Daf 19. Summary. Rabbi Yitzhak said, “Anyone who speaks negatively after the deceased it is as if he speaks after a stone.” Does this mean the dead don’t know or the dead don’t care? One who spoke ill of a Torah scholar was struck dead, but this proves nothing: for a Torah scholar “God himself demands that his honor be upheld.” The daf continues with teachings on the importance of showing respect for Torah scholars, and a debate on the grounds for ostracism and excommunication. Cases of ostracism of Torah scholars are difficult to locate. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi derived them by inference when he found instances in the Mishnah where one of the Sages “spoke inappropriately” about another scholar.
The gemara returns to the obligation of pallbearers vis a vis the Shema, ruling that the deceased should not be carried adjacent to the time one would recite Shema. Then why was this done with Rav Yosef’s coffin? Answer: “An important person is different.”
The gemara asks, “To what degree does preserving human dignity take precedence over mitzvot enumerated in the Torah?”
Comment. The apparent free association in this daf is hardly random. Whether or not the dead are invested in the opinions of the living, their scholarship lives on, and to speak harshly of a scholar, living or dead, earns ostracism. The transgression is so grave that the rabbis are loathe to record it, so Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi must infer that it occurred based on oblique references. The still-to-be-answered question is whether the respect and dignity of another takes precedence even over Scriptural obligations. Stay tuned.