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My son relayed this to me a few days ago.

When he was in yeshiva high school, the principal would enter each classes a few days before Yom Kippur and tell all the students that he was sorry if he may have hurt someone's feelings.

My son, asked me (he's graduated the yeshiva several years ago) that in hindsight, he thought that this was an ingenuous apology because most of the time he was enforcing yeshiva rules that my son didn't like, and he (my son) knew that he would be doing the same thing next year, anyway.

After telling me this story, I wondered, myself that there are numerous times throughout the year when I am in a similar situation as a father. I have to enforce curfews and certain rules in my home. My kids are assigned certain chores during the week. If they don't do it, or I find they're lazy, etc. I "rebuke" them and sometimes punish them. If I didn't enforce these rules, I'd be a negligent parent and I would have an unruly child. My child's feelings are sometimes hurt when I enforce these rules.

So, did I sin by merely causing someone else's discomfort, tangentially? I didn't intentionally try to harm his feelings, because enforcing a policy applies to everyone, equally. It's that the person resents following the policy, and then is offended when I have to penalize that person for not following it. Do I still need to apologize for this?

Part of the teshuva is that I don't repeat the same action. I know already that I would continue following enforcing the same policy in the future. So, wouldn't apologizing be pointless and be insincere, in such a case? It would almost be like lying or creating a false impression.


If it helps readers understand an analogy - It's like when politicians offend someone and afterwards say "I'm sorry that you were offended by what I said." That's not at all the same as saying, "I'm sorry that I offended you by what I said."

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    It sounds like he was apologizing for hurting feelings, not for enforcing the rules. Could you clarify? One can enforce rules in more- or less-hurtful ways, after all; maybe it's about the how and not the what? – Monica Cellio Sep 18 '17 at 16:18
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    Are "rules" a term that halakha reckons with? A much better question would be (IMHO) if one inadvertently causes discomfort to somebody in the course of permitted or mandated behaviour whether he needs to ask him for forgiveness. I.e. whether any discomfort requires a request for forgiveness, or only if it is inflicted in an forbidden setting. This focuses the question on what you actually mean to ask, rather than distracting it with some nebulous term like "rules". – mevaqesh Sep 18 '17 at 17:51
  • The answer is presumably that one seeks forgiveness for interpersonal sins. Not discomfort. The court system need not seek forgiveness from those they process, for example, as as long as they are following proper procedure, they are not sinning, even if the defendant would rather not be there, or is uncomfortable. – mevaqesh Sep 18 '17 at 17:53
  • @mevaqesh 2nd to last comment is useful. I'll try to rephrase later on. – DanF Sep 18 '17 at 18:02
  • @mevaqesh Inform me if my latest edits improve things, or suggest how I could further improve it. – DanF Sep 18 '17 at 20:20
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My rav explained that a person does not need to apologize for enforcing rules or punishing someone for not obeying the rules. He does need to apologize if he exceeded the parameters in some way, such as:

  • Explaining the rules (orally or even in writing) unnecessarily harshly so that it hurt someone's feelings. (For example, using "severe" or "threatening" language when it is unnecessary.)
  • Punishing the person harshly, beyond what was necessary. Ideally, the punishment should be explained clearly at the time that the rules are explained
  • Not enforcing or obeying the rules, equally. For example, if he ignores some violators but punishes others.
  • The rabbi wasn't sure if he needs to apologize if he did not verify that the person receiving the punishment knew and understood the rules. (I.e., is ignorance excusable?) The best way to avoid this doubt is to have the rules and consequences written and make it the responsibility (a rule for reading the rules!!!) of all people to read the rules.

He agreed with me that assuming no violation of the above, in many cases, the violator actually should be apologizing to the enforcer! The enforcer, of course, may accept the apology, but, nonetheless is required to enforce the penalty, despite the apology! If not, we have the 3rd problem mentioned, above!

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A parent and a teacher are required to discipline children. In fact if a father or a teacher hit a child to punish them but the blow was so hard that they died they would not be liable to the death penalty! Since as a parent you are required to take part in the upbringing of your children, just because some of the required things may cause discomfort to your children does not mean you must ask their forgiveness! (and furthermore, they are required by the torah to respect you.)

In this case, the principal was not apologizing if he caused pain or discomfort to anyone by enforcing his rules, but rather if he said something mean or ignored someone when he shouldn't of. He was not asking if his rules upset anyone, because that's his job and it is required to raise children.

Causing someone else's discomfort is not necessarily a sin either. for example, if a friend of yours got upset when you ate peaches, you would not be required to absolve yourself of peaches (or ask their forgiveness.). It is only a sin to cause discomfort that you have no right to do.

Since you have a right to parent your children, you are not required to ask their forgiveness if your parenting annoys them, only if you caused them pain that was not really necessary.

  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya, Rafa'el. Your answer sounds logical. It would be better if supported by some sources, particularly for what you stated in the 2nd sentence. – DanF Oct 2 '17 at 15:05
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There are certainly arguments rooted in the Talmud which emphasize the validity of emotional pain.

It doesn't have the same measurable effect in the way other forms of injury are determined. That being said, psychological pain is absolutely emphasized as a real thing. This is in relation to both human suffering and animal suffering.

With regards to animals, there is a famous example of humane animal treatment in which Jews need to feed their animals before they may sit down to a meal. The reasoning for such a thing is the animal lacks knowledge that they will be getting their food. Because they cannot know when their next meal is coming, they will panic. Thus, you feed them first to prevent unnecessary suffering for your animal while you sit down to eat. This would be an example of emotional suffering being emphasized.

Chabad has a wonderful article which goes into the details of the animal welfare arguments.

They explain how psychological pain is certainly taken into account in the laws of animal welfare.

The Same Rationale Applies To Humans.

Shame and Humiliation are examples of pain discussed in the Talmud.

and one who humiliates another in public; and one who calls another a derogatory name. The Gemara asks with regard to one who calls another a derogatory name: That is identical to one who shames him; why are they listed separately? The Gemara answers: Although the victim grew accustomed to being called that name in place of his name, and he is no longer humiliated by being called that name, since the intent was to insult him, the perpetrator’s punishment is severe.

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Just as there is a prohibition against exploitation [ona’a] in buying and selling, so is there ona’a in statements, i.e., verbal mistreatment. The mishna proceeds to cite examples of verbal mistreatment. One may not say to a seller: For how much are you selling this item, if he does not wish to purchase it. He thereby upsets the seller when the deal fails to materialize. The mishna lists other examples: If one is a penitent, another may not say to him: Remember your earlier deeds. If one is the child of converts, another may not say to him: Remember the deeds of your ancestors, as it is stated: “And a convert shall you neither mistreat, nor shall you oppress him” (Exodus 22:20).

Bava metzia 58b

Other examples of the similar can be found in this same section. The point is that the Talmud emphasizes the importance of treating people with dignity in the verbal and taking account of your language when dealing with others.

If someone is taking this seriously and chooses to offer apologies for unintentional past language, it's the same logic as asking for forgiveness for unintentional past actions.

Just as your actions might have been unintentional. The impact of those actions is what you are apologizing for.

  • Avri. Welcome to Mi Yodeya. I appreciate your effort and research. However, this answer doesn't address the question. Your answer analyzes cases of intentional harm such as embarrassment or giving a false impression to a merchant. My situation is not quite "unintentional" harm. The bad feelings were caused tangentially by the other person's resentment of your enforcing rules and penalizing that person. They mainly resent the penalty, and, of course, you could opt not to penalize people, but, then, in turn, you hurt others who are following the rules. – DanF Sep 19 '17 at 14:16

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