More on Tochachah

Question #1: Un-coifed Colleague

“A colleague at work who does not cover her hair asked me what I think of her new hairstyle.  How should I answer?”

Question #2: Wayward Classmate

“I met my former classmate, and I see that she is no longer observing the level of tzeniyus that we did when we were together in seminary. Must I say something to her about this?”

Question #3: The Davening Talker

“I find it disturbing to see people talking or whispering during chazaras hashatz, the repetition of the tefillah, but I must admit that sometimes I’ll answer someone who asks me something during that part of the davening. Do I have a responsibility to tell people that they should not talk during chazaras hashatz?”


In this week’s parsha, Yaakov avinu admonishes his sons prior to his passing. Last week, we noted that when Yosef said ani Yosef, ha’od avi chai? “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive,” he was admonishing his brothers for their inconsistent behavior. This provided an to discuss the laws of tochachah, which continues in the present article.

As I mentioned last week, the underlying principle of tochachah is the realization that fulfilling Hashem’s mitzvos is not merely an individual pursuit – it is a responsibility that one shares with all of Klal Yisroel (see Sefer Hamitzvos #205). We also learned that the mitzvah of tochachah applies whether the sin perpetrated is between man and his fellowman or whether it is between man and Hashem (Sefer Hachinuch #239). In addition, we noted that the most basic rule of tochachah is that the mochiach, the person who is reproving, must truly care for the offender.

On the other hand, the halachah is that when it is clear that a sinner will ignore any reprimand, one should not attempt to admonish him. In these instances, censure will cause the evildoer to sin more, rather than to do teshuvah, and, therefore, it must be avoided. However, only when it is absolutely certain that the sinner will not listen, is there no mitzvah either to rebuke or to protest. As long as the possibility exists that the sinner might listen, one is required to rebuke him.

Someone who rejects Torah

There is no mitzvah to admonish an evil person who hates those who observe Torah (Tanna debei Eliyahu Rabbah, Chapter 18). When the Torah presents this mitzvah, it states, hochei’ach tochiach es amisecha, “surely, rebuke your ‘fellowman,’” but the word used, amisecha, refers to someone who observes Torah and mitzvos. The Mishnah Berurah rules that there is no mitzvah to reproach someone who desecrates Shabbos in public or who eats non-kosher when he has kosher food readily available – such a person is beyond the pale of being called amisecha. The Mishnah Berurah is uncertain whether there is a mitzvah to admonish someone who observes Shabbos, but keeps kosher only when it is convenient to do so, or someone who observes Shabbos in public, but desecrates it in private (Biur Halachah, 608:2 s.v aval; however, see Shu’t Avnei Neizer, Yoreh Deah #461, who understands that, in all these instances, there is still a mitzvah of tochachah).


Rebuking a Torah scholar

There is a dispute among acharonim whether admonishing a talmid chacham applies after he did the aveirah. Perhaps one should assume that he did teshuvah already and that, therefore, there is no more reason to be mochiach him. This latter approach is that of the Yad Haketenah as explained by the Zeh Hashaar and the Shevilei Chayim 4:20. The Be’er Mayim Chayim ((Hilchos Loshon Hora 4:18) does not agree and contends that one should be mochiach, unless one knows that the talmid chacham did teshuvah.

Mutav sheyihyu shogagin

Last week, we learned that one should not reprimand someone who commits a violation that he is unaware is forbidden, when one is certain that he will continue after the prohibition is called to his attention. This is usually the proper approach to follow when a sizable population does something that is clearly forbidden (Biur Halachah, 608:2 s.v. Vedavka, quoting Shu’t Me’il Tzedakah #19 and Machatzis Hashekel).

What if he asks?

Many years ago, I was among a group of married women who, although observant, did not cover their hair. Because of the halachah of mutav, I was not permitted to discuss this question with the group. However, when a woman from this group asked me to explain the halachah, I was required to answer the halachah accurately and in full detail (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:36). The halachah of mutav applies only in a situation of tochachah. Furthermore, the Maharshal demonstrates that one may never distort a detail of the Torah, since this is considered falsifying the Torah. He rules that this is considered a severe enough prohibition of the Torah that it is yaharog ve’al yaavor – one is required to give up one’s life rather than to distort even one law of the Torah (Yam shel Shlomoh, Bava Kama 4:9). Falsifying the Torah is equivalent to denying the entire Torah, which is why one is required to sacrifice one’s life, rather than misrepresenting a Torah truth.

Probably won’t listen

Should one reproach an ill-doer when one knows that he probably will not listen? The halachah of mutav applies only when one is certain that the offending party will not listen. When one thinks that he will probably not listen, but it is not certain, one is required to admonish the offender (Tosafos, Bava Basra 60b s.v. Mutav).

Clearly in the Torah

Are there any instances when tochachah should be given and the rule of mutav does not apply, even when the person doing something forbidden will not listen to tochachah? Yes, there are.

The rishonim dispute whether the law of mutav applies even when the prohibition is written unmistakably in the Torah. Many rishonim contend that when the Torah overtly prohibits the activity, there is an exception to the law of mutav. In this instance, these authorities contend that one is required to rebuke those who violate this prohibition, even when the lack of concern about the prohibition is quite common. Others contend that when you are certain that the wrongdoer will ignore the admonition, you are not required to rebuke, even when the prohibition is distinctly delineated in the Torah. (Both opinions are quoted in Biur Halachah 608:2 s.v. Aval.) The Rema (Orach Chayim 608:2) concludes that one is required to admonish, in accordance with the first opinion.

