כ״ו באב ה׳תשע״ו (August 30, 2016)

Bava Kamma 91a-b: Humiliation with Spit and with Words

As we have learned, one of the five types of damage that a person must pay if he injures his fellow is boshet – embarrassment. The Mishna (90a) lists a number of cases where a person will pay a set figure for embarrassing another, e.g. slapping him, pulling his hair, removing his clothing, and so forth.

One particular situation mentioned in the Mishna is someone who spits on his friend such that the spittle reaches him. In such a case, the Mishna rules that a penalty of 400 zuz will be assessed.

Rav Papa infers from the language of the Mishnah that the penalty will be assessed only if the spittle lands on the person, but not if it lands on his clothing. In response to the Gemara’s question that this should be no worse than embarrassing a person by means of speech, the Gemara quotes a teaching of Rabbi Yossi bar Abin who taught in Israel that no penalties are assessed against someone who embarrasses his fellow by means of speech.

The Rosh explains that limiting a payment of damages for embarrassment to cases of physical contact stems from the passage (Devarim 25:11) that describes a situation where a woman steps in to protect her husband and defends him by embarrassing his assailant. It should be noted that although there is no standard payment assessed by the courts, the ge’onim state clearly that even non-physical embarrassment is a serious matter, and, if done in a public setting, can cause someone to lose their share in the World to Come. According to the ge’onim, a verbal assault and embarrassment may be worse than a physical attack, and it is up to the to establish the appropriate punishment in each case. The Talmud Yerushalmi describes a case where a large sum was assessed in a particular case of verbal assault. According to many, even though we ordinarily do not assess kenasot (judicial penalties) today, punishments for acts like these can be established by the courts even today.

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