.  [It should be noted that nowadays this ruling of the Rosh is not applicable at all.]

How Hashem Deals With Chillul Hashem

The Gemorah tells us  (Kiddushin 40a) Ain Makifin b’Chillul Hashem – this means that Hashem pays back (in punishment) a Chillul Hashem right away.  What this means is subject to some interpretation (two views even being found in the Gemorah), but we see from all of this the gravity of Chillul Hashem.

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Posted by on July 10, 2014. Filed under 5 Towns News,Breaking News,Jewish News,NY News,Slider. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to What is Chillul Hashem?

  1. Naftali

    July 10, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    Thank you Rabbi Hoffman for this great piece of Torah. We all need to be reminded individually and as a community to constantly be aware of even the possibility of our words and actions desecrating Hashem’s great name. Hopefully we will strengthen ourselves and strive to live lives of Kiddush Hashem and not Chas veshalom the opposite.