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Yoma 86a discusses various types of chillul Hashem, and one is as per the title. This is quite a serious statement, yet is also very vague (a terrible combination!).

What are the definitions and limitations of "speaking pleasantly to others" here?

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This is just my reading of the Gemara.

Abaye seems to be making a naturalistic observation: When someone is super-frum when it comes to learning Torah and hanging out with Torah scholars but then cheats in business or doesn't speak nicely to people, "people will say" that this person's actions reflect poorly on their Torah scholarship and heritage. This observation seems to be based on an understanding of how people naturally react to behavior they don't like, rather than on received tradition.

Therefore, I would not expect received tradition to provide relevant parameters for avoiding the sort of reaction Abaye predicts. Rather, if Torah scholars want to keep people from observing their actions and making negative inferences about the Torah, they need to learn what sort of behaviors would inspire the people of their time and place to think of them as dishonest or rude.

So, I would suggest, a crucial practical result of Abaye's caution is that Torah scholars (and I would extend this to anyone who presents visibly as Torah-observant) should become well-versed in the business and social morés of the communities they live in and interact with, so they can be prepared to tailor their behaviors to make a good impression and thus, sanctify the name of God.

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  • Thank you for this very sensible answer that is clearly emes. I hear and agree on the point about not expecting sensible parameters to be passed on, although it wouldn't surprise me if we are given some parameters either, and if anyone can provide them I'd appreciate it. Perhaps even a list of reasonable exceptions to the rule?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Feb 13, 2023 at 15:46
  • Rav Kanievsky in Orchos Yosher explains why people praise a person for the Torah he learnt and not for his good character traits לפי שגם הבריות יודעות ומכירות שהסיבה לזה שפלוני נאים דרכיו וכ׳, אינה מחמת מידותיו הטובות, דעתו הרחבה ושכלו האנושי, אלא מחמת שלמד תורה, כי דרכיו ומעשיו המתוקנים הם יותר ממה שהשכל מחייב, וע״כ שמן התורה הם באים. people recognise that the reason a person's ways and actions are perfect is not because of his good character or intelligence but because he learnt Torah; his beautiful ways are much more than intelligence demands and therefore must come from the Torah. Feb 13, 2023 at 16:03
  • @AvrohomYitzchok The positive reaction that R' Kanievsky describes is essentially the same as the one Abaye does. However, the fact that Abaye cautions about the possibility of someone learning tons of Torah and hanging out in the right crowd and yet behaving poorly enough to desecrate God's name indicates that Abaye held that Torah study is not by itself a sufficient condition for the type of behavior that sanctifies God's name. To our pain, it is not hard to find contemporary counterexamples as well.
    – Isaac Moses
    Feb 13, 2023 at 19:39

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