Purim Pranks

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon

Translated by David Strauss



            Students often engage in various kinds of Purim-related pranks and forms of humor during the month of Adar.  We shall try to see what Halakha has to say about some of these practices, such as the "Purim Rabbi," damaging property as part of a prank, jokes that are offensive to teachers and rabbis, and mimicking rabbis.




The Mishna in Sukka relates what transpired in the Bet ha-Mikdash on Hoshana Rabba:


They would bring date-palm branches and lay them down on the ground alongside the altar.  That day was called "[the day of] laying down the branches." Immediately (miyad; or alternatively – from the hands of) the children would release their lulavim and eat their etrogim.


            It is not clear from the Mishna who took the children's etrogim – was it the children themselves, or perhaps it was the adults who "snatched" them from them.  Both interpretations are possible depending on how we understand the word "miyad." If it describes the time – "immediately" – then the Mishna seems to be saying that immediately following the laying down of the date-palm branches, the children would release their lulavim and eat their etrogim.  If, however, the term describes the place – "from the hand of" – then it seems to mean that the adults would snatch the etrogim from the hands of the children and eat them.  The Tosafot (ad loc.) propose both explanations, but had difficulty with the second explanation cited here (the first in the Tosafot): How could the adults snatch the etrogim from the children, and thus engage in what appears to be robbery? The Tosafot answer:


"From the hands of the children they snatched their lulavim" – The adults would snatch the children's lulavim from their hands and eat their etrogim, and this did not involve robbery, nor [was it forbidden] because of "ways of peace." For this was the customary way of merrymaking.  Thus explained the Kuntrus (Rashi).  We may learn from this regarding those young men who ride horses before a groom, fighting one another, the one tearing the other's clothing or injuring his horse, that they are exempt [from liability], for this is the customary way of making merry before a groom.  (Tosafot, s.v. miyad)


            In other words, when a person damages another person's property in the course of rejoicing in a mitzva or rejoicing with a bride and groom, this does not involve robbery.  This law was codified by the Rema:


As for the custom of wearing masks on Purim, or a man wearing a woman's clothing or vice versa, this does not involve the violation of a prohibition, for their intention is merely to rejoice.  The same applies to the wearing of shatnez that is forbidden by rabbinic law.  There are, however, those who say that this is forbidden, but common custom follows the first opinion.  And similarly, people who snatch things from one another in the course of merrymaking, do not violate the prohibition of robbery, and this is the custom, provided that they do not act inappropriately, as judged by the city's notables.  (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayyim 696:8)


            According to this, it would seem that in our circumstances as well, Purim pranks that lead to property damage should be permitted.  We must, however, examine why such causing of damage is permitted.  Two possible understandings may be suggested.


1)            Owing to the special importance that they attached to the joy of mitzva, the Sages did not want to restrain such joy, and therefore they ordained that a person is not liable for damages caused in the course of his merrymaking.


2)            When people get together to celebrate a joyous event, they are well aware that something might go wrong and damage might be incurred, and everybody relinquishes his right to demand compensation should it be his property that suffers the damage.


One possible practical difference between these two understandings might be found in a case where one person caused damage to another person who was not participating in the celebration, and was at the scene only by chance.  In such a case, it cannot be argued that there was any kind of waiver on the part of the person who suffered the damage (the second possibility).  But if the exemption is based on the allowance granted by the Sages to rejoice (the first possibility), it stands to reason that the one who caused the damage should be exempt in this case as well. 


There might be another practical difference as well: What is the law when we know that the injured party is not prepared to waive the damage caused him? If the rationale for the exemption is that Chazal permitted damages caused during the course of merrymaking connected to a mitzva, then even in such a case it should be permitted.  But if the allowance stems from a waiver, then when it is clearly evident that the other person does not waive the damage that is caused him, it is certainly forbidden.


