The Prohibition of Chanufah

According to some opinions, Yaakov may have been guilty of chanufah in his interactions with Eisav in this week’s parsha. What is chanufah and what did Yaakov do?

Question #1: Financial predicament

“Our yeshivah is in desperate financial shape. The father of one of our students is, himself, not observant, but he is extremely well-connected. If we make him Guest of Honor at our banquet, we can probably bring in many hundreds of thousands of dollars through his business and personal connections. Is there any halachic problem with our doing this?”

Question #2: Communal predicament

“There is an individual in our community who has been very helpful to the frum community but who is not observant. Are we permitted to honor him with an aliyah?”

Question #3: Kiruv predicament

Chani asks: “An old classmate of mine has fallen far from Yiddishkeit, unfortunately, and I believe that I am the only frum friend with whom she still keeps contact. Tragically, she recently became engaged to a non-Jew, and she desperately wants me to attend the engagement party. She knows that I do not approve of this relationship. May I attend, because I am concerned that, should I not show up, she will cut off her last contact with anything Jewish?”


All of the above questions require us to study the Torah’s prohibition against chanufah (sometimes pronounced “chanifah“), a word usually, but somewhat inaccurately, translated as “flattery.” Although the word chanufah in Modern Hebrew means “flattery,” and, indeed, is even occasionally used by Chazal in this sense, the prohibition against chanufah has a different meaning. Chanufah is the deception that occurs when someone encourages the performance of misdeeds, aveiros, or when someone fraudulently misrepresents something as Torah or as acceptable behavior when it is not.

The primary case of chanufah is when someone sees or knows that a person sinned and tells the sinner that he did nothing wrong or, worse still, tells the sinner that the sinful act was the correct thing to do. We can refer to this case as “first degree chanufah,” a sin that has very serious ramifications, as we will soon see. The person who violates the prohibition of chanufah is sometimes called a mechaneif, a chanaf, or a chanfan, all of which are different ways of saying the same thing. The Gemara states that chanafim are one of the four groups of people she’einam mekablei penei hashechinah, who will not be allowed to welcome the Shechinah, Hashem’s Divine Presence (Sotah 42a).

Which prohibition does one violate?

According to many Rishonim (Yerei’im; Ramban’s Torah Commentary to Bamidbar 35:33), there is a specific prohibition of the Torah, one of the 613 mitzvos, called chanufah, which is derived from the words of the Torah, velo sachanifu es ha’aretz (Bamidbar 35:33). Those authorities who do not count chanufah as one of the 613 mitzvos still agree with the prohibitions that we will describe, but categorize its violation under one of the other mitzvos of the Torah.

Why is chanufah prohibited?

Chanufah is prohibited for several reasons. Firstly, we are supposed to encourage people to do Hashem’s Will and to discourage them from violating His wishes and instructions. Chanufah does the opposite: it causes the offender to continue his malevolent ways and dissipates his interest and enthusiasm to do teshuvah. Thus, it harms the sinner even more than anyone else. In addition, chanufah encourages other people to respect and emulate the evildoer’s nefarious deeds. Furthermore, by providing inappropriate value to the misdeed, it also causes chillul Hashem, desecrating Hashem’s Holy Name. Someone who flatters an evildoer demonstrates that he is more concerned not to offend the sinner than he is about being disrespectful to Hashem, which is an even bigger chillul Hashem (Tosafos, Sotah 41b s.v. oso).

Distorting the Torah

There is yet another reason why chanufah is prohibited: because it falsifies the Torah (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:51). The mechanef has told the sinner that what is prohibited is permitted, which, in itself, is a very severe transgression. The Maharshal (Yam shel Shelomoh, Bava Kama 4:9) proves that to falsify or distort the Torah is a sin on the level of yeihareig ve’al ya’avor, for which one is required to give up his life rather than violate it – which means that it is more serious than transgressing almost any of the other mitzvos, and it is certainly more serious than desecrating Shabbos or consuming non-kosher food. Falsifying the Torah is equivalent to denying the entire Torah, which is why one is required to sacrifice one’s life, rather than misrepresent a Torah truth. Thus, the most extreme situation of chanufah, in which one tells a wrongdoer that it is permitted to violate the Torah, includes the serious prohibitions of chillul Hashem and denying the authenticity of the entire Torah.

While some authorities rule that one must endanger oneself rather than violate chanufah (Shaarei Teshuvah, 3:188), others contend that this is not required. According to the second approach, chanufah should not be treated more seriously than Shabbos, kashrus and most other Torah laws that are superseded in a situation of risk to one’s life (see Tosafos, Sotah 41b s.v. kol). Those that disagree understand that chanufah, which includes denying the authenticity of the entire Torah, merits this level of serious consideration (see Igros Moshe).

