Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 9 halacha 4

One shouldn’t live in a neighborhood which has groups of people constantly congregating and speaking lashon hara, baalei lawhon hara. This is based on a Rambam which quoted the Mishna in Pirkei Avos 9:1 that says, “Woe to the wicked and woe to their neighbors.” This quote was also mentioned by Rashi in reference to Korah and the tribe of Reuvein. One definitely shouldn’t join the group even if he will tell himself, he won’t accept anything he hears because just lending an ear to listen is forbidden. What’s even worse is to sit in shul in an area where people are talking and speaking lashon hara during davening because not only are you listening and probably joining into the conversation, but you might very likely miss answering by kaddish, amens, barchu, listening intently to the Torah reading etc. Also, to sit with shmuzers in a Beis medrish will also cause you to waste time from your learning and your learning won’t be as sharp since it will be fragmented.

A baal lashon hara, one who constantly is speaking lashon hara is so bad that the Chofetz Chaim warns that a Rebbe might have to expel a student if he sees he can’t stop him from speaking lashon hara, as Rav Ashi, an Amora who was one of the compilers of the gemara had to do with one of his students in Sanhedrin 31a.

If one finds himself in a group of people speaking lashon hara then he certainly should rebuke them if he thinks it will work. If it wouldn’t work but he thinks it won’t harm things then he should still rebuke them to let people know he is in disagreement of what’s happening. But if he thinks it will only harm the situation and make matters worse then it is better to say nothing. Just as praising someone is not allowed it will lead to lashon hara, so too rebuking someone for speaking lashon hara is not allowed if it will lead to worse lashon hara. It is better to try to switch the conversation or walk away. If you can’t do that then stick your finger in your ears and if that’s too embarrassing then make a face of disgust and be absolutely still, and have in mind not to accept anything that you hear.

 But at all costs one should try to stop others from sinning, just like the Rambam says that if you see a rabbi in the street wearing Shaatnez then one should pull off his garment in the middle of the street to avoid a chillul Hashem. In this case it’s easier, just create a distraction or change subjects from the conversation at hand, or as preemptive measures give incentives to people for not speaking lashon hara and learning the laws about it.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 9 halachos 2, 3

More examples of Avak Lashon Hara

  1. One should not praise people in front of a crowd no matter how much praise because it’s many times inevitable that someone who doesn’t like him will be in the crowd and start trash talking and downplaying this person’s praise. However, if (a) you know there is no one around who is his enemy, for example nobody knows him. Or (b) He is such a good person that one can’t find faults in him so even his enemies won’t say anything bad about him or will be immediately shut down if they try, then it’s permissible to praise someone in public. This could be why it permissible to talk about honorees at a banquet. Just don’t go overboard with the praises.
  2. You shouldn’t sit around with a group of people praising the gedolim, the Torah leaders of the generation because people will start comparing and it will inevitably turn into lashon hara, which is worse than speaking lashon hara about a regular Jew, because it might askew one’s attitude towards Torah Judaism. Hashem takes action against those who malign those who are closest to Him.
  3. One shouldn’t say anything which might cause others a monetary loss: A. A guest tells the world how great his host was and everyone flocks to get a meal by the host which might become too overwhelming and inappropriate people might get in also. B. Some publicizes how nice a person was for giving him a loan. This might lead to people who are con men asking for a loan and stealing the money.
  4. You should say things that sound suspicious and might sound like lashon hara. For example, if one warns others a few months later, when there has been calm in the area for a while, “I knew the whole time the guy was a thief.” Well why didn’t you say something beforehand when people could have taken precaution to protect their money?

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 9 rest of halacha 1

The Rambam and Rabbeinu Yona define avak lashon hara as a statement which hints to or will cause lashon hara to be spoken. It’s very possible in most occasions one will also transgress lifnei iver, placing a stumbling block in front if the blind. Just as hitting an older child or loaning money without witnesses sets up a situation of sin, the parent is enticing his teenage or older child to hit him back, or the loaner is enticing the borrower to deny the loan and not pay it back, so to when you praise someone in front of their enemy or you say I don’t want to talk about it inevitably lashon hara will come out and your statement was the cause.