Regarding damages caused in the framework of Purim rejoicing, the Rema writes:


Some authorities say that if one person caused another person damage as a result of Purim rejoicing, he is exempt from having to make compensation. (695:2)


The Rema makes no distinctions, implying that a person who causes such damage is exempt in all cases.[1] But the Mishna Berura (following the Bach) distinguishes between minor damage and major damage; since people are not ready to waive major damage, those who cause such damage on Purim are not exempt from liability.  Thus, we see that the Mishna Berura adopted the second approach, and therefore when we know that the injured party does not waive the damages, causing such damage is forbidden:[2]


The Bach distinguishes between major damage and minor damage, whether to one's person or to one's property; for in a case of major damage, people are particular, and it is not the custom to exempt from liability in cases of major damage.  (MB 695:13)




            The aforementioned sources seem to imply that in situations where we know that there is a waiver and we are dealing with minor damage, there is no prohibition.  It stands to reason, however, that the matter is not so simple.  Responsa Terumat Ha-deshen relates to a case where one person pushed another person during hakafot on Sukkot and broke his shoulder, and "by coincidence" the person who caused the injury was known to be the injured party's long-time enemy.


R. Eliezer bar Shalom and R. Gershom bar Shalom appeared before me in a law suit.  R. Eliezer accused R. Gershom of pushing him during the round of hoshanot on Sukkot with the intention of causing him injury.  R. Gershom responded that he circled in the customary manner which regularly involves pushing, and if he pushed [R. Eliezer], it was without intention to cause him injury.  They went on at length presenting their arguments before me, and I also saw all the testimonies, and read them carefully, and did not see any clear-cut testimony that R. Eliezer was pushed by R. Gershom, only estimations and inferences from the testimonies… And estimations and inferences are no basis for punishing and imposing liability upon R. Gershom… And all the more so in the case under discussion where we need to assess that he intended to cause him injury, for if he did not intend to cause him injury, even though he definitely suffered injury on his account, he would be exempt, for he caused him injury at a time of rejoicing in a mitzva, as is stated in the Or Zaru'a and in the Rosh in the name of the Tosafot, at the end of tractate Sukka.[3] (Terumat Ha-deshen, II, no. 210)


            We see from the Terumat Ha-deshen that the exemption from liability for damages caused in the course of rejoicing in a mitzva only applies if there was no intention to cause damage.  But if a person intends to cause damage, he is liable.  Chazal allowed a person to rejoice without having to worry that he might cause damage to another person (whether so as not to impair the joy or because there is a waiver), but if he intends to cause damage, there is certainly no waiver, and no allowance granted by Chazal!


            This seems to contradict what we saw earlier in the Tosafot, for the Tosafot refer to a case where young men ride horses with a destructive intent in front of the groom, and so too the Mishna speaks of a case where adults snatch lulavim from children.  It seems, then, that there are three levels:


1)            unintended damage caused in the course of rejoicing;

2)            rejoicing, one of whose components involves damage;

3)            intentional damage – getting even in the guise of rejoicing.


The third level involves corruption, and is obviously forbidden; the first level is permitted in a case of minor damage; as for the second level, there is room for discussion: it might be forbidden, but it might also be the level that the Tosafot permitted.  Of course, the discussion regarding the second level is also limited to the case of minor damage and to the situation in which we know that there is a waiver.  It should also be added that, setting aside purely halakhic considerations, if indeed the objective is joy and there is someone who suffers injury as a result, this is not true joy; true joy cannot cause injury and sadness to others.


In light of the above, if a person engages in merrymaking during the month of Adar and unintentionally causes damage – whether property damage or personal injury – he is exempt from liability.  On the other hand, if his intention is to cause harm, there is certainly no allowance! Only in the case where his intention is to engage in an act of rejoicing and there is also damage, then if the damage is minor and we know that people are generally prepared to waive such damage, there is room for leniency.


Three points should be noted in this context:


1)         The Tosafot's principle that a person is exempt for damage caused in the course of merrymaking is not accepted by all authorities.  Responsa Yechave Da'at (vol. V, no. 50) brings in the name of Responsa Bet David that the Rosh, the Rambam and the Tur disagree.


2)         As stated above, the Rema rules in accordance with the Tosafot, but in Choshen Mishpat, end of sec. 358, he adds that if the court sees fit to construct a fence regarding this matter, they are authorized to do so, as we saw with the Terumat Ha-deshen.