The story of Agrippas

To demonstrate how serious this prohibition is, the Gemara (Sotah 41b) shares with us the following narrative: King Agrippas (who reigned towards the end of the Second Beis Hamikdash) was an excellent ruler, highly respectful of the Gedolei Torah of his era and committed to the observance and spreading of Torah and mitzvos. Notwithstanding his many good qualities, calling himself “King” over the Jewish people violated halachah, since he was descended from gentile slaves, and the Torah states, lo suchal laseis alecha ish nachri asher lo achicha hu, “You may not place over yourselves a gentile who is not your brother” (Devarim 17:15). Agrippas realized that he was not permitted to be king. When Agrippas reached the words of the Torah where it prohibits appointing a king unless he is native Jewish, his eyes began to tear, for he realized that he, himself, was ruling in violation of this law. At that moment, the Sages present told him, “Don’t worry, Agrippas. You are our brother,” thus approving his reign, in violation of the Torah.

The Gemara says that the leaders of the Jews should have been destroyed for violating chanufah, and, at that moment, many catastrophic occurrences befell the Jewish people and many lives were lost. Granted that Agrippas was concerned about Torah and mitzvos, the halachah still forbade him from being king. Although the Sages were in no position to admonish him, it was forbidden to encourage his misdeed. Instead,they should have remained silent (Tosafos, Sotah 41b s.v. oso), which would have been understood as a respectful disapproval.

Levels of chanufah

Although the most obvious instance of chanufah is telling an evildoer that he has done nothing wrong, any action that encourages sinful deeds is included under the general heading of chanufah. Rabbeinu Yonah, in his monumental work Shaarei Teshuvah (3:187-199), explains that there are nine levels of chanufah. The highest level is, of course, telling an evildoer that his performing a sin is acceptable. The other categories are all instances where the mechanef does not praise the sin itself, but lessens the gravity of the sin in an indirect way. Let us see how this manifests itself.

Praising publicly

Honoring a malefactor violates chanufah, even when the mechanef says nothing to justify the wrongdoer’s misdeeds. Although, in this instance, the mechanef did not overtly encourage or condone the misdeed, praising a sinner as a “good person” implies that the sin is acceptable, which is chanufah.

For example, Shimon, president of the yeshivah, decides to make Mr. Wealthy, whose fortune was made in very scandalous ways, the Guest of Honor at its annual dinner, since Mr. Wealthy’s contacts can certainly help the yeshivah.

Some contemporary authors (Lerei’acha Kamocha, Volume 1, Page 102) contend that one violates the prohibition of chanufah even when the person who sinned is unaware that what he is doing is wrong, such as, he is uneducated about Judaism.

Complimenting a sinner

Another category is someone who praises an evildoer in private, although he is careful not to praise the offender in the presence of other people, so that they are not influenced by his wicked ways. For example, Levi knows that it is chanufah to introduce Mr. Scoundrel publicly as a superior individual, and therefore he is careful not to praise Scoundrel in front of others. However, in private, Levi tells Scoundrel what a great guy he is. This is also chanufah, because the sinner, hearing the flattery, feels no motivation to repent; after all, even Levi thinks he is righteous. The wrongdoer fails to comprehend that he needs to reevaluate his priorities and his deeds, and this error was encouraged by the mechanef.

Failure to protest

Rabbeinu Yonah lists several other categories of chanufah, most of which we will touch on briefly. One type of chanufah is when someone refrains from reprimanding evildoers when he has the opportunity to do so. Another, similar example is that someone who is in a position to protest a misdeed and fails to do so violates chanufah. These last examples of chanufah are all passive, rather than active, yet we see clearly why the lack of protest encourages sin.

Example: A group that calls itself Jewish is backing an initiative that is against what Torah stands for. Failing to protest that this is not Judaism constitutes chanufah.

The halachah requires us to rebuke people whom we see doing something wrong, which is the mitzvah called tochachah. This mitzvah applies only as long as it is possible that the wrongdoer may listen.

Rules of tochachah

The halachah is that a person who is reproving someone for sinful actions must do so in a way that shows that he truly cares about the offender. The Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 6:7) writes that he should explain that he is helping the offender earn a greater share in olam haba. “One who sees his friend sinning or following a lifestyle that is not good has a mitzvah to influence him to return to the proper way and to inform him that he is harming himself… The one who rebukes must do so privately and in a pleasant manner and soft voice.”

Gad’s next-door neighbor is not observant. To bring the neighbor back to Yiddishkeit, Gad must show sincere care about his neighbor. Once the neighbor feels that Gad truly cares, the neighbor sees the beauty of a frum lifestyle. At this point, Gad can explain to his neighbor how beneficial it is to observe mitzvos.

Tochachah that will be ignored

However, the halachah is that when it is clear that a sinner will ignore reproof, one should not attempt to admonish him, as it says in Mishlei (9, 8): Do not rebuke a scoffer lest he come to hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. To quote the Gemara, Just as it is a mitzvah to say something that will be heeded, it is a mitzvah to refrain from saying something that will be disregarded (Yevamos 65b).

