Sunday, August 13, 2023

Rav Sternbuch: Destroying Television to Stop Sin?

Rav Sternbuch (1:368):Question: A baal teshuva, when visiting his parents who have a television, damages it in order that the family members will not watch it. Is it permitted for him to damage so? Answer: The prohibition of watching television is very serious and it is an aspect of sexual immorality. That is because as the result of watching this impure device it increases his attraction to sexual sins. Therefore it is definitely necessary to stop a person from watching television in various ways. It is literally a psik reisha ( a direct cause of sinning) for someone who lives in a house with a television which degrades those who watch it. However there is a dispute between the Ketzos and the Nesivos (C.M. 3) whether the ability to force someone to do keep a mitzva is uniquely permitted to beis din or whether every single person is allowed to force others to keep mitzvos. According to the Ketzos it is only permitted for beis din while the Nesivos says that every person has a mitzva to prevent others from sinning.... Accordingly the Nesivos would permit in our case to carry out whatever activity is needed to stop television watching. In contrast the Ketzos says that only beis din has the power to decide and therefore the individual can not act on his own initiative to harm another’s property. However it would seem that those poskim who require permission from beis din are correct. We also see from the Yereim (#278) that coercing that might involve death is considered a knas which can not be done by the layman but requires mumchin (expert judges) in Israel. See also Minchas Chinuch (Parashas Bo). And even if the actual halacha was that each individual has to obligation to force mitzva observance, it would appear that we shouldn’t have a system of anarchy where one person can decide to harm to property of another. Therefore even if it were allowed – it is necessary to consult with a beis din before doing anything. That is because pragmatically there are times that this vigilante action against another’s property will cause the other person to be turned off by Judaism rather than making him more observant. Thus no one should take the property of others with the claim that they were only doing it for the sake of Heaven in order to stop him from sin. Furthermore it could be that the halacha only would permit taking another’s property when the sin is a monetary one. However in this case where the obligation is to prevent him from doing a sin, it is not relevant for an individual to force compliance by taking another’s property. However in our case property is not being taken to force him to behave. Rather the question is whether to destroy an impure device which causes spiritual harm and encourages transgressing severe sins. Thus it seems we are only destroying evil. Support for this view is found in Berachos (20a) which says there was the case of a certain pious individual who ripped off an immodest red garment from a woman that was worth 400 zuz. It seem from the gemora that such an action of stopping immorality is proper in a case of chilul haShem– even though it caused the pious person to have to repay the 400 zuz. So surely in the case of the television which causes much greater impurity. Similarly we see that Rachel stole her father’s idols to stop him from involvement with idolatry as Rashi (Bereishis 31:19) explained.

However despite these apparent proofs that an individual can act on his own initiative, I feel that every such action requires a consultation with a rav. We see clearly in the above gemora, that the pious person indicated that he should have been more patient and not have been so hasty to rip the garment. Also we see that Yaakov did not approve of this theft which Rachel kept concealed from him and in fact he cursed the person who stole the idols – and she died from the curse. (We see that sometimes a pious act causes much more spiritual harm then if no action were taken. And that instead of glorifying G‑d – the reverse happens as is known from many incidents.). It could also be that in our case it is not the appropriate time to stop them from watching television and an act that is premature can cause much harm. Thus even if the act itself is permitted it might be at the wrong time. Therefore the act can not be done in isolation of context and it is necessary to get permission with a wise person as to what is appropriate and to follow his words. It is also a good idea to speak with the parents and to try to explain to them that television causes much harm. And so even if they enjoy it for the moment – it will eventually cause severe harm to the entire family. In fact there is nothing comparable to its harmfulness. In conclusion, concerning damaging or destroying the television, even if he is willing to pay for it, it is best if he asks a posek before he does anything. One who acts according to the rabbis will always merit success.