3)         The Elya Rabba, end of sec. 696, writes in the name of the Shelah: "A person who guards his soul will distance himself from such behavior, for this is wanton rejoicing, and not what God desires."




            Uttering uncomplimentary remarks about a person constitutes a violation of the prohibition of speaking lashon ha-ra.  This prohibition applies even when the remarks are true.[4] Moreover, the Rambam emphasizes that the prohibition applies also to the listeners, and that their transgression is even more severe than that of the speaker.  In our case, however – negative remarks about a person made in the context of a Purim shpiel or the like - it would seem that, generally speaking, the prohibition of lashon ha-ra does not apply, because the Rambam rules that lashon ha-ra that was already uttered in the presence of three people is no longer included in the prohibition (unless it is the person's intention to spread the gossip):


If a statement of this character has been made in the presence of three persons, the subject matter is regarded as public and generally known, and if one of the three repeats it, he is not guilty of lashon ha-ra, provided he had no intention to give the story wider currency.  (Hilkhot De'ot 7:5)


            In light of this, since the things that are said at a Purim shpiel are generally known to the students, this should not involve a violation of the prohibition of lashon ha-ra.  The Rambam's allowance, however, is not accepted by all, and some Rishonim disagree.  The Chafetz Chayyim (kellal 2, 3) brings the dispute, and it would appear that he inclines toward stringency.  Nevertheless, the position of the Rambam cannot be altogether set aside.  Moreover, in a case where everybody already knows, there is certainly no prohibition of lashon ha-ra,[5] though one must be careful not to add details to what is already known in order to inflate the matter and make it more entertaining, as is the general practice.[6]


            To summarize, the allowance of speaking lashon ha-ra only applies to matters that everybody already knows.  When only isolated individuals are privy to the information, the matter is subject to a dispute among the Rishonim, and one should try to avoid such talk.  Even when everybody knows, the allowance is effective only with respect to the problem of lashon ha-ra.  Such talk may, however, involve other prohibitions, some of which we shall discuss below.




            The Torah states: "You shall not wrong one another" (Vayikra 25:17).  The Gemara in Bava Metzia 58b interprets this as a prohibition of verbal wrongdoing, that is to say, one is forbidden to wrong another person verbally, saying things that hurt his feelings:


Our Rabbis taught: "You shall not wrong one another" – the verse is speaking of verbal wrongdoing… Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai: Verbal ona'a is a greater sin than monetary ona'a, for concerning this one it was said: "And you shall fear your God," but concerning that one it was not said: "And you shall fear your God."  And Rabbi Eliezer says: This applies to [the victim's] person, and that to his money.  Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani said: This can be restored, but that cannot be restored.[7]


            The parameters of this prohibition are clear, and briefly summarized by the Sefer Ha-chinukh: "The laws of the mitzva are … not to cause people pain in any matter and not to shame them" (precept 338).  The Chinukh writes that one is not to cause pain "in any matter." The Chafetz Chayyim emphasizes: "You should know that the prohibition of 'You shall not wrong' applies even if the injured party is not put to shame, but only slightly pained" (Introduction, 14, Be'er Mayyim Chayyim).


            People sometimes think that stinging comments uttered in jest are not governed by the prohibition, but truth be told, great caution must be displayed in the matter.  The person who makes the comment may view it as a joke, but the person about whom the comment is made may see it differently, even if he does not object.  Even if the injured party tries to ignore the comment and be forgiving, he often suffers if only slightly, and this too involves a violation of the Torah prohibition of verbal wrongdoing.  Thus writes the Steipler:


One must understand that it is a great sin and terrible transgression to cause a Jew pain, even a small amount of pain through mere speech.  This involves an explicit Torah prohibition.  (Karyana de-Igreta, I, no. 57)


            What has been stated thus far refers to verbal wrongdoing committed against an ordinary person, but such conduct with respect to a teacher involves a special stringency.  Setting aside the pain that the teacher is made to suffer, we are dealing here with ingratitude.  For often, even if the teacher makes an occasional mistake, he is totally devoted to his profession.  In such cases the offensive remark assumes much greater proportions, for it comes from his students in whom he is constantly trying to invest.  Responsa Yechaveh Da'at brings a terrible story in this connection regarding the author of the Mikhtav Sofer, who died as a result of the insult he suffered at the hands of his students:


