"Verbal Wronging": An Analysis of Speech Banned in m. Bava Metzi'a 4:10

Robert A. Daum

Abstract


In his analysis of an early rabbinic tradition prohibiting "verbal wronging," Robert Daum claims that this text condemns malicious, deceptive, and potentially damaging speech in both commercial and non-commercial contexts. Easily disguised or mistakenly assumed, this is a crime of conscience that human courts cannot adjudicate. Daum examines the mishnah's structure and content in light of textual parallels and historical contexts. He suggests that its later inclusion in the famous talmudic unit in which the foundational sages ban a senior colleague in a procedural dispute — a cautionary tale in which care is taken (unsuccessfully, as it turns out) to avoid verbally wronging the excommunicant — perhaps obscured the mishnah's earlier, technical understanding of "verbal wronging."

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