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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Additional Lessons

The Prohibition of Chanufah

When is it permitted to honor a person and when is there the prohibition of flattery?
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Question #1: Financial predicament
"Our Yeshivah is in desperate financial shape. The father of one of our students is, himself, not observant, but he is extremely well connected. If we honor him as "Guest of Honor" at our banquet, we can probably bring in many hundreds of thousands of dollars through his business and personal connections. Is there any halachic problem with our doing this?"

Question #2: Communal predicament
"There is an individual in our community who has been very helpful to the frum community, but he himself is not at all observant. Are we permitted to honor him with an aliyah?"

Question #3: Kiruv predicament
Chani asks: "An old classmate of mine, unfortunately, has fallen far from Yiddishkeit, and I believe that I am the only frum friend with whom she still keeps contact. Tragically, she recently became engaged to a non-Jew, and she desperately wants me to attend the engagement party. She knows that I do not approve of this relationship. May I attend, because I am concerned that, should I not show up, she will cut off her last contact with anything Jewish?"

Introduction:
All of the above questions require us to study the Torah’s prohibition against chanufah (sometimes pronounced "chanifah"), a word usually, but somewhat inaccurately, translated as "flattery." Although the word chanufah in Modern Hebrew means "flattery," and, indeed, is even occasionally used by Chazal in this sense, the prohibition against chanufah has a slightly different meaning. Chanufah is the deception that occurs when someone encourages the performance of misdeeds, aveiros, or when someone fraudulently misrepresents something as Torah or as acceptable behavior when it is not.
The primary case of chanufah is when someone sees or knows that a person sinned and tells the sinner that he did nothing wrong or, worse still, tells the sinner that the sinful act was the correct thing to do. We can refer to this case as "first degree chanufah," a sin that has very serious ramifications, as we will soon see. The person who violates the prohibition of chanufah is sometimes called a mechaneif, a chanaf, or a chanfan, all of which are different ways of saying the same thing. The Gemara states that chanafim are one of the four groups of people she’einam mekablei penei hashechinah, who will not be allowed to welcome the Shechinah, Hashem’s Divine Presence (Sotah 42a).

Which prohibition does one violate?
According to many Rishonim (Yerei’im; Ramban’s Torah Commentary to Bamidbar 35:33), there is a specific prohibition of the Torah, one of the 613 mitzvos, called chanufah, which is derived from the words of the Torah in this week’s parsha, velo sachanifu es ha’aretz (Bamidbar 35:33). Those authorities who do not count chanufah as one of the 613 mitzvos still agree with the prohibitions that we will describe, but instead categorize its violation under one of the other mitzvos of the Torah.

Why is chanufah prohibited?
Chanufah is prohibited for several reasons. Firstly, we are supposed to encourage people to do Hashem’s Will, and to discourage them from violating His wishes and instructions. Chanufah does the opposite: it causes the offender to continue his malevolent ways, and dissipates his interest and enthusiasm to do teshuvah. Thus, it harms the sinner even more than anyone else. In addition, chanufah encourages other people to respect and emulate the evildoer’s nefarious deeds. Furthermore, by providing inappropriate value to the misdeed, it also causes chillul Hashem, desecrating Hashem’s Holy Name. Someone who flatters an evildoer demonstrates that he is more concerned not to offend the sinner than he is about being disrespectful to Hashem, which is an even bigger chillul Hashem (Tosafos, Sotah 41b s.v. oso).

Distorting the Torah
There is yet another reason why chanufah is prohibited: because it falsifies the Torah (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:51). The mechanef has told the sinner that what is prohibited is permitted, which, in itself, is a very severe transgression. The Maharshal (Yam shel Shlomoh, Bava Kama 4:9) proves that to falsify or distort the Torah is a sin of the level of yeihareig ve’al ya’avor, for which one is required to give up his life rather than violate – which means that it is more serious than is transgressing almost any of the other mitzvos, and it is certainly more serious than desecrating Shabbos or consuming non-kosher food. Falsifying the Torah is equivalent to denying the entire Torah, which is why one is required to sacrifice one’s life, rather than misrepresent a Torah truth. Thus, the most extreme situation of chanufah, in which one tells a wrongdoer that it is permitted to violate the Torah, includes the serious prohibitions of chillul Hashem and denying the authenticity of the entire Torah.

