Two Boys Fighting bullying Getty Images stock, bully, school, kids,
Two Boys Fighting bullying Getty Images stock, bully, school, kids,


There are many messages in Chanukah, of course.   There is the message that the lights of Chanukah, representing both the Mitzvos and Torah can bring us back to Hashem even throughout the night, which represents galus or distance from Hashem.  But there is another message which the Chashmonaim teach us.  Mattisyahu and his sons both recognized something, and stood up against it to protect what they held so dear.

They recognized the bullying of both Antiochus and of the social bullying of the misyavnim – the Hellenists.  They recognized it and stood up against it. It is a problem, unfortunately that exists even today, and another message of Chanukah is that we must rectify the problem even in contemporary times.

Let’s face a very uncomfortable fact.  Bullying is a problem that exists even in our times – in our yeshivos, day schools, Bais Yaakovs, and camps. Bullying is an issur d’Oraisa—a Torah prohibition. Its existence in our institutions is tantamount to having pork or any other treif or tamei food in our midst and must be eradicated, lest it can have very devastating ramifications.

“You idiot, I am going to hurt you during recess.”

“Oh, so you can’t come on the skiing trip because your parents can’t afford it?  So sad.”

“Is cancer contagious?” asked a group of seventh-graders of another seventh-grader whose mother passed away from cancer. The child was distraught from the teasing and bullying, and did not come back the following year.

A girl with a darker complexion was bullied. Other girls made fun of her, refused to let her partake in activities, and gave her negative nicknames. She left her Torah environs and did not return.

Rachmana litzlan – May the Merciful One save us. 

These are real-life examples of school-based bullying. They are also a Torah violation called ona’as devarim. The pasuk in Vayikra states, “V’lo sonu ish es amiso – Do not afflict each other” (25:17), and it is from here that we see the issur violated in bullying.

Examples of bullying include reminding a ger of the actions of his ancestors, or a ba’al teshuvah of his original behaviors or sins. Asking someone a question in a subject area in which he is not knowledgeable is also a violation of ona’ah (see Rambam Hilchos Mechirah 14:12). Similarly, inquiring about the price of an item where one has no intention at all of purchasing the item is also a violation of ona’ah (see Bava Metzia 58b).

The Chikrei Lev (YD Vol. III #80) writes that the prohibition could also be violated through inaction. For example, if someone recites a MiSheBeirach for a number of people but purposely leaves one person out, he is in violation of this prohibition. A sad aspect of this prohibition is that violators are often unaware that they are verbally abusing or causing pain. Often they may characterize the recipient of their statement, words, or actions as “overly sensitive.” This is an incorrect rationalization to justify a violation of a Torah prohibition.

Additional Ramifications

The prohibitions are not limited to the prevention of ona’as devarim.

Children who are bullied often experience negative physical and mental-health issues, such as depression, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. It can drive them to such anger that they can involve themselves to serious acts of violence, chalilah – to themselves and to others.  The verse in Parashas Ki Seitzei (Devarim 22:2) discusses the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah—returning an object—with the words “Va’hasheivoso lo—and you shall return it to him.” The Gemara in Sanhedrin (73a) includes within its understanding of these words the obligation of returning “his own life to him as well.” For example, if thieves are threatening to pounce upon him, there is an obligation of “va’hasheivoso lo.”

Since embarrassing someone is compared to spilling his blood, there may also be a negative mitzvah of not standing idly by your brother’s blood. This is mentioned both in Shulchan Aruch (C.M. 426:1) and in the Rambam.

There is yet another negative commandment associated with the positive commandment of hashavas aveidah, and that is the verse in Devarim (22:3), “You cannot shut your eyes to it.” This verse comes directly after the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah. The Netziv (HeEmek She’eilah) refers to this mitzvah as well.

The Ramban, Toras haAdam Shaar HaSakana (pp.. 42–43), understands the verse of “And love thy neighbor as yourself” as a directive to save him from danger as well. Although he discusses the issue of medical danger, it is clear that this is but an example, and it would apply to emotional danger as well. Even without the Ramban, however, it is clear that defending and protecting someone from an emotional danger is a fulfillment of this mitzvah.

In Our Schools And Camps

Whose responsibility is the prevention of bullying? What can be done about it, since, as is often the case, most bullying happens under the radar?

It seems clear that the responsibility of minimizing the bullying and ona’as devarim in an institution lies with the administration, rebbeim, and teachers.

These mitzvos and the idea of preventing bullying should be taught in the curriculum of our yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs alongside the other issurim and mitzvos that we teach. Perhaps our kashrus texts should include a chapter on the issurim of ona’as devarim and bullying. Since bullying happens at the high-school level as well (20 percent, according to CDC statistics), it should be implemented at all levels.


Experts tell us that we should equip our children with the ability to recognize bullying.  They have delineated five different types of bullies (but there may be several more).

  1. The Bullied Bully

Often a bully is someone who was and or is continuing to be bullied by another.  The bullied bully, picked on elsewhere  in life, picks on other weaker kids in a misguided attempt to build his own warped sense of self-esteem.  A possible response on your child’s part (which may result in a bloody nose, but may also be worth it) is:  “Listen, you seem to be bullying me.  It is wrong and incorrect behavior.  Are you being bullied elsewhere in your life and are you trying it on me so you can feel better?  I urge you to talk about it with someone.  It is the right way to go, friend.”

  1. Popular Bullies

Popular bullies are often those that are wealthy, athletic, or good-looking and have not learned to handle it well.  They find that they can intimidate others and perversely learn to enjoy it.  They can get away with it because their peers wish to be accepted by them and they do not do the right thing.  bullying because their peers, who should stand up for the victims, want to be accepted by them.  Their peers and or parents should say, “This is definitely not cool.  You afe better than this and do not need to put down or bully others.  Be a force of good in the world instead.”

  1. Relational Bullies

A third type of bully is called a relational bully.  He or she may gossip, or call others names. Jealousy is the underlying root of it.  Or an irrational fear that the other is more popular and will replace them. They are called relational because in order to feel better about themselves, they need to feel superior to someone else. Many of their peers won’t correct the behavior because they just might be their next victim.

  1. Serial Bullies

A serial bully will often deny his or her bullying.  They are absolute masters of manipulation and or deception. The serial bully may even disguise as a friend, and convince others that they meant well or it was all one big misunderstanding. “Are you serious?  He likes it!  I am so so sorry,” is a go to response.

  1. Group Bullies

Sometimes people behave differently in a group – even though when they are alone they would never do such a thing.  They can do something incredibly mean when they are part of group-think,  This too is onaas dvarim and must be recognized and nipped in the bud. These people lose their ability to stop themselves and or think on their own.  A gang mentality sets in and the go to excuse is, “Buut it wasn’t just me – everyone was doing it!”


The reader may ask why it is important to know these various types.  It is important to actually teach  and see what bullying is, how to stop it within ourselves and how to respond to it in others.   It will enable the child not to mistake it for friendship or just a given that must be accepted. It also helps the child get over personal insecurities that could be exacerbated by bullying and realie that it is not him or her – but rather another person’s maladjustment.

What Not To Do

Parents, teachers and menahalim should not say, “Oh kids will be kids, they will figure it out.” Bullying is something that should be nipped in the bud. This is particularly true at the beginning of the school year and is another underlying message of Chanukah – a time of re-dedication.

As reported by VINnews