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Where is the Love?

Av 5780 | August 2020
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During the Hebrew month of Av, we are more mindful of the dangers of spreading hatred, such as the sin’at chinam which led to the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. It is also the month in which we celebrate love, on Tu B’Av. Today, one significant place where hate is increasingly taking root is online. One of the ongoing questions of our generation will be what impact social media has had on young people’s social lives and mental health. The ability to connect anytime, anywhere, poses a challenge: how do we find balance and disconnect from the digital world, which at times leaves people feeling lonely, angry or depressed. One tool which has spread and grown in the virtual world is “shaming,” used to call out others whose behavior or language one finds disagreeable. Is there a basis in halakha for online shaming? If so, when and how should it be used?1

The Torah teaches that there is a mitzvah of “tochecha,” rebuking:

לֹֽא־תִשְׂנָ֥א אֶת־אָחִ֖יךָ בִּלְבָבֶ֑ךָ הוֹכֵ֤חַ תּוֹכִ֙יחַ֙ אֶת־עֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ וְלֹא־תִשָּׂ֥א עָלָ֖יו חֵֽטְא

You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kinsman but incur no guilt because of him.2

 The mitzvah to rebuke is integrally related to the mitzvah not to hate others “in your heart.” The Talmud in Arakhin explains that in order to not harbor hatred in one’s heart toward another person, it is necessary to rebuke them. However, one must do so in a way which does not lead to shaming them publicly.3 To reinforce this, the midrash notes the first time the language of tochecha is used in the Torah, when Abraham rebukes Avimelech, and learns from this that “rebuke should lead to love.”4 A similar sentiment is expressed in the continuation of the gemara in Arakhin:5

  1. Tarfon said, I wonder whether there is anyone in this generation who can accept reproof?!… R. Johanan b. Nuri said: I call heaven and earth to witness for myself that often was Akiba punished through me because I used to complain against him before our Rabban Shimon BeRebbe and all the more he showered love upon me, to make true what has been said: ‘Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee; reprove a wise man and he will love thee.’ (Mishlei 9:8)

The interpretation of the verse in Mishlei shows that there is a time and place for tochecha and not everyone is open to hearing it. Rabbi Akiva was exceptional in his ability to accept reproof with love.

The Rambam codified the mitzvah of tochecha but slightly softened the way it should be executed when he states that rebuke should be spoken softly and the rebuker should explain that he has the sinner’s best interest in mind.6 In the modern period, the Arukh HaShulchan held that the mitzvah of tochecha does not apply to those who are not open to receiving it. For instance, it would not be constructive to rebuke secular Jews with regard to keeping mitzvot.7 Finally, the Chafetz Chaim outlined specific rules for when it would be permissible to rebuke a person publicly (such as: checking the facts, rebuking them privately first, ensuring that one does not have a personal gain through humiliating another person, etc.).8

While online shaming is not the exact same thing as the mitzvah of tochecha, one can learn from the fact that the halakhic sources took great care to be selective when resorting to shaming others. Moreover, one main theme which runs throughout is the need to be careful not to spread hatred through tochecha or shaming. The month of Av is a time to take stock of what kind of hatred we may be harboring and to find ways to combat hate and increase love in the world.


 

Notes:

  1. This shayla blog is based on the article “Halachic Perspectives on ‘Shaming’ and Social Media,” published in Havineni, a Matan HaSharon Journal, compiled to mark the completion of the first cohort of Morot l’Halakha.
  2. Vayikra 19:17.
  3. Talmud Bavli Arakhin 16b.
  4. Bereshit Rabbah 54:3.
  5. Talmud Bavli Arakhin 16b.
  6. Rambam Mishneh Torah, hilchot Deot 6:7.
  7. Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Hayim, 156:9.
  8. Chafetz Chayim, Shemirat HaLashon, klal 10.

Karen Miller Jackson

is a Jewish educator and writer, who studies and teaches at Matan HaSharon and recently completed Matan HaSharon’s Morot l’Halakha program. She has an MA in Talmud and Midrash from NYU.