At a recent shul kiddush on shabbat I witnessed someone perform a melacha seemingly on purpose two or three times. It was clear to me that this person was unaware of a certain halacha. I did not know this person and I was in a public setting so I was uncomfortable to go over to him and explain what he was doing violated halacha.

I'm sure socially awkward situations like this happen all the time.

Based on the principle that all Jews are guarantors for one another I understand that I should simply go and tell a person when I see him or her doing something that violates halacha, but in practice, in my experience, I don't see that happening very often.

What is some good advice on how to overcome the social awkwardness around correcting someone's behavior? Please only cite examples that you have personally seen/used successfully or reliable sources.

Note I am only asking about correcting a mistaken or inadvertent transgression, not rebuking someone

  • This seems like a general social question of how to correct someone's behavior. Doing an averah is just an application of this general social question. Consider therefore asking this on interpersonal skills stack exchange
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 14:22
  • Its difficult to do so without shaming the person @mevaqesh, so it can be a good question for MY.
    – gamliela
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 14:32
  • @gamliela I don't understand your point. It may be difficult to pay for gym membership given high expenses of living a religious Jewish lifestyle. But, questions about gym membership would probably best be asked elsewhere. Similarly, it is forbidden to physically hurt people. However, questions about the best way to move an immobile patient without hurting him would best be asked elsewhere.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 14:37
  • @mevaqesh agreed, especially when there is a disclaimer noting that it has nothing to do with tochacha Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 15:20
  • @rikki What is the difference between “correcting a transgression” and “rebuking”?
    – DonielF
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 20:06

2 Answers 2


I have been corrected on several occasions, so I can describe what worked better or worse for me. I've tried to apply this when I'm doing the correcting (doesn't happen often), and so far it has seemed to work, i.e. not caused upset.

First, the more private, the better. Sure you're at a kiddush, but there's a difference between walking up to the person in the middle of a group chat and pulling him aside. Even if you're overheard, the attempt at discretion matters.

Second, treat it as a knowledge issue, not a behavior issue. Bad: "Why are you handling muktzeh?" Better: "Isn't such-and-such muktzeh?" or (for someone who might not know what muktzeh is) "Do you know about the laws of handling objects on Shabbat?" Both of my options leave open the possibility that the person doesn't know something (either the law or its application to a particular object, in this example). We all have gaps in our knowledge, so no big deal! Fix it and move on.

Third, use humility. Even if you're sure he's doing something wrong, ask questions or invite a discussion instead of jumping to the conclusion. There might be something you don't know -- dan l'chaf zchut, give the benefit of the doubt. And, more pragmatically, people respond better when they don't think they're being accused, so don't accuse until you need to. Further, maybe you'll learn something from him -- how a different community poskens if he's a visitor, a machlochet you thought was settled but isn't, or an obscure exception to the usual halacha.

  • Just one point though. I remember learning that if you see someone who is doing an aveirah unwittingly (beshogeg), but there is a high chance that even if you correct him he will carry on doing it, you should not correct him since you would convert the aveirah into a deliberate act (bemeizid) which is more serious.
    – Epicentre
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 5:26

I would leave all shul "issues" to the rabbi. If the person was a one-time guest, chalk this up to ignorance. I know what you're saying about the "responsibility", but, practically, there's only so much that you can do. Even the rabbi can't do much for an outsider. In my shuls, we get many non-religious outsiders whenever there is a Bar / Bat Mitva. Some of them have their cell phones go off during service. That's a shul decorum issue, so the rabbi just politely announces from the bimah, "we request that you silence your cell phones." That's easy. We also have a pamphlet about shul decorum and procedures. Hopefully, people will read it, and obey. But, of course, the rabbi can't stop someone from turning on or off the light in the rest room on Shabbat.

If he's a regular attendant, the rabbi may have some influence. Either way, the rabbi probably knows halacha better than you and he's also the official "spiritual educator".

I'm not a rabbi or even close. But, a close friend of mine who has been a congregational rabbi told me what I think is the most practical "kiruv" advice that I've heard from anyone. He says that in terms of both a rabbi's interest as well as a congregant's interest, esp. a non-religious one, he wants to ascertain that the congregant will continuously attend his shul rather than have him attend the competitor which may be less religious, or worse, not attend at all. What he said may sound selfish or unconventional to many people, but, this method has worked very well for him, and in his several decades as a rabbi in about 8 different shuls, I can say that he has successfully kept at least 100 people.

  • 3
    I don't see what "shul decorum/issues", "halachic knowledge" and "kiruv" have to do with this question, the question is about "good advice on how to overcome the social awkwardness around correcting someone's behavior", given the fact that the asker wants to guide that individual in the right behavior. Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 15:25
  • @רבותמחשבות Correct. That's why I suggested that the correct social approach is to inform the rabbi and let him handle this. That's how to overcome the social awkwardness. You don't have to handle this yourself, and I suggest that you don't.
    – DanF
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 17:55

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .