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Tuesday
May152018

THE HALACHOS OF LEAVING NEGATIVE REVIEWS ONLINE

Selected Halachos from the “One Minute Halacha” project

By HaRav Yosef Yeshaya Braun, Shlita
Mara D’asra and member of the Badatz of Crown Heights

HOW DO I DEAL WITH A FOOL? 

When confronted by a foolish person, Mishlei warns us, “Al ta’an k’sil ke’ivalto, pen tishveh lo gam ata” (Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest even you become like him). The very next pasuk (verse) seemingly advises the opposite, “A’nei k’sil ke’ivalto, pen yihiyeh chacham b’einov” (Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he see himself as a wise person in his [own] eyes).

The Gemara resolves this contradiction by explaining that the two verses refer to different subject matters. If caught in conversation with fools on worldly matters, al ta’an—remain silent and do not stoop to their level. On the other hand, in Torah matters, we have the responsibility to correct their misconceptions and not allow our silence to be interpreted as assent, so that they do not perpetuate their fallacy and think themselves wise.

There are other situations where we need to weigh the wisdom of speaking up versus remaining silent. If it’s possible, we should take the high road, answering with musar (gentle reproach) and clear logic against flawed reasoning—without engaging in the fool’s own coarse lingo or narishkeit (nonsense). There is also greater merit to engaging in a discussion when among strangers, where silence may otherwise be construed as consent to the foolish talk—versus in one’s own community, where it would be inappropriate to converse with a known fool.

When challenged by someone who will obviously not be swayed, we should not become involved in lengthy discussion. Especially when dealing with an apikorus (a heretic, i.e. a Jew knowledgeable in Torah who nevertheless rejects the truth), we are obligated to turn a deaf ear to their narrative.

I’M INVITED OUT;
WHERE DO I LIGHT SHABBOS CANDLES?

The purpose of lighting Shabbos candles is to bring light into our home, shelo yikashel b’etz ub’even (to prevent tripping on a log or a stone [because of the dark], causing discord in the home). Before the advent of electricity, the lighting of candles actually fulfilled this in a tangible way, but electricity has since filled that need. Nevertheless, there is a concept of tosefes ohr (adding light) which enhances our meal, whereby we still fulfill the mitzvah.

Say a woman or a girl is invited out for the Friday night seuda (meal). Should she light Shabbos candles at her host’s home, where she will eat the meal—or at home, where she will return to sleep?

At times the decision is made based on personal welfare or practical considerations, if lighting at home is a fire hazard, or making a special trip to the host before candle-lighting time is inexpedient. But what does halacha say?

A long time ago it would have been preferable to kindle at home, where the woman fulfills her obligation and performs the mitzvah optimally by providing light to her own otherwise dark house. Lighting at the host—who is kindling her own lights—would be redundant. However, in the modern era of electrical lighting, candle lighting no longer serves this function, and we rely on the tosefes ohr criterion to fulfill the mitzvah. Therefore, she should light candles at the host, so tosefes ohr is enjoyed at the dining table.

Here are eitzos (solutions) for someone who nonetheless wants to light at home before leaving for the seuda:

• A Shabbos timer can turn the lights on at home after kindling the Shabbos candles, so the woman (and her family) benefit briefly from the candles without electricity once it’s dark.

• A Shabbos timer can turn the lights off before the candles burn out, using long-lasting candles—in a non-hazardous way—that will still illuminate the dark upon return. In this way, the candles actually provide light that she will enjoy.

• When she returns home, she can partake of a small snack near the candles, and derive the benefit of tosefes ohr.

• She can light both at home and at the host—reciting the bracha at the host’s dining table, where there is the advantage of tosefes ohr.

I CANCELLED THE TAXI; MUST I PAY ANYWAY?

A customer who orders a taxi, and then cancels in advance with legitimate cause, is not required to pay.

On the other hand, if the driver lost another potential job because of the reservation, the customer is liable. The same applies if the driver already began traveling to the pick-up location and was unable to recoup his fare by engaging another customer.

The sum required of the customer is not full payment for the job, but an amount k’poel batel (like an idle worker), i.e. the going rate that a hiree would accept for “sitting on the job” within that time frame. This amount can be calculated at about half of a regular fare, after operating costs were deducted (unless there were any expenses incurred for this particular job, which can be added). However, in places where there is a minhag hamedinah (local custom) for compensation in such situations, that figure should be the pay standard.

A customer who hires a taxi, and then encounters an unreasonable delay in its arrival, may cancel without liability.

