Volume 48 Number 18
                    Produced: Sun May 29 10:20:41 EDT 2005

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Embarrassment and Rabbinical Prohibitions
         [Chana Luntz]
Kevod HaBeriyot
         [Mark Dratch]


From: Chana Luntz <chana@...>
Date: Sun, 29 May 2005 00:29:09 +0100
Subject: Re: Embarrassment and Rabbinical Prohibitions

Doctor Klafter <?@?.?.invalid> writes
>> If one held that not eating in someone's house was sufficient
>> embarrassment to be over on kovod habrios then presumably yes, you would
>> (and should) be willing to transgress this halacha for the sake of
>> embarrassing a friend or relative because of the principle that kovod
>> habrios is docheh d'rabbanans.
>It does not appear to me that sugya in Berakhot 19b supports Chana's

As mentioned below, Dr Klafter and I had some private correspondence in
which I cited various sources (although admittedly in shorthand, as I
did not have time to set out details of what they said).  For the
benefit of the list, however, I will try and work through some of the
sources on kovod habriyos.

As I mentioned, the reference to kovod habrioys being docheh d'rabbanans
is found on Brochos 19b but further halachos on kovod habrios are found
on subsequent dafim.  Perhaps the best place to start if you want an
overview is the Rambam in Hilchos Kelim perek 10, halacha 29 - after
stating the rule regarding finding shatnes in one's garment (a d'orisa
prohibition that I will discuss later) he goes on to say

"...Because kovod habriyos does not push away an explicit negative
commandment in the Torah.  And why does kovod habriyos push away the
returning of a lost object , because that is a negative commandment that
relates to money.  [Discussion of special rules regarding kohanim
becoming tameh not translated] ... But a matter that is an issur
d'rabbanan [issur d'vreyhem] behold this is pushed away [docheh] because
of kovod habriyos in all cases [b'kol makom].  And even though it is
written in the Torah "lo tasur min hadavar" [ie it is a Torah mitzvah to
follow the d'rabbanans] behold this negative commandment is pushed away
because of kovod habriyos. Therefore, if one has upon oneself shatnez
shel d'vrahem [ rabbinically prohibited shatznez] one should not rip it
off in the market place .. but it if is of the Torah, he must take it
off immediately".

Now the Tur (in Yoreh Deah siman 303) commenting on this Rambam brings
the very first part of it (the part I did not quote) which begins by
saying "if one saw his friend was wearing shatznez of the Torah even in
the market place he must tear it off him" and comments on that that the
Rosh disagrees with this formulation.  According to the Rosh, if he
himself finds shatznez of the Torah he needs to rip it off himself (even
though it will be a violation of kovod habriyos) even in the market
place, but, unlike the Rambam, the Rosh holds that if he sees his friend
wearing the shatnez of the Torah, and his friend doesn't know he does
not have to tell him in the market place, but can wait until he gets to
his house and because of kovod habriyos he can remain silent (while in
contrast the Rambam would hold that he would be over on the commandment
of lifnei iver lo titen michshol [in front of the blind do not put a
stumbling block]).

> though in a private correspondence she was able to adduce a startling
>teshuva by the Nodeh Be-Yehuda where humiliation of a family's
>reputation allowed the Nodeh Be-Yehuda to prevent someone from
>notifying a husband about the extramarital sexual relationship affair
>that his wife was engaged in.

The Teshuva is chelek aleph Orech Chaim siman 35 and the situation was
that the wife had been engaged a while ago in an affair with her son in
law. The son in law later did teshuva, and asked the Nodeh B'yehuda
whether he needed to notify the husband.

The question that the Nodeh B'Yehuda discussed was did kovod habriyos,
in this context the shame and disgrace that would come upon what was
apparently a distinguished family, mean that the son-in-law should not
tell the husband

>  Normally, doing so would be a mitzvah because the
>halakha because of the prohibition to remain married to an adulteress.

This prohibition of course to have relations with an adulteress is a
Torah prohibition, so the Nodeh B'Yehuda was not discussing overriding
d'rabbanans, but Torah prohibitions.  Therefore, he needed to get in to,
and hence discussed, the machlokus between the Rambam and the Rosh that
I outlined above whether in fact one could, even in the case of a Torah
prohibition, let somebody remain in ignorance for kovod habriyos

In fact he concluded that because of the age of the couple at this time,
it was permissible for the husband to remain married to the wife so long
as they did not have relations, for which the desire was not likely to
be there.  Therefore he held that the husband need not divorce the wife,
even if he was told, and should just cease relations (to the extent
there were any), and hence the shame and disgrace could be avoided.