קצות החושן (סימן ג ס"ק א):  ואפילו לפי מ"ש הרמב"ן בחידושיו סוף ב"ב (קעה, ב ד"ה הא דאמר רבה) דגם למ"ד שעבודא לאו דאורייתא יורדין לנכסיו, טעמא דידיה לפי דהב"ד רשאין לכוף אותו בכל מילי דכפיה לקיים מצוותו ולהכי נמי יורדין לנכסיו משום כפיה והיינו כפייה דידיה לקיים המצוה בעל כרחו, וא"כ כיון דאינו אלא מתורת כפיה דהא הנכסים אינם משועבדים וא"כ מוכח דשליחותייהו דקמאי קא עבדינן.
נתיבות המשפט (ביאורים סימן ג ס"ק א ): גם מה שכתב [בסק"א] דאי שעבודא לאו דאורייתא והבית דין כופין בעי בי"ד [מומחין] דוקא לכפותו דהדיוטות לאו בני עישוי נינהו. נראה לפענ"ד דליתא, דכיון דדמי לעשה סוכה ואינו עושה דכופין אותו לקיים המצוה, כל אדם מצווה להפריש חבירו מאיסור אפילו מי שאינו בכלל בית דין, כדמוכח בב"ק כ"ח [ע"א] גבי נרצע שכלו ימיו, דיכול רבו להכותו כדי להפרישו מאיסור שפחה, ע"ש. ואי בעינן בגמר דין ג' והיינו לומר פלוני זכאי, יבואר אי"ה בסימן ה' [סק"ב].


  1. The fact that he still leaves an opening at the end for someone to go ahead and destroy someone else's property tells me that you need to find a new rabbi!

    1. The fact that you make such a common tells me that you haven't thought this through. Would you consider destroying a television your parents were using to view pornography and they insisted on keeping it on when you visited with your kids? What about if they insisted on listening to Holocaust deniers or anti-semites? What if they were using a computer for deseminating child pornography or distruting stolen software or music?

      Obviously it isn't that you wouldn't consider destroy property that was causing sin - it is just that you don't view watching television as a serious problem.

    2. Nothing says here that the TV was used to watch pornography and that the parents insisted on having it on when the child came to visit with his own child.

      It just says that it is a tool that COULD BE used for pornography, regardless if it is actually used.

      If the parents insist on watching pornography while the child visits with his own child, the solution is easy: stop visiting them, since it is a lack of common courtesy.

      I agree with dov.

      1) there is a mitzwa of kibud av va eim, and I suppose that this would include that the children are not the ones who should educate their parents

      2) if he destroys the TV, he has to replace it (as R. Sternbuch states himself in this responsum). Which would result in the parents using the TV-set HE bought rather than the TV-Set they bought themselves. Consequently, he would have a greater part in the aveira (if it is an aveira).

      3) I am shocked that the possibility of a Rav approving (and the child destroying the TV set) is left open. Now I understand better why there are so many riots by the Eidah (of which R. sternbuch is one of the major Dayanim): they probably find a Rabbi who allows them to destroy property...

    3. "Obviously it isn't that you wouldn't consider destroy property that was causing sin"

      Of course it is a problem to destroy someone else's property because you consider it might cause a sin.

      I think it is easy to establish a clear priority line, where it is a graver sin to actually destroy someone else's property than to potentially commit a sin.

      I suppose that the fact that those priorities are not clearly established makes Edah members and representatives commit so many chiluley hashem and actual sins.

    4. Your rejection of any halachic position which deviates from Western liberal values - is not relevant on this blog. As is your general slander against the Edah.

      If you have a relevant point - please state it.

    5. I am not slandering the eidah. i just think that the highly publicised demonstrations organised by the Eidah or their represementatives or their members do the eidah and the torah a lot of harm, especially when they destroy property or harm people.