Remaining present

Another type of chanufah is someone who remains present while evildoers sin. For example, Asher is sitting with a group of people who are spreading gossip, speaking loshon hora, using foul language; or, the group includes scoffers who deride Torah and mitzvos. Asher knows that this group will not listen to his admonition, so there is no mitzvah of tochachah. Asher wants to know whether he may remain sitting among them. The answer is that it is prohibited to remain in their presence, because this implies that he agrees with and accepts their behavior. Staying with them encourages the sinners to continue their nefarious activities; they rally support for their evil ways from his ongoing presence. Granted that it may be counterproductive to admonish them, Asher may not remain with them and must “express” his disapproval by removing himself.

Honoring when inappropriate

Still another category of chanufah is someone who is careful not to speak in a flattering way about a wrongdoer, but, in order to maintain peace, he treats the wicked person respectfully, the way one treats a wealthy individual because of his financial success. Although there is a halachic source that one should honor the wealthy (Eruvin 86a), one may not honor the wicked.

After mentioning this category of chanufah, Rabbeinu Yonah limits its application. When the wicked person is in a position of authority, one may demonstrate respect to him in the way that people honor powerful people, out of fear. However, although one may act respectfully, one may not praise the wicked person. Treating him with respect is permitted, since everyone realizes that the evildoer is being treated with honor only because circumstances require it. This is the meaning of the statement of the Gemara: it is permitted to flatter evildoers in this world (Sotah 41b).

Other authorities offer a different explanation of this Gemara, contending that one may flatter a malefactor because not doing so could be dangerous (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:51).

Therefore, if Yissachar finds himself in a position where he must lobby a highly influential Jew who has distanced himself from his people, Yissachar must be careful to know exactly what he may say and what he may not.

An inappropriate appointment

One of Rabbeinu Yonah’s categories requires some explanation, since it does not fit the use of the word flattery, but fits well our definition of chanufah as misrepresenting or falsifying Torah. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that, when a highly-respected personality acts out of self-interest and appoints someone to a rabbinic position for which the appointee is not competent, this appointment meets the criteria for chanufah. Rabbeinu Yonah says that this misrepresents a Torah value because the appointment causes people to trust the appointee in a way that is unwarranted or to rely on his ability to rule on halachah. The result is a hindrance to proper Torah observance and the judicial system. Therefore, if Rabbi Dan appoints his son to a rabbinic position for which the son is not qualified, this constitutes chanufah. All of these qualify as chanufah because the result is a misrepresentation of the real essence of Torah.

At this point, I would like to address the last of the questions asked above:

Chani asks: “An old classmate of mine has fallen far from Yiddishkeit, unfortunately, and I believe that I am the only frum friend with whom she still keeps contact. Tragically, she recently became engaged to a non-Jew, and she desperately wants me to attend the engagement party. She knows that I do not approve of this relationship. May I attend, because I am concerned that, should I not show up, she will cut off her last contact with anything Jewish?”

Chani may not attend the party, since this is clearly endorsing the engagement and allowing the classmate to delude herself into thinking that what she is doing is not that bad.

Rav Moshe’s teshuvah

Having explained the rules of chanufah as categorized by Rabbeinu Yonah, I will present a responsum of Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:51) on the topic. The question pertained to a Jewish community that had received much benefit, both communally and individually, from a Jewish physician who was married to a gentile woman. The community had never given the physician an aliyah to the Torah or any other honor, but the rabbi of the community felt that it would be beneficial to honor the physician with opening and closing the aron kodesh. Rav Moshe notes that, although there are halachic issues involved in giving an aliyah to someone who does not observe Torah, there is no inherent halachic problem with having him open or close the aron kodesh. However, there is a potential halachic issue with whether giving a sinner this honor violates the prohibition against chanufah. Since the individual involved is flagrantly and publicly violating a basic aspect of Torah, honoring him in any way might violate the Torah.

Rav Moshe contends that, from the Gemara’s cases of chanufah, we see that the prohibition of chanufah includes only stating that something is permitted when it indeed is forbidden or praising an evildoer excessively. However, to praise an evildoer for the chesed he performs for the community is permitted. Rav Moshe even permits exaggerating a bit what this individual does in order to assure his future help and cooperation.

As a result, he rules that one may honor the intermarried physician with opening the aron kodesh, since this does not imply that we are accepting his objectionable lifestyle.


Many people feel that complimenting someone for what they have done is polite. We now realize that praising people is not always permissible, and that honoring someone may also not be the correct thing to do. Obviously, questions as to specific applications of this halachah should be referred to a posek.

Practices of the Tochacha

Question #1: Anonymous Callup

Avraham Gabbai asks: “Why is the practice in my shul not to mention the name of the person who receives the aliyah of the tochacha?”