NEGATIVE REVIEWS ON A “RATE YOUR SHEITEL” FORUM

Book reviews. Restaurant reviews. Hotel reviews. Product reviews. Even “Rabbanim” reviews. At what point do any of these one-or two-star ratings veer into the territory of lashon ha’ra (slanderous talk)?

The halachos prohibiting lashon ha’ra allow reporting lashon ha’ra l’toeles (with a purpose), i.e. passing on information to safeguard a third party. This exemption requires a number of preconditions, which must be accounted for when reviewing another’s business or product negatively.

It’s the truth: The negative information must be verified for accuracy; no embellishment is permitted. It must also be objectively true, for example: calling a product “expensive” if its price is competitive is a subjective judgment. The same would apply to a book or a meal that did not bring one consumer enjoyment, but may appeal to others. There is no sanction to negatively impact the author’s or restaurateur’s parnasa (livelihood) on account of personal taste.

It provides genuine protection: The reviewer’s sole intention is to protect others from harm, and this is the only means available. It must be preceded by reasonable effort (and perhaps a warning that a negative review is forthcoming) to allow the supplier to rectify the wrongdoing. It must also present protection from real damage, physical, emotional, financial or even spiritual—such as a book that misrepresents Torah or a rav who takes a position contrary to halacha.

The benefits outweigh the loss: The damage averted by the negative review has to prevail over the potential injury to the supplier. “The fries were too salty!” may lead to a recipe adjustment; it may also scare off potential patrons who assume the food is sub-par, causing great—and unwarranted—loss to the restaurant owner.

CAN I SNEAK OUT AFTER THE CHUPPA?

The Gemara uses harsh words to describe someone who is asked to join a seudas mitzvah (a meal celebrating a mitzvah) but refuses to participate. The Rema likewise cautions not to refrain from participating in the seuda held after a bris. The guest should not decline the invitation even in cases where the host would graciously accept his refusal.

Many people who receive invitations to a simcha (a happy occasion such as a wedding), which is a seudas mitzvah make their decision whether or not to attend based on social obligation or convention, without regard to the above halacha.

This proviso applies only to a bris, some might qualify, based on a reading of the Rema. The implication of the Gemara, though, that this is not the case; it applies to any seudas mitzvah. A chasuna (wedding), for example, would almost always also be considered a seudas mitzvah.

The Gemara refers only to those who attend the simcha, but eschew the seudas mitzvah. This justification follows a minority opinion, which points out that the Gemara and the Rema admonish us not to abstain from eating at the seudas mitzvah and do not address any other aspects of invitation or participation. While this is true, the custom to avoid inviting people to a bris directly, accepted by Acharonim (latter-day halachic authorities), is based on this Gemara.

An invitation received via mail or email is not a real request for attendance. Invitation cards are sent en masse to more people than the baalei simcha (the celebrating hosts) can afford to host, even to friends overseas—in which case there is certainly no expectation that they all participate. Indeed, the nature of today’s RSVP system bears little resemblance to the “on the spot” scenario in the Gemara quoted above. Many poskim agree that baalei simcha extend numerous invitations—written and even verbal—as an expression of honor or social custom, not necessarily in anticipation of every person attending the simcha.

I’m not comfortable with the social atmosphere at this affair, is another valid objection, based on the p’sak of many halachic authorities, who maintain that we are not obliged to attend an event that is frequented by anashim she’einam mehuganim (people who lack in Torah values)—a rejoinder that is, unfortunately, far too common in the modern age.

The warning of the Gemara applies to people who feel it’s beneath their dignity to attend, might be the viable response of someone who has justifiable reason or a scheduling conflict. These arguments are further legitimized by the fact that, even absent our participation, the simcha will include its requisite minyan (halachic quorum).

What about my shiur?! Choosing to avoid bittul Torah (squandering time that would otherwise be spent studying Torah) over joining a well-attended simcha is also a legitimate stance.

What’s the bottom line: We should endeavor to participate in a seudas mitzvah when invited, and not abstain from eating at the seuda, unless there are anashim she’einam mehuganim present, kashrus or health concerns. We are permitted to politely refuse an invitation received by mail (with no expectation of attendance) when conflated by a scheduling conflict or, especially, bittul Torah. However, if it is obvious that the host expects the invitee, every effort should be made to attend—even if only to wish the baalei simcha mazal tov and partake, if only dessert.

“One Minute Halacha” is a succinct daily presentation on practical Halacha in video, audio, and text formats, and can be accessed by phone at 718.989.9599, by email, halacha2go@gmail.com, or by WhatsApp 347.456.5665.

 

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