Hurting Others' Feelings

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Onaat Devarim is the prohibition to say anything that would pain, anger, hurt, frighten, bother or embarrass another person. [1]

The obligation

  1. This obligation applies at all times, in all places, to all Jewish men and women. One must also train one’s children in this obligation. [2]
  2. It is prohibited even to hurt the feeling of a child. [3]
  3. One should be extra careful not to hurt the feelings of a convert [4] as well as one's own wife. [5]

When is one liable?

  1. This prohibition applies even if one simply gestured or wrote something that hurt somebody else without actually saying it. [6]
  2. The main prohibition is violated when the word, action or gesture, was intended to hurt. [7] Nonetheless, one is obligated to distance oneself from the possibility of causing hurt unintentionally. [8]

Specific Applications

Negative Reminders

  1. It is prohibited to remind someone of his previous sins, or that he never used to be religious, or that he is a convert. [9]
  2. It is prohibited to remind someone of his wounds or of his ugly appearance. [10]
  3. It is prohibited to inform someone that his afflictions came to him because of his sins. [11] Nonetheless, it is permitted, and is even a Mitzvah, to softly allude to this possibility if one’s goal is to inspire him to repent. [12]
  4. It is prohibited to give rebuke to another person if it cannot be done without embarrassing, insulting or hurting his feelings. [13]

Public Areas

  1. It is forbidden to wake somebody up unless they either want to be woken up or it is for the fulfillment of a mitzva and it is also forbidden to make a lot of noise thereby preventing somebody from falling asleep. [14]
  2. It is forbidden to cut lines in a public area, even with the permission of the person at the front, since one has caused pain to every person who was previously closer to the front. [15]
  3. It is forbidden to emit a foul body odor [16] or to scratch one’s wounds [17] in the presence of others.
  4. One may not open or close windows, if it will cause others discomfort. [18]
  5. One may not cause another discomfort by saying a long Shmoneh Esrei directly behind someone who plans to sit down after being able to take his three steps back. [19]
  6. It is prohibited to crowd around an ambulance when the ill person is being brought in, since it causes pain, fright and embarrassment to the family. [20]
  7. One may not embarrass another by asking him a question that he may not know the answer to. [21] A rabbi may do so under certain circumstances in order to sharpen his students. [22]
  8. One may not ask a guest to say a dvar Torah unless one knows that he would be able to say one. [23]
  9. One may not make prank phone calls, or perform other practical jokes that are likely to cause any degree of hassle, pain or anguish like calling a fire engine for no reason. [24]
  10. One is obligated to return sefarim or library books to the correct shelf immediately after use. [25]
  11. Some say that one should not tell a sick person “Ad Me’ah Ve’Esrim” –“May you live until 120” because it may be considered like a curse limiting their time to 120 years. [26]

Financial Hurt

  1. It is prohibited to ask a seller how much an item costs, or to stare at an item, if one has no interest in buying it. [27] However, it is permitted if one informs the seller from the onset of one’s intention to only enquire or browse rather than to buy. [28]

