In the year 1927, at a time of world depression, poverty, and widespread persecution of the Jews, the Chofetz Chaim wrote a passionate appeal to the Rabbis of world Jewry, urging them to speak out on the dangers of immodesty, in order to stem the sufferings of the Jewish People.
If that was the case then, how much more so now when every hallowed border has been broken! The recent gang rape in Eilat makes the Jewish soul shudder. At demonstrations against the Prime Minister, women remove their clothes. Homosexual behavior, forbidden by the Torah and considered unaceeptable in general society for thousands of years, and the practice of Amalek, is defended in the courts and even taught about in schools. Young people are exposed to a tsunami of pornography on the Internet, and there is no source of salvation in sight.
This week’s Torah portion contains prohibitions against rape, prostitution, adultery, looking at immodest images, wasting one’s seed, and following the immoral ways of Amalek (see Rashi), but who pays attention? And many Rabbis still abide by the traditional refusal to discuss these matters in public, a leftover from the days when they were not discussed by anyone, but that today prevents dealing with them.
In response, here is the public proclamation of the Chofetz Chaim, who quotes repeatedly from this week’s Torah portion:
"With the help of the blessed G-d, the beginning of the month of Tammuz, the year 5688 from Creation, written in the city of Radin.
"To the honored Rabbis and Admorim, in every location, perhaps it is in your hands to rectify this grievous situation, may your reward be great from the L-rd.
"Behold, I have great anguish over this matter, and great wonder. Even though everyone believes that all that is written below is from the Holy One Blessed Be He, nevertheless, everyone is perplexed, and it is an enigma in his eyes why times have changed so dramatically for the worse.
"In addition to the fact that all of the Jewish People, in every place of their dispersion among the nations, have fallen to a state of subservience, the cost of living also rises daily, taxes and rents also greatly increase, terrible decrees hampering the observance of Torah and mitzvot have fallen on everyone, causing the Torah study of children in many cities to be abandoned, and earning a living comes at great toil. In summary, each Jew complains, each in his own fashion, over his difficult situation.
"Today, because of our great sins, bitterness surrounds us, and when a person looks around him at the state of his life, there is not a day that is not cursed more than yesterday. And when he examines his situation regarding Torah and mitzvot, he sees that there also he has absolutely no success. And even though every Jew beseeches the Holy One Blessed Be He to answer his pleadings and to grant him respite, no one hears - this is the true situation.
"I have said that the main reason is that we ourselves distance the Holy One Blessed Be He from us. He commanded us, "Sanctify yourselves and be holy" (Vayikra, 20:7), and our Sages have taught us that everyone who sanctifies himself on earth will be sanctified from Above. If he sanctifies himself a little, he will be sanctified a great deal from Above (Yoma 39A). When he sanctifies himself in this world, he is sanctified in the world to come. It is also written, "For the L-rd your G-d walks in the midst of your camp to save you, and to conquer your enemy from before you" (Devarim, 23:15).
"The meaning of "to save you" includes many things, to save you from the sword, and from hunger, from imprisonment, and from humiliation. The verse continues, "Therefore your camp shall be holy, that He see no unchaste thing in thee and turn away from thee." The Torah explains the matter explicitly, that when we conduct our lives in a holy manner, then He walks in the midst of us to deliver us from every evil thing. However, if He sees in us some unchaste matter, He turns away from us, and this brings upon us all of the tribulations, G-d forbid.
"Behold, our Sages stated, 'A handbreadth exposed in a woman, in a place that is usually covered, constitutes sexual immodesty' (Berachot 24A). And today, due to our many sins, this matter has very greatly spread, and the evil inclination seduces women to walk around without covering their hair, and to go out with their arms exposed in sleeveless dresses. And many of their garments expose the bosom. Everything is exposed so that in whatever place a man should look, he is confronted with immodesty....
"In summary, this terrible fashion of the times brings a man to have evil imaginations...G-d forbid, (and in doing so, he endangers his small children, as the brilliant Torah scholar, the Yaabetz, wrote in his prayer book). And almost because of this terrible fashion alone, we ourselves negate the admonishment of the Holy One Blessed Be He, as it says, "Therefore your camp shall be holy, that He not see in you any unchaste thing."
"And behold, it is known to everyone that when a fire bursts out in the vineyard of the king, a proclamation goes forth from the ministers of the king to the inhabitants of the city, saying: ‘Everyone be strong to extinguish the fire in any way you can, for the vineyard of the king is burning, and if you are lazy in this matter, know that you will be held responsible with your lives, and you will be labeled rebels, because you did not take heed for his honor. And if you take courage, as is fitting, and put out the fire, then everyone shall receive his reward and honor according to his efforts.’ So too in this matter, for it is known that all of Israel is considered the vineyard of the L-rd, as is written, ’For the house of Israel is the vineyard of the L-rd of Hosts’ (Yisheyahu, 5:7).
"And due to our many sins, a great blaze has erupted in His vineyard in several places because of this terrible modern fashion. For the power of impurity has considerably strengthened because of this. As our Sages have said on the verse, "And you shall guard yourselves from every evil thing" (Devarim, 23:10). For if this should occur, all of the blessing and Divine flow to this man's deeds will be cut off, and because of this he will be surrounded by evil tribulations, as is written in the holy books of wisdom.
"Therefore, every man has the obligation to extinguish this terrible fire, and to rectify the situation in his home so that everything will be according to the law, and not to allow licentiousness, G-d forbid. And in doing so, he will merit to have upright and exalted holy children.
"And more than anyone else, this obligation falls on the rabbis and on all those who are zealous to fulfill G-d's words, that in every city and village, the importance of this matter must be publicly explained, in that it directly effects our survival and our success, both physically and spiritually, in this world and the next. Thus will the verse be fulfilled, "And your camp shall be holy."
"These words are written in the honor of G-d and His Torah, out of anguish over the tribulations of His nation Israel, with the longing for redemption, speedily in our time, Amen.”
Yisrael Meir, the son of Areyeh Zev, the Kohen
Author of the book "Chofetz Chaim" and the Mishna Berura.