Not only are boycotts, bribery and intimidation against Torah law, but they ultimately do not succeed.

torah boycotts

By Rabbi Ari Enkin

Glancing at the latest headlines these days, one cannot help but notice the “B” word appearing over and over again. Yes, the word “boycott” is rearing its ugly head. It happens every so often, in all aspects of political and activist life. Sometimes it is legitimate, such as to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and sometimes it is merely immature frustration. Boycott this, boycott that. Now it’s Boycott Israel!

There are a number of boycott projects in the works. One of them is the “Sodastream Boycott.” You might have read about it. SodaStream’s world-famous Israel branch manufactures products in the city of Ma’ale Adumim in Judea.

The company employs more than 900 Palestinian Arabs and has even built a mosque for them on site. It’s a place where Jews and Arabs get along and work side by side. A place where friendships are formed and life-cycle events are celebrated together – whether the employees live in Tel Aviv or Ramallah. Yet there are people exerting pressure against on SodaStream customers because it is located in the “West Bank.”

Anywhere else, such an arrangement would be recognized as an oasis of co-existence! Yet because it is in Judea, in Israel, it is labelled by some as a “war crime.”

And then, of course, there is US Secretary of State John Kerry. While Kerry certainly deserves all the “perks” that come with his frequent flyer program, considering all his recent visits to Israel, his tact and diplomacy are not “percolating” very well here. Kerry is now using the “B” word as a threat to Israel and to the Jewish people, warning them of dire consequences should peace talks fail.

Boycott, bribery, and intimidation. Is that Kerry’s method of diplomacy?

What does the Torah say about boycotts,  bribery and other forms of intimidation and manipulation?


The Torah tells us several times that we are not to take bribes nor to be influenced by favors. For example, “Bribery blinds the wise and distorts the words of the just.” (Exodus 23:8. See also Deuteronomy 16:19).

The Talmud curses those who accept bribes, adding that those who do so “bring Divine anger upon the world.” It is a terrible sin for a judge to accept a bribe irrespective of whether the judgment could be swayed as a result of the bribe. It is forbidden to give or take a bribe even if the bribe could not possibly have any effect on the verdict.

Maimonides, the greatest Jewish philosopher of the medieval period whose influence remains to this day, writes that not only is a financial bribe prohibited, but any form of favor is forbidden as well. He offers a number of historical examples, one being a case in which a judge was on a boat and a person offered his hand in order to help him disembark. Some time later, that same person appeared in the courtroom, and when the judge saw him, he disqualified himself from taking the case in order not to make a biased judgment. In a similar situation, a man had brushed some dust off the coat of a local judge when he saw him on the street. This fellow, too, wound up in the courtroom, and the judge refused to take the case lest he subconsciously favor the person who had shown him kindness.

It is interesting to note, however, that historically, political leaders were often involved in bribes and boycotts. (See, for instance: Kings I 15:19 and Kings II 16:8.)

Apparently, some things never change, and Kerry’s “B” games are just an example. The words of Rabbi Yechiel Epstein, in his famous work Aruch Hashulchan (a scholarly compilation of Jewish law), could not be more appropriate:

“…And not only is the judge forbidden from receiving bribery, but all officials and persons involved in public matters…are forbidden to be biased in any matter as a result of friendship or hostility, and all the more so by taking bribery.”

Wow! Was Rabbi Epstein writing in the early 20th century with Kerry in mind?

In any event, Mr. Kerry, nobody wants peace more than we do. Nobody! But if peace talks fail, it will not be because Israel did not offer painful concessions. Maybe, just maybe, it will be because of the obstinance of the Palestinian side, which refuses to recognize Israel as the Jewish State.

Author: Rabbi Ari Enkin,
Rabbinic Director, UWI
Date: Feb. 5, 2014