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Is publicly shaming someone a cardinal sin (a sin which one must die rather than perform), as per the Talmudic statement that it is better to die than to publicly shame someone (Berakhot (43b), Bava Metsia (59a) Ketubot (67b), Sotah (10b))?

R. Yonah (Shaarei Tshuva: Shaar Shlishi 139) cites and explains the passage, ostensibly implying that it is halakhic, and Tosafos (Sotah 10b) hold that it is. If I understood correctly this is also the opinion of R. Ovadiah Yosef (Yabia Omer 6:13:12). What are the various opinions of poskim on the matter?

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The Rambam is of the opposite opinion. Although he brings the concept of such a person not having a portion in the world to come, he mentions nothing about it being a fourth exception to יהרג ואל יעבור - requiring martyrdom (see the Derech HaTeshuva to the Rambam Teshuva 3:14 who notes that Tosfos and Rabbeinu Yona's opinion is amazing as it is "clearly" not intended literally, analogous to the statement that someone who gets angry is like they are serving idolatry).

This is especially significant because the Rambam holds there can be no additional reason other than the ones and circumstances listed, even as an act of piousness, upon which one may martyr himself.

The Meiri Sotah 10b and Brachos 43b says that this Gemara is not meant literally, and martyrdom is not expected.

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Minchas Shlomo Volume 1 Siman 7) seems to pasken like Tosfos, and asks why one isn't allowed to desecrate Shabbos in order to prevent such embarrassment (although he doesn't doubt that you are not, in fact, allowed to violate Shabbos for that).

  • If your only proof that he paskens like tosafos is that he asks if shabbos can be violated to prevent it, this is no proof. for even accepting that it is like murder which would justify sabbath violation wouldnt guarantee than it is יהו"י because this is dependent on mai chazis, which cant necessarily be applied. The Rambam has a bit of a problem as the gemara praises martyrdom rather than shaming and he holds that there is no optional martydom, so... – mevaqesh Feb 10 '15 at 18:40
  • @mevaqesh, no, the content of the Teshuva seems to accept Tosfos as the halacha and then goes on to build the question about Shabbos from that. Arguably you could say he is only saying those opinions to ask according to them, as he views the Rambam as obvious how the question would be answered - it isn't 100% clear. I've added a link so you can see for yourself. – Yishai Feb 10 '15 at 18:53
  • Is the Meiri saying that a) martyrdom isnt required but is encouraged or b) martyrdom isnt even encouraged but is permited, or c) martyrdom in this case would be prohibited. – mevaqesh Feb 13 '15 at 4:03
  • @mevaqesh, Given that the Meiri holds (Sanhedrin 74b) that voluntary martyrdom is not allowed, then I would go with c. He says the statements about martyrdom to prevent public embarrassment in the Gemara are not Halachic. – Yishai Feb 13 '15 at 4:50
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In Tshuvas Bnei Banim chelek 1, siman 41, Rabbi Y.H. Henkin discusses this at length. He leans heavily on the opinion that this was not meant to be taken literally. So however stringent this transgression is, one would not be required to give up their life.

He quotes many sources so you can check those up and decide for yourself. He has arguments in the Rishonim and different ways to understand what they meant.He brings variant wordings in the other works of Rabbeinu Yona, and variant readings in the Talmud.

He quotes one acharon, the Biinyan Tzion in siman 172 who did take it literally, but he does argue with him.

But most convincing is his argument that no codifier from Rambam to the Shulchan Aruch has put this in as an actual situation of giving up one's life for.

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Reb elyashiv in brachos 42a says we don't know what level of embarrassment would be considered a cardinal sin, as the Gemara's case is from Tamar who did not want to embarrass a king Yehuda so it coud be that was an extreme level of embarrassment-

  • Interesting. Does he state, unlike the implication of Rambam, Meiri, Tur, and Shulhan Arukh, that this is a halakha, or is he simply saying that we don't know the degree of embarrassment that the Gemara is talking about; regardless of whether or not one would be halakhically required to martyr himself for it? – mevaqesh Dec 8 '17 at 0:35

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