Last week, after months of planning, scores of rabbis from across North America shaved their heads as part of the #36rabbis project. (Here is the Rashi on the #36rabbis.)
It was a transcendent experience.
And one that has raised more than half a million dollars as the top St. Baldrick’s event of the year and the third highest grossing event in St. Baldrick’s history.
The morning after the Shave, a colleague sneered, “I notice you didn’t shave.”
Perhaps this colleague was attempting to be funny.
Or allaying his or her own guilt.
Or, more likely, this person is one of the many who have found it necessary to make a pointed comment to those of us involved in the event who did not shave.
This is mitzvah-shaming.
Like fat-shaming or slut-shaming, mitzvah-shaming is the act of making someone feel inadequate, guilty, or inferior based on a behaviour or set of behaviours that puts the individual outside of the cultural norm. Mitzvah-shaming is when someone derides an individual for not observing the same mitzvah as the rest of the group.
Such as not keeping kosher, not observing Shabbat, or, as in this case, not participating in the #36Rabbis Shave for the Brave.
And it is unconscionable.
In our post-Emancipation Jewish community, one’s sense of commandedness emanates from one’s relationship with God. Reform Judaism fiercely encourages religious autonomy and, therefore, does not permit mitzvah-shaming.
When Rabbi Phyllis Sommer and I conceived of the #36rabbis, we did it knowing that there would be those colleagues who would take on the burden of temporary disfigurement and that there would be others who, for a variety of personal reasons, would support us in other ways. We did not ask anyone to explain his or her decision not to shave — although some did choose to share it with us. We did not pass judgement on those who have chosen not to shave at this time. And neither should anyone else.
Ultimately, as with all behaviours, it is the One Who Sits in Judgement who will judge. Both those who chose not to shave…and their disparagers.