- Question: [Wednesday, 27th Menachem Av, 5781]
In a public Chassidic gathering a certain individual who evidently had too much to drink and did not like something I said began shouting at me, cursing me, and belittling me with many accusations, and when I tried to calmly defend myself, he went over to me and spat in my face and threw a glass of vodka at me. Needless to say, I felt very ashamed and embarrassed from the individual, as all this was done in public in the presence of many members of our community. Our Shul Rav, who is not a practicing Posek in Choshen Mishpat, was very upset about this event and spoke very firmly with the individual and told him that he may be liable to pay me restitution for doing what he did. While I don’t care so much about the money, he said it’s important that the person learns a lesson, and so I would like to know if there is such a monetary claim that I can make against him for doing what he did.
Absolutely! One who publicly [i.e. in front of another person] shames and embarrasses another Jew is rabbinically obligated to monetarily appease him properly according to his honor, and may be excommunicated until he does so. This applies even if he only shamed him using words and not actions, and all the more so in this case in which the person actually spat on him and threw Vodka at him, in which case he may be biblically liable for payment, depending on whether the spit and vodka hit his actual body or only his clothing. Whatever the case, he most definitely transgressed a Biblical prohibition in what he did. Practically, I would suggest that the shul Rav have an agreed upon meeting between you and him, and come to an agreed-upon sum to which he must compensate you for what he did, which will reflect both the actions that he did and the level of shame that it caused you. You may keep this money and do not have to give it towards charity [other than Maaser] as it is considered your income from damages. On that note, bravo for your community and Rav for taking a stance on this subject, which has become all too rampant in which people think that they can use their mouth and sometimes even their hands in any way they wish without any repercussions to them. If a person in the community is acting in an aggressive manner of verbal and physical altercation with other members of the community and especially during a public gathering, it is the job of the community with its Rav as its leader to stand up and speak out against such individuals, and make them understand that such behavior will not be tolerated, and place upon them fines for their behavior. Unfortunately, one of the leading [but not only] causes for such altercations is the consumption of too much alcohol, which should be measured by as much alcohol which allows the animalistic instincts of the individual to become expressed. Many people do not know how to handle their liquor, and being that when wine enters the secrets come out, and the secrets of some individuals are not very pleasant to society being that they hold within them a lot of inner tension and animosities which are often due to their own ego, therefore for such individuals it is better off that they do not drink any alcohol, even by a Chassidic gathering. Indeed, for this reason the Rebbe made a very severe decree and regulation regarding drinking alcohol even during Hasidic gatherings, and as the Rebbe Rashab states that the drinking of alcohol by a Hasidic Farbrengen is not meant for the ignoramus, which is to be defined as an individual who is an Am Haretz in his character traits, irrelevant of how much knowledge he has. The Rav and Mashpia by the Hasidic gathering should take watch over the bottle, to make sure that it is regulated in order so the gathering remain true to its purpose, which is to share Torah thoughts encourage service of God, and bring brotherly love amongst members of the community.
Explanation: It is a Biblical prohibition for someone to shame and embarrass another Jew, whether verbally or with an action, even in private and certainly in front of other people, and doing so is included in the biblical prohibition of Onas Devarim. Nonetheless, regarding compensation to the victim, there are different degrees of embarrassment. Biblically, one is only liable for restitution to a victim who one shamed if he did an action to the actual body of the victim, such as he spat in his face, or slapped him. This, in fact, is one of the twenty four Avos Nezikin mentioned by Rav Oshiya and Rebbe Chiyah in tractate Bava Kama. In the case of spit, the sages enacted that he must pay the victim 400 Zuz, which is equivalent to 1,923 grams of silver, which as of today’s date of writing this article, is worth close to $1,600. However, he is biblically exempt from paying restitution for simply verbally shaming another person, despite the fact that he transgresses a Biblical prohibition in doing so. Nonetheless, the sages decreed that even verbal shame is liable for some level of restitution in accordance to the honor of the victim and the level of shame that he endured, and the sages stated that the perpetrator should be placed in excommunication until he appeases the victim [monetarily]. This is likewise the final Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch, and although in general the Poskim rule that we no longer collect the fine of “Boshes” in today’s times that we don’t have Dayanim with Biblical Semicha, practically, the conclusion of this matter is that the Rabbanim and Dayanim of each community have the right to demand restitution and place fines for one who shamed another. However, this law comes with the following leniency, which is that if a person spat on another person and it hit his body that he does not necessarily have to pay the full amount of 400 zuz, but rather the amount that the community Rabbanim decide to suffice.
Sources: See Encyclopedia Talmudit Erech Boshes Vol. 3 p. 42; See regarding payment for the damage of “Boshes”: Michaber C.M. 420:3 and 7-9 and 24; Rambam Chovel Umazik 1:1-2 and 9;Mishneh Bava Kama 83b; Bava Kama 4b [one of the 24 Avos Nezikin]; See regarding verbal shame: Michaber C.M. 1:6; 420:38; Rambam Chovel Umazik 3:5; Mishneh Bava Kama 90a; Smeh 420:47; Shut Harosh Kelal 101:1; See regarding spitting: Michaber C.M. 420:38; 41; Rambam Chovel Umazik 3:5 and 9; Mishneh Bava Kama 90a; Regarding collecting payment of the Boshes and other Avos Nezikin today: See Michaber and Rama 1:1-2; 5; 6; Encyclopedia Talmudit Erech Beis Din Vol. 3 p. 162