While on vacation recently, I was walking down the street with a newly acquainted co-traveler, when we were approached by a young Lubavitch Yeshivah student encouraging Jewish men to lay Tefillin. While this is not unusual, the student seemed intent on getting this person to put on Tefillin, and persisted in "encouraging" (really more like badgering and harrassing - much more than I expected to see or have seen before) after he'd declined more than once. But what struck me even more, was that the student then turned to me, after his own prodding had failed, and asked me to encourage my new acquaintance in this effort. Then, after I responded, "to each his own," (really in order to diffuse the situation and not because I am against Kiruv), the student looked betrayed.

Ultimately, I don't think the student engaged in a successful strategy, nor was his tact very pleasant. But the fact that he then asked me to pressure someone to do what he wanted him to do, despite the fact that the subject had already expressed disinterest and even discomfort, surprised me greatly.


In an age in which personal boundaries are regularly blurred (see social media, for example), religious freedom is a political wedge issue, and news coverage about bullying and peer pressure is nonstop, what do contemporary rabbinic leaders say about exerting social pressure on others to observe Mitzvoth?

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    To clarify, I have been an ardent supporter of Chabad, both vocally and financially, for many years. I have been, almost exclusively because of the Tefillin Project. I was unnerved, however, at the student's attempt to coerce a perfect stranger into submission by using peer pressure. I'm not here to bash anybody. I'm wondering if this method has any support, either within the movement or without.
    – Seth J
    Commented May 21, 2012 at 23:02
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    @SethJ It would have helped to preface your question or maybe not have made it so wordy. Simply put you are asking if it is OK that a Jew asked another Jew for help in persuading another Jew to fulfill a mitzvah. Why is it Chabad unique? Is it because they are the only ones that care if another Jew does a mitzvah? I don't believe that is the case.
    – user1292
    Commented May 21, 2012 at 23:02
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    @Isaac I thought I had.
    – Seth J
    Commented May 22, 2012 at 0:05
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    Although objectively it is true that one should be mekarev very carefully so as to not push away, what is the support for saying "to each their own" about a mitzva? Incidentally, would it have been different if the co-traveler had been your good friend?
    – yoel
    Commented May 22, 2012 at 0:26
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    I've deleted all comments from where a commenter started questioning the asker's motives, except for the invitations to chat. Please refrain from personal attacks and questioning other users' motives. I've also edited the question to highlight the actual question in both the title and the body. I think that the particular story, while relevant in that it motivated the question, is secondary to the real question at hand, which is about what contemporary rabbis have said about using peer pressure. If the question was about evaluating this particular student's actions, it would be closed.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented May 22, 2012 at 18:00

2 Answers 2


Not a contemporary source, and not discussing social pressure, but in Ketubot 86A-86B it discusses pressuring someone to fulfill a positive commandment:

א"ל תנינא במה דברים אמורים במצות לא תעשה אבל במצות עשה כגון שאומרין לו עשה סוכה ואינו עושה לולב ואינו עושה מכין אותו עד שתצא נפשו

(R' Pappa) said to (R' Kahana), "We learned that discussion was only regarding a negative commandment. However, when it comes to a positive commandment such as telling someone to make a Sukkah or Lulav and he refuses, He may be hit (by Beit Din) until his soul leaves his body.

If R' Pappa didn't mind physical coercion, I doubt he would balk at social pressure.

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    I don't think that's really "social pressure".
    – Double AA
    Commented May 29, 2012 at 2:35
  • @DoubleAA: added how I feel it is connected to social pressure.
    – Menachem
    Commented May 29, 2012 at 2:52
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    That statement only allows the Beit Din to apply physical coercion, and, mi-Qal va-Chomer , social pressure. They will have presumably deliberated over the case in order to decide whether to act on their prerogative. What about the individual( like in the OP's question)? What gives him the right to even exert social pressure?
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Dec 30, 2012 at 13:35

In response to Seth's request above and apologising that Rambam may not be classified as a "contemporary rabbinic leader":

Deep down a person wants to keep the Torah. See this explanation quoted below.

The Rambam (Hilchos Gittin) also points out that deep down inside, a person wants to do what the Torah wants, despite what he might say to the contrary.

In Hilchos Gittin (1:1) the Rambam states that "“If a person is forced to give a divorce it is invalid. Even if he was forced to say "I want" it's nevertheless considered forced and is invalid."

The Rambam later on (2:20) says that "If however a person is halachically required to divorce his wife (e. g. she committed adultery) and he refuses to divorce her, then beis din can use physical force. They hit him until he says "I want" and then the divorce is valid."

The Rambam asks why isn't this considered forced and invalid?

He explains, "One is not considered forced unless it is to do something that he is not required by the Torah... However, one who's Yetzer Haro is overpowering him not to do a Mitzvah or to do an aveirah and he is forced to do the Mitzvah or not to do the aveirah is not considered forced. Rather he wanted to force himself with his evil views to do the opposite.

Therefore, this fellow who (is obligated but) doesn't want to divorce his wife, he (really) wants to be part of Klal Yisroel - he wants to do all the Mitzvos and refrain from the aveiros and it's just his Yetzer Haro which is overpowering him. When he is hit till his Yetzer Haro is weakened (knocked out of him) and he says "I want" that is considered divorcing with his volition."

The conditions of this case are very different (eg there is no-one other than the subject affected by his decision and there may be an issue of embarrassing a fellow-Jew in public) but it could be that social pressure is really no different and if pressured in the right way, this person might say about putting on tefillin "I want".

  • "[I]t could be that social pressure is really no different", but the right of the individual(s) to exert it may very well be different( and less) than that of the Beit Din. Where's the individual's right to do so?
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Dec 30, 2012 at 13:41

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