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From the website dinonline:

The Torah teaches: “When you sell something to your fellow, or buy from your fellow, do no wrong one man his fellow” (Vayikra 25:14). In a subsequent verse, the Torah states: “You shall not wrong one another.”

Dwelling on the two verses, the Gemara explains that the latter verse refers to onaas devarim. This means that causing somebody else emotional pain, by means of verbal, written, or any other form of communication, is a Torah prohibition. This basic prohibition is recorded by the Rambam and by the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 228:1).

My question is: What if a person is overly sensitive about something or even has a particular disorder that makes them upset under certain circumstances, to what extent must I accommodate their feelings? Is there a line after which I can say "Their over sensitivity is not my concern, I'm allowed to behave normally and if that upsets them then it's not my problem"?

  • Realistically speaking, how can we be sure? This is a typical problem that numerous shul rabbis and gabbaim have. Members want certain honors and there are only so many that they can give. Inevitably, someone is offended. – DanF Mar 12 '15 at 19:20
  • Cf. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggshell_skull – msh210 Mar 12 '15 at 20:44
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The Gemara in Bava Metzia (59a), in dealing with the prohibition of causing anguish - Onas Devarim, says that it is imperative to speak to ones wife nicely, for they cry very easily.

אמר רב לעולם יהא אדם זהיר באונאת אשתו שמתוך שדמעתה מצויה אונאתה קרובה


The Gemara is saying to take into account the levels of sensitivity of each person. The fact that a woman cries easier, you must cater that sensitivity and adjust how you speak to that person. Thus, we see the principle that despite someone being very sensitive nonetheless you must take that into account and speak nicer to them.

Furthermore, we see in the Rambam (Deos 6:10) a need for an extra level of sensitivity. The Rambam writes that it is imperative to be careful of the honor of orphans and widows for they are of lowly spirit and are depressed:

חייב אדם להזהר ביתומים ואלמנות מפני שנפשן שפלה למאד ורוחם נמוכה אע"פ שהן בעלי ממון אפילו אלמנתו של מלך ויתומיו מוזהרים אנו עליהן שנאמר כל אלמנה ויתום לא תענון והיאך נוהגין עמהן לא ידבר אליהם אלא רכות ולא ינהוג בהן אלא מנהג כבוד ולא יכאיב גופם בעבודה ולבם בדברים קשים ויחוס על ממונם יותר מממון עצמו כל המקניטן או מכעיסן או הכאיב להן או רדה בהן או אבד ממונן הרי זה עובר בלא תעשה וכל שכן המכה אותם או המקללן ולאו זה אף על פי שאין לוקין עליו הרי עונשו מפורש בתורה וחרה אפי והרגתי אתכם בחרב ברית כרת להן מי שאמר והיה העולם שכל זמן שהם צועקים מחמס הם נענים שנאמר כי אם צעק יצעק אלי שמוע אשמע צעקת


However, this extra level of sensitivity only applies in cases where there is no overt need to speak harsher. But, in a case where you must speak "tougher" for the persons benefit ie. You are a therapist and are working with that person, or you are their teacher and you must guide them on the right path, the Rambam qualifies the prohibition:

בד"א בזמן שעינה אותן לצורך עצמו אבל עינה אותם הרב כדי ללמדן תורה או אומנות או להוליכן בדרך ישרה הרי זה מותר ואע"פ כן לא ינהוג בהן מנהג כל אדם אלא יעשה להם הפרש וינהלם בנחת וברחמים גדולים וכבוד שנאמר כי ה' יריב ריבם אחד יתום מאב אחד יתום מאם ועד אימתי נקראים יתומים לענין זה עד שלא יהיו צריכין לאדם גדול להסמך עליו ולאמנן ולהטפל בהן אלא יהיה עושה כל צרכי עצמו לעצמו כשאר כל הגדולים.


Rav Elchonon Wassermann (Kovetz Ha’aros Yevamos #70) echoes this qualification as well:

"Similarly, concerning the prohibition of Lashon harah, it is permitted against people who cause discord and quarrels in order to stop the fight. Similar concerning using words to cause anguish (onas devarim), it is permitted to publicly criticize someone if it is for the sake of chastisement. It is even permitted to publicly embarrass someone if it is done for the necessity of chastisement for a person who has not stopped his bad behavior after being rebuked in private. In such a case it is even permissible to curse him. In fact, this is what was done by the prophets in the past as the Rambam (Hilchos De’os 6:8) notes. We have thus shown from all this, that all the prohibition involving interpersonal actions does not apply when the act is beneficial."

Thus, even for an overly sensitive person if speaking to them harshly will cause them anguish it is permitted.

For more see here

  • This answer seems specific to one's wife. The questioner asked if there is a limit / occasions when one is allowed to. – DanF Mar 12 '15 at 19:17
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    Its a principle. The gemara also discuses geirim and baalei teshuva – Shoel U'Meishiv Mar 12 '15 at 19:20
  • You might, then, want to mention the principle vs. the above answer. I think that would strengthen the answer. – DanF Mar 12 '15 at 19:21
  • @DanF I think my most recent edit will satisfy your earlier comment. – Shoel U'Meishiv Mar 16 '15 at 13:44
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the talmud in ketubot 17 says one should be "meurov im habriot" (lit.mixed with others).

Rashi there says to strive to do the will of each and every person.

this implies being sensitive to the individual needs of each person and behave according to how that person wants to be treated.

  • Why do you equate being liked and accepted with catering to the feelings of the overly sensitive. Maybe it just means you should pour their drink if their thirsty – Shoel U'Meishiv Mar 15 '15 at 17:18
  • @Mefaresh it says to do the will of every person. i assume this includes even the overly sensitive – ray Mar 15 '15 at 19:57
  • On what do you base your assumption? How does being meurav I'm habrios tell you anything about a separate halacha of onas devarim – Shoel U'Meishiv Mar 15 '15 at 19:59
  • @Mefaresh how do you learn rashi "to do the will of every person" – ray Mar 15 '15 at 21:13
  • to be nice, thats it, rashi isnt talking about a pre-existing issur of onas devarim. if he was he would have actually said it, rashi isnt ambigious – Shoel U'Meishiv Mar 15 '15 at 21:15

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