Question #2: Disproportionate Reading

“When I was studying the parshah that we will read this week, I noticed that the first two aliyos of parshas Bechukosai are very tiny, the third aliyah is huge, and the last four aliyos are fairly small. Why is this parshah divided so unevenly?”

Question #3: Missed the Call

“I once visited an unfamiliar shul for the tochacha reading, and it seemed that no one recited the brochos on that part of the reading. Is this an acceptable practice?”


In two places, at the end of the book of VaYikra and in parshas Ki Savo in Devorim, the Torah describes, in great detail, the calamities that may befall Klal Yisroel, chas veshalom, should we not observe the Torah properly. This part of the Torah is customarily called the tochacha, literally, the admonition, although the Mishnah (Megillah 31a) calls it the curses. We find halachic discussion in the Gemara, and much debate among later authorities, as to how these passages are read for kerias haTorah. The goal of our article is to understand which practices are based in halacha and which are not, and to provide a greater appreciation of the topic.

Splitting the tochacha

The earliest discussion, found already in the Mishnah and Gemara, revolves around whether we can divide the tochacha into several different aliyos, which would make the size of the different aliyos in parshas Bechukosai more proportionate. In reference to reading the tochacha, the Mishnah writes very succinctly: We do not end an aliyah in the middle of the curses. For this reason, in the years that we read only parshas Bechukosai, we divide the beginning of the parsha into two very small aliyos and then read the entire tochacha for the third aliyah. (In most years, parshas Bechukosai is combined with parshas Behar.)

Why not split?

To elucidate this Mishnah, the Gemara (Megillah 31b) presents two reasons why we do not split the tochacha into two aliyos.

The Gemara offers an additional reason for not splitting the tochacha into two aliyos: we do not want to recite a brocha specifically on the tochacha. To quote the Mesechta Sofrim (Chapter 12), “Hashem said, ‘It is inappropriate that, while my children are being cursed, I am being blessed,'” or, as explained slightly differently by Tosafos (Megillah 31b, s.v. Ein), “It is inappropriate that my sons bless me for the curses that they receive.” To circumvent this concern, we begin the reading before the tochacha and end the reading after the tochacha, so that the brochos are recited on the earlier and later verses.

There seems to be a difference in halacha between these two answers. According to the first reason, it is acceptable to begin an aliyah with the tochacha and end it immediately afterwards, since the person who received the aliyah heard the tochacha in its entirety. However, according to the second reason, one should begin the aliyah several verses before the tochacha and end it several verses after.

In his commentary on this Gemara, the Sfas Emes demonstrates that the two reasons quoted do not disagree, but complement one another, since each reason applies in situations when the other does not. When the original takkanah to read the Torah was instituted, each person called to the Torah did not recite brochos before and after his aliyah. The person who received the first aliyah recited a brocha before the reading, and the person who received the last aliyah recited the after-brocha. Thus, since the Mishnah that records the practice of not splitting the tochacha into two aliyos was written in the era when only the first and last person recited brochos, the second reason provided by the Gemara (so that we should not recite a brocha directly on the tochacha) could not be explaining the Mishnah, but is providing an additional reason for the halacha.

We do not stop an aliyah in the middle of the tochacha for both reasons. Therefore, we should not start an aliyah right at the tochacha nor end it immediately after. This is our halachic practice.

Not all tochachas are created equal

In the Gemara Megillah (31b), Abayei comments that the ruling prohibiting splitting the reading into two aliyos applies only to the tochacha in Bechukosai, but not to that in Ki Savo. Why are the two tochachas treated differently?

The Gemara explains that the tochacha of Bechukosai is more stringent, because it is written in the singular and has Hashem speaking, whereas in Ki Savo, Moshe speaks in the third person about what Hashem will do, and he refers to the Jewish people in the plural.

Can we divide and conquer?

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 13:7) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 428:6) already note that the custom developed not to divide either tochacha, although the halacha remains that it is technically permitted to divide the tochacha in Ki Savo.

The two tochachas remain unequal

A difference of halacha results from the fact that it is technically permitted to divide the tochacha in Ki Savo. Suppose that in the middle of reading the tochacha in Ki Savo one were to find a pesul, a defect, in the sefer Torah that prevents proceeding with the reading in that sefer Torah. When a defect like this is found in a place where it is permitted to end an aliyah, the optimal practice is to end the aliyah and have the person whose aliyah it is recite the after brochaasher nasan lanu Toras emes.” We then close the sefer Torah that has been found defective, tie its gartel around the outside of the sefer Torah’s cover/mantel (the universal way of signaling that a sefer Torah requires repair), and then take out a new sefer Torah and roll it to this point in the reading. We then call up a different person to begin his aliyah.

Should one discover a defect in the middle of the tochacha in parshas Ki Savo, this is the practice that one should observe, despite the fact that it results in ending and beginning aliyos in the middle of the tochacha.

