Embarrassing Others

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Embarrassing another person is one of the most severe prohibitions in the Torah. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most often violated. It is essential to learn the Halachot of Embarrassing others in order to avoid causing this terrible pain to others.

= Source of Prohibition =

David There are two possible prohibitions that one violates when he or she embarrasses another. First, the Torah prohibits oppressing another [1]. The Mishnah Bava Metzia [2] extends this prohibition to oppressing another with words as well as with money. This prohibition forbids several different ways of oppressing with words. When one embarrasses another, he or she is in violation of the prohibition of “A man may not oppress his fellow [3]. Second, there is a specific prohibition not to embarrass that is derived from the Mitzvah of rebuking others. The Torah commands “You shall surely rebuke your friend[4].” However, the end of the verse: “and you shall not bear iniquity because of him” warns us not to allow the fulfillment of this commandment to simultaneously cause a transgression of humiliating another. The prohibition against embarrassing in this specific case creates a general prohibition against embarrassing another in any situation [5]. In addition to violating the above prohibitions, anyone who embrasses another is also failing to fulfil the Mitzvah of V’ahavta L’reach Kamocha [6].

= Punishment =

There are three opinions about whether someone who embarasses somone else receives the punishment of Malkos (lashes):

  1. The Sefer HaChinuch says there is no punishment of malkos for embarrassing others [7]
  2. The Mordechai does however demand malkos for embarrassment, and onat devarim (verbal oppression.) [8]
  3. The Chiddushei Anshei Shem approves malkos mardus, or unofficial malkos, issued by rabies which may actually be applied more severely. [9]

Payment for damage done by embarrassing someone

  1. The Talmud says that verbal harassment does not make a person responsible for monetary punishment. [10]
  2. The Maharshal says that a person can choose choose to pay a fine to the victim, or charity (it’s debated which one) instead of taking lashes. [11]

Other Punishments in this world

  1. Even though there is no punishment in Beit Din, the Sefer HaChinuch warns that God has other ways of punishing people in this world[12]
  2. “When one causes suffering to others, he is punished in Olam Hazeh too. Every person must pay attention to what he does and what he says so as not to hurt his fellow man. The truth is that the punishment is much worse in Olam Habo, but most people are not aroused by what they can’t see directly, so I am speaking about something that everyone understands well.”[13]

Punishment in the World to Come

  1. The gemara says all who descend into Gehenna (hell) eventually leave. Except for one who publicly shames his neighbour. [14]

= Atoning for Embarrassment =

In order to achieve full repentance for sinning, one must undergo a complex process of asking for forgiveness. The steps of the process include: Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag. This seems to imply that the punishment is final with no chance for Teshuva.

  1. However, Tosafot explain that the Gemara is only talking about if you didn’t do Teshuva, because Teshuva helps for everything. [15]
  2. The Midrash, on the other hand, says that embarrassing one in public cannot be absolved by Teshuva [16].
  3. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that the reason we say you are condemned to Hell for eternity is not because Teshuva does not work if you do it, but it’s because it’s highly unlikely that one would actually do Teshuva for embarrassing someone. The reason being that we often rationalize embarrassing others, or we simply fail to acknowledge the damage it causes. [17]

While the steps enumerated above are the standard steps of completing Teshuva, there are specific steps required to atone for embarrassment:

  1. You must try to appease your friend at an opportune time, or until he agrees to listen to you. You must then feel you friend’s pain in your heart and resolve not to embarrass others. Finally, if one embarrasses you in the future, you should not feel upset, rather you should view it as fair. [18]
  2. One should give gifts to the person they oppressed as a means of making amends. One should give Mishloach Manot to the person on Purim, or confront them before Yom Kippur when they’re more likely to listen. One may also have friends help him lay the groundwork for his apology. [19]
  3. “If the humiliation took place in the presence of others, make your apology in their presence, as well as in private. Otherwise the victim has the right to say, “You shamed me in front of others, and now you want to apologize in private. Bring me all the people who heard you embarrass me, and then I will accept your apology.” [20]

= Giving up your life =

The Gemara compares embarrassing someone in public to killing them[21]. Murder has a special status in Halacha. It is a subject of debate if the comparison the Gemara makes between embarrassing and murder is meant to be taken literally with implications for Halacha or not. Two comments in the Gemara seem to suggest that the comparison should be taken literally.

  1. When the Jewish people asked King David “what manner of death befalls he who has relations with a married woman?” David quickly replies “He is executed with strangulation, and then receives a portion in the world to come; however, one who shames his fellow in public has no portion in the world to come.” As you can see from king David is it “Better for one to have relations with a possibly married woman than to shame his fellow in public”[22].
  2. When Tamar, Yehuda’s daughter in law, is accused of adultery, to save herself she privately gives Yehuda a hint that she is pregnant with his baby without embarrassing him publicly. As you can see from Tamar is it “Better for one to hurl himself into a fiery furnace rather than shame his fellow in public” [23]

On the other hand, some later commentators assume that when the Talmud makes comparisons between an act and some other much worse act (such as comparing stealing to murder or comparing disrespecting the Chagim to Avodah Zarah) the comparison should not be taken literally [24] In the following five instances Rabbis have argued about the implications of taking the comparison between embarrassing and murder literally[25]:

  1. Should one give up their life to avoid embarrassing another just like one must give up their life to avoid killing another?
  2. Can you refrain from saving someone if you would be embarrassed in the process just like you can refrain from saving another if you would die in the process?
  3. Can you violate Shabbat to avoid embarrassment just like you can violate Shabbbat to avoid death?
  4. Is a kohen who embarrasses someone prohibited from ascending the duchen to say Birchat Kohanim just like a Kohen who has murdered someone is?
  5. Are you allowed to give permission to someone to embarrass you or not just like you are not allowed to give someone permission to kill you?


  1. VaYikra 25:17
  2. Bava metzia 58b
  3. VaYikra 25:17
  4. Vayikra 19:17.
  5. Sefer HaChinuch 240 based on Sifra
  6. Vayikra 19:18.
  7. Sefar chinook
  8. Bava Metzia 4:306
  9. Chiddusei Anshei Shem
  10. Bava Kama 91a
  11. Yam Shel Shlomo 8:49
  12. Sefer HaChinuch 240
  13. Reb Aharon Leib Shteinman as quoted in http://www.torahlab.org/community/article/why_so_much_suffering/
  14. R. Hanina in Bava Metziah 58b
  15. Bava Metiza 58b
  16. Otzar HaMidrashim pg. 505
  17. Shaarei Teshuva 3:141
  18. Sefer Chassidim 54
  19. Reuven, Rabbi Nitzan Kitzur Hilchot Smirat HaLashon
  20. Yalkout Shimoni, Hosea 14
  21. Gemara Bava Metziah 58b
  22. Gemara Bava Metziah 59a
  23. Gemara Bava Metziah 59a
  24. Rabbis Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Zvi Ashkenazi and Yaakov Etlinger as cited by Feldman, Daniel Z. “Emotional Homicide: The Prohibitions Of Embarrassing Others In Public”
  25. All five are discussed in detail in Feldman, Daniel Z. “Emotional Homicide: The Prohibitions Of Embarrassing Others In Public”