I've always believed cursing people is forbidden in Judaism, but I recently read the following on the Gemara:

Berakhot 13b
והא רבי יהושע בן לוי לייט אמאן דגני אפרקיד
For lo, R. Joshua b. Levi cursed anyone who slept lying on his back!

This kind of shocked me, how could a rabbi of such greatness curse fellow Jews for just sleeping on their back? I wanted to know if there were other cases of curses made by rabbis in the Gemara so I searched for the word "לייט" in Sefaria.org. I was baffled when I realized there were dozens, even maybe hundreds, of this cases. Here are some others;

Berakhot 15a
דהא רב חסדא לייט אמאן דמהדר אמיא בעידן צלותא והני מילי לק"ש אבל לתפלה מהדר
And lo, Rab Hisda cursed anyone who went about in search of water at the time of prayer. This, however, applies only to the reading of the Shema', but for the Tefillah one may go for water.

Berakhot 29a
לייט עלה אביי אמאן דמצלי הביננו
Abbai cursed him who says the prayer "Give us understanding."

How can Rabbis curse other Jews? Isn't this forbidden?

  • The last few lines seem to address this: halachayomit.co.il/en/ReadHalacha.aspx?HalachaID=3263
    – jj2
    Mar 4, 2016 at 4:41
  • Wh y do you think it is always forbidden to curse Jews? Mar 4, 2016 at 7:35
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    The sages used these denunciations when the action wasn't forbidden completely, but they wanted to express the fact that the action is not wanted. There are some other ways this was done besides "לייט"/curses, but this was one tool they had to denounce such actions. (See e.g. Yabia Omer part 4, 34: וכל שמצינו בו לשון קללה, ר"ל לייט עלה פלוני, אינו במקום איסור פשוט, שכל שיש בו איסור פשוט אין בו מקום לקללת חכם. דקים ליה בדרבה מניה, אלא אין קללה אלא במקום שאין איסורו מבורר, וההיתר בו מצוי, ומקללין אותו מצד פרצה ועזות מצח כו')
    – Cauthon
    Mar 4, 2016 at 11:08
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    @SamuelManuel According to jj2's link, it is forbidden to curse a jew.
    – Gabriel12
    Mar 4, 2016 at 12:08
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    @Aaron No Aaron, I'm not hoping the rabbis did something wrong. I deeply respect them and admire them. When I read about the curses I was surprised, not because I "caught them doing something wrong", but because I don't understand this and it left me thinking. I know my questions sometimes may seem aggressive, but this is only so that the answers are stronger and more convincing. And so people who open the question thinking there must be something wrong with the Torah, get convinced otherwise by the amazing answers this community provides.
    – Gabriel12
    Mar 4, 2016 at 19:01

2 Answers 2


לייט is the Aramaic for אָרוֹר

The gemora Moed Koton says: ומנלן דמשמתינן דכתיב (שופטים ה, כג) אורו מרוז דהכי סברא דגברא רבה דכתיב (שופטים ה, כג) אמר מלאך ה' ומנלן דמחרמינן דכתיב אורו ארור- How do we know to Excomunicate (those who don't listen to the Beis Din which in this case was Barak who was the head)? As it says in Shoftim 5,23: "Banned is Maroz (the city that refused to follow Barak to war see targum quoted)" and it was a Great Man proclaiming this ban (which in this case was Barak who was the head of The Beis Din) as it says: "the Word of the Messenger of G-d.

We see that ארור means שמתא(excommunication).

The Targum Yonasan translates: לוטו מרוז אמר ברק נביא דה לוטו* ותברו ית יתבהא ארי לא אתו לסעדן עמא דה So we see לוטו(plural second peson) or לייט(singular third person) also means שמתא(excommunication)

Rambam Hil. Talmud Torah 6,14 על עשרים וארבעה דברים מנדין את האדם בין איש בין אשה ואלו הן: ה) המזלזל בדבר אחד מדברי סופרים ואין צריך לומר בדברי תורה

  • On 24 things people should be excommunicated: 5. Someone who belittles (by ignoring/transgressing constantly) one of the Mitzvos of the rabbis and that goes without saying one of the Mitzvos of the Torah.

All the cases above seem to be cases where people belittled the words of Chachamim/Torah e.g sleeping on his back they prohibited in order that he does not let out seed for nothing which is prohibited as we see from Onan (Bereishit 38). So these people were subsequently excommunicated after it became second nature for them to transgress certain Aveiros.

  • In a similar vein - the Artscroll translates it as "condemns" - i.e. a strict telling off and not a curse per se.
    – Dov
    Oct 28, 2020 at 23:14

The language is not meant to be taken literally. It is meant to act as a literary device to prevent people acting improperly.

  • In shabbos rav cursed shmuel and karna and the curses came true.
    – Shlomy
    Oct 28, 2020 at 23:51

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