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For the week ending 4 January 2003 / 1 Shevat 5763


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From: M. in Long Island, NY

Dear Rabbi,

There is a movement in certain cities of the U.S. to convince people to cancel their subscriptions to major newspapers that are well-known for their anti-Israel reporting policies. The problem I have with this movement: Hurting someone else's livelihood, namely the innocent employees whose income is dependent upon the number of subscribers. Last I heard, working for a newspaper (even if they're reporting tactics are a bit questionable) is not considered to be a dishonorable profession. What are your views on this issue (and boycotting in general)?

Dear M.,

In general, these newspapers are at present actively working against the State of Israel. Whether it is being done deliberately or not does not detract from the damage that is being done internationally to Israel's standing. Are all the thousands of people who work in the offices of these media centers guilty of Israel bashing? No, of course not. Does that mean that people cannot try to redress the problem? No, of course not. Enough people have drawn the newspapers attention to the fact that their reporting is biased, untrue and sometimes downright dangerous. They do not seem to be too concerned, so other methods are being tried.

Is a boycott a "kosher" method of getting one's point across? Well, sometimes. Of course, as Jews we must be super-sensitive to boycotts. In the last century the Jewish People were subject to boycott after boycott and we paid a heavy price. That means that anyone thinking of boycotting something must be very careful. I think that it is important to point out that the boycott that the Jewish groups are trying to organize are more symbolic than anything else.

Since the circumstances, reasons and ramifications for a boycott can differ so greatly from one case to another, it is essential not to embark on a private or public action without the direction of the proper halachic authorities.

Recently there was much talk here in Israel of boycotting certain shopping centers that were open on Shabbat. Interestingly enough, aside from the obvious concern for Shabbat desecration, a major reason for the boycott was concern for the livelihood of workers who would lose their jobs since they could not work on Shabbat. The matter was resolved when the main shopping center involved agreed to close on Shabbat.

Its important to note that sometimes a "non-boycott" can be as effective, or even more so, than an actual boycott. I remember hearing the story of Rabbi Aryeh Levin, a renowned and revered tzaddik (righteous person) who resided in Jerusalem in the middle of last century. A certain Jerusalem store owner kept his store open on Shabbat, much to the chagrin of a large sector of the populace. There were demonstrations and general fuss in the community as to what course of action to take, but week after week the store remained open. One Friday afternoon Rabbi Levin arrived at the store dressed in his Shabbat finery and sat down unobtrusively in the store. The store owner saw him but decided to ignore him. As the afternoon passed Rabbi Levin continued to sit and watch the constant flow of customers. Even as the sun began to set, and Shabbat was about to begin, he didnt move until finally the store owner came over and asked him what he was doing. Rabbi Levin answered that he had heard that the shop was open on Shabbat and he wanted to see with his own eyes how difficult it must be for the store owner to close up since there were so many customers. Rabbi Levin gave a sad, longing look and sighed "But Shabbat is Shabbat." As he departed for the synagogue he wished the man a "Shabbat Shalom."

The man was moved to tears and told Rabbi Levin that he was the first person to speak to him in such a warm and "understanding" manner. A few weeks later the store was closed on Shabbat.

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