Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Rebuke and Reproof

REBUKE AND REPROOF (Heb. tokhaḥah), admonition and chastisement for the purpose of restraint or correction. The biblical source for the duty to rebuke the wrongdoer is: "You shall not hate your kinsman in your heart. Reprove your neighbor, but incur no guilt because of him" (Lev. 19:17). In the view of the rabbis the duty to reprove one's neighbor has two applications: the first, to confront one's fellow with personal grievances held against him, and the second, to chastise evildoers in the hope of bringing about their regeneration (Maim. Yad, De'ot 6:6, 7). The duty to openly confront one's neighbor with personal grievances is entailed in the injunction against hatred of one's brother, insofar as the silent harboring of resentments leads to hatred (Ch. B. Chavel (ed.), Sefer ha-Ḥinnukh (1961), 297). Thus the behavior of Absalom toward his brother Amnon ("Absalom spoke unto his brother Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon…," II Sam. 13:22) is cited as an example of the wickedness of bearing unexpressed grievances (see Gersonides on this verse; and also Yad, De'ot 6:6, 7). The duty to chastise sinners and wrongdoers stems from the view that everyone is charged with the responsibility of bringing about the correction of the sins of his fellowman. Failure to discharge this responsibility is tantamount to bearing the same sins and faults (cf. Targum Onkelos and commentary of Naḥmanides on Lev. 19:12).

Because the intention behind the rebuking of the evildoer is his rehabilitation, a number of qualifications are imposed upon this commandment. One is prohibited from rebuking another to the point of embarrassment (Ar. 16b). According to Maimonides, admonition must be carried out in private (Yad, De'ot 6:7). In fact, rebuke must be effected with such delicacy that R. Eleazar b. Azariah doubted that there were any in his generation sufficiently capable in this regard (Ar. 16b). Furthermore, the Talmud, in accordance with the dictum "Reprove not a scorner lest he hate thee" (Prov. 9:8), prohibits admonition where there is a foregone conclusion that it will be rejected and merely increase enmity (Yev. 65b). Certain later rabbinic authorities maintain that in cases where it may safely be assumed that rebuke will be disregarded, it is preferable not to rebuke people for violating prohibitions that are not explicit in the Torah, for it is preferable that they transgress unknowingly rather than deliberately (Sh. Ar., OḤ 608:2).

Procedures of Rebuke

It is not sufficient to rebuke the wrongdoer once, rather one must rebuke him incessantly so long as he is recalcitrant. According to R. Johanan, a person should persist in rebuking his neighbor until the wrongdoer insults him; according to Samuel, until he curses him; and according to Rav, until he is ready to strike him (Ar. 16b). The obligation to rebuke one's neighbor falls even upon one who is generally intellectually and morally inferior to the person at fault, so that the disciple, for instance, must rebuke his teacher where necessary (BM 31a). Every community must appoint a wise and respected person whose function it is to publicly chastise wrongdoing and call for repentance (Yad, Teshuvah 4:2).

The role of admonition is central in Jewish ethical thought. The rabbis proclaim that there exists no love or peace where there is no admonition, citing as an example the peace covenant between Abimelech and Abraham which resulted from Abraham's reproving Abimelech (Gen. R. 54:3). The duty of admonition extends not only to individuals, but to the community at large, and even to the entire world, to the extent that if one does not fulfill the commandment of rebuke, the guilt of all those he might have reformed accrues to him (Shab. 54b). Some rabbis of the Talmud maintain that the Second Temple was destroyed, despite the presence of the righteous, because the righteous did not fulfill their obligation to rebuke the wrongdoers of their time, and thus shared their guilt (Shab. 119b). In the opinion of Judah ha-Nasi, the most righteous course for a man to choose is the love of admonition: "As long as there is admonition in the world there is satisfaction, goodness, and blessing in the world… as it is written [Prov. 24:25] 'To them that rebuke shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them'" (Tam. 28a).


Ḥ.N. Bialik, and Y.Ḥ. Rawnitzki (eds.), Sefer ha-Aggadah, 2 (1960), 541–3; J.D. Eisenstein, Oẓar Musar u-Middot (1941).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.