24 - Shaming Others part 3

In certain cases, the bais din used to impose fines on people who shamed another Jew by calling him an openly degrading name, such as mamzer, rasha, or passul.

We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chusim for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.


Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Count to ten in your head before addressing someone out of frustration or anger in public.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.

Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #24


הלבנה פנים - HALBANAS PANIM

PART 3 – Name calling and Nicknames


In certain cases, the bais din used to impose fines on people who shamed another Jew by calling him an openly degrading name, such as mamzer, rasha, or passul.  Other cases of people who find this way include those who say to someone that he “lies like a mamzer”, or who announce, “I am not a sinner” or “I am not a criminal”, with the unspoken implication, “…like you are.”

Calling people by any insulting nickname is a practice to be strictly avoided.  Even if the person is used to being called by that name and is no longer hurt by it (which is not always as it seems), if one’s intent is to embarrass him, it is forbidden to do so, and the name-caller loses his portion in Olam Haba.  All the more so, one should never call an entire group by a derogatory name.  

It is an admiral practice to avoid using a nickname even when there is no intention of putting a person to shame.  One Sage, when asked how he had merited living to a ripe old age, attributed it to the fact that he had never called anyone by a nickname, even if it was not derogatory.  The Chazon Ish used to advise parents not to give their children a name that would sound strange, so they should not suffer from it when they grow up.

Sometimes when people sit together and “kid around,” they may direct barbs and “good natured” insults at one of those who are present.  The people involved may find this practice rather entertaining, and the butt of the jokes may repress his feelings and laugh along with them, claiming that he is not offended.  But while he laughs externally, in his heart he is crying.

Participating in a gathering of this kind is strictly forbidden.  If you find yourself in such a situation, you have a responsibility to object and to rebuke the participants, using your good sense to find a way to do so effectively.

(Excerpted from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver and Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)

Story:  (based on a true story) 

The phone rang just as I was finishing up cleaning the chicken for Shabbos.  I checked the Caller ID and happily noticed my brother’s name.  I quickly cleaned one hand and grabbed the cordless.

“Hey, String Bean!  How are ya?” I asked.

“That gets old, you know,” Dovid said.  “Aren’t you a mom to like, a million kids?  Do you call them String Bean?”

“No,” I answered.  “That name is reserved for my pesky younger brother.”

“Who is getting married in two months,” he answered.

“But still skinny as a string bean,” I shot back.

As we talked about upcoming wedding plans and how my kids liked camp, I reveled in my positive relationship with my brother.  We hadn’t been close growing up, though we had each other’s backs.  But as I moved on to my next stage, we started talking more, mostly keeping in touch about life happenings.  As the only girl in the family besides our mother, I seemed to be his go-to person for questions about non-technical wedding things.  It was nice to be able to help, and even nicer that we were still inherently brother and sister, good-natured teasing and all.

That Sunday, my parents and my brother came over for a barbeque.  Dovid brought his kallah, Suri, and she helped me in the kitchen while my mom held the baby and the men played with the other kids on the swing set.  The conversation was easy, as it had thankfully been since I met her.  It’s so great to really like your future sister-in-law.  Then, as we cut up the watermelon and everyone started filing in to wash up, Dovid pulled me aside.

“Do you think you could maybe not call me ‘String Bean’ in front of Suri?” he asked with a slightly drawn face and serious eyes.

I hadn’t been aware that I had, although since it was a nickname I used pretty often, it was definitely possible.  I didn’t see what the big deal was; I’d called him that forever, and Suri had a good sense of humor.  But of course I agreed to try.

“Try hard, please,” he said.  “I never liked being known as the skinny guy-it’s not always such a great thing for guys.  And I don’t need my kallah to think of me like that, different or weird.  I just kind of want to be me from now on, without any labels.”

Wow.  My little brother had grown up.  And yeah, I could see him wanting to put a nickname from the past behind him, and to focus on what he had and not what he didn’t have.  I resolved to him and to myself to try extra-hard.

I also started to think about nicknames.  The fact that Dovid had told me as much as he did was sort of a miracle.  He wasn’t one to go on about his feelings, especially to his sister.  So it’s entirely possible that my nickname for him, which came from a comment my mom once made to my grandmother when he was eight, had bothered him a lot for all these years.  He just shrugged it off, or called me a name back.  But when I thought about it, when Dovid was younger he really was the skinny guy in his class, not so great at sports and struggling to keep up.  It couldn’t have been fun to have it thrown in his face when he came home, too, even as a joke especially when my whole family laughed about it together.

As I put out the rest of the food, I looked around at my kids.  Who did I have a nickname for?  I’d have to stop calling my three year old Eli-Belly eventually, though it seemed OK for now.  I resolved to keep watch as he grew up.  And my five year old son had affectionately earned the name, “Little Mazik”, for good reason, but we couldn’t call him ‘he who causes damage’ forever.  And that was one that I could see sticking.  Plus, there’s the whole self-fulfilling prophecy thing.  So I decided that might need to stop.

I knew Dovid would think it was too sentimental for me to thank him for positively altering the course of my future parenting, so I settled for a parting comment that day of, “Thanks for bringing that thing up.  Sorry for any hurt I caused.  I hope we’re good from now on.”  May it be so.

Discussion Question Options: 

In what ways do we use derogatory terms for people and/or groups of people, and think that it’s OK?

In what ways can a childhood nickname affect that child in the future?

What is an effective way to deal when you find yourself in a conversation with others who are “kidding around” about someone in a way that seems to be accepted but might be hurtful?

Stretch of the Week: 

Stop yourself before you use a nickname or a label for someone, and think about whether it might embarrass or otherwise hurt them.


Stretch Of The Week