The Story of Agrippas
To demonstrate how serious this prohibition is, the Gemara shares with us the following narrative: King Agrippas (who reigned towards the end of the Second Beis Hamikdash) was an excellent ruler, highly respectful of the Gedolei Torah of his era and committed to the observance and spreading of Torah and mitzvos. Notwithstanding his many good qualities, calling himself "King" over the Jewish people violated halachah, since he was descended from gentile slaves, and the Torah states, lo suchal laseis alecha ish nachri asher lo achicha hu, "You may not place over yourselves a gentile who is not your brother" (Devarim 17:15). Agrippas realized that he was not permitted to be king, for when he observed the hakheil ceremony in the Beis Hamikdash on Chol Hamoed Sukkos (see Devarim 31:10-13 and Mishnah, Sotah 41a), he stood to read the Torah rather than sitting, since the latter is permitted only for kings who are descendants of David Hamelech. When Agrippas reached the words of the Torah where it prohibits appointing a king unless he is native Jewish, his eyes began to tear, for he realized that he, himself, was ruling in violation of this law. At that moment, the Sages present told him, "Don’t worry, Agrippas. You are our brother," thus approving his reign, in violation of the Torah.
The Gemara (Sotah 41b) says that the leaders of the Jews should have been destroyed for violating chanufah; at that moment, many catastrophic occurrences befell the Jewish people and many lives were lost. Granted that Agrippas was concerned about Torah and mitzvos, but the halachah still forbade him from being king. Although, under the circumstances, the Sages were in no position to admonish him, it was forbidden for them to encourage his misdeed. Instead, they should have remained silent (Tosafos, Sotah 41b s.v. oso), which would have been understood as a respectful disapproval.
Some authorities rule that one must endanger oneself rather than violate chanufah (Shaarei Teshuvah, 3:188), whereas others contend that this is not required. According to the second approach, chanufah should not be treated more seriously than Shabbos, kashrus and most other Torah laws that are superseded in a situation of risk to one’s life (see Tosafos, Sotah 41b s.v. kol). Those that disagree understand that chanufah, which includes denying the authenticity of the entire Torah, merits this level of serious consideration (see Igros Moshe).

Levels of Chanufah
Although the most obvious instance of chanufah is telling an evildoer that he has done nothing wrong, any action that encourages sinful deeds is included under the general heading of chanufah. Rabbeinu Yonah, in his monumental work Shaarei Teshuvah (3:187-199), explains that there are nine levels of chanufah. The highest level is, of course, telling an evildoer that his performing a sin is acceptable. The other categories are all instances where the mechanef does not praise the sin itself, but lessens the gravity of the sin in an indirect way. Let us see how this manifests itself.

Praising publicly
Providing honor to a malefactor violates chanufah, even when the mechanef says nothing that justifies the wrongdoer’s misdeeds. Although, in this instance, the mechanef did not overtly encourage or condone the misdeed, praising a sinner as a "good person" implies that the sin is acceptable, which is chanufah.
For example, Shimon, the President of the Yeshivah, decides that the Yeshiva must make Mr. Wealthy, whose fortune was made in very scandalous ways, the Guest of Honor at its annual dinner, since Mr. Wealthy’s contacts can certainly help the Yeshivah.
Some contemporary authors (Lereiacha Kamocha, Volume 1, Page 102) contend that one violates the prohibition of chanufah even when the person who sinned is unaware that what he is doing is wrong: for example, he is completely uneducated in Judaism. Notwithstanding the fact that we should try to influence this individual to become committed to Torah and mitzvos, we may not praise him for his exceptional qualities, according to these opinions, when he is currently a sinner.

