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The Punched Flight Attendant: a Halachic Analysis

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

On May 23rd, Vyvianna Quinonez, 28, of Sacramento, California, punched a flight attendant in the face during a flight, breaking her teeth.  She pled guilty this past Wednesday to a federal charge.

Quinonez was on a May 23 Southwest Airlines flight from Sacramento to San Diego when a flight attendant asked her to buckle her seatbelt, stow her tray table, and wear her mask properly during the descent.

She didn’t.

Instead, Quinonez began recording the attendant on her cellphone. Then she pushed her.  Finally, she stood up and punched the flight attendant in the face and grabbed her hair.  Ultimately, other passengers intervened, authorities said.

In the meantime, the assault was recorded on another passenger’s cellphone.

The flight attendant suffered three chipped teeth, two of which needed crowns.

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Our concern here, however, is the halacha.  There is a verse in Tehillim that is cited by the Rema in the very first chapter of the Shulchan Aruch: “Shivisi Hashem l’negdi samid,” I place Hashem in front of me constantly. From these words, our gedolim have taught us the obligation of dveikus b’Hashem and to always look at everything through Torah eyes.  Some will take issue with the fact that this article begins with an abusive person who struck an innocent employee just doing her job.  My Rebbeim, however, taught me that one must look at everything from the viewpoint of halacha and Torah hashkafa.  And so, we begin:

Many people erroneously think that one is permitted to strike another person if there are no visible bruises or cuts.  This is incorrect.


The Rambam writes in Hilchos Chovel uMazik (5:1), however, that included in the prohibition of “Lo yosif lahakoso is anyone who strikes another – whether a man, woman or a child.  Indeed, in his Sefer HaMitzvos (lo saaseh #300), the Rambam writes that even hinting or implying that he will hit him is forbidden, as the verse says, “vayomer larasha lama takeh rayacha?”  In halacha #2, the Rambam writes “even lifting one’s hand on his friend is forbidden.”  The halacha is codified in Shulchan Aruch (CM 420:1).


The fact that it is subsumed in a different halacha indicates that it is forbidden, but on account of a different prohibition. Rav Elyakim Schlesinger in his Pnei Mose (p 244) makes the case for this understanding as well,at least according to the Rambam . The SMAG, in Assei #70, however, clearly states that it is the same prohibition.

If that is the case, according to the Rambam, it is perhaps possible that if there is no wound, it also may not be included in the first prohibition but rather in the second.

In this case, however, the flight attendant also received bruises and a cut under her left eye that needed stitches.


The next question is what is the source of the prohibition for a gentile to strike another?  It seems that it is listed as one of the Taryag Miyzvos.  The Sefer HaChinuch points out that the Seven Noachide Laws are not just seven individual laws, but seven categories of laws. The Seven Laws are found in the Tosefta to Tractate Avodah Zarah (9:4) and are cited in the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 56a). They are (1) the obligation to believe in G‑d; (2) the prohibition against murder; (3) the prohibition against theft; (4) the prohibition against adultery and similar forms of immorality; (5) the prohibition against cursing G‑d; (6) the prohibition of the cruelty to animals involved in eating flesh from a live animal; and (7) the obligation to establish a just court of law to enforce the laws.

Since gentiles have seven categories of Mitzvos – which one does it fit under?

As mentioned earlier, these seven laws are categories, and the obligation to save the life of another person is a subcategory of the law against murder. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 72b) explains the moral obligation of defending the life of a victim from one who is pursuing him. There it states that the Torah obligates one to save the life of the victim—even if it may cause the death of the (potential) murderer pursuing that victim. This law and the associated verse—Bereishis 9:6, „שֹׁפֵךְ דַּם הָאָדָם בָּאָדָם דָּמו יִשָּׁפֵךְ כִּי בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹקִים עָשָׂה אֶת־הָאָדָם“ —apply to non-Jews as well as Jews.  It could very well be that it is a sub-category of the prohibition against murder.

On the other hand, the RaN in Sanhedrin seems to indicate that it is subsumed under Gezel – theft.  Regardless, the actions of Vyvianna Quinonez were quite reprehensible.


A recently printed Sefer entitled Mitzvos Diley recalls a story of a Rabbi who could not afford to get to the town of Brody to consult with Rav Shlomo Kluger.  To make the trip, he took a job as an assistant wagon driver.  When his abilities were not up to snuff, the wagon driver beat him.

Upon arrival, Rav Shlomo Kluger honored him with giving a drasha to the Bnei Torah of Brody.  The wagon driver was in the audience.  He approached the Rav with tears and explained that he was unaware of who he was, and thought him a mere assistant wagon driver.  The Rav responded, the Torah forbids beating even a simple assistant wagon driver.

Airlines reported more than 5,000 incidents of unruly passengers to the Federal Aviation Administration this year.  Most of the incidents have involved passengers refusing to follow the federal requirement for passengers to wear face masks while on planes, but nearly 300 have involved intoxicated passengers, according to the FAA

We shouldn’t be involved in any of them.

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The author can be reached at [email protected]

4 Responses

  1. “Many people erroneously think that one is permitted to strike another person if there are no visible bruises or cuts….”
    With all respect, what normal person would hold such an absurd belief given that one can strike another with fatal consequences as a result of internal wounds not visible to the eye. R’ Hoffman notes that such a belief is incorrect but why would anyone hold such a view l’chatchilah

  2. The author is unfortunately discussing the laws applicable between Jews. Since this transpired between gentiles, it is inapplicable to them. Halacha has a different set of laws applicable regarding interactions between non-Jews. [EDITOR: TRUE. BOTH GROUPS ARE DISCUSSED IN THIS ARTICLE WHEN THE AUTHOR SAYS IT IS PART OF TARYAG. AND THEN HE ADDRESSES THE 7 MITZVOS..]

  3. Unfortunately, the author missed the opportunity of discussing what “many people erroneously think that one is permitted to strike another person” with verbal assaults and psychological bullying behaviors.

    This error certainly applies when victimizing a fellow Jew, and a discussion should be provided if it also applies to non-Jews (aside from the Chillul Hashem and midos achzoriyos factor).

    On a broader scope, the prohibition to verbally abuse animals (tzar ba’alei chayim), causing them discomfort or even pain, simply by screaming at them or using harsh tones, without actual direct action.

    Chaval, a missed opportunity.

    Because if verbal assaults and bullying is prohibited, there is no need to delve further into actual physical assaults.

    V’ten l’chochom, v’yechkam od.

  4. “Buckle your seat belt, put your seatback in the upright position and put up your tray-table.” Who ever heard that on an airplane flight before? No wonder the passenger punched the flight attendent.

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