Pirke Avot 4:5
Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka says:
Whoever desecrates the Name of Heaven in secret, they will exact punishment from him in public;
unintentional and intentional,
both are alike regarding desecration of the Name.
What are we doing (or trying to do) behind closed doors??? These days any notion of “privacy” is fast disappearing. The omnipresent cameras in public spaces and electronic tracking everywhere has certainly led to an awareness that “hidden” or “secret” is only a relative term.
But our wisdom today was written in a very different time – though one in which people lived in VERY close quarters. There was not much “privacy” then either!
The rabbi says: Any sin – done publicly or secretly desecrates the Name (of God). Any sin – done intentionally or not, desecrates the Name (of God). How so????
Sin, even unintentional sin, may cause others to do the same. What we do is observed by others and they may infer from what we choose to do that certain actions are acceptable – which in reality are NOT acceptable. Sin “ripples outward” in ways we may be unaware of. It gets multiplied.
Sin, even “secret” sin, changes our hearts and deadens us inside. Pornography might be thought of as a good example. Rarely is it viewed in full view of others. But it can become addictive, can affect relationships with one’s spouse or significant other (now or in the future). This desecrates the Name – insults God who gave us the commandments. Additionally – our doing something in secret may indicate a belief that God doesn’t see it or care about it – and this insults God who is all-knowing and all-seeing.
Roman Catholic Christians do not generally accept the idea of “unintentional sin” – for us the requirements of sin are deliberate intent, knowledge that the act is considered sinful, and that the matter or action involved be of serious nature.
Unintentional sin in the Jewish tradition is still sin – but the punishment is much less severe than for intentional transgression. Still, one is liable to a degree for one’s carelessness or lack of knowledge.
Punishment will be public? The Christian gospels talk about things done in darkness that will be shouted from the rooftops. Both traditions talk about a resurrection of the dead and a judgment day – presumed to be public.