Complimenting the sinner
The third category is someone who praises the evildoer in private, although he is careful not to praise the offender in the presence of other people, so that they are not influenced by his wicked ways. For example, Levi knows that it is chanufah to introduce Mr. Scoundrel publicly as a superior individual, and therefore he is careful not to praise Scoundrel publicly. However, in private, Levi tells Scoundrel what a great guy he is. This is also chanufah, because the sinner, hearing the flattery, feels no motivation to repent; after all, even Levi thinks he is righteous. The wrongdoer fails to comprehend that he needs to reevaluate his priorities and his deeds, and this error was encouraged by the mechanef.

Failure to protest
Rabbeinu Yonah lists several other categories of chanufah, most of which we will touch on briefly. For example: Someone who is in a position to protest a misdeed and fails to do so. Here, the chanufah is passive, rather than active, yet we see clearly why the lack of protest encourages sin. Those who were aware of the Nazis’ crimes and failed to protest or chose to hide the information are prime examples of mechanfim.
Example: A group that calls itself Jewish is backing an initiative that is completely against what Torah stands for. If Rav Naftali fails to protest that this is not Judaism, his idleness or apathy constitutes chanufah.

Refraining from admonishing
The halachah requires us to rebuke people whom we see doing something wrong, which is the mitzvah called tochachah, as long as it is possible that the wrongdoer may listen. One type of chanufah is when someone refrains from reprimanding evildoers when he has the opportunity to do so.

Rules of tochachah
The halachah is that someone who is reproving someone for sinful actions must do so in a way that shows that he truly cares about the offender. The Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 6:7) writes that he should explain that he is helping the offender earn a greater share in olam haba. "One who sees his friend sinning or following a lifestyle that is not good has a mitzvah to influence him to return to the proper way and to inform him that he is harming himself… The one who rebukes must do so privately and in a pleasant manner and soft voice."
Gad is aware that his next-door neighbor is not as observant as he should be. Gad realizes, that to be successful in bringing the neighbor back to Yiddishkeit, he must show that he sincerely cares about his neighbor. Once the neighbor feels that Gad truly cares about him, the neighbor sees the beauty of a frum lifestyle. At this point, Gad can explain to his neighbor how beneficial it is for him to observe mitzvos.

Tochachah that will be ignored
However, the halachah is that when it is clear that a sinner will ignore reproof, one should not attempt to admonish him, as it says in Mishlei (9, 8): Do not rebuke a scoffer lest he come to hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. To quote the Gemara, Just as it is a mitzvah to say something that will be heeded, it is a mitzvah to refrain from saying something that will be disregarded (Yevamos 65b).

Remaining present
Another type of chanufah is someone who remains present while evildoers sin. For example, Asher is sitting with a group of people who are spreading gossip, speaking loshon hora, using foul language; or, the group includes scoffers who deride Torah and mitzvos. Asher knows that this group will not listen to his admonition, so there is no mitzvah of tochachah. Asher wants to know whether he may remain sitting among them. The answer is that it is prohibited to remain in their presence, because this implies that he agrees with and accepts their behavior. Staying with them encourages the sinners to continue their nefarious activities; they rally support for their evil ways from his ongoing presence. Granted that it may be counterproductive to admonish them, Asher may not remain with them and must "express" his disapproval by removing himself.