Saying I don’t want to talk about the matter is avak lashon hara, still prohibited but not outright lashon hara even though we said in the first chapter, halacha 8 that hinting to lashon hara is fully forbidden but there it’s referring to expressing a complete statement of lashon hara without saying it out loud like by winking or the like but here you are not expressing any lashon hara, rather you are just hinting to something that could lead to lashon hara. It is definitely forbidden to tell someone who asks about someone else “I don’t want to tell you because that would be lashon hara.” The best thing to do is try to avoid speaking, switch subjects or just say I don’t know.

The last examples of avak lashon hara in this halacha is the prohibition of overly praising someone even if it is not in front if his enemy because it will inevitably lead to either the speaker saying lashon hara because he’ll slip in a line, like “but he’s not always perfect…” or people in the crowd will chime in something of the like, “that’s not always true…” etc. There are even times that even some praise is forbidden if it implies that according to his standard or level there expected more of him in that area or in other areas.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 9 part of halacha 1

Today we began the laws of avak lashon hara, which literally means the dust of lashon. They are statements that might not sound so negative but it references or lead to discussing lashon hara.

Some examples are:

1. “Wow, I am amazed how far he has come!” This implies he is doing great now but not so great in the past and could lead to inquiries of what he used to do.

 2. “Shhhhh, I’d rather not talk about him.” If someone asks you about someone and you answer like this then it’s obvious something is wrong. It’s better say I don’t know, all is fine, or just change the subject. This admittingly is obviously not easy and it takes a lot of stealth and creativity to avoid this type of lashon hara.

3. “I don’t want to tell you what happened or what will be with so and so.” Obviously, something is up and by say that you are prodding him on to wonder what really happened. Better not to say anything or at least try to say a pareve statement like all is fine or nothing happened. Of course, this is assuming there is really no constructive reason to say anything.

4. One should talk the praise of someone in front of others who don’t like the subject being talked about because they will start bashing the one you praised. Besides the prohibition of avak lashon hara you also transgress lifnei iver, placing a stumbling block in front of the blind.

A person has to know or figure out before you praise someone if the person you are talking to has any qualms against the subject. For example, if you know a person dislikes a rabbi or judge, for example if he has ruled against him in the past, you can’t go over to him and ask how your new court case went, especially if he just walked out of court because if it did not go in his favor he’ll blow up and you were the cause of him ranting and speaking lashon hara.

Bottom line, if you want to talk about someone with someone else, even if what you tell is not lashon hara but you can figure out that he is not on good terms with the subject and the conversation will lead to lashon hara, you are forbidden to start the conversation. 

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 8 halacha 14

Concluding this chapter the Chofetz Chaim warns that it doesn’t make a difference whether someone else or anyone in your household is speaking lashon hara, even your parents you can’t just accept what they said if it is lashon hara.

What’s worse, the Tanna Divei Eliyahu in chapter 21 says if one hears his parents say lashon hara or any other inappropriate speech and acts as if he doesn’t hear them then there is a severe punishment that you all will not fill up your days and years, not necessarily that you’ll die before your time but you might not be able to live life to the fullest. Meaning, maybe a person will get a stroke and won’t be able to function for many years but if he would have stopped this speech in his house then he would have had all his strength and faculties even in his old age until he dies.

However, the Chofetz Chaim is very careful to emphasize that when one rebukes his parents or even anyone in his household it should be done with soft language and emphasizing the severity of the punishment for speaking lashon hara and the reward in the World to Come for not speaking.

Also, the Chofetz Chaim emphasizes that you shouldn’t yell at your parents for transgressing the Torah rather you respectfully and gently say something like “even if what you are saying is true the Torah still says it’s never right to speak lashon hara about your friend” or judge favorably the person being talked about until the speaker will stop talking the evil speech.

Practically speaking the truth is this is very hard to do however by building awareness of the issue hopefully it will deter others especially those in your household from talking lashon hara. For example, putting literature about lashon hara on your coffee table which they can pick up and read on their own if they wish. It might get them curious and eventually more careful of the issue. Also, if you can slip into a conversation about how terrible slander in the media and Politics has become in our world today, people can relate to how detrimental it is, destroying people’s lives and making everyone feel bad they might get the message that slander can be harmful even in our day-to-day life with our friends and those around us. This way making subtle impacts on our family. Another idea might be to start reading the Chofetz Chaim lesson a day at the dinner table or at least on Shabbos with the family together which raises awareness.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 8 halachos 12, 13