I have seen in writing that the Gaon Rabbi Shimon Sofer died from the anguish he suffered in the wake of the insults hurled at him by the Purim Rabbi.”  May the good Lord atone for this.  God forbid, then, that this custom should continue, and especially not in the holy yeshivot, which must serve as an example of love, honor and awe of Torah.  It is a mitzva to forcefully object and absolutely abolish this evil custom, the word minhag (custom) being a transmutation of the word Gehinom.  (Responsa Yechave Da'at V, no. 50)


            When we are dealing with a teacher who has taught a person Torah, the matter is even more severe.  In such a case, mechila (waiver) does not help.  Despite the fact that Chazal in Kiddushin 32a said: "If a Torah scholar waives his honor, his honor is waived," because the Torah is "his," the Rivash wrote in the name of the Ra'avad that this applies only to conduct that does not display honor.  But as for conduct that involves humiliation, the Torah scholar may not waive his honor:


We have been asked: Regarding a Torah scholar, who was scorned, cursed and reviled by Reuven, an ignorant boor… I also saw in the name of the Ra'avad, z"l, that the Torah scholar may not waive his honor.  And even though they said in the first chapter of Kiddushin (32a): "If a Torah scholar waives his honor, his honor is waived, because the Torah is his, as it is stated: 'And he meditates in his Torah day and night'" – this refers to something that does not involve humiliation… e.g., to stand up before him, and the like, regarding such things he can waive his honor.  But regarding his humiliation, he cannot waive – on the contrary, he is forbidden to waive, for the Torah is humiliated thereby.  (Responsa Rivash, no. 220)




            In many cases, the butt of a joke is present among the jokers, in which case, in addition to all that has been said above, there might apply the prohibition of putting a person to public shame, about which the Gemara (Berakhot 43b) states:


It is better for a man that he should cast himself into a fiery furnace rather than that he should put his fellow to shame in public.  From where do we know this? From Tamar, of whom it says: "When she was brought forth, etc."


            Is this dictum to be understood in its literal sense, so that the rule of "yehareg ve-al ya'avor," "he should allow himself to be killed, rather than transgress," should be applied even to the prohibition of public shaming? On the one hand, the statement seems like words of ethical admonishment.  Furthermore, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 74a) asserts that there are three transgressions for which a person must surrender his life rather than transgress, and that list does not include the prohibition of putting a person to public shame.  On the other hand, the Gemara's source is Tamar, who was indeed ready to sacrifice her life so as not to humiliate Yehuda in public.  And the Tosafot imply that in fact the law of yehareg ve-al ya'avor applies to the prohibition of putting a person to public shame.  They ask why the Gemara in Sanhedrin didn't include the prohibition of public shaming among the cardinal sins for which a person must give up his life rather than violate.  They answer as follows:


It seems that the reason that this was not included among the three prohibitions that are not set aside by piku'ach nefesh – idolatry, incest, and murder – is that the prohibition of shaming a person is not stated explicitly in the Torah, and the Gemara lists only the explicit prohibitions.  (Tosafot, Sota 10a, s.v. no'ach)


This implies that the law of yehareg ve-al ya'avor applies also to public shaming, and that it is for side reasons that it is not mentioned by the Gemara in Sanhedrin.  This also follows from the words of Rabbenu Yona, who writes:


Putting a person to shame in public is regarded as a trace of murder, for the victim's face turns white and his red appearance disappears, this being similar to murder… And second, the pain of public humiliation is worse than death.  Therefore, our Sages of blessed memory said (Bava Metzia 59a): "A person should cast himself into a fiery furnace rather than put his fellow to shame in public."  They did not say this about other severe prohibitions.  Indeed, they likened a trace of murder to murder.  As they said (Sanhedrin 74a) that one should allow himself to be killed, rather than commit murder.  Similarly, they said that one should cast himself into a fiery furnace rather than put his fellow to shame in public.  (Sha'arei Teshuva, III, 139)


            We have here yet another answer to the Tosafot's question.  The Tosafot asked why public shaming was not included among the sins for which one must sacrifice his life rather than commit.  Rabbenu Yona answers that the Gemara includes humiliation in the category of murder, for public shaming involves a trace of murder.


