י״א בתמוז ה׳תשע״ז (July 5, 2017)

Bava Batra 164a-b: Being Too Complimentary

According to Jewish law, are there limitations on the praise that a person is allowed to heap on his friend?

This issue comes up as part of a discussion about documents that were either poorly – or else well – written. The Gemara tells two stories:

Rabbi [Yehuda HaNasi] received a get mekushar (see above – daf 160) and he could not locate the date. His son, Rabbi Shimon, suggested that it may have been “swallowed up” by the folds of the document. Rabbi unfolded the document and found the date. Rabbi Shimon then realized that Rabbi was peering in at him and he understood that his father assumed that he had written it incorrectly. Rabbi Shimon defended himself by saying that he had not written the document, rather it was written by Rabbi Yehuda the Tailor. Rabbi became upset with his son, and told him that he should avoid telling stories that involved lashon ha-ra (evil tidings).

Another time Rabbi was completing a book of Tehillim and he commented that the writing in the book was very straight. Again, his son Shimon denied any connection with writing, crediting Rabbi Yehuda the Tailor as the scribe who wrote it. Again Rabbi told him that he should avoid speaking lashon ha-ra.

While it is not surprising that the criticism of the first case could be considered lashon ha-ra, the Gemara must explain why the second case, which involved only compliments, is considered lashon ha-ra, as well. The Gemara explains that Rav Dimi’s ruling is the source, given his position that a person should not speak well of his friend, lest it lead to evil statements about him at a later time.

It is difficult to accept that we are not allowed to speak positively about others. Several explanations for Rav Dimi’s ruling are raised by the rishonim. Among them:

A person should not exaggerate when describing his friend’s attributes, since this may lead others to offer criticisms in an attempt to “even things out.” (Rashi)

A person should not speak well of someone in front of his enemy (Rambam).

A person should not speak well of another in front of a large group, lest within the group there is someone hates that person.

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