I was at shul on Sunday, not during a service, but during a meeting. A parent and child were sitting in front of me. The small child's legs were far too short to reach the floor, and her feet were kicking the siddurim in the rack on the back of the seat in front of her, repeatedly. I could not see her face, but she seemed to be doing it on purpose and enjoying it. Her parent was sitting right there, and cannot possibly have missed seeing this, but did nothing as it continued for several minutes. I don't think anyone else could see what was happening. It was bothering me immensely, but I could not decide whether to speak up and potentially embarrass the parent, or stay silent and allow this disrespect to continue. In the end, I kept my mouth closed. Several days later, I still cannot decide whether I did the right thing.

Would it be proper to correct a child such a situation?

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    Of course for practical questions refer to a Rav. – Hacham Gabriel Aug 14 '13 at 4:20
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    It's nice to see someone be considerate of others in this situation instead of acting on impulse and cause potential embarrassment for a mother. There's this ethical teaching in business of, "Give praise in public, and criticism in private." I think this applies to Judaism too. Instead of creating a ruckus in the middle of a situation, try to speak to the parent afterwards. Open up with some idle chatter, mention that she has a lovely child, but firmly (but not harshly) mention that he/she was kicking the siddurim, and then conclude that she has a lovely child. That's how I'd handle it. – rosenjcb Aug 14 '13 at 4:24
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    In addition to what rosenjcb said, to handle it "in the moment" you could quietly ask the parent if he's aware that this is happening. Even if you think what's happening is ok, when somebody says "are you aware of...?" that can trigger a "wait, why would he ask me about that unless he thinks there's a problem?" reaction, which can be enough. Of course some won't pick up on that and, sadly, some might not care, but it's what I would try if I wanted to make it stop now instead of just trying to prevent a future occurrence. – Monica Cellio Aug 14 '13 at 14:36

Menachos 37b:

גדול כבוד הבריות שדוחה את לא תעשה שבתורה

Great is human dignity, as it overrides a prohibition in the Torah.

You acted rightly.

The instances where one should rebuke his fellow Jew, and be justified are much less in our times. Even in talmudical times they had some doubts, see Arachin 16b. Nonetheless, there are some rules to proper rebuke see Deos 6:7. A main rule, though, is that the person should not get embarrassed.

Also, there is no direct prohibition against kicking a siddur. And for a child it is even less so. Additionally, you yourself were missing many details that could have perhaps intensified the embarrassment you’d have caused. Embarrassing a fellow Jew is a grave and great thing - that is always sought to distance from.

Here’s some quotes about embarrassing a person:

Avoth 3:11

רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר הַמּוֹדָעִי אוֹמֵר,הַמַּלְבִּין פְּנֵי חֲבֵרוֹ בָּרַבִּים, אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁיֵּשׁ בְּיָדוֹ תּוֹרָה וּמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים, אֵין לוֹ חֵלֶק לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא.

Baba Metzia 58bf

רבי חנינא אומר כל היורדין לגיהנם עולים חוץ משלשה שיורדין ואין עולין ואלו הן הבא על אשת איש והמלבין פני חבירו ברבים והמכנה שם רע לחבירו

אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר רבי יוחנן נוח לו לאדם שיבא על ספק אשת איש ואל ילבין פני חבירו ברבים

Berakhoth 43b

אמר רבי יוחנן משום רבי שמעון בן יוחי נוח לו לאדם שיפיל עצמו לתוך כבשן האש ואל ילבין פני חברו ברבים

Tosafoth even asks why this is isn’t one of the cardinal sins to give up ones life for. He answers that since it’s not written directly in the Torah it wasn’t included.

For similar and additional reading, see Wikipedia.

  • You raised some interesting and useful points. But, in situation where a child is disturbing the shul decorum, and it is an issue of disturbing others or actually hurting someone (If a child kicked me hard, I wouldn't ignore it, esp. if s/he does it multiple times) I think you could gently ask the child to stop (based on child's age to understand that, of course) and / or do likewise by requesting the parent to relay the request to the child. Most parents want their child to behave in shul. If you get a negative or angry reaction or look, ignore it and leave it alone. Not worth fighting! – DanF Sep 14 at 13:32

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