Kiddush ha-Shem

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Sanctification of the name (of God), the opposite of Hillul Ha-Shem, the profanation of the name (of God). These two concepts, prominent in Jewish thought from Talmudic times, are based by the Rabbis on the verse: ‘You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the children of Israel—I am the Lord who sanctify you’ (Leviticus 22: 32). In the Rabbinic interpretation, the verse implies that a Jew must so conduct himself that his actions increase reverence for God's name and that none of them should bring the divine name into disrepute. Israel must be a holy people because Israel has been sanctified by God (see CHOSEN PEOPLE) and bears His holy name. The stress is placed on the words ‘in the midst of the children of Israel’, that is, on public conduct. Not every sin constitutes Hillul Ha-Shem and not every virtuous act Kiddush Ha-Shem but only deeds, whether good or bad, that are carried out in public and thus either decrease or increase respect for Judaism. To suffer martyrdom rather than be faithless to the Jewish religion is the supreme example of Kiddush Ha-Shem. If a man is ready to die in public for his faith, there can be no more powerful attestation to its truth. But to suffer martyrdom is obviously quite extraordinary and is only demanded by Jewish law in extremely rare instances. Numerous examples are given in the sources of Kiddush Ha-Shem and Hillul Ha-Shem in ordinary living by the light of Judaism.

Kiddush Ha-Shem in the daily round involves actions, not necessarily enjoined by strict law, which bring credit to Jews and through them to the Jewish religion given by God. The idea behind this is that a religion that can inspire men to act so justly and so sympathetically is a noble religion. An illustration given in the Jerusalem Talmud is of the early teacher Simeon ben Shatah, a poor man who earned his living by selling flax. His pupils, desiring to spare him from too much hard work, bought him a donkey from a Saracen and found that a pearl was attached to it. They told him that he would no longer have to work so hard because his sorry financial situation would be eased by his acquisition of a pearl of such great value. But Simeon insisted that the pearl be returned to its rightful owner, even though a case could have been made in strict law for Simeon to keep the pearl. Simeon declared that he would rather hear the heathen say: ‘Blessed be the God of the Jews’ than have any reward this world has to offer.

The deeper theological meaning of Kiddush Ha-Shem is that God as He is in Himself is unknown and unknowable. God only becomes manifest in human life when human beings acknowledge Him by acting in such a way that His being is relevant to and influences their daily life. Professor Hugo Bergmann's famous essay entitled Kiddush Ha-Shem (translated into English in Commentary (March, 1952), 271 ff.) is rightly given the subtitle: God Depends on Man, as Man on God.


Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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