Shunning may sound like a good idea: punish wrongdoers, support friends. But it is not our place to behave in this manner. First, women must rely on loshon horah, gossip, and rechilus, outright lies, in order to shun. Listening to gossip is as wrong as spreading gossip, and in order to join in shunning, we listen to and act on gossip. The person shunned does not have a chance to explain or clarify-like the older bride mentioned above, the whole case against her may be false, but the community has become judge and jury on the basis of malicious gossip. Where in the Talmud does it tell us to use our own judgment, based on gossip, to punish others?
Second, where is our ahavas Yisroel, our love of a fellow Jew? Why are we so ready to believe the worst about people, believe it to the extent of acting on it? We are supposed to love each other and le dan b’chof zechus, to judge with the hand of merit.
Third, it’s impossible to hurt one person without hurting those around them. True, the children of the divorced teacher were hurt by the divorce. But that hurt was greatly magnified by the shunning which forced their father to move away. And the countless other children who were denied a chance to study under this inspiring teacher were hurt when he was forced to leave teaching. An elderly widow, much older than the women who participated in the shunning, was hurt when the bride, whom she knew well, didn’t make a shiva call when the widow’s only daughter died suddenly. When the shunned bride learned of the death a couple of months after shiva, the grieving mother couldn’t believe she had just learned of the death and was too angry to accept an apology.
Shunning is a reprehensible act. If in the past you have participated, you owe it to the health of your own soul as well as to the person shunned to apologize. The damage done by shunning cannot be undone, but sincere apologies can mitigate the damage. And if you are solicited to participate in a shunning, try your best to talk the women out of it. If you can’t, then be conspicuous in supporting the shunned woman. Additionally, bring the shunning to the attention of your community’s rabbis so that appropriate action can be taken.
Shunning requires three things: maliciousness, self-righteousness, and silence. You can choose to avoid both maliciousness and self-righteousness and to end the silence. To participate-or to let the shunning continue without trying to end it-is against everything that the Torah teaches us.