OPINIONS: The Gemara says that it is better for a person to cast himself into a blazing furnace than to embarrass someone publicly. The Gemara derives this from the conduct of Tamar, who did not attempt to save herself from the death penalty by announcing that Yehudah was the father of her children. She did not want to embarrass him in public, and thus she merely sent Yehudah his personal items that he had given her as collateral, and she hoped that he would admit his responsibility. She was prepared to be burned to death if Yehudah would not admit on his own accord.
What does the Gemara mean when it says that "it is better" for a person to cast himself into a furnace than to embarrass someone publicly? Does this mean that a person must allow himself to be killed rather than embarrass someone in public, or does it mean only that such conduct is praiseworthy, but not obligatory? The Gemara in Pesachim (25a) lists only three sins for which one is obligated to give his life and not transgress ("Yehareg v'Al Ya'avor"): Avodah Zarah (idolatry), Giluy Arayos (illicit relationships), and Shefichus Damim (murder). If one must let himself be killed in order to avoid embarrassing someone in public, why does the Gemara there not include it in the list of transgressions of "Yehareg v'Al Ya'avor"?
(a) TOSFOS in Sotah (10b, DH No'ach) rules that a person must throw himself into a furnace rather than embarrass someone in public. The only reason why the Gemara in Pesachim does not mention this prohibition is that it is not specifically mentioned in the Torah (unlike the other prohibitions listed there).
The SHA'AREI TESHUVAH (3:139) agrees that such conduct is obligatory, but he understands that it indeed is included in the list in Pesachim of transgressions of "Yehareg v'Al Ya'avor." When the Gemara there mentions the sin of Shefichus Damim, it includes embarrassing someone publicly, as the Gemara here (58b) teaches that embarrassing someone publicly is tantamount to murder. The SEFER L'RE'ACHA KAMOCHA (vol. 2, p. 72, note 111) quotes many Rishonim and Acharonim who agree with the Sha'arei Teshuvah.
(b) The ME'IRI in Sotah writes that the Chachamim made this statement about Tamar as an observation. The Me'iri implies that the Gemara derives the preferable, but not obligatory, mode of conduct from Tamar. The IYUN YAKOV and PNEI YEHOSHUA agree with this understanding.
Does this mean that one may act leniently and save his life by embarrassing someone in public, since there is a doubt about whether one must allow himself to be killed rather than embarrass someone in public? The Sefer l'Re'acha Kamocha cites many Poskim, including the TERUMAS HA'DESHEN (1:199), who rule that if one is faced with a situation in which there is a doubt about whether he is allowed to transgress a sin or be killed, he must give up his life out of doubt, based on the rule of "Shev v'Al Ta'aseh Adif" -- it is better to remain passive than to commit a sin actively. However, the Sefer l'Re'acha Kamocha adds that this question applies only in cases of serious embarrassment, where the victim becomes extremely embarrassed. One does not have to give up his life in order to avoid slightly embarrassing someone. (Y. MONTROSE)


QUESTION: The Gemara relates the incident of "Tanuro Shel Achna'i" and the miraculous ways in which Rebbi Eliezer attempted to convince the Chachamim that the Halachah was in accordance with his opinion. He miraculously uprooted a carob tree, had the waters of a river shift direction, and caused the walls of the study wall to lean inwards, and still the Chachamim did not change their mind. He then declared that Heaven should prove that he is correct, and a Bas Kol emanated and pronounced, "Why are you challenging Rebbi Eliezer, when the Halachah is like him?" Rebbi Yehoshua stood up and declared, "Lo ba'Shamayim Hi" -- "It (the Torah) is not in the heavens!" (Devarim 30:12).
TOSFOS (DH Lo ba'Shamayim) asks that the Chachamim had a different reaction to the Bas Kol which decided the question of whether the Halachah should follow the view of Beis Shamai or the view of Beis Hillel. The Gemara in Yevamos (14a) relates that when the Bas Kol declared that the Halachah should follow Beis Hillel, the Halachah indeed was established in accordance with the view of Beis Hillel. Why does the Gemara here say that the Halachah is not decided based on a Bas Kol?
The MAHARAM explains that Tosfos is not asking his question on the view of Rebbi Yehoshua, as the Gemara in Yevamos itself cites Rebbi Yehoshua who said there as well that we do not rely on a Bas Kol. The question of Tosfos is on the Gemara in Yevamos (and other places) which follows the view of Beis Hillel because of the Bas Kol. If the Gemara there follows the view of Beis Hillel because of the Bas Kol, why does the Gemara here not follow the view of Rebbi Eliezer because of the Bas Kol?
(a) TOSFOS answers that in this case, the Bas Kol contradicted the Torah's principle of "Acharei Rabim l'Hatos" -- "turn after the majority" (Shemos 23:2). In the case in Yevamos, the Halachah presumably followed the view of Beis Hillel, whose opinion was that of the majority. However, the fact that the students of Beis Shamai were sharper caused a doubt to arise about whom the Halachah should follow. The Bas Kol resolved the doubt when it proclaimed that even in this case the verse of "Acharei Rabim l'Hatos" applies.
(b) In another answer, Tosfos explains that the Bas Kol in the case in Yevamos was spontaneous, and therefore considered more "neutral." In contrast, the Bas Kol in the case of "Tanuro Shel Achna'i" was in response to Rebbi Eliezer's demand that "Min ha'Shamayim Yochichu," and therefore the Halachah does not follow its declaration. (Y. MONTROSE)