Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Jewish Email Etiquette: Say Hello!

On Wednesday I'm leading a Business Ethics Lunch and Learn on Jewish Internet Etiquette. We'll be talking about reading others' emails and e-mailing into a time zone where Shabbos has arrived, and we'll have a lighter piece on politeness in emails. (I wanted to include a portion on paying Internet sales tax, but I have since discovered that this is not the problem in Canada that it is in the US.)

[The audio from the shiur is now on-line here; we did not reach the politeness piece until nearly the end, unfortunately, and I had to rush it.]

Here is the portion of the source sheet dealing with the politeness segment; you can see where I'm going:

Talmud, Shabbat 89a
ואמר רבי יהושע בן לוי בשעה שעלה משה למרום מצאו להקדוש ברוך הוא שהיה קושר כתרים לאותיות אמר לו משה אין שלום בעירך אמר לפניו כלום יש עבד שנותן שלום לרבו
R’ Yehoshua ben Levi said: When Moshe ascended to Heaven, he found Gd tying crowns atop letters. Gd said, “Moshe! Is there no ‘Shalom’ in your city?” Moshe replied: “Is there a slave who offers ‘Shalom’ to his master?”

Mishnah, Avot 4:16
רבי מתיא בן חרש אומר הוי מקדים בשלום כל אדם
R’ Matya ben Charash said: Greet everyone with ‘Shalom’ first.

R’ Yehudah Loew, Maharal to Avot 4:16
ואף לרשע יקדים שלום, שאם לא יקדים לו שלום הרי הרשע אינו מחזיק עצמו רשע, ואם לא יקדים לו שלום יחשוב הרשע שהוא מבזה הבריות
One should even greet a wicked person with ‘Shalom’ first, for otherwise the wicked person – who does not consider himself wicked – will think that he degrades Gd’s creations.

Talmud, Gittin 62a
רב חסדא מקדים ויהיב להו שלמא רב כהנא א"ל שלמא למר
Rav Chisda made certain to greet non-Jews first. Rav Kahana said to them, “Peace to you, sir.”

Midrash, Mechilta d’R’ Yishmael Yitro 1
וישתחו וישק לו. איני יודע, מי השתחוה למי, או מי נשק למי, כשהוא אומר: וישאלו איש לרעהו לשלום, מי קרוי איש, הלא משה, שנא' +במדבר יב ג+ והאיש משה עניו מאד, הוי אומר, לא השתחוה ולא נשק אלא משה לחמיו, מכאן אמרו שיהא האדם מוכן לכבוד חמיו
‘And he bowed and kissed him.’ I can’t tell who bowed to whom or who kissed whom, but then it says, ‘The ish asked after the other’s peace,’ and Moshe is the one called ish… So Moshe was the one who bowed and kissed his father-in-law, teaching one should always be prepared to honor his father-in-law.

Talmud, Berachot 6b
ואמר רבי חלבו אמר רב הונא כל שיודע בחברו שהוא רגיל ליתן לו שלום יקדים לו שלום שנאמר +תהלים ל"ד+ בקש שלום ורדפהו ואם נתן לו ולא החזיר נקרא גזלן
If one knows that another person regularly greets him, he should greet that person first, as it is written, ‘Seek peace and pursue it.’ And if the other greets him and he does not reply, he is labelled a thief.


  1. Many of us in the US pay the internet sales tax- the vendor collects the state sales tax (Amazon collects state sales tax with every purchase I make). Make it easy for us and we'll pay it. The onus should be on the vendor and not the buyer.

  2. The lack of greeting or even acknowledging another's existence phenomenon is all too common beyond the virtual world. I took it upon myself to say hello to those I passed by on the street and was very often ignored by both Jews and nonJews. I very much appreciate your posting these sources. Makes me wish I could hear the class...

  3. I usually start my emails with simply naming the person being addressed ie.

    Here is my message.

    Others don't even include the addressee's name.

    So are you recommending "Hi Joe! or "Shalom, how are you, Joe?" or maybe even "Dear Joe:" (as we used to write in snail mail). Or we can even get as formal as the letters esteemed Rabbanan sent to each other which were prefaced with something like: "To the esteemed, learned gaon R. Joe Shlita"

  4. The emphasis on "bein adom lachavero" is of highest importance.
    In my opinion if someone wants to be machmir let him or her start with "bein adom lechavero."

  5. Kindred Spirit-
    Gd-willing, the audio will be available on YUTorah.org. If I forget to post a link on this page, please remind me.

    You are a Torontonian; by definition, you are polite!
    Based on the sourcse, I would recommend some form of warm salutation, without over-doing it.

    daat y-