However, were one to find a defect of this nature in the tochacha of parshas Bechukosai, one would not be permitted to end the aliyah at this point, since the Mishnah prohibited dividing the tochacha into two aliyos. Instead, one would be forced to follow the procedure for finding a mistake in a sefer Torah at a point at which one cannot divide the aliyah – which is to take out a new sefer Torah and continue the aliyah from it.

Lightning reading

At this point, we will begin to discuss some of the customs that have developed concerning the reading of the tochacha. Many communities have the practice of reading the tochacha extremely quickly, which has an old, although questionable, tradition, already recorded in the Gemara:

“Levi bar Buta was reading the tochacha very quickly and with difficulty. Rav Huna told him, since you do not want to read it, stop, even though you are in the middle of the tochacha. The halacha not to stop in the middle applies only for the tochacha of VaYikra and not for the one of Devorim” (Megillah 31b, as explained by Rashi). Since most of us are not old enough to have heard Levi bar Buta’s reading, we cannot tell for certain whether our quick readings are similar to his reading, for which he was rebuked.

There are other customs that have developed concerning the tochacha. Some read it in an undertone, although one who does this must be careful to read it loud enough that everyone in the shul can hear it, so it should be read in a voice that we usually call a “stage whisper.”

Only the greatest shall read

Some early authorities cite a custom to call up the rav or other gadol baTorah for the aliyah of the tochacha (Magen Avraham 428:8, quoting Keneses HaGedolah). We find sources showing that this custom is very ancient, as implied by the following anecdote recorded by the Sefer Hassidim: Someone in the community regularly received the aliyah of the tochacha. One time, the gabbai got angry at him, and told him, “I am giving you this for your honor,” to which the perennial recipient responded: “If your intent is to honor me by calling me up for the tochacha, don’t call me up!” They called up someone else instead. Later that Shabbos, something calamitous occurred in the household of the perennial tochacha recipient. The Sefer Hassidim concludes that, although the perennial recipient had a valid reason to refuse the aliyah, he still should not have told this to the gabbai. One who has the opportunity to perform a mitzvah should not turn it down.

Notwithstanding the fact that one should not refuse the aliyah of the tochacha, the Sefer Hassidim notes that some early authorities recommended giving the aliyah of the tochacha to unlettered people for the following reason: should one give the aliyah to a Torah scholar and something grievous happen to him, people might attribute the calamity to the fact that he had read the tochacha. However, despite this concern, the Sefer Hassidim still rules that anyone called to an aliyah should eagerly accept the mitzvah (Sefer Hassidim #766).

No one wants the aliyah

Until now, we have been discussing halachos of reading the tochacha that are based in the Mishnah, Gemara and early authorities. At this point, we will discuss the many customs that developed because people did not want to receive the aliyah in which the tochacha is read.

Obviously, this part of the Torah has the same amount of sanctity as the rest: it is an honor and a mitzvah to be called to read from any part of the Torah. Although there is no halachic basis for the concern, we find that people considered it a bad omen to be called up for the aliyah in which the tochacha was read. Difficulty in finding someone willing to receive this aliyah led to a disgrace to the Torah’s honor. To avoid this bezayon haTorah, a number of interesting customs, some of them with halachic basis and sanction and others without, developed.

Skipping the parsha

The Biur Halacha (428:6) records with tremendous disdain the practice of communities who skipped completely the kerias haTorah on the two Shabbosos of Bechukosai and Ki Savo, in order to avoid the problem that no one wanted the aliyah of the tochacha!

The Biur Halacha decries this practice, noting that this approach means not fulfilling the mitzvah of reading the Torah every Shabbos morning and completing the Torah every year. The reason for reading the Torah is to teach us to behave according to its dictates, whereas skipping these parshiyos means losing the opportunity to learn valuable lessons. The Biur Halacha compares the practice of skipping these parshiyos to an individual who decides that he will avoid the dangers of walking through an area full of pits by wearing blinders! Obviously, the exact opposite is true. One, who needs to walk through a minefield, whether physical or spiritual, must keep his wits about him and walk as carefully as possible. Avoiding bizayon haTorah by skipping the tochacha is not acceptable.

Read without an aliyah

In some circles, the custom developed for the baal keriyah to read the aliyah of the tochacha, but without anyone reciting brochos either before or after it.  Although several major halachic authorities, including Rav Shlomoh Kluger (Shu”t HaElef Lecha Shlomoh, Orach Chayim #63) and Rav Ovadyah Yosef, sharply rebuked this practice, there are halachic authorities who accepted it.

I found this practice quoted by the Maharsham (Daas Torah) in the name of the Shu”t Har HaCarmel (Orach Chayim #12), who recounts that in a certain place they could not find anyone to take the aliyah of the tochacha, unless the community paid them huge amounts of money. Even then, only the lowest of the people in the community would agree.  Since paying someone an exorbitant amount of money for the honor of receiving an aliyah is a bezayon haTorah, the Har HaCarmel permitted the lesser of two evils and allowed them to read the tochacha without anyone reciting brochos. Apparently, this was also the practice in some communities in Morocco.

