Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Humiliation through Words

The Gemora (Kesuvos 66a)cited a Mishna in Bava Kamma: If someone spat at his friend and the spittle hit him, or he removed the hair covering of a woman or his friend’s cloak, he is required to pay him/her four hundred zuz. Rav Papa taught: This is only if the spittle reached his friend, but if it only hit his clothes, he is exempt from paying this fine.

The Gemora in Bava Kamma asks: Shouldn’t the perpetrator be liable similar to one who humiliates his fellow with words? The Gemora answers: It is evident from here that one who embarrasses his fellow with words is exempt from any liability.

The Rosh cites Rav Shrira Gaon: Although it seems from the Scriptural verses that one is not liable for humiliating his fellow with words, nevertheless, the Sages would excommunicate him until he appeases his fellow properly according to his honor. He notes that it is logical to assume that there is a higher degree of embarrassment for one who is humiliated with words more than one, who was embarrassed through a wound, for there is nothing worse than slandering one’s fellow.

The Rambam (Hilchos Chovel 5:7) rules that one who admits in Beis Din that he wounded his fellow privately, he will be liable to pay for the embarrassment, for even though the victim was not humiliated at the time of the wounding, he was humiliated at the time of the admission in Beis Din.

The Minchas Chinuch (49:7) asks: Isn’t this a classical case of embarrassing one’s fellow with words, and one is not liable for such humiliation?

2 comments:

Josh Waxman said...

the rambam has a ready answer. or rather, he can view it from another perspective.

namely, that it is not the admitting in Bet Din - the speech - for which he must pay. After all, one who hears blaspheming testifies in Bet Din, but is not punished for repeating the blasphemy. So too, we should not be punishing for embarrassment perpetrated at the direction of the court.

rather, he could say that what caused the embarrassment was the wounding of his fellow. the admission in Bet Din *transforms* that private wound into a wound that has embarrassment associated with it. therefore, he pays for shame because of the wound, not for the speech.

similarly, if he admitted *falsely* in Bet Din that he did this, and then it was established later that he did not actually strike the man, he would not be liable to pay. At least I would assume so, under the aforementioned principle. This would seem to indicate that the payment is not for the words but for the wound.

Perhaps we could even read it into the gemara you cited. You wrote:
"The Gemora in Bava Kamma asks: Shouldn’t the perpetrator be liable similar to one who humiliates his fellow with words? The Gemora answers: It is evident from here that one who embarrasses his fellow with words is exempt from any liability."
The principle, and connection being made, is to spittle which did not reach his friend but only the clothing, and this is comparable to mere words but not actual touching of the body. But that is just words by themselves. Here, we have words together with the original offense of actually striking his friend.

Avromi said...

If I'm not mistaken, Reb Isser Zalman Meltzer explains the Rambam like you. Yasherkoach!