Friday, April 26, 2013

Bein adam l'chavero sins - only if done to hurt & vanquish the other

Considering this is the period of Sefira, it is appropriate to talk about bein adam l'chavero sins. One important consideration started with the question that since hitting another is a doreissa sin - why is it permitted to hit children for chinuch which is only a rabbinic mitzva?  The basic  prohibition of hitting is described by the Rambam
Rambam(Hilchos Chovel 5:1): It is prohibited for a man to injure himself or others. Not only is injury prohibited but anyone who hits a good Jew - whether it is a child (koton) or adult (gadol) whether it is a man or woman – derech netzayon (in a manner of strife) - transgresses a negative commandment. As it says concerning flogging a criminal in Devarim (25:3), Do not beat him beyond that which is prescribed as punishment. If the Torah warns us about hitting a criminal beyond which is prescribed as punishment - than surely it is prohibited to hit a righteous person.
Rav Elchanon Wasserman focuses on the phrase derech netzayon (in the manner of stife) in his commentary on Yevamos. He then produces an important generalization.
Kovetz Ha’aros (Yevamos #70): ...It would seem that all that is prohibited between people (bein adam l’chavero) is only prohibited when done in a harmful and destructive manner without justification. For example regarding the prohibition of “Not hating your brother.” This is only prohibited for gratuitous hatred (sinas chinom). In other words when he is not doing anything wrong (davar ervah). However if he is doing something wrong then it is permitted to hate him. It is important to note that the reason for hatred being permitted in this case is not because of the fact that a sinful person is not considered your “brother.” Tosfos (Pesachim 113b) explains that if you hate this sinful person for another reason then you transgress the prohibition. The hatred is only permitted because of the bad (davar ervah) that you see in him. Similarly regarding the prohibition of beating another, the Rambam writes that it is prohibited only if done as fighting (derech netzoyan). This is clear from the fact that it is permitted for a teacher to his student. And this that we noted before in Sanhedrin (84b) – that is only a rabbinic restriction. And similarly concerning the prohibition of causing anguish to a widow or orphan, Rambam (Hilchos De’os 6:10) writes that if it is done to teach Torah or a trade – there is no prohibition. Similarly concerning the prohibition of lashon harah, it is permitted against people who cause discord and quarrels in order to stop the fight. Similar concerning using words to cause anguish (onas devarim), it is permitted publicly criticize someone publicly if it is for the sake of chastisement. It is even permitted to publicly embarrass someone if it is done for the necessity of chastisement for a person who has not stopped his bad behavior after being rebuked in private. In such a case it is even permissible to curse him. In fact this is what was done by the prophets in the past as the Rambam (Hilchos De’os 6:8) notes. We thus shown from all this, that all the prohibition involving interpersonal actions do not apply when the act is beneficial.
 The above is an important conceptualization. My son had a related conversation with the Rosh Yeshiva of Slabodka Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. He said that the Chazon Ish didn't understand the need for the extensive scholarship provided in the Chofetz Chaim's sefer regarding lashon harah. He stated the prohibition of lashon harah is simply not to cause harm to others through speech.

In short, the common way of viewing these mitzvos is that they are severe prohibitions for which there are limited heterim in special circumstances. The mitzvos and heterim are so complicated and nuanced that only a major posek can know when and how the heterim apply. Consequently people commonly are machmir to avoid transgressing the prohibition - and end up causing unnecessary harm to others (See the Piskei Teshuva O.C. 156). In contrast Rav Elchonon Wasserman's conceptualization is that the prohibitions only apply in situations where the intent and goal is to hurt another person. In a situation where the purpose is to help, and this is best way to help - there is no prohibition in the first place. 

This latter point is important. One can not speak lashon harah and  hurt another simply by claiming that it is  will also be beneficial.  The orientation of being focused on helping is critical. Thus Rav Wasserman is not providing a heter to permit actions which are harmful. One can not desire to cause damage and then find some benefit  and therefore claim that it is permitted because of the addition of the benefit. The concern has to be to help the other and not hurt him,
See note [י]


  1. Here's some rabble rousing. The rebbe who hits a talmid, as seems obvious from the quoted Rambam, must be doing so in a manner which is educational. However, if the hitting constitutes the rebbe taking revenge against the talmid for having broken his rules, or as an expression of his own anger (ego), then this would be the prohibition of assault.

    I assume this premise is correct, and would be a bit shocked to hear another explanation in the words of the Rambam. Based on this, the rebbe who will use hitting in the course of his job must be clear that he is not releasing his own anger (a concept repeated often by many Gedolei Yisroel in their writing about this subject), and that it is likely to have the desired outcome of greater compliance with learning. If the child is likely to receive the petch as an expression of denigration and is more likely to rebel (even if initially quiet and compliant, but will be rejected and hurt), then such forms of hitting would be forbidden.

    Even this issue alone is enough grounds to insist that training for chinuch be mandatory, so that those entering the classroom have some knowledge about how to intervene with the talmid who does not comply with the basic rules of the classroom. How many yeshivos or schools can safely say that they have made training a requirement for eligibility to teach?

    1. Teach my child writes:

      "However, if the hitting constitutes the rebbe taking revenge against the talmid for having broken his rules... then this would be the prohibition of assault

      Not true. The לרעך כמוך brings the גר"ז הל' נזקי גוף ד' and says:
      דשרי להכרות אפילו לטבות האב שישמעו בקולו כמצוה עליה, והיינו כדי שיקיימו כיבוד ומורא הורים.

      I would assume that a Mecahanch has the same din, since there is a Mitzvas Kibud there, too.

      However, Rav Wosner says that regarding personal honor, it is כדאי not to be stringent.

  2. Thank you for posting! Lest someone say that "times have changed" since rav Elchonon's days - Please note that Rav Nisim Karelitz shlita brings Rav Elchonon להלכה ולמעשה in his חוט השני on Hilchos Loshon Horah Perek ו Halacha ב.

  3. please check your email.

  4. Rav Karelitz is by no means arguing with the Chofetz Chaim's approach. He is explaining a halacha found in the sefer
    Chafetz Chaim itself. The Chafetz Chayim constantly emphasizes that every heter also involves having intent for to'eles, but to argue that that is the only rule is simplistic. Rav Elchonon was a close talmid of the Chafetz Chayim and it is unlikely he disagreed with him on such a major point.


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.