The Sho’el Umeishiv permitted this practice of “reading the tochacha without an aliyah,” but for a different reason. As I will demonstrate shortly, because of people’s hesitance to receive the aliyah of the tochacha, it was common to prearrange the hiring of someone to receive the aliyah of the tochacha before Shabbos. Once, it happened that the gabbai had forgotten to “hire” someone before Shabbos for the aliyah, and the community made the financial arrangements on Shabbos, which the Sho’el Umeishiv contended violated the halacha of doing business on Shabbos. In order to avoid this halachic violation, the Sho’el Umeishiv considered it preferable to have the baal keriyah read the aliyah without anyone reciting brochos, rather than running the risk of making negotiations on Shabbos!

The opposition

Despite the fact that there were rabbonim who permitted “reading the tochacha without an aliyah,” other poskim took tremendous exception to the practice. Rav Shlomoh Kluger derides the custom as a bizayon haTorah, and a violation of the halacha that requires a brocha prior to reading the Torah. Should the community be unable to hire someone to take the aliyah, or to give it to the shamash or some other community employee, Rav Kluger rules that the attendees of the shul should draw lots for the aliyah (Shu”t HaElef Lecha Shlomoh, Orach Chayim #63). I found, among recent halachic authorities, that Rav Ovadyah Yosef also takes strong umbrage to the practice of “reading the tochacha without an aliyah,” whereas Rav Yaakov Breisch discusses it and does not oppose its practice (Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov, Orach Chayim #35).

Miss only the brochos

The Har HaCarmel, who suggested “reading the tochacha without an aliyah,” presented another suggestion: the person who received the previous aliyah omits reciting a brocha after his aliyah, and the person who received the aliyah afterwards omits the brocha before his aliyah. Thus, the aliyah is read by the baal keriyah, without calling any specific person for the aliyah, but it is sandwiched between two brochos.

Other practices

The Rama cites the following:

“Our custom is that no one goes up to take an aliyah unless the gabbai calls him, and the gabbai calls up only someone designated by the donor who purchased the rights to distribute the day’s aliyos. Even the gabbai does not take an aliyah without permission…. The prevailing practice for both tochachas is to call only someone who wants the aliyah” (Darkei Moshe, Orach Chayim 139:1). The explanation of the Rama is that one should prearrange who will receive this aliyah, to make sure it is not someone who will be offended by its being offered him.

What did the Rama mean?

However, when the Rama quotes this ruling in his glosses on the Shulchan Aruch, he reports that the custom is to refrain from calling a person up to the tochacha by name, but, instead, to give the aliyah to “someone who wants it” (Orach Chayim 428:6). What does the Rama mean?

Some authorities understand the Rama to mean that we do not call up someone by name for this aliyah (Aruch HaShulchan), a practice followed in some places to this day. The concern is that even though the person who received this aliyah is being paid, should he refuse once he was called to the Torah, he will be guilty of a bezayon haTorah (Levush, quoted by Machatzis HaShekel).

A different approach

The Biur Halacha (428:6) suggests that the Rama meant that one should make certain to call up someone who wants the aliyah, and, if no one wants it, entice someone to accept the aliyah by paying him. This method was practiced in certain Chassidic communities. For example, Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov (Orach Chayim #35) records that this was the custom in the area where he grew up.


In most places today, the accepted practice is that the aliyah including the tochacha is given to the baal keriyah or to the gabbai. Performing a mitzvah is the greatest segulah for Divine help, and therefore, this is probably the best way to fulfill kavod haTorah. Indeed, it is possible that it is a bigger mitzvah to receive this aliyah than any other, since it includes the strongest reproach in the Torah, enabling a person to grow in serving Hashem. Those places that have other customs should discuss the matter with their rav, to understand the halachic basis for their practice.


Essentials of Tochachah

Question #1: Cross-gender Tochachah

“The Mishnah states that a man should not converse unnecessarily with a woman. At my workplace, there is a girl who is ostensibly observant, but I see inconsistencies in her observance level. Am I supposed to try to help her become more committed?”

Question #2: Ignored Admonition

“Is there a mitzvah to admonish someone when I know that he will ignore me?”

Question #3: Admonisher or Enemy?

“I know that there is a mitzvah to be mochiach, but I am always concerned that I will make these people into my enemies. Should I be concerned?”


In this week’s parshah, Yosef reveals himself to his brothers, by saying the immortal words, ani Yosef, ha’od avi chai? “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?” According to many commentaries (Ha’amek Davar, based on Chagigah 4b), Yosef intended these words as admonition, tochachah, to his brothers: Why are you suddenly concerned about how your father will react to Binyomin’s disappearance, when you were not concerned how he would react to my disappearance?[1] This provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the laws of tochachah, the requirement to reprove someone for misbehavior, a frequently misunderstood mitzvah.