The reason I brought the teshuva therefore, was not because of the
discussion regarding the relationship to rabbinical prohibitions, but
because it gave an insight into what constituted kovod habriyos - ie it
was not just personal degradation of the nature of excrement and
nakedness, but the disgrace of a family (which included grown children
who would be impacted).

>However, there are some key differences here.  In the case by the Nodeh
>be-Yehuda, he did not give anyone permission to violate a Torah or
>rabbinical transgression.  Rather, he simply said that it was not
>necessary for a third party to inform the husband.  Had the husband
>approached the Nodeh-Be-Yehuda himself, presumably he would have been
>forced to divorce his wife despite the humiliation that would result
>for their children.

As indicated, in fact he told the son- in-law to tell the husband
because he did not need, in the particular circumstances, to require a
divorce, just a separation from relations. (And he noted that when a
person is over on the issur of eshet ish, there are two parts of the
issur, one of which is the ben adam l'chavero [between man and his
neighbour] aspect vis a vis the husband, and for that he needed to tell
the husband, but that did not mean that the husband needed to divorce

> There is a well known principle in halakha that there is more latitude
>to instruct someone to desist from performing positive mitzvah that to
>instruct someone to violate a prohibition.  (In the lexicon of the
>yeshiva, the rabbonim have more to be lenient with a "shev ve-al
>ta'aseh" than a "kum ve-aseh.")  In addition, not all authorities agree
>with this ruling by the Nodeh Be-Yehuda, as demonstrated by the well
>known controversy about 7 years ago involving a rabbi who breached his
>female congregant's confidentiality to inform her husband that she was
>having an affair.

That would depend on whether one followed the Rambam or the Rosh.  If
one followed the Rambam, then one would need to tell in all cases
because of the fact that it was a Torah prohibition that one is over,
the shev v'al tas'aseh in the case is only according to the position of
the Rosh.  But this maklokus is only in the case of a Torah prohibition,
they agree in the case of a rabbinical prohibition that kovod habriyos

However, not everybody does rule in accordance with the Rambam.

I did not cite to Dr Klafter in private correspondence, but Rav Ovadyah
Yosef in Yabiat Omer (vol 8 Yoreh Deah siman 32) discusses a case where
a woman prior to becoming frum became pregnant and had had a state
abortion.  Then she became frum and married a charedi yeshiva bochur.
In the fulness of time, she gave birth to a boy, and the husband was
getting all geared up to do a pidyon haben.  However, as you may know, a
pidyon haben cannot be carried out if there has been a previous
miscarriage by the wife, which would include what had happened here.
She had never told the husband about the previous abortion, and
obviously did not want to.  The problem was the issur of bracha l'atala
[unnecessary bracha] that the husband would make at the pidyon haben.

Rav Ovadiah discusses the halacha of kovod habriyos and ruled that it
was applicable here.  The problem for Rav Ovadiah is that while
according to many if not most Ashkenazim a bracha l'vatala is only an
issur d'rabbanan, and so could clearly be pushed aside for kovod
habriyos following all the sources I cited before, the Shulchan Aruch
that Rav Ovadiah follows takes the view that it is a d'orisa [Torah
law], which forced Rav Ovadiah to get into a discussion of this
machlokus between the Rambam and the Rosh.  However, notwithstanding
that, Rav Ovadiah ruled leniently, ie that the husband need not be told,
and he notes at the end of his teshuva that he then heard that Rav
Bakshi Doron had a similar question come before him and he ruled

>The cases cited by Rashi for "kevod ha-beriyot" on Berachot 19b amount
>to permission to transgress rabbinical prohibitions on the Sabbath
>where a person would otherwise remain soiled with excrement, or be
>forced to walk naked through a semi-public domain.  This is the same
>logic behind the rule that rabbinical laws on the Sabbath are pushed
>aside in the case of significant physical pain.  However, the fact that
>unobservant Jews may be offended by adherence to the halakha by an
>observant Jew is not analogous to this case.  What makes one person
>offended and not another is highly subjective and impossible to predict
>even when someone knows a relative very well.  The same person can be
>offended on one day but not offended on another day.  The limitless
>range of human emotional responses are determined by countless and
>often unconscious factors.  Contrast this with the degrading of one's
>body with public nakedness or filth.

