Words that Hurt: Torah Laws of Onaas Devarim

The Torah teaches: “When you sell something to your fellow, or buy from your fellow, do no wrong one man his fellow” (Vayikra 25:14). In a subsequent verse, the Torah states: “You shall not wrong one another.”

Dwelling on the two verses, the Gemara explains that the latter verse refers to onaas devarim. This means that causing somebody else emotional pain, by means of verbal, written, or any other form of communication, is a Torah prohibition. This basic prohibition is recorded by the Rambam and by the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 228:1).

The Gemara, moreover, writes that the prohibition of onaas devarim is more stringent even than the Torah transgression of monetary onaah (overcharging).

Several reasons are mentioned for this: The offense is worse since it attacks the person himself, rather than his money. Also the pasuk mentions the fear of G-d in the instruction of onaas devarim, which implies an added degree of severity. And finally, monetary wrongs can be restored by paying back, whereas anguish and grief caused, can never be recalled.

The Gemara adds that the punishment for causing suffering is executed more swiftly than that of monetary wrongs. Hashem, the Gemara explains, hears the call of one who calls Him out of pain and anguish.

In this article we will discuss the parameters and the laws of the prohibition of onaas devarim: Is the offense punishable by Beis Din? Which people does the Torah single out for special care in this context? Is it permitted to insult somebody else in retaliation for verbal assault? These questions, among others, are discussed below.

26/05/2015

Laws of the Kippa

The most easily recognized symbol of Jewish identity – for men – is doubtless the kippa or yarmulke. Orthodox men always wear a kippa, and even non-observant men are generally… Read more »

14/05/2015

Behar – A Good Deal or a Torah Proscription

I am looking for a property to buy in Jerusalem. Recently, a friend notified me of a potential bargain: an elderly person, who is clearly unaware of current market prices, is selling his apartment for a very cheap price, approximately two-thirds the market value. May I purchase the apartment for the suggested price, or must I inform the buyer that the price is too low, and make an offer that reflects current market values?

Early Bedikas Chametz

This week’s article discusses the timely obligation of bedikas chametz. True, there are still two weeks to go till Pesach, but even now, somebody leaving home might be obligated to check his house for chametz. What are the halachic details of this obligation? Is a blessing recited before checking? Does selling one’s chametz exempt one from the obligation? These questions, and more, are discussed in this week’s article.

Parsha Ponderings-Vayikra

DON’T PASS ON SALT FOR THIS MEAL! וכל קרבן מנחתך במלח תמלח, ולא תשבית מלח ברית אלקיך מעל מנחתך, על כל קרבנך תקריב מלח Your every meal-offering you shall salt… Read more »

14/03/2015

Purim Damages

Purim commemorates a reversal, a day of nahafoch hu, when fortunes were reversed and tables were turned. In the present article we will discuss a specific reversal that is not… Read more »

03/03/2015

Halachos of Making a Menorah

ParashasTerumah discusses making the vessels for the Mishkan – among them the Menorah.

The Gemara in three places (Rosh Hashanah 24a; Avodah 43a; Menachos 28b) establishes a prohibition of forming vessels that imitate the vessels of the Mikdash – including the Menorah. Specifically, the Gemara states that it is forbidden to form a Menorah of seven branches – but it is permitted to form a Menorah of five, six, or eight branches.

In the present article we will discuss this prohibition and its details. How is the prohibition defined and what is its severity? Is the prohibition restricted to making a seven-branched Menorah, or is it also forbidden to keep and use one? What changes can be made to permit the Menorah?

These questions, among others, are discussed below.

14/02/2015

“For Bribery Blinds the Wise” – Halachos of Bribes Today

This week’s article deals with the halachic issue of bribery – a prohibition found in this week’s Parashah, which the Torah and Chazal treat with great severity. What king of bribery is prohibited? When does bribery invalidate both judge and judgment? Moreover, does the prohibition apply only to judges, or does it extend to those holding public office? These questions, and more, are discussed in this week’s article.

Bo: Months and Dates in Halacha

We read this week of the first mitzvah given to Israel as a nation. This is the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh. Although the actual mitzvah of setting and sanctifying the month is unfortunately not practiced today, the interpretation that Ramban gives to the text hints to a current application of the mitzvah.
What is the nature of this mitzvah? How are we to date our letters and documents? Is there a problem with using secular dates? These questions, and more, are addressed in the weekly article.

Assault in Torah Law

This article deals with the Torah prohibition against assault, an issue we meet in Parashas Shemos in the “two Hebrew men fighting” that Moshe saw. When is it forbidden to hit others, and when does the prohibition not apply? What is the rule concerning smiting the wicked, and how does this halachah match the narrative mentioned in our parashah? What are the parameters of the prohibition against raising one’s hand against another? We will discuss these questions, and more, in the present article.