The underlying principle of tochachah is the realization that fulfilling Hashem’s mitzvos is not merely an individual pursuit – it is a responsibility that I share with all of Klal Yisroel (see Sefer Hamitzvos #205). In explaining the reason for the mitzvah of tochachah, the Shaarei Teshuvah (3:19) notes that a devoted servant or employee performs his own work diligently and also tries to see that his co-workers do their jobs conscientiously. We are all members of the same people and share a common, collective mission.

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). Furthermore, the mitzvah applies equally to men and women – both have a requirement to be mochiach, and both should be admonished when they violate the Torah (Sefer Hachinuch #239). In addition, tochachah is a mitzvah that one should fulfill cross-gender; that is, a man is required to be mochiach a woman, and a woman is required to be mochichah a man. We can demonstrate this principle through the following passage:

Eili and Channah

The pasuk describes how Channah went to Shiloh, the location of the Mishkan, at the time the primary religious headquarters of the Jewish people, and prayed to Hashem that she merit conceiving and bearing a child. She prayed at great length to Hashem, and Eili was watching her mouth. Channah spoke in an undertone, with only her lips moving but her voice inaudible, and Eili thought that she was intoxicated. So, Eili told her, “For how long will you continue to be intoxicated? Remove your wine from yourself!” Channah responded, saying, “No, my lord, I am a woman who is greatly distressed. Wine and other intoxicating beverages I have not imbibed. I am pouring out my soul before Hashem (Shmuel I, 1:12-15).

Based on Eili’s reproof of Channah, the Gemara derives that the mitzvah of tochachah includes not only admonishing someone for sinning, but even for inappropriate behavior that is not sinful (Brachos 31b, as explained by Tosafos ad loc.) After all, Eili was admonishing her not for doing something specifically sinful, but for behaving in an inappropriate manner.

The cardinal rule of tochachah

The most basic rule of tochachah is that the mochiach, the person who is reproving, must truly care for the offender. Being sincerely concerned about the other person’s welfare is a condition which must be met, if the reproof is to be successful. Thus, tochachah is an extension of Ahavas Yisroel, loving our fellow Jew. The Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 6:7) writes that the mochiach should explain that he is helping the offender earn a greater share in olam haba. To quote him: “One who sees his friend sinning or following a lifestyle that is not good has a mitzvah to influence him to return to the proper way and to inform him that he is harming himself… The one who rebukes must do so privately, with a pleasant manner and a soft voice.”

So, how do I influence someone if I do not love him? The answer is that I am required to teach myself to love him, both to observe the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel and in order to fulfill the mitzvah of tochachah.

That tochachah must be performed in a pleasant manner is again borne out in the following Talmudic passage: the Mishnah (Shabbos 34a) rules that shortly before Shabbos begins, a man is required to ask his family members whether all maasros and challah portions have been separated and whether the eruv has been set up. He then instructs them to kindle the lights in honor of Shabbos. The Gemara makes a point of noting that one should say all these things in a soft voice. These instructions are, in a way, very similar to admonishing one’s family members.

One size does not fit all

Prior to admonishing someone, the mochiach should analyze carefully what will be the most effective way to influence the offender. The tochachah should be tailor-made to the person receiving it and presented in a way that it is most likely to influence him or her to change. One should use stories, parables, and/or logical proofs, depending on what will speak most convincingly to the heart of the person one seeks to persuade (Sefer Chassidim #5).


Yitzchak is aware that he is required to influence his next-door neighbor, Benny, to be more observant. Yitzchak realizes that, to draw Benny closer to mitzvos, Yitzchak must sincerely care about him. Thus, Yitzchak’s first step is to truly care for Benny and to use every opportunity to develop a friendship. Once Benny feels that Yitzchak truly cares, he will be open to listening to what his friend has to say. At this point, Yitzchak can begin to explain the benefits Benny reaps by observing mitzvos carefully.

We can now understand the following, somewhat rhetorical, declaration of the Gemara: Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said: I would be astounded to learn that there is anyone in our generation who knows how to admonish” (Arachin 16b).

Notwithstanding this observation, the halachic authorities rule that there is still a mitzvah of tochachah, and that one is required to strive to observe it (see Le’reiacha Kamocha pg. 286, quoting numerous authorities).

It is axiomatic that admonishing someone should not embarrass him (Arachin 16b; Toras Kohanim to Parshas Kedoshim). The recipient of the tochachah must be taught that it is in his best interest to improve, something that cannot usually be accomplished in an antagonistic interaction.

