As our American fans know, this week marks the celebration of Independence Day in the U.S. and is also known by the date on which it is celebrated, the Fourth of July. Independence Day is a federal holiday in the U.S. and is marked with fireworks and barbecues and an abundance of patriotism. The U.S. separated itself from Britain in the 18th century and on July 2, 1776 (but only officially agreed upon and signed on in Congress on July 4) the early Americans declared their independence from their colonial ruler. The early Americans viewed the British as oppressive and cruel in their governance of the American colonies. Thus protest and standing up for their own rights and beliefs became an integral part of the American tradition. These values are not unique to the founding fathers, we find them right in the Talmud!
Let’s take a look at one specific sugya from Tractate Shabbat (Shabbat 54:A):
“Anyone who had the capability to effectively protest the sinful conduct of the members of his household and did not protest, he himself is apprehended for the sins of the member of his household and punished.” Thus it is the same for sins of the people of his town and finally for the sinful conduct of the whole world. That is indeed quite serious. It isn’t enough to simply not sin. If one sees another engage in sinful conduct, no matter how seemingly small the scale (from a sinful household, sinful town, even the entire world) one requires punishment for those sins just because they did not protest the conduct. This sugya points to a feeling of collective responsibility and the value of speaking up for what’s right.
Notes from the Koren Talmud Bavli:
How it is brought in Halakha:
On this Independence Day may we not only remember these values of the American founding fathers but even more so remember the values that have been passed down to us all the way from Har Sinai and to forever be a “light onto the nations” as members of the Jewish people all over the world.