            On the other hand, the Meiri (Sota 10b) understood the words of the Gemara in a different manner:


A person should always be careful not to shame another person in public.  In the manner of admonishment, they said: "It is better for a man, etc."


            In other words, these words of Chazal were said in the spirit of moral rebuke, and not as practical Halakha.  This also seems to be the view of the Rambam, who does not bring the rabbinic dictum, "It is better for a man, etc.," together with the other three severe prohibitions in Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah, but rather in Hilkhot De'ot.


            We see, then, that the Rishonim disagree whether or not the law of yehareg ve-al ya'avor applies to the prohibition of putting a person to shame in public.  How a person should conduct himself were he to find himself in such a situation requires clarification.  In any event, one who intentionally shames another person in public, even as part of a Purim shpiel or the merrymaking of a mitzva, is liable to very severe punishment, even according to those who say that the actual law of yehareg ve-al ya'avor does not apply.  Both the Rishonim and the Acharonim have expounded at length on the severity of the prohibition and on the acts of penitence that one who shamed another person in public must perform.  One example of this is found in the responsa of Maharam of Rothenburg:


One who puts another person to shame in public must observe several fasts, and flog himself for the rest of his life, and suffer mortification while he is still alive, and confess [his sin] every day.  One who calls another person by a name must publicly seek his pardon, flog himself, suffer mortification, and confess for at least forty days.  (Responsa Maharam, vol. IV, ed. Prague, no. 1023)[8]




            In light of what has been said above, it would seem that we have to abolish all the Adar celebrations and shpiels.  This, however, is not the case.  Midrash Rabba records the famous story about the person who sold "the elixir of life":


Another explanation: "This shall be the Torah of the one stricken with tzara'at" (Vayikra 14:2).  This is the meaning of the verse: "Who is the man that desires life?" (Tehillim 34:13).  It once happened that a certain peddler went around among the cities in the vicinity of Tzippori, proclaiming: Who wishes to buy the elixir of life? 

Rabbi Yannai was sitting in his reception room, when he heard him proclaiming: Who wants the elixir of life?  He said to him: Come up here and sell it to me. 

He said to him: You do not need it, nor anybody like you.

He pressed him, until he went up to him and took out a book of Tehillim.  He showed him the verse: "Who is the man that desires life?" What follows after that? "Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking guile" (ibid. v. 14). 

Rabbi Yannai said: So too Shlomo proclaimed, saying: "He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps his soul from troubles" (Mishlei 21:23).  Rabbi Yannai said: All my days I would read this verse and did not understand its plain sense, until this peddler came and informed me: "Who is the man that desires life?"

Therefore Moshe admonishes Israel, saying to them: "This shall be the Torah of the one stricken with tzara'at" – the Torah of one who slanders (motzi shem ra).  (Vayikra Rabba 16,2)


            This story is astonishing.  Was Rabbi Yannai incapable of understanding the plain meaning of that verse on his own? Is it not clear from the verse that the man that desires life must refrain from speaking evil? What was novel in the peddler's words? The Tanchuma Yashan also brings this story, but with an addition:


His disciples said to him: Master, did you not understand this verse? He said to them: Yes I did, but this one came and clarified it for me.


            What did the peddler add and clarify for Rabbi Yannai? It is interesting to note that it was precisely a peddler – a rokhel – who was selling the elixir of life of guarding one's tongue.  "Rokhel" is one of the Torah's designations for one who speaks lashon ha-ra: "You shall not go up and down as a talebearer (rakhil) among your people" (Vayikra 19:16).  And it is precisely a peddler who sells here the elixir of life of guarding one's tongue.  This appears to be the peddler's message – that one can be a peddler, who speaks with people, but nevertheless refrains from speaking lashon ha-ra.  Rabbi Yannai had thought that in order to guard one's tongue from speaking evil, one had to engage at all times in Torah study, until the peddler came and taught him that one can be a rokhel, a peddler, who is constantly engaged in conversation with his customers, and hears everything, and yet he does not speak lashon ha-ra.


