The rabbis were sordidly fascinated by the thought that God’s name could be desecrated. They speculated about what constituted desecration; they speculated about why and how it was possible for God and God’s name to be desecrated; and they thought about who it was who could do the desecrating.
On this question of who does the desecrating, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, founder of Modern Orthodoxy in 19th century Germany, wrote the following:
"The more a person is known as a Torah scholar, as a person with whom God’s name is associated, the more severe is the warning to him not to desecrate God’s Name. In his case, the slightest deviation from truthfulness and honesty, from morality and holiness, from justice, from lovingkindness, and mercy….the slightest deviation – or even merely the semblance of deviation – from the Torah’s requirements is considered a desecration of God’s name. The rule is always this: the greater a person’s status, the greater is his duty to be punctilious in his conduct."
For Your Discussion
1) Do you agree with Hirsch’s assessment that our leaders are obligated to avoid even the “slightest deviation” from punctilious behavior? Why/why not?
2) Hirsch’s comments initially come in the context of religious leaders. To what degree do we apply his ideas to other people that are significant in our world (politicians/celebrities/other communal role models like public school teachers, etc.)?
3) There is something striking about the Jewish value being discussed here (holding our leaders to high standards) in comparison to the Jewish value of forgiveness/compassion, which we are regularly taught to practice in the relationships we share with our children/significant others/siblings/parents/friends. What do you make of these different approaches?