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Sacred Space is Safe Space

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Question:
 
There is an individual in the community bullying other members of the kehilla, as well as maligning the shul to the public. This individual has been warned to stop but continues to do the aforementioned. Our shayla (halachic inquiry) is two-fold:

1) From a halachic perspective, is it permissible for the shul and or rabbi to deny this individual the honors of aliyah to the Torah and otherwise, or to be allowed altogether in the synagogue?

2) From a policy level, what do you advise in such a difficult situation?
 
 
Answer:
 
According to Jewish law, slander is unconditionally forbidden. When one has issues with another Jew, there are protocols for relief, including confronting the offender [Rambam, De’ot 6:6-8]. One function of the polity is to protect its members. Without the vigilance of the civil authorities, whose very being serves as a deterrence, humankind would return to the law the jungle, where people swallow each other alive [mAvot 3:2]. Not only is violence against another forbidden—the bet din possesses a monopoly on the legal and legitimate use of coercive violence—the threat of violence, i.e., the cocking of the fist with presumed intent to strike, is sufficient to declare the aggressive offender to be designated a wicked person [Exodus 2:13 and Sanhedrin 58b].  
 
Bullies must not be tolerated and a religious community worthy of its identity is required to preemptively intercede when bullies are active. This obligation applies to individuals as well as to the community.  The relevant legal rule is that we may “not to stand idle while one’s fellow’s blood is flowing” [Leviticus 19:16 and bSanhedrin 73a]. Good people are God’s partners in making the world a better, safer, and holier place.
 
Based on these passages, the “law of the pursuer” posits that a person in pursuit of another to hurt, harm, kill or rape another must be stopped by any and all means, not a punishment for wrongdoing, but as a protection of the innocent.
 
At HM 425:1 it is ruled that when there is a clear and present danger to [a] life and limb, [2] sexual assault, or [3] financial fraud on a magnitude which could endanger the community’s safety, we are obliged to turn to the civil authorities and not to the rabbis. Communal shame and protection of well-placed abusers do not override the claim of human dignity [bBerachot 19b and elsewhere] that Torah attaches to every human being.
 
In order to fulfill its mission, of being a miniature Temple where God’s Presence resides, the synagogue community is charged with the obligation to remove wrongdoing from the sacred space, the place where the Divine Presence is tangible. In order to insure the Divine Presence’s immediacy, on several occasions, Deuteronomy requires that we “remove evil from our midst.” [See Deuteronomy 13:3, 17:7,17:12, 19:19. 21:21, 22: 21-22, 24, and 24:7.] From this list we learn that the Divine Presence will not abide in a place of ritual or ethical wrongdoing.
 
Therefore, since the synagogue is a space where Jewish law may and should be enforced, the following practical steps are recommended:
  1. The offending individual should be confronted with a list of complaints regarding his behavior, be his misdeeds bullying, defamatory slander, sexual harassment, etc.
  2. The offending individual should be confronted by an ad hoc committee consisting of the Rabbi, a senior member of the synagogue executive, and another person who is held in high regard by the community, ideally the synagogue’s lawyer. This committee should include both women and men.
  3. The offending individual should be put on notice that the Synagogue’s sacred space must be and remain safe space. By rendering the synagogue space unsafe, unwelcoming, and inhospitable, the offending individual’s behavior, be it slander, intimidation, unwelcome advances, profanity, or rudeness, should not and will not be tolerated.
  4. The offending individual should be warned that any further and future misbehavior will result in a letter of complaint cosigned by the Rabbi and Synagogue President [a] informing the offender of his offense and [b] that until further notice will be ineligible for synagogue honors.  Should the offending behavior continue, the offender will lose synagogue membership and be barred from the Synagogue premises and off-premises synagogue events. Should the offending behavior continue still, a restraining order and further legal relief damages will be considered.
  5. We pray for the time where the One Who makes peace in the higher worlds will make that peace accessible for us and the whole House of Israel.
 
 
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