It is told about the Chafetz Chayyim that people came to see how he observes the laws of lashon ha-ra.  They were sure that he must remain silent all day long.  They discovered, however, that in fact he spoke quite a lot, and they marveled at his ability to speak so much to everybody, but nevertheless refrain from speaking lashon ha-ra.  It seems that one who is unfamiliar with the laws and does not know what one has to be careful about cannot conduct Adar celebrations and shpiels, for such a person will surely violate the serious prohibitions of verbal wrongdoing and public shaming, and the like.  But one who knows the halakhot and is accustomed to follow them, can indeed arrange for a joyous and even entertaining party without violating these laws.  This seems to be the challenge put to Yeshiva students – to rejoice, to celebrate with Purim jokes, but with joy that includes everyone, and not happiness that offends some of the people.  Joy that comes at the cost of someone else's sadness is not joy, and regarding such joy we should apply the verse, "I said of mirth, What does it achieve?" (Kohelet 2:2).  Rejoicing that brings joy to all is fitting rejoicing, and appropriate for the month of Adar in which we are told to increase happiness.


It should be noted that the openness that characterizes the month of Adar should be used not only to fix that which seems to us needs fixing, but also to express gratitude and appreciation for what is done for us all year round.  One should express his gratitude to everyone, but especially to one's teachers and educators, and even to the leading Torah authorities of the generation.  A group of students once approached HaRav Lichtenstein on Purim and warmly expressed their feelings of gratitude, and he responded that such words give him special strength for a long period of time!




            The Matteh Moshe (sec. 1012) writes that while most people think that on Purim one is permitted to cast off the yoke of Torah and mitzvot, and that the more one engages in jokes and pranks the better, without a doubt this is evil, bitter and sinful, for what is permitted on Purim is only the joy of mitzva, but not jesting and lightheartedness.  The Meiri (Megilla 7a) writes in a similar vein that we are not commanded on Purim about wanton rejoicing, but rather joy and delight that lead to the love of God.  For this reason, the Mishna Berura writes in his Be'ur Halakha (sec. 695) in the name of the Chayyei Adam that one who knows that if he will get drunk he will come to scorn a mitzva, or fail to recite one of the prayer services, or conduct himself with lightheartedness and mockery – it is better that he not drink.


            On the other hand, with proper preparation, Purim can become a most meaningful holiday.  I remember that when I first came to Yeshivat Har Etzion, I saw for the first time a Purim that was exclusively elevation of spirit, closeness to God, closeness to one's friends, and closeness to one's teachers.  I was sorry that I had previously been unaware of the unique power of Purim.  The greater the preparation for the holiday, the greater its strength.


            Rav Kook, in his Ein Aya (Berakhot, no. 61), explains the essence of joy: Joy does not involve running away from evil and the difficulties of life; such joy is not true joy.  Joy must come from a positive direction, out of love for the good and out of rejoicing in all that is good in life.  In Mussar Avikha (pp. 21-22), Rav Kook adds: When a person buys something, he takes pleasure in having increased his assets.  All the more so should he rejoice when he makes a spiritual acquisition.  Joy is man's encounter with a spiritual force greater than what he presently has, and it might be added that the very desire to encounter a higher spiritual force also constitutes true joy.  Rav Kook explains this idea in connection with the verse "with joy and goodness of heart" – there must be a constant desire to encounter and join with a greater spiritual force, and this arouses joy.  The spiritual force must be one level higher, for a person must not join a force that is inappropriate for him at the present time.  The force must be one that can settle in the heart of that person – "and goodness of heart."


            On Purim, we reach a very elevated spiritual experience, an encounter with spiritual forces that are ordinarily hidden within us.  On Purim, we must search for these forces, and out of these forces and the search for them fill ourselves with joy, which with God's help will radiate on the entire year.