That is certainly true, and one of the reasons one needs to understand
what is involved in kovod habriyos.  Tosophos in Shevuos 30b ("aval")
distinguishes between a gnai gadol [a great - help, how do you translate
gnai? (disgrace or demeaning of oneself is my best attempt - Avi)] and
one that is not so great - the case is discussing a scholar who knows
testimony but will have to appear before a beis din of lesser stature
than he is where he appears not permitted to refrain from giving that
testimony if it is testimony the Torah requires him to give, and is not
a monetary case, even though this is a case of shev ve'al ta'aseh.  This
Tosphos suggests, is not such a great gnai as to invoke kovod habriyos
pushing away a shev v'al taseh, which it otherwise would do.  This theme
of gnai gadol versus other types of gnai is taken up by the Magen
Avraham in Orech Chaim siman 13 si'if katan 8.

An interesting link (and one that I think was actually made by somebody
on the list) is made by Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in Minchas Shlomo
chelek aleph siman 7 (very last part).  Where, after discussing the
concept of kovod habriyos pushing away d'rabbanans, he links kovod
habriyos with the concept of embarrassing someone so much that their
face goes white (which if you recall is likened to murder in the gemora
where it is done in public, as it causes the blood to flow).

There is much more to say - including some comments on the part I have
skipped regarding socialising with non Jews and the link make to non
observant Jews, (and some very interesting things about bread especially
- and its link to "aivah") as opposed to other foods) but I am running
out of time (and no doubt am well over the quota of words that Avi is
prepared to allocate me). [I, and I know others, enjoy these postings,
so as long as you keep it to no more than one issue length, I'm OK. Avi,

Suffice to make one obvious comment though.  If it is indeed possible to
both satisfy kovod habriyos and not be over on an issur d'rabbanan, that
is clearly the way to go.  The issue only come up when there is a clear
conflict and where there is a clear gnai, however one defines that.
This may at times, I suspect, be cultural.  In Northern European
("drinking" cultures) people (other than close relatives) are rarely
mortally offended if you will not eat with them. In Middle Eastern
cultures the offence I suspect is more acute.  That might well be a
factor a Rav might take into consideration in considering whether in
fact there is sufficient gnai here, as well as all the other

If I have a chance over the next few weeks I will try to pull together a
few other sources, although I am looking like I am going to be extremely
busy at work and at home, so no promises

Chana Luntz


From: <MSDratch@...> (Mark Dratch)
Date: Fri, 27 May 2005 08:35:07 EDT
Subject: Re: Kevod HaBeriyot

      as has already been explained by another contributor, kovod
      habrios does not mean respect for someone else. It means saving
      **oneself** from acute embrrassment.

While many cases of kevod ha-beriyot deal with self concern, many more
do not.  Here are just two snipets from an article I wrote, "The Divine
Honor Roll: Kevod ha-Beriyot (Human Dignity) in Jewish Law and Thought"
on the web at: "http://www.ocweb.org/index.php/knowledgebase/kbtemp/C55

The primary Talmudic source (Berakhot 19b-20a) showcasing the clash of
Torah law and the demand for respecting human sensitivities concerns
someone who, while in a public space, realizes that he is wearing a
garment containing sha'atnez (a biblically forbidden admixture of linen
and wool).  Invoking the biblical verse, "There is no wisdom and no
understanding and no counsel against God (Proverbs 21:30)," the Talmud
instructs him to remove the forbidden garment immediately, even if this
leaves him naked in public.[See (Yevamot 63b)] The Talmud dismisses
concern for the preservation of human dignity when it conflicts with a
biblical prohibition: "In every circumstance in which there is a
desecration of God's Name, we do not show respect [even] to a Rabbi."

Rambam records this case in a different way.  He describes a person who
observes the sha'atnez in another's garment and is required to strip the
garment off the other person.[Hil. Kilayim 10:29] Rosh, for example, in
his comments on the Talmudic passage concerning the wearing of
sha'atnez, maintains that one is obligated to remove a prohibited
sha'atnez garment only if he himself is wearing it.  If, however,
another person is wearing such a garment and the wearer is oblivious to
that fact, the observer is under no obligation to unclothe him and need
not inform him until the garment can be removed without offense,
discreetly and appropriately.  Since he is wearing the prohibited
garment unintentionally (shogeg), we are to be sensitive to his
dignity.[Piskei ha-Rosh, Nidah ch. 9] This position is put forth in the
Jerusalem Talmud, which describes two cases: a kohen sitting in a study
hall, unaware that a corpse is present, and a person unknowingly wearing
sha'atnez.  In both cases, the Talmud rules that one may not inform him
of the circumstances that may lead to his embarrassment.

Mark Dratch


End of Volume 48 Issue 18