    6. Where does one begin here??? Why not destroy someone else's computer since they MIGHT be using it for nefarious purposes? Why not destroy the telephone, since undoubtedly LH will be spoken? Why not destroy the car of an Edah member (if any of them own a car), since it might be used to cause a CH when they attend some riot?

      Do you see where this is going???

      I am really surprised that a generally level-headed person as yourself cannot see the problem here.

  2. Wow, I am shocked that Rav Sternbuch does not allow the possibility that the parents might use the TV wisely, without pornography.

    And I am shocked at the perspective that there might be a Rabbi who would allow a child to ruin the parent's tv set...

    1. See my above comment. If they were not using the tv wisely would you have a problem destroying it?

      Why are you shocked that someone would allow destroying property which was harming others? Would you have a problem of destroying a gun if someone was using it in a reckless manner and that was the only way to stop them?

      You are clearly focusing on the tv set as something benign and you can't conceive that others don't view it that way.
      What about a computer with internet connection that was used for chat rooms promoting anorexia or adultery?

    2. If someone had a gun, I would turn to the police, but not try to destroy it myself.

      furthermore, the comparison of a TV being as lethal as a gun is quite inappropriate.

      Again: I am shocked that Rav Sternbuch does not allow for the possibility that the parents use the TV wisely. Oh, and by the way, I personally know people who had no TV and committed adultery. So there is definitely no link there.

    3. I think my problem is that Rav Sternbuch, as a principle, accepts that it would be allowed to destroy someone else's property to keep this someone else from sinning.

      That's fundamentally wrong, in my view.

      (Might lead to the good practices of inquisition, who thought that they did their victims a favor when burning them on the stake, since this would allow their sins in this world to be erased and allow them access to the life in the next world, which was considered much more important than the life in this world.)

    4. Your problem is not with Rav Sternbuch but rather the Torah which permits it. As Rav Sternbuch has pointed out - the only question whether a beis din is needed to decide this or whether an individual can. So your comment about the inquisition is totally off.

      So if you don't accept the valdity of halacha - this blog is simply not the place for you.

    5. again you invoke the validity of halacha, after backtracking on the other thread about the titanic?

      Yes, i believe that halacha does not allow destruction of foreign property. Yes, i think that the eidah did not get this principle clearly, and that it does them, their image and the image of the torah a lot of harm.

    6. Interesting irrelevancy. I presented two views. That of the Mishna, Rambam's Commentary to Mishna,Beis Yosef, Shach and Taz and Remahand the Tzitz Eliezar's conjecture regarding the ommision of the din in the Mishneh Torah and Shulchan Aruch.

      The fact that there are different understandings of halacha shouldn't be a surprise. If it is something new for you - then perhaps you should learn a little more before confidently making assertions about the nature of Torah and halacha.

      My point regarding the Titanic was simply that a person's intuition or feeling or wishful thinking - such are yours- doesn't establish halacha. You need a source. Where is yours to backup your assertion that halacha does not allow destruction of foreign property?

    7. titanic was a nice example, where a commentator got it right with her gut feeling and you and other commentators got it completely wrong with all your sources.

      Which teaches us that there are (numerous) instances, where you can find sources to prove everything & its contrary.

      So I am sure there are sources that foreign property might not be destroyed, there might also be sources that allow "kannaut", there might be sources that allow kannaut in theory but forbid it in practice...

      I still think that it damages the eida that their rabbis do not take a clear stance against destruction of foreign property and bodily harm to others.

    8. Helas your comments are total nonsense. There are two halachic views. The second one is conjecture of the Tzitz Eliezar while the first are explicit statements of poskim. So it was not that the commentator got it right with her gut feeling. The Tzitz Elizar was not based on gut feelings. None of the poskim base themselves on a principle that men can not be saved before women. Thus the side that holds that men come first has been shown to be "not completely wrong" it remains a valid view. In addition the Tzitz Eliezar suggestions that on a practical level the principle is irrelevant because there are many additional factors to consider besides gender.

