Shun the Sinner by Benjy Lebowitz


A Jewish apostate named Professor Daniel Chivalson was a secular bible scholar and critic in Czarist Russia in the 1800s.  He was appointed by the Russian government as chief censor for Hebrew books.  Even though he had betrayed the religion into which he was born, Chivalson maintained a very positive attitude toward his erstwhile brethren and did much to help them.  He corresponded with many of the famous Rabbis of his time.  Chivalson always signed these letters with the name Yosef, the name he had been known by before his apostasy.  When Chivalson turned 70, many communities and prominent rabbis sent him letters of appreciation as a token of their gratitude for all his work in helping Jewish causes.  Only Rav Chaim Soloveitchik staunchly refused to acknowledge Chivalson, claiming that it is absolutely forbidden to maintain any type of relationship with an apostate. 

When Chivalson heard about Rav Chaim’s refusal, he sent him a note consisting of the Pasuk from Parshat Mikeitz (Bereishit 42:8), “VaYakeir Yosef Et Echav VeHeim Lo Hikiruhu,” “Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.” Chivalson intended this as a veiled rebuke to Rav Chaim, implying that while he, Yosef, remembered his Jewish brothers, they, his brethren, did not recognize him

Rav Chaim quickly responded that the brothers of the Torah had sold Yosef, so it was shameful that they did not recognize him, but in this case it was Yosef (Chivalson) who had sold himself, and thereby denied himself recognition.

We may derive an important lesson from this story.  When a person has committed the ultimate crime of apostasy, there is no limit to how far he can fall.  Chivalson had no reservations about maintaining a friendly relationship with the people he had betrayed, and continued his life as if nothing had happened.  Only Rav Chaim had the strength to stand up to him and put him in his place. Although most secular Jews today do not deserve such raw treatment (and it may in fact be forbidden to treat them in such a way, see Chazon Ish Yoreh Deah 2:18 and 28) because they were never raised with a Jewish background, we must maintain the same cold attitude towards the deliberate apostates, the Chivalsons of our time. 

-Adapted from a Devar Torah in Peninim Al HaTorah

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