[1] It should be noted that regarding robbery or the like, the Rema writes that there is no prohibition, but regarding personal injury, the Rema does not write that there is no prohibition, but only that one is exempt from liability.  Thus, it seems that in such a case there is no allowance, but only an exemption from payment.  It should be remembered that personal injury includes also personal affront and insult. 

[2] I asked my revered teacher HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein, shelita, about this matter, and he told me that he inclines to the second understanding (waiver).  He also noted the possibility that even if the injured party insists that he is particular, it will make no difference.  Since in general there is a waiver, it is like a condition imposed by the court.  A precedent might be found in the enactments instituted by Ezra (end of chapter Merubeh), which include an allowance granted to wayfarers to walk along paths that do not belong to them.

[3] In the continuation of the responsum, the Terumat Ha-deshen writes that it is sometimes necessary to impose punishments in order to erect a fence, so that people not come to scorn synagogues and Torah scrolls.  He therefore punished the alleged assailant, even though there was insufficient evidence to impose formal punishment for injury and shame: "Thus he must do.  He must go on a day when the Torah is read while the Torah scroll is on the bima, from his place to R. Eliezer's place, passing by the Ark.  And the community's notables should approach, and he should say to R. Eliezer: Eliezer, I sinned against the God of Israel and then against you, for I treated the sanctity of the synagogue and of God's commandments lightly, and I also transgressed that which the Torah admonished not to strike or cause pain to another person, and for this I ask for forgiveness and atonement from the God of Israel, and then pardon from you, for I regret what I have done.  And I estimated the doctor's fee at an intermediate rate, and R. Gershom should give R. Eliezer two gold coins, and those two gold coins R. Eliezer should give with the knowledge of two trusted people to the synagogue for the mitzva of his choosing, for they are due him only as a penalty in order to strengthen the fence, as I have explained above."

[4] Thus writes the Rambam in Hilkhot De'ot 7:2 and in his commentary to Avot 1; see there. 

[5] The source is in Chafetz Chayyim 2, 1; 4, 41; 5, 8; see there.

[6] Another point that might allow the voicing of lashon ha-ra is that sometimes we are dealing with constructive lashon ha-ra.  Occasionally, students wish to correct a problem and they take advantage of the month of Adar to do so (they hope that in the wake of what they say the situation will be corrected).  Indeed, the Chafetz Chayyim (4, 11) writes that one is permitted to utter lashon ha-ra for a constructive purpose, though he imposes many qualifications to this allowance which are generally not met in our case:

1)         The allowance only applies when there is no alternative.

2)         The allowance only applies when there is a good chance that the lashon ha-ra will lead to the desired improvement.  In general, it is far more likely that the situation will be corrected through direct conversation with the teacher or the principal than through sarcasm or the like at a Purim party.  Such remarks turn the issue into a power struggle and sometimes even make the correction less likely to occur.  It is precisely the month of Adar, which is characterized by a certain openness and freedom, that allows for more direct and genuine dialogue which is far more likely to resolve the difficulty. 

[7] We might add another reason why verbal wrongdoing is more severe than monetary wrongdoing.  When a person wrongs another person monetarily, his objective is to make a profit, though at the cost of the other person.  But when he wrongs his fellow verbally, he gains nothing.  What then is his objective? His entire goal is to abuse and cause pain to the other person! This being the case, it is much more severe than monetary wrongdoing, where the pain that is caused is a result of the offender's actions, but not his objective. 

[8] It seems that with regard to mimicking Torah scholars, there are cases when such behavior should be permitted, when the mimicry is not a reflection of looking down upon the Torah scholar, but on the contrary, a sign of veneration and adoration.  It seems to me that it is possible to point to two instances where such an allowance should apply.  The one is mimicry that reflects veneration, as when the Yeshiva's students imitate HaRav Lichtenstein, out of recognition that he is one of the generation's Torah giants, and the mimicry is just another way to draw close and cling to HaRav Lichtenstein's great strength.  The second includes mimicking that may not reflect veneration, but also does not involve offense, and comes to create a more open relationship between teacher and student (this is often more relevant in a Yeshiva high school setting).