      Thus there is absolutely no basis for your fairy tale of what you think the halachic system is.

      You obviously prefer the Christian view that halacha is irrelevant but that one does whatever the spirit within tells them to do.

    9. well, those who think that they should destroy their parent's property seem to adhere to the christian view that they have to beware their parents of spiritual harm, even in spite of themselves...

      that's the beginning of anarchy or inquisition.

      By the way: i even reject the TV-smashing-Ceremonies organised by Amnon Itzhak, although people were smashing their own tv-sets (only the old ones, you never saw anyone smash a flatscreen)

    10. I think I missed that - your sentence obviously contains a typo. But are you saying that the concept of tochacha is a Christian - not a Jewish one? Are you saying that the concept of collective responsibility and suffering for other's sins is not a Jewish concept but a Christian one? You don't think that a Jew has an obligation to prevent other Jews from sin?
      You can't be serious!!!
      Are you aware that a person who is running after a woman to kill or rape her can be killed "to save him from sin?" (Sanhedrin 73).

      You are correct that there is a significant danger of anarchy - which is why a person should not act on his own - as Rav Sternbuch repeated said. The real dangers of this principle do not mean that there is not such a Jewish principle.

      The Toldos Ahron rebbe said that those who smash things in Meah Shearim - are not religious zealots but are people out looking for action.

  3. I think that when writing such a teshuvah a rav has the double task, firstly of saying one can't destroy other pp's property, or whatever his pasak halacha is, and at the same time he needs to make sure that pp don't read into his psak that watching tv is ok. Thus I think he did a great job at answering this question.

  4. If so, then why didn't the Edah destroy the mikveh in geula, which earns a lot of money for them, since it was being used for sodomy and child abuse?

    1. Eddie perhaps the teshuva should have been written in a more didactic fashion. Please note the comment above of fordaas.

      Simple question - do you agree that under some circumstances property can be destroyed to stop sin?

      Do you understand Rav Sternbuch is saying that destruction is not necessarily the best way to accomplish that goal?

    2. Why is the television any different from the internet. Why wouldn't it be equally appropriate for someone to smash your computer. The computer is even more dangerous than a television in terms of the possibility of sin.

    3. Let's put down some principles that we can all agree on

      1) There are times when it is appropriate to destroy the property of another for the greater good. You have a rabid dog - I kill it to protect society.
      2) There will be times when it is wrong. For example a person burns down bakeries because he hold that gluten and sugar are destroying society

      3) even when correctly identifying a danger to society - destroying has many ramifications that preclude destroying them

      4) I have a right to disagree that my property is a danger and therefore I have a right to defend my property.

      5) Therefore a person usually not take the law into his own hands and in most cases we can assume that there are better ways of dealing with the issue than simply smashing things we don't like or burning books.

      6) the assumption of those against this teshuva seems to be that it is such a dangerous idea to even publicly suggest it, we should pretend that everyone has absolute right to his property - which simply isn't true.

    4. sorry, again: the comparison of a TV set with a rabied dog is not adequate...

  5. Where is the lineJuly 1, 2012 at 5:04 PM

    We are not talking in abstractions. We are talking about a parent's television which, according to R. Sternbuch, "The prohibition of watching television is very serious and it is an aspect of sexual immorality. That is because as the result of watching this impure device it increases his attraction to sexual sins. Therefore it is definitely necessary to stop a person from watching television in various ways."

    If that is the case then it certainly seems like "kal v'chomer" for an internet-connected-computer. Does a person have an "absolute right" to his computer or does a zealot, basing himself on this psak, have a halachic right (and even responsibility) to destroy it?

    1. As Rav Sternbuch has explained - even in a situation where it is clear that the neighbor's property represents a spritual danger - the destroying of it has many side-effects which might actually make the situation worse.

      So yes - there are people who might view tv, internet etc a spritual danger - should they try and destroy them no matter what? Obviously not!