Honoring when inappropriate
Still another category of chanufah is someone who is careful not to speak in a flattering way of a wrongdoer, but, in order to maintain peace, he treats the wicked person respectfully, the way one treats a wealthy individual, because of his financial success. Although there is a halachic source that one should honor the wealthy (Eruvin 86a), one may not honor the wicked.
After mentioning this category of chanufah, Rabbeinu Yonah limits its application. When the wicked person is in a position of authority, one may demonstrate respect to him in the way that people honor powerful people, out of fear. However, although one may act respectfully, one may not praise the wicked person. Treating him with respect is permitted, since everyone realizes that the evildoer is being treated with honor only because circumstances require it. This is the reason for the statement of the Gemara: it is permitted to flatter evildoers in this world (Sotah 41b).
Other authorities offer a different reason for this Gemara, contending that one may flatter this malefactor only because not doing so could be dangerous (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:51).
Therefore, if Yissachar finds himself in a position where he must lobby a highly influential Jew who has distanced himself from his people, Yissachar must be careful to know exactly what he may say and what he may not.

An inappropriate appointment
One of Rabbeinu Yonah’s categories requires some explanation, since it does not fit the use of the word flattery, but fits well our definition of chanufah as misrepresenting or falsifying Torah. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that, when a highly-respected personality acts because of his own self-interest and appoints someone to a rabbinic position for which the appointee is not competent, this appointment meets the criteria for chanufah. Rabbeinu Yonah says that this misrepresents a Torah value, because the appointment causes people to trust the appointee in a way that is unwarranted or to rely on his ability to rule on halachah. The result is a hindrance to proper Torah observance, social needs and the judicial system. Therefore, if Rabbi Dan appoints his son to a rabbinic position for which the son is not qualified, this constitutes chanufah. All of these qualify as chanufah because the result is a misrepresentation of the real essence of Torah.

At this point, I would like to address the last of the questions asked above.
"Chani asks: ‘An old classmate of mine unfortunately has fallen far from Yiddishkeit, and I believe that I am the only frum friend with whom she still keeps contact. Tragically, she recently became engaged to a non-Jew, and she desperately wants me to attend the engagement party. She knows that I do not approve of this relationship. May I attend, because I am concerned that, should I not show up, she will cut off her last contact with anything Jewish?"
Chani may not attend the party, since this is clearly endorsing the engagement and allowing the classmate to delude herself into thinking that what she is doing is not that bad.

Rav Moshe’s teshuvah
Having explained the rules of chanufah as explained by Rabbeinu Yonah, I will present a responsum of Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:51) on the topic. The question pertained to a Jewish community that had received much benefit, both communally and individually, from a Jewish physician who was married to a gentile woman. The community had never given the physician an aliyah to the Torah or any other honor, but the rabbi of the community felt that it would be beneficial to honor the physician with opening and closing the aron kodesh. Rav Moshe notes that, although there are halachic issues involved in giving an aliyah to someone who does not observe Torah, there is no inherent halachic problem with having him open or close the aron kodesh. However, there is a potential halachic issue with whether giving a sinner this honor violates the prohibition against chanufah. Since the individual involved is flagrantly and publicly violating a basic aspect of Torah, honoring him in any way might violate the Torah.
Rav Moshe contends that, from the Gemara’s cases of chanufah, we see that the prohibition of chanufah includes only stating that something is permitted when it indeed is forbidden (category #1) or praising an evildoer excessively (see above categories #2 and #3). However, to praise an evildoer for the chesed he performs for the community is permitted. Rav Moshe even permits exaggerating a bit what this individual does in order to assure his future help and cooperation.
As a result, he rules that one may honor the intermarried physician with opening the aron kodesh, since this does not imply that we are accepting his objectionable lifestyle.

Conclusion
Many people feel that complimenting someone for what they have done is polite. We now realize that praising people is not always permissible, and that honoring someone may also not be the correct thing to do. Obviously, questions as to specific applications of this halachah should be referred to a posek.




This Shiur is published also at Rabbi Kaganof's site
Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff
Was the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Greater Buffalo, the Congregation Darchei Tzedek and also served as a dayan on the Beis Din of Baltimore. Now is a Rabbi in Neve Yaakov, Jerusalem. His Shiurim and Q&A can be found on his site: www.rabbikaganoff.com
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