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Chafetz Chaim issues a warning against praising someone excessively in public or before that person's enemies. Excerpt from here:

One should not praise someone in public, says the Chofetz Chaim. This is because the law of averages dictates that there will be at least one person who either is jealous of the person or has something against him—in which case the praise is sure to set off a negative reaction. The only situation where public praise is allowed is when the subject is renowned as a learned, righteous person. In such a case it is reasonable to assume that even if he has critics, they will be reluctant to speak out publicly against him, because by doing so they would lose their own credibility.

Yet in Be’er Mayim Chaim the Chofetz Chaim says that we should avoid sitting among people who are discussing a renowned Torah personality, because there are some people who simply cannot resist offering criticism no matter who the subject is. As we discussed, negative talk about such an individual is a most serious sin, as is listening to and accepting it.

In view of this rule, I have seen these activities performed in various settings, numerous times. Are these permissible or prohibited and explain why?

  • Someone introduces a keynote speaker at an event and the "MC" announces his "resume" of accomplishments such as "He has received the Pulitzer Prize for 5 books"
  • The rabbi praises the Bar or Bat Mitzvah's accomplishments by announcing to the shul the awards and high grades the person earned
  • At a Yeshiva University dinner I attended years ago, between the various speakers, they scrolled the names of the donors with "tiered amounts". Suffice to say that the highest tier was about 1 million dollars. It makes those that donate $10,000 seem like "nebbishes".
  • Giving awards (plaques, gifts, medals, etc.) to designated honorees at yeshiva dinners or fund-raisers, etc.
  • Praising the chatan or kalah at a sheva brachot bys stating how beautiful s/he is; how they overcame tough challenges in life; how charming, generous. wealthy the families are
  • Praising the dead person at a funeral

No doubt, there are many other similar situations. Please address as many of the above as you can. Perhaps, there is a general rule that applies to all of the above that indicates when or how you can or can't praise someone in light of Chafetz Chaim's ruling?

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To clarify, the Haffets Hayyim did not "issue a warning" in the sense of introducing new legislation, rather he is referencing the Talmud (Arakhin 16a) which states that one should not relate his fellow's praises since this can lead to his fellow's embarrassment.

תני רב דימי אחוה דרב ספרא: לעולם אל יספר אדם בטובתו של חבירו, שמתוך טובתו בא לידי רעתו.

R. Dimi, brother of R. Safra, learnt: Let no man ever talk in praise of his neighbour, for through [talking in] his praise he will come to disparage him. (Soncino Trans.)

Rambam presents this in Hilkhot De'ot (7:5) as applying specifically to speaking someone's praise in the presence of his enemies.

וכן המספר בטובת חברו בפני שונאיו--הרי זה אבק לשון הרע, שזה גורם להם שיספרו בגנותו

The Meiri writes similarly in Hibbur HaTeshuvah (Meshiv Nefesh I:4 ed. Sofer p. 97):

אמרם שלא לספר בשבח האדם, עם היות ממדות המוסר להפליג בשבח מי שראוי לכך...פרשו ענינו באדם באדם שיש להכריע בענינו או שישבחוהו במעמד שונאיו

That is, the problem is when he implies something negative, or he speaks in front of the subject's enemies. Otherwise it is permitted and even proper to praise someone.

  • Thanks for the interesting sources. Good "meat" for Yom Tov :-) – DanF Oct 14 '16 at 14:09
  • @DanF You are very welcome. If you want more meat, there's plenty more where that came from, but I thought it was a bit excessive for the answer. – mevaqesh Oct 14 '16 at 18:58
  • @DanF I'll just present a few more sources Ramah (the contemporary of Ramban, that is) writes like Rambam as well: יד רמ"ה מסכת בבא בתרא דף קסד עמוד ב ודוקא בדוכתא דאיכא למיחש דילמא איכא התם מאן דסאני ליה ומשתעי בבישתיה. The problem is specifically if one has reason to assume that the person's enemies are in the vicinity. – mevaqesh Oct 14 '16 at 19:34
  • The Semag goes like the Rambam as well: ספר מצוות גדול לאוין סימן ט פיר' אל יספר בטובתו בפני שונאיו – mevaqesh Oct 14 '16 at 19:36
  • As does the MAlmad HaTalmidim: ספר מלמד התלמידים פרשת שלח לך וכן המספר בטובת חברו בפני שונאיו שמתוך טובתו בא לידי רעתו – mevaqesh Oct 14 '16 at 19:36
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This is an excellent question. In general and especially in these times of tzaros for klal yisrael it is literaly vital for everyone to strengthen shmiras hatorah and particularly in the area of shmiras halashon. I believe that the explanation for the points you mentioned are as follows, and they might be okay:

Just stating about the pulitzer prize for five books is stating his accomplishments. We are not necessarily saying that he is great. And it is also l'toeles of strengthening the message of the speaker.

The case of the and choson and kallah are done to add to their simcha and seems to be considered toeles. And their guests at their sheva brachos are hopefully happy for them and are their good friends who would not criticize them when their praises are mentioned.

The case of bar and bat mitzvah is definitely toeles to raise their self-esteem and give them much needed chizuk for their formative and difficult teenage years. I don't know if any other factors are in play there.

Praising the dead as well is different than the case of the Chofetz Chayim because even people that would generally offer criticism abut someone wouldn't say it about him when he is being praised at his funeral. Also, saying lashon hora about dead people is under a chairem from the kadmonim, and is not midoraysa so its prevention may not be subject to the same qualifications.

The case of tiered donations is seemingly not necessarily comparative lashon hora if it is not done in a comparative way comparing them to the smaller donors. And everyone knows that people are not in the same financial bracket.

Receiving awards at a dinner is also toeles for it encourages people to give, and my Rebbe told me that it's a mitzvah for one to publicly receive an award by a yeshiva dinner, and that being the case, I am sure that it is beautiful to give awards by yeshiva dinners. However, I don't know if there are qualifications how it should be done.

To end off, it is good to make sure what should be done in these cases, because even if people do things, it is still important to know if it's correct. There are many times even where common halachos can be overlooked.

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