Sources

  1. The Gemara in Bava Metzia 58b derives this prohibition from the pasuk in Vayikra 25:17 וְלֹא תוֹנוּ אִישׁ אֶת עֲמִיתוֹ וְיָרֵאתָ מֵאֱלֹהֶיךָ כִּי אֲנִי יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, "one shall not aggrieve his fellow, and you shall fear your G-d, for I am Hashem your G-d." This is brought down as halacha by the Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 228:1. The Gemara and Shulchan Aruch there say that this is worse than onaat mamon (overcharging) because 1. it cannot be undone and 2. it injures the person himself, not just his money. Rambam in Hilchot Deot 6:3 and Hilchot Teshuva 3:14 writes that one who regularly shames others has no portion in the World to Come. Chazon Ish Letters volume 1 #211 says that this prohibition applies even if the discomfort will only be momentary. This Mitzvah is included in the 365 prohibitions in Sefer Hamitzvot 251 and Sefer Hachinuch 338.
  2. Mishpatei Hashalom page 85. Shaare Teshuva 3:214 writes that this prohibition applies even when nobody else is present, even between husband and wife or parents and children.
  3. Mishpatei Hashalom page 85, Sefer Hachinnuch 338. In Bastion of Faith by Avraham Fishelis, page 16, he tells a story that when Rav Moshe Feinstein’s young grandchild was playing with some friends, he saw his grandfather pass by and immediately ran to him. Rav Moshe kissed his grandchild and then also kissed the other children, so as not to hurt their feelings.
  4. Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 228:2
  5. Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 228:3.
  6. Mishpatei Hashalom page 86 quotes the Chafetz Chaim in Chovat Hashmira that onaat devarim, like Lashon Harah is violated even through writing and gesturing even though devarim literally means words. He quotes the Sefer Yiraim 5:180 that even displaying a negative facial expression to someone can be a violation of this transgression.
  7. Bava Metzia 58b states that the וְיָרֵאתָ מֵאֱלֹהֶיךָ in the passuk of Onaat Devarim refers to the instruction to fear Hashem by not attempting to hurt another, since one could claim that he didn't intend to hurt, but Hashem knows the intention of a person. This is also indicated by the Rambam in Hilchot Mechira 14:18. The Tur and Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 228:5 write in reference to calling someone by a nickname, that it is prohibited if one’s intention is to embarrass him.
  8. Sefer HaChinuch 338 and Mishpatei Hashalom page 90.
  9. Shulchan Aruch 428:4, based on the Mishnah and the Gemara Bava Metzia 58b, Rambam mishne Torah hilchot yeshiva 7:8.
  10. Mishpatei Hashalom page 88 based on Taanit 20.
  11. Shulchan Aruch 428:4, based on Bava Metzia 58b.
  12. Mishpatei Hashalom page 88 based on Berachot 5a
  13. Gemara in Erchin 16b, Rambam Hilchos Dayos 6:8. Rav Chaim Volozhin writes in Keter Rosh 143 that someone who cannot rebuke gently without hurting someone's feelings is exempt from the mitzva to give rebuke.
  14. Mishpatei Hashalom page 87. This is included under Onaat Devarim because it includes refraining from causing others anger or pain, including stealing their sleep.
  15. Mishpatei Hashalom page 87.
  16. Mishpatei Hashalom page 87 based on Gemara Sanhedrin 11a.
  17. Mishpatei Hashalom page 87 based on Gemara Kiddushin 81
  18. Mishpatei Hashalom page 91.
  19. Mishpatei Hashalom page 91 quoting the Yerushalmi Rosh Hashana 2:5
  20. Mishpatei Hashalom page 89.
  21. Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 428:4 based on Gemara Bava Metzia 58b.
  22. Mishpatei Hashalom page 89, Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 246:12, based on Bava Metzia 85a.
  23. Sefer Chassidim 312
  24. Mishpatei Hashalom page 89
  25. Mishpatei Hashalom page 89
  26. Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein in Alienu LeShabe’ach writes that one shouldn’t say to a sick person “Ad Me’ah Ve’Esrim” –“May you live until 120” because it may be considered like a curse limiting their time to 120 years. Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz quotes this and agrees although he posits that the custom is based on the Malbim’s understanding of Beresheet 6:3. See similar quotes here and in Ein Lamo Michshol (v. 6 n. 4 p. 243).
  27. Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 28:4 based on Mishna and Gemara Bava Metzia 58b. Meiri there gives two reasons for the prohibition. 1. Other potential customers who observe one’s decision to refrain from purchasing the item would conclude that the item is overpriced and would consequently only buy it for less, causing the seller financial pain. 2. One’s decision to refrain from buying the item, having appeared to be interested, causes the seller to feel dejected.
  28. Mishpatei Hashalom page 88.