The Unique Haircut


It was Erev Yom Tov and Ze'ev had not yet managed to
get to the barber. He begged his neighbour, Noson, to give him a haircut with
his haircutting machine. "I can't walk into shul like this," he implored. Noson
argued that he is not a professional barber – but was eventually forced to capitulate.
The results – were worse than the most pessimistic expectations! Not only is
Noson embarrassed to go to shul, but he dare not venture outside to go to work
either. He therefore claims damages from Noson for loss of wages (shevess)
and also for embarrassment (boshess).
Is Noson liable for these damages?


On the face of it, we can absolve Noson from any responsibility
for the damage he unwittingly inflicted on Ze'ev. Noson made it clear to Ze'ev
that he did not know how to cut hair and nevertheless Ze'ev begged him to give
him a haircut. Ze'ev was therefore taking a risk by allowing Noson to trim his
hair. The results can only be seen as his own fault. He alone is responsible
for the fact that he is too embarrassed to appear in public and for the resultant
loss in earnings.

What would we have said if Noson had not prefaced the haircut
with the disclaimer? Would he then have been liable for the consequences of his
incompetence? Our Sages inform us (Tractate Bovo Kamo 86a) that if Reuven
shaves off Shimon's hair with the intention of causing him embarrassment he is
only liable to compensate him for the embarrassment. He is not obligated to compensate
him for any resultant loss of earnings, etc. since the hair will eventually grow
back on its own (see Choshen Mishpot 420:12 and Sema, Note 12). Under
what circumstances is a
person liable to pay compensation for having caused
embarrassment? The Shulchan Oruch (Choshen Mishpot 421:1 – based
on Bovo Kamo 26b) rules that only if there was intent to cause embarrassment
is there liability to pay. Thus, if a person caused embarrassment whilst asleep,
he is exempt from paying compensation. The Sema (Note 1) explains that
the obligation to pay compensation for causing embarrassment is derived from
the verse describing how a wife tries to fend off her husband's attacker by embarrassing
him. The Torah makes her liable to compensate the attacker for the embarrassment
she intentionally caused him. In our case, Noson had no intention to embarrass
Ze'ev. On the contrary, he only wished to help him out of his difficulty. Therefore,
even if he had not made it known that he was not a competent barber, he would
still not have been liable to pay Ze'ev compensation (see Mishptei HaTorah,
Bovo Kamo, No. 107).

It therefore follows that if a professional barber cut a client's hair in
an ugly fashion that causes him to hide from the public until it grows back,
he would also be exempt from compensating him for the embarrassment created.
This was not the barber's intention, so he does not have to pay. However, it
would be correct (according to the halocho—and not only because of customer
relations) for the barber to pay his victim some form of compensation for his
ordeal. On the other hand, if someone—professional or non-professional—gave a
person an ugly haircut with the intention of causing him embarrassment, he would
be liable to pay him compensation even nowadays. In our times, Beis Din
is not empowered to impose collection of fines (i.e. where payment is not
made for a direct loss – see Choshen Mishpot 1:2). Nevertheless, the
Geonim decreed that one who intentionally causes his fellow-man embarrassment
should pay him appropriate compensation. Their motivation was to prevent people
taking advantage of the exemption from payment to freely embarrass others (see
Choshen Mishpot 1:5 and 420:38).