When the Mafia Asks You to Clean Up After Them: A Halachic Analysis

(Thursday, October 8th, 2015)

hat tip Ba

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times

As of this writing, about 145,000 have seen it on Youtube [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixxd5DUW5VM] and probably several million have seen it on television.

His name is Shneur Freeman and he is a 31 year old carpet cleaner. He attended Yeshiva in Crown Heights. He answered a call for an estimate and asks for a name. The Italian man answering says that he prefers no names. They show him a huge red stain on a carpet and ask if he can clean the carpet without telling anyone. Shneur asks what it is. One Italian answers red wine. Another answer Marinara sauce.

Then they ask him if he can entirely get rid of another carpet. It is rolled up and there are shoes sticking out from the middle of the rolled up carpet.They slip him money, saying, “Dis is fer youse.”

He answers that he can do it, and that he is Jewish, from Brooklyn, and that he knows what’s going on.

Ultimately, it turned out to be a highly sophisticated Jimmy Kimmel prank utilizing his Cousin Sal, who has appeared in such pranks before. It also looked like Shneur Freeman was actually going to help them dispose of the body and clean the carpet.

At first glance, this may appear to be a Chilul Hashem. But the Five Towns Jewish Times contacted Shneur, and soon realized that poor Shneur the Carpet Cleaner was frightened for his life.

So the question is what are the halachic issues about getting rid of a dead body?

There is a fascinating Gemorah in Nedarim (22a), which deals with Ulla, a student of Rabbi Yochanan who travelled back and forth to Bavel. It is unclear whether he did so to teach the lessons that Rabbi Yochanan’s Beis Midrash used to teach or to raise funds for Eretz Yisroel, or both. Regardless, it explains why Shneur’s actions are, in fact, not a Chillul Hashem at all.

When ‘Ulla arose [back] to Eretz Yisroel, he was joined by two inhabitants of Chozai, one of whom arose and murdered the other. The murderer asked of Ulla: ‘Did I do well?’ ‘Yes,’ he replied; ‘moreover, cut his throat clean across.’ When he came before Rabbi Yochanan, he asked him, ‘Maybe, G-d forbid, I have strengthened the hands of transgressors?’ He replied, ‘You saved your life.’

Both the Rosh and the Ran understand this Gemorah as saying that were it not for Ulah’s life being in possible danger, it would have been prohibited to respond in this manner.

This prohibition is called Machazik Yedei Ovrei Aveirah – strengthening the hand of evil-doers. We find this prohibition (Shulchan Aruch CM 356:1) in purchasing items from thieves, which is a grave sin. It causes the person to steal more.

There are some situations where strengthening the hand of an evil-doer is a full-blown Biblical prohibition called “Lifnei Iver.” Other situations are considered Rabbinic violations. The difference lies in whether the person could have managed by himself without the input of the other party.

There is also a fascinating Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel on the Commandment not to murder found in parshas Yisro. He writes, “My Nation Israel shall not be murderers, nor friends or partners with murderers, nor shall there appear within the congregation of Israel murderers, and your sons shall not follow them and learn from them also to be murderers. For in the sin of murder destruction comes to the world.

Rav Avrohom Grodzinsky zt”l (1883-1944) the Mashgiach of the Slabodka Yeshiva explained this Targum Yonasan (Toras Avrohom – Netzach HaAdam) to mean that any partnership with a murderer is considered as if that partner did the murder itself.

Thus, unless there is a question of one’s own life being in danger, lending assistance to a murderer is tantamount to murder itself according to Rav Grodzinsky!

The Shaarei Teshuvah of Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaar 3:50) writes on the verse Do not follow the masses to do evil (Shmos 23:2), we are therefore warned not to strengthen the hand of evil-doer in words nor to be associated with those who agree to do evil. Even to do a Dvar Mitzvah it is forbidden to befriend an evildoer.

In conclusion, the actions of Reb Shneur are, in fact, not a Chilul Hashem, but were warranted in light of the circumstances.

For those who are curious, we did manage to ask Shneur a few questions and were able to clarify some points.

• He has been in the carpet cleaning industry close for 8 years and started his own company in 2013.

• This events in this video took place a few weeks before Shavous, in May.

• The Jimmy Kimmel people did not unwrap the “dead body” for him – even afterward. They were doing their best just to show the feet, and succeeded.

• He walked out of that house with a few hundred dollars.

More questions:

What were your thoughts?

What was I thinking?…. so much … At first, before they brought in a rug with a dead body I was actually pretty calm. I thought: maybe they had a fight with some unfortunate fellow and this was the outcome. This was not the first time I have been called to clean up a blood situation (nothing like this situation at all though). But once that big guy walked in, I tell you he scared me (I did not see the legs hanging out of the rug until they asked me to put the rug on my car). He had this look of, “Do what I say or you’re next..”

Were you davening?

So, at this point, I am thinking to myself, “Oh boy, what did I just get myself into? You can bet all your money I was praying. I was praying that I can do whatever they want so I can go home in one piece.

So where were you going to dump the body?

That is a good question. I really don’t know. I’m so glad the situation didn’t go that far.

What did you tell your family afterward?

I don’t think I really told my family much about it (I had to sign a waiver). I just called in to say, “I love you” to them all. For a minute 

I thought I was going to die. I think a near death situation reminded me how much I miss my family.

PLEASE NOTE THE FOLLOWING: Shneur, by the way, is 31 years old, single, and owns CARPET CLUB LA in Los Angeles, California. Cousin Sal is not a Mafioso. Jimmy Kimmel does not ask shailos before he scares people half to death. And the Five Towns Jewish Times is being distributed on Friday instead of Thursday this week – on account of the Yom Tov schedule.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia although my views have nought to do with my employer. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

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