On the other hand…

Whoever has the ability to protest the misdeeds of members of his household and fails to do so is accountable for what they have done. The same is true for someone who could protest the misdeeds of the residents of his city and even the entire world and fails to do so. Therefore, the household of the Exilarch (Reish Galusa) is accountable for the misdeeds of the entire world (Shabbos 54b). Similarly, the entire Jewish people were punished in the days of Yehoshua for the crime of one individual, Achan (Yehoshua 22:20). Again, we find that the Kohen Gadol was responsible for the entire Jewish people. If one man sins, the entire nation will be punished, because of their failure to reproach him (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:72).

However, someone who admonished the evildoer appropriately has fulfilled the mitzvah of tochachah and will not be punished for the sinner’s evil deeds (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:72; Sefer Chasidim #5). To quote the Navi, Yechezkel: Because you warned the evildoer to repent from his way, even though he did not repent – he will die for his sin, but you have saved your own life (Yechezkel 33:9).

Tochachah that will be ignored

However, the halachah is that when it is clear that a sinner will ignore any reprimand, one should not attempt to admonish him, as it says in Mishlei (9, 8): Do not rebuke a scoffer, lest he come to hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. As the Gemara expresses this idea: Just as it is a mitzvah to say something that will be heeded, so it is a mitzvah to refrain from saying that which will be disregarded (Yevamos 65b). In these instances, censure will cause the evildoer to sin more, rather than to do teshuvah, and, therefore, it must be avoided.

Who qualifies as a scoffer?

This question is discussed in a different passage of Gemara (Shabbos 55a), where we find the following conversation:

Rabbi Zeira said to Rabbi Simon: “The master should chastise the members of the Reish Galusa’s household.”

Rabbi Simon responded: “They will not listen to me.”

To this, Rabbi Zeira retorted: “Even if they will not listen, admonish them.”

Rabbi Zeira then quoted an Aggadic passage, in which a conversation transpired between Midas Hadin, the attribute of justice, and Hashem. At one point in this “conversation,” Midas Hadin challenged Hashem to punish the righteous for not protesting the evildoings of the wicked. Hashem answered: “I know for certain that even had the righteous protested, the wicked would not have listened.” To this, Midas Hadin retorted: “You knew that the wicked would not have listened. But how did the righteous people know?” And since the righteous had no way of knowing that the evil would not listen, they should be punished for not having attempted to influence them.

We can therefore conclude that only when it is absolutely certain that the sinner will not listen is there no mitzvah either to rebuke or to protest. However, as long as the possibility exists that the sinner might listen, one is required to rebuke him.

Mutav sheyihyu shogagin

There are other instances when one should not rebuke someone who is sinning. This is when one is certain that the sinner will not change after being admonished and, also, he may not know that the activity is forbidden (Sefer Chasidim #413). This halachic status is called Mutav sheyihyu shogagin ve’al yihyu meizidin, “Better that they sin out of ignorance than that they become intentional sinners” (Beitzah 30a; Bava Basra 60b). For brevity’s sake I will refer to this status as “mutav.”

In this situation, the tochachah will probably accomplish only that the person will now be sinning intentionally, instead of out of a lack of knowledge. Since the result of the reproach is not constructive, it should be avoided.

The law of mutav, better that they sin unintentionally than intentionally, is true even when the prohibition is quite clear and could easily be discovered by the sinner. In other words, the sinner is considered shogeig, uninformed that what he is doing is forbidden, only because he does not want to know the truth. For example, even when all halachic authorities discuss the matter and prohibit the activity, the sinner is still considered one who acted out of ignorance rather than with intent. One should avoid telling him of his error when one assesses that knowledge of the sin will not affect his behavior.

This background allows us to understand a passage of Gemara that otherwise seems extremely strange:

A person should always live in the place where his rebbe does, for as long as Shimi ben Geira [Shlomoh Hamelech’s rebbe] was alive, Shlomoh did not marry the daughter of Pharoah. [Rashi notes that the verse mentions Shlomoh marrying Pharoah’s daughter immediately after it mentions Shimi’s death, see Melachim I, 2:46 – 3:1.] However, there is a beraysa that says that one should not live in the place of his rebbe. [Thus, we have two halachic statements that seem to say diametrically opposite ideas.] These two statements do not disagree. One is discussing someone who listens to the rebuke of his rebbe and therefore being proximate to his rebbe will prevent him from sinning. The Beraysa is discussing someone who does not listen to his rebbe (Brachos 8a).

As Rashi explains, someone who does not listen to his rebbe is better living distant from his rebbe, so that he is considered negligent when he does not hear his rebbe’s admonition. This is less severe than someone who ignores the admonitions. The latter person will become an intentional sinner when he ignores his rebbe’s admonition. The rule of mutav applies notwithstanding his having moved a distance from his rebbe so as not to be reproached for this misdeed!

Probably won’t listen

Should one reproach an ill-doer when you know 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).

We will continue our discussion about the mitzvah of tochachah next week.

[1] For a halachic explanation of the sale of Yosef, see the chapter on this topic in my book From Buffalo Burgers to Monetary Mysteries.