Some authorities contend that this law applies only when we are in a position to stop the evildoers from their errors, but that there is no requirement to protest when we cannot prevent sinners, even when the prohibition is written overtly in the Torah (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 608:4). Others contend that, under these circumstances, one will not be punished for not having protested, but there is still a mitzvah to protest the misdeed (Magen Avraham 608::3, quoting Semaq).

Maybe it is clear

Assuming that we follow the Rema and rule that one is always required to rebuke someone violating a prohibition that is explicitly expressed in the Torah, there is a further dispute among authorities whether the rule of mutav applies when it is questionable if the sinner will be violating a Torah law, such as someone who violates Shabbos during the bein hashemashos period when it is questionable if Shabbos has already begun. The Yam shel Shlomoh (Beitzah 4:2) rules that the rules of mutav apply, whereas the Machatzis Hashekel (on Magen Avraham 608:2) is uncertain whether mutav applies in this situation.

Ruled in error

Similarly, there is no mitzvah to admonish someone who received a clearly erroneous ruling permitting a particular activity, since he will not listen. However, once the person who issued the decision recanted it, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that there is now a mitzvah of tochachah, since the possibility exists that the errant party may now listen to reason or re-ask the question (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer 4:61:2 s.v.Ulefi zeh).

Repeat offender

What is the halachah if you see someone do something wrong for which you have previously rebuked him in a soft, kind way, as described above. Are you required to rebuke him again?

The Gemara rules that one is required to rebuke an evildoer repeatedly (Bava Metzia 23a). Nevertheless, we find a dispute among rishonim whether or not this law applies in all situations where one is required to be mochiach. The Sefer Chasidim explains that this Gemara is discussing someone with whom you have a very close relationship, such as your brother or parent. Such a person will not begin to hate you if you admonish him repeatedly for his sinful behavior, and, therefore, there is no limit to the number of times that you must rebuke him. However, in the opinion of the Sefer Chasidim, one should not admonish repeatedly someone with whom there is not such a close relationship — out of concern that repeating the rebuke may cause him to hate you (Sefer Chasidim #413, quoted by Magen Avraham 608:3).

It appears that most authorities do not accept this distinction of the Sefer Chasidim, but rather rule that whenever I have a mitzvah to rebuke someone, I must do so repeatedly (see Magen Avraham 608:3; Orach Meisharim, page 159).

Who is a true friend?

At this point, we can address one of the questions we asked above: “I met my former classmate, and I see that she is no longer observing the level of tzeniyus that we did when we were together in seminary. Must I say something to her about this?”

Under most circumstances, one is required to think of the most effective way that would get the classmate to realize that she is harming herself, and to figure out how to present this to her in an effective and loving fashion. Even if one is unsuccessful, the mitzvah of tochachah is fulfilled.

Upon this basis, we can appreciate the following statement of Chazal:

If you have two groups of friends, one which praises you and the other which admonishes you, love the admonishers and despise those who praise you, because the admonishers will bring you to eternal life (Avos derabbi Nosson 29:1, quoted in Shaarei Teshuvah 3:292).

Straighten yourself first

What is the halachah if I see someone do something wrong, but I know that I myself sometimes slip and violate this law? Does my somewhat lackadaisical attitude towards this halachah exempt me from the requirement of reproaching someone else for its violation?

The halachah here is very straightforward: I cannot effectively rebuke someone for something that I myself violate, but, at the same time, this does not exempt me from the requirement of reproaching him. As we are all aware, one cannot influence someone else to be careful about behavior that one does not, himself, observe. Therefore, one has no choice but to stop his own incorrect behavior, and then, after one has done teshuvah for it, one should be mochiach the person who is still violating it. The Gemara records this ruling in the following pithy way: Straighten out yourself, and then proceed to straighten out others (Sanhedrin 18a). Actually, this idea predates the Gemara: The prophet Tzefaniah 2:1 had already pointed out that one has a responsibility to straighten out his own actions, so as to be able to reproach others for their shortcomings.

At this point, we can address the third question raised at the beginning of our article:

“I find it disturbing to see people talking or whispering during chazaras hashatz, the repetition of the tefillah, but I must admit that, sometimes I’ll answer someone who asks me something during that part of the davening. Do I have a responsibility to tell people that they should not talk during chazaras hashatz?”

The halachah is very clear: The individual asking must work on himself not to talk during the chazaras hashatz, both because of the halachah that requires this and because of the mitzvah of tochachah that he violates when he is unable to reproach people for this transgression.

Tochachah for gentiles?

We now understand why the mitzvah of the Torah does not include a commandment to rebuke gentiles. That some prophets were instructed to admonish the gentiles for their ill behavior was not part of the Torah’s regular mitzvah of tochacha, but a special commandment that these prophets received as part of their prophecy.


As I mentioned above, the basis of the mitzvah of tochachah is that my role in observing mitzvos is as a member of Klal Yisroel –and that I carry responsibility for my brethren at all times. It is insufficient for me to feel that I am minding my own garden when there are other Jews who are distant from our Father. I should always think of ways to help them return to the protective guidance of Hakadosh Baruch Hu.


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