Halacha 12: As bad as it is to speak badly about your fellow Jew in front of other Jews it is worse to speak about your fellow Jew in front of non-Jews because there is at least a very good chance other Jews won’t accept what you say or ar least judge the victim favorably but a non-Jew will most likely immediately believe what you say especially if a Jew is willing to speak about another Jew in that fashion it must be true and will spread the world and might even harm the Jew spoken about. What’s worse is if a Jew rattles on a fellow Jew to non-Jews and gets him in trouble. This is so bad that it is equated with someone who denies the Torah and Hashem. The Chofetz Chaim notes that it’s known even back in his time of people who would hire false witnesses and tattletale on their friends as a form of extortion to extricate money from them unlawfully in non-Jewish courts.

Halacha 13: In terms of accepting lashon hara the general rule is you cannot accept any lashon hara as truth about any Jew accept about an apikores and one who tattles on his fellow Jew to non-Jews. Bottom line any Jews which loses his status of being included in “your nation” one can believe lashon hara about them. Even two parties in a fight which you are allowed to SPEAK lashon hara about if it will quiet down the argument, does not mean those listening can accept the lashon hara said as absolute truth, unless it is obvious that it is the truth and by accepting it as true it will help to stop the argument.

Another topic the Chofetz Chaim brought up in a footnote is the issue of making fun of others, i.e., mockery. People tend to make fun of others in very subtle ways so that the victim won’t necessarily pick up on what he said and take revenge and on top of that, the slyer he is the more impressed people will be at his quip and think he’s a smart comedian which will egg him on to say more and make the victim look really bad. There are a number of prohibitions that go along with this issue.

1. Leitzanus: One is forbidden to make a mockery in a negative sense.

2. Onaas Devarim: It’s prohibitive to say things that make people feel bad.

3. Those that listen and laugh are spitting Hashem.

4. Those that stand by and say nothing don’t perform the mitzvah of rebuke.

5. They are also transgressing Flattering a bad person.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 8 halachos 10, 11

Halacha 10: You may not speak lashon hara to anyone whether it’s a non-relative or relative unless it’s for a positive reason. For example, you can tell your wife that it might not be a good idea to lend anything to a certain person but he or she is known not to give or pay it back. The same is true with two business partners or the like, one can tell the other that it might not be wise to do business with this certain person because he’s not going to pay you. Even if you don’t know firsthand of this problem but you have heard rumors you can still tell them to be careful because they aren’t allowed to believe what you say, just be concerned and take proper precautions. That being said you should tell them in a way that will make it sound possible and therefore be cautious but not decisive so that they will feel they can actually believe you. An example in Chazal of this type of warning is in Kiddushin 52b where the students of Rebbe Meir was warned not to enter a certain area because people might start up with them. The Chofetz Chaim bemoans that many people confuse this halacha and talks about his day with his wife including about people that started up with him in yeshiva or work. Besides the lashon hara being said your wife will most likely take it to heart and will start to not treat this person and his family nicely and she might not only belittle the person who started up with you but she might look down upon you and start making fun of you after a while. This is based on an Avos diRebbe Nosson 7:3 which says that you shouldn’t talk too much with your wife which refers to not telling her all that happened to you during your day because it will just cause fights and she will look down upon the person who started up with you and will look down upon you as well. Even if she will find out eventually what happened you shouldn’t say anything because the victim tends to exaggerate.

Halacha 11: No difference who you speak in front of whether it’s a non-relative or even a relative, a brother should not even talk about another brother in front of his parents unless he rebuked him first and the brother didn’t listen, or he knows the brother won’t listen to him but might listen to his parent to change his bad ways. We know this from the case of Yosef and his brothers. Yosef was punished measure for measure for speaking lashon hara about his brothers to his father, even though he did it so that their father will rebuke them. And although he got it wrong and really, they were doing nothing wrong so he was punished for not looking more into the matter. However, the Chofetz Chaim says it’s true that even for bad things your siblings really did you shouldn’t run to your parents to tattletale if you can fix the issue yourself.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 8 halacha 9

There is a very ancient decree and excommunication on those who speak lashon hara about the dead. Whether the person was a simpleton and all the more so if he was a sage. Insulting and degrading a sage himself is bad all the more so if talking badly about the Torah thoughts he has spoken or written about.

