Halacha Date: 5 Cheshvan 5779 October 14 2018
In the previous Halachot we have explained some general laws of the prohibition of verbal oppression or verbally hurting another.
The Gemara (Baba Metzia 58b) states: “Rabbi Chanina said: All who descend to Gehinnom ascend from there (all wicked individuals who are sentenced to Gehinnom will eventually emerge after the time they served based on their respective sins, as we have explained in the laws of honoring one’s parents that one is not sentenced to Gehinnom for more than twelve months) besides for three, which are: One who commits adultery with a married woman, one who shames his friend publicly, and one who calls his friend an offensive nickname.”
The Gemara asks that calling one’s friend an offensive nickname is, in essence, shaming him. Why then are these two separate categories?
The Gemara answers that the prohibition to call one’s friend an offensive nickname applies even when the individual is accustomed to being called this name by others, even if he is not embarrassed by this, such as, if many people call an individual “fatso” and the like, this is still forbidden since the name-caller intends to shame the individual. One who does so shall never ascend from Gehinnom.
Clearly, the basis for the prohibition of calling one’s friend an offensive nickname is the prohibition of verbal oppression. Indeed Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat, Chapter 228, Section 5) rules: “One must take care not to call one’s friend an offensive nickname. Even if the individual is accustomed to being called this name, if one’s intention is to shame him, this is forbidden.”
Based on this, those who call their friends all sorts of offensive names, especially regarding children in school who may regularly transgress this sin; this is an especially grave sin when a nickname they assign to their classmate begins to take root. Experience has shown that this practice has led to much pain and suffering and sometimes to actual irreparable damage for those who were the recipients of such offensive nicknames; this sin lies on the shoulders of the individuals who started this horrible custom and praiseworthy are those who put an end to it.
Regarding what we have written that one who calls his friend an offensive nickname has no share in the World to Come, the Rambam explains that our Sages were strict about the severity of the punishment of this issue only with regards to one who is accustomed to calling one’s friend an offensive nickname on a steady basis; however, if one transgresses this prohibition only sparingly as a one-time occurrence, although one’s sin is great, he does indeed have a share in the World to Come. Needless to say, one must request the victim’s forgiveness and repent for this sin, as we have explained in the laws of repentance.