      If someone has received a psak to destroy my computer or my wife's sheitel - do I have to allow him? Clear answer absolutely not.

      If he destroyed it does he have to pay for it? Yes

      If I beat him up while he is destroying my computer do I have to pay him compensation? No

      Putting it all together. There is a principle - in secular law also - that one can destroy a harmful object which belongs to another. Should you do it? It depends on a lot of factors and as Rav Sternbuch puts it, it is best to consult with a chachom to know whether it is appropriate and whether the benefits clearly outweigh the liabilities. Furthermore it is important to ascertain whether the removal of the harm can be done in a better way. Even if someone feels fully justified and has obtained the approval of a rav - it doesn't mean that you can't defend your property against attack and it doesn't mean that you have to agree that it is harmful.

      If you feel your tv, internet, mp3 player, mp4 player is not causing harm - or that the harm is mitigated by mature use and discretion - then you can do what you feel is necessary to defend your property against a fanatic who thinks otherwise. The fantatic's destruction of the property in itself isn't necessarily a sin. It could be totally stupid, harmful - if it ignites civil war, reduces religious observance and causes many other sins. but the destruction per se is not necessarily a sin.

    2. See, I think it is wrong even to seriously discuss that a Baal t'shuva should be allowed to destroy his parent's property, because it fosters a spirit of rebellion that is against the concept of Kibud a va em.

      I think an appropriate response would be: if you think TV is harmful, stay away from it, and don't tell your parents what to do. If you want to convince them of the validity of torah and halacha, do it through darkei noam, by positive personal example, so that they are impressed. ruining their TV set will not impress them in any positive way.


    3. Do you agree that there is such a principle?

      Again there are many factors including what you just mentioned that would strongly prevent action being carried out.

      I agree that your approach is more helpful - but again - the baal teshuva asked directly whether there was such a principle. Would you have lied?

  6. Where is the LineJuly 1, 2012 at 6:11 PM

    Let's say a zealot decides his G-d serving mission is to destroy evil in the form of computers based on the asifa's message that computers are forbidden and destroyers of soul.("Rather the question is whether to destroy an impure device which causes spiritual harm and encourages transgressing severe sins. Thus it seems we are only destroying evil.") And so this person breaks into homes and destroys people's property (ie their computers) and doesn't get caught but causes people great loss, in terms of all the irreplacible data as well as the computer itself.

    Are you telling me that in this case (I'm not speaking in abstractions I am speaking of this particular situation) the Torah would (or even just might) hold him innocent of sin?

  7. The mere fact that R Sternbuch appears to be unconcerned about Dina DMalchusa is a big problem for me.

  8. i guess this is what shimon peres has in common. from Wikipedia
    Peres' grandfather, Rabbi Zvi Meltzer, a grandson of Rabbi Chaim Volozhin, had a great impact on his life. In an interview, Peres said: "As a child, I grew up in my grandfather's home… I was educated by him… my grandfather taught me Talmud. It was not as easy as it sounds. My home was not an observant one. My parents were not Orthodox but I was Haredi. At one point, I heard my parents listening to the radio on the Sabbath and I smashed it."[13] At the age of four, Peres was taken by his father to receive a blessing from Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (The Chofetz Chaim

  9. DT, you're trying to defend the indefensible with silly, extreme examples. The issue here is in this (erroneous) world view TV equals sexual immorality. Once you create such a false straw man it becomes impossible to back down.

    Thank God there are still normal poskim who understand the nuances of the world and that we have to be able to live in it.

    In sense, your publishing nonsensical "teshuvas" like these does far more spiritual damage than the more overtly anti-religious blogs. It's horrid, twisted logic like this that is pushing more and more people away from Yiddishkeit. And the more you call it "Torah" the worse you make it.

    1. by describing yourself as "on the way out" I assume that means that you are rejecting more than this teshuva.