There are many times in Shas and the poskim that they insult each other, and the Chavas Yair explains many if the examples in Shas of why it’s not lashon hara or insulting each other. For example, Rav Sheshes told Rav it sounds like you were just dozing off and sleeping. He wasn’t saying this as an insult, on the contrary it was a praise because normally Rav was very sharp and it must have been that if he missed something he must have fallen asleep. Another example is when Rebbe said to Levi that it seems you have no brains in your skull. Now, Levi was a student of Rebbe and Rebbe was rebuking his student to work and think harder. The Rambam and Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 246:11) learn from here that a Rebbe should speak harshly to his students if he is feeling it will encourage and inspire them to work harder, not out of anger or haughtiness, but rather a drive to make sure they toughen up if it looks like they are being lazy.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 8 halacha 8

Based on a Yerushalmi in Peah 1:1 which the Smag brings down in his mitzvos and the Hghos Maimoni mentions but the Rif, Rosh, and Rambam leave out so the Chofetz Chaim just says this is according to one opinion, that it is permissible to speak lashon hara about an argument ensuing but only if the purpose of speaking lashon hara is to diffuse the argument by applying pressure to one side or both sides to break up the fight.

The source of this is by King David when he appointed Shlomo to take over the kingship and Adoniyahu started a fight vying for the kingship. Someone told King David about it and he immediately diffused the argument. Also, Moshe sent a messenger to Dasan and Aviram who started a rebellion and the messenger reported back to Moshe in order to squelch the argument. But it might be there that because there was already a rebellion ensuing then obviously the messenger could tell Moshe. But we see from here that the messenger of the court can report back even lashon hara to the court in order to enforce order.

But there are 3 conditions before speaking lashon hara:

1. You have to have seen the argument ensuing first hand or if you just heard of it second hand you have to have clarified the truth to be sure there is really and argument ensuing.

2. Your purpose for speaking out, and maybe even taking sides must be only good intentions, to break up the fight, but you can’t say anything if it’s said out of hatred.

3. If there is a way to break up the fight without speaking lashon hara, for example approaching them and rebuking them that is better unless it will stoke the coals and worsen the fight.

 However, one has to be very very very careful to thoroughly and clearly go through the matter to make sure you are clear what is happening before taking sides and speaking out in order to order to pressure the argument to stop because even if one step was overlooked it could change everything and backfire. 

Especially if the one talking out is a rabbi of clout, it can cause a big chillul Hashem, besides the lashon hara, and making the matter worse so in that case it’s better to just be passive, stay quiet and don’t act.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 8 halacha 7

If a person Is known to be a “bad guy” then you are allowed to speak lashon hara against him in order keep others away from him and not learn from his ways and hopefully he might repent as well if he sees so many people speaking out against him. Just be sure to say this lashon hara only for the sake of spreading the truth not to benefit, be it fame or fortune, when spreading this lashon hara, neither out if hatred for the guy.

What is considered a rasha status, a “bad guy” status? It is a person that habitually or many times committed a sin that everyone knows is wrong, like murder, adultery, or robbery, and even if it’s a minor sin, like a rabbinic prohibition, for example the gemara in Shabbos 40a discusses a case where the rabbis enacted that people cannot go into a sauna on Shabbos because people used to take hot baths on Shabbos from water heated up from before Shabbos and then it was discovered that bath house attendants use that the water on Shabbos so the rabbis forbade it then people use to make believe they went to saunas on Shabbos really going to the bathhouse so that became forbidden too. Rava said that whoever disobeys this enactment is a rasha and people could spread lashon hara about him. Because everyone knew about this enactment and people still disobeyed then lashon hara can be said against them to be sure no one else follows suit but a person who is in a habit of committing non-famous sins then know can say lashon hara about him because maybe he just doesn’t know any better. This person must be known throughout the city as a “bad guy” not just rumors and you can’t exaggerate more then what you know he does. Bottom line honesty and for the sake of truth is the key.

The Chofetz Chaim concludes that even though this halacha might create an excuse for those who constantly speak lashon hara to brand others wicked and have an excuse to spread more lashon hara but he still felt he must write down this halacha for the sake of the truth and he quoted a verse in Hoshea14:10 “For the ways of Hashem are straight and the righteous walk within them and the sinners stumble within them.”