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Kedoshim-Responsa of The Rosh: Rebuking Sinners

In honor of his yahrtzeit we offer a Responsum of the Rosh: Should a man rebuke sinners if he knows full well that they will pay no attention to his rebuke? The Rosh answers (Volume VI #3) that if he is quite certain that they will pay no attention he should not rebuke them since, as the Talmud (Beitza 30a – Compare to Rashi’s Responsa #40) remarks in this connection, it is better that they should sin unwittingly than intentionally. But if he is in doubt whether or not they will pay heed, then he should rebuke them and save his own soul.

(Rashi, in Responsum #40, deals with the Talmudic rule (Beitza 30a) that one should not rebuke sinners who offend unintentionally because it is better for them to remain ignorant that they are doing wrong than that they should be aware of it and continue to sin intentionally. In that case, what becomes of the Scriptural injunctions to rebuke sinners? Rashi replies that the Talmudic passage refers only to practices, which the people have long held to be quite innocent. Even when they are told that these practices are wrong, they will continue in their ways out of habit. Here it is better to turn a blind eye. But where there is even a remote possibility that the sinners will acknowledge the error of their ways, it is a religious duty to rebuke them.)

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