      Your harsh language doesn't leave much to the imagination as to what you have been wrestling with. As you said - you are on the way out - and aren't interested in dialogue but rejection.

      The only issue is whether this teshuva is an honest representation of how a significant part of the Orthodox world views things. It obviously is - but it is not your view.

      If you have an alternative that is acceptable than why are you are your way out?

    2. "In sense, your publishing nonsensical "teshuvas" like these does far more spiritual damage than the more overtly anti-religious blogs."

      i think on the way out has a point there, nor is he (or she) the first commentator who draws the blog author's attention to this problem. (see comments on recently published texts about the inferiority of women)

    3. This blog is not concerned with sugar coating reality or cherry picking material so that it conforms to a viewpoint that is politically correct.

      I am simply presenting the material as it is understood by the authorities that created it. If it is true - then it really doesn't matter whether it makes you uncomfortable or not. On the other hand if it is false than it is important to establish what the truth is.

    4. Helas I am not interested in apologetics. If Judaism is true then it is important to understand it whether you like it or not. If I am presenting material which is either false or misrepresented - then it is important to establish that fact.

      Your suggestion that I only present material here that conforms to a person's preconceived understanding - is relevant for kiruv organizations. For mature adults it is important to focus on the reality of religion - not just on what makes you feel good.

      You seem to be suggesting that I be intellectually dishonest to make people feel more comfortable. If you want to be entertained rather than challenged - I would suggest you look elsewhere.

    5. On the way out...July 3, 2012 at 6:08 AM

      See, you made a bad assumption. I'm the way out of the Chareidi religion, thank God. And no, this teshuva, thankfully, represents only a small slice of the most fanatic end of orthodoxy. In reality, only a nutcase would even think about smashing their parents' TV.

      Oh sure, there may be tens of thousands who dress in the uniform and pledge allegiance to their divine Daas Torah masters. But it's mostly pomp.

      The truth is, I think publishing this type of nonsense is good. Unfortunately, it helps push many of the Chareidi religion out of frumkeit, but it also helps many others live normative religious lives.

      Maybe this is "Torah" but it just how Torah can be perverted by anyone to make Judaism look ugly and mean. Keep up the good work!

    6. You are intellectually dishonest when you accuse everyone who does not agree with those kinds of texts that they are kofrim, or not jewish, or apikorsim... ...when really texts of this kind only represent a minimal fringe of judaism, and not the fringe that judaism could be most proud of... If you are intellectually honest, at least, you should aknowledge that this is a possible interpretation, but there are many opposing opinions.

    7. Helas instead of simply smearing me the the charge of intellectual dishonesty - I would like you to put up or shut up. Please show me what I said is not mainstream? Are you claiming that there is no concept of forcing people to keep mitzvos? Are you claiming there is no concept of preventing people from sin? That the dispute of the Nesivor and Ktzos is only a minority view? That as Rav Sternbuch said - that there are other considerations whether and how to implement these views and thus there could be legitimate diverses of tactics - even though the underlying principles are agreed upon?

      Please share with us the "many opposing opinions" that reject what Rav Sternbuch has said?

    8. it is not mainstream that a child should destroy his parents TV set and that a Rabbi asked about this should say "well, a TV set really deserves to be destroyed, but perhaps he should have asked a rabbi first".

      Your arguments were only distractions, leading away from the main theme, bringing in other aspects (like danger of physical harm, which is not the case here)

    9. that is not an adequate answer It doesn't justify accusing me of intellectual dishonesty and that claiming that there are many other opposing opinions

      Again please present the proof to validate your slanderous comment

  10. sadly, plenty of those without TV who become molestors

  11. Rav Moshe Weinberger, in one of his shiurim, has the best line: Every generation has its internet. Every generation has something external to blame all its shortcomings on. Are the kids misbehaving? Couldn't be us parents and teachers. Couldn't be the way we approach educating them. Must be something else like....

  12. Same question regarding smartphones


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