Sefer Chofetz Chaim Chapter 8 Halacha 1

The Chofetz Chaim introduces the 8th chapter with the caveat that anything that sounds simple has to be brought up anyways either because it fits better in the flow or because needs reminders and reiteration so that they won’t make mistakes, in any event their is usually something new that comes out in the end. He begins the chapter with saying that speaking lashon hara applies to both men and women even with relatives and even if you are talking about relatives and they don’t care what you say because we’re all family still it’s lashon hara because you might’ve come to conclusions to quick. This happens to be true about lashon hara on the topic of things done between man and his fellow man, where you can’t come to conclusions you have to question and prove first. But if you saw something wrong being done between man and Hashem then even if you did come to the right conclusion you can’t say it to anyone else because there is no purpose unless you think this is the only way to correct his folly by having someone else go over to him and help him.

The Chofetz Chaim in his Be’er Mayim Chaim explains that this halacha is based on the episodes of Yosef and his brothers as well as Miriam talking to Aharon about Moshe. The Sifri says that when Miriam told Aharon about Moshe separating from his wife the purpose was to go over to him and rebuke him. She even praised Moshe granting that he was a greater prophet than them but is he holier than our forefathers who had prophecy and stayed married. She did this for the sake of the mitzvah of having children, totally pure intentions, yet she was punished. Why was she punished? Because she came to conclusions to quickly. Her attitude should not have been Moshe is wrong and we have to rebuke him rather it should have been something doesn’t look right why don’t we ask him what’s wrong and clarify the issue. A change of perspective and attitude could be the difference of Whether it’s lashon hara or not. Also, even though Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t care one iota what was said because he is so humble, he wasn’t insulted in any way, still it is lashon hara.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 7, halachos 13, 14

We finished the 7th chapter of Chofetz Chaim laws if lashon hara today. There are times when a court is allowed to take action into their own hands and beat someone to admit to a crime but that is only when it is clear to the victim and the court that this is the would be burglar, for example if the victim runs into court and tells the judges he has circumstantial evidence that so and so stole from him and the court sees the evidence and it makes sense or there are witnesses that the evidence seem to be true then the court can take action in order for the thief to admit guilt. The case we had last week of Mar Zutra hitting his household member in order to admit wrongdoing because he was accused of stealing a silver goblet from a guest because he was caught drying his hands on someone’s clothes was a very special circumstance where he knew it could only have been someone in his household who was the perpetrator and everyone else were not suspicious and had an assumed presumption of honest therefore even though the fact the guy wiped his hand on someone’s shirt is only slight evidence but now that this narrowed down the possibilities it was strong enough evidence to act upon. But in general, to just rely on a claim that a victim has and his suspicions is not allowed because the perpetrator could be anyone in the city so you need clear evidence to act. It is inappropriate for an individual or even the city council or police to act solely on the claim and suspicions of a victim. Concrete evidence must be submitted to the courts and they can take action if needed to force admission to a crime.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 7, halachos 11 and 12

 Consequential evidence is only reliable if it is really evident that what he said is true but not if it’s partially recognizable with connecting some obvious dots or if it’s secondhand knowledge even if it seems directly recognizable still it cannot be believed, you can only be concerned and investigate.

However even if it really is clearly evident that what he is saying is true then you can only believe it but you cannot repeat it unless the person spoken about is known to be a bad person or if the issue could be a threat to others and you have an obligation to help them like a burglar or a swindler in business and you have clear evidence that this person is up to no good so you have an obligation to help other defend themselves. However, you cannot actively cause a monetary loss or physically hurt the person spoken about even if you know he did something wrong. It would seem you can boycott him, a passive monetary loss but you need witnesses and if you know someone swindled you in business you can’t just take money away from him you have to take him to court. The Chofetz Chaim says that though you know someone took something of yours you can go and get it because there is a concept of taking things into your own hands (Choshen Mishpat 4:1) but you can’t forcefully get it away from like hitting him to get it back, (though the Shulchan Aruch there seems to say you can, this needs further investigation.)

There is a case in Bava Metzia 24a where Mar Zutra Chasida hit his student or servant to convince him to admit to stealing a silver goblet from a guest which he figured out must have been him because the guy washed his hands and dried them on someone’s shirt so there was clear indication that because he doesn’t care about other’s property he must be a thief and the guy admitted. However, the Chofetz Chaim says Mar Zutra Chasida was allowed to beat him to admit though it was only based on circumstantial evidence Not two witnesses because he was a judge, judging this case and this was a special circumstance where a lesson had to be made so he was allowed to as a court in emergency purpose hit the guy to admit guilt.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 7 halacha 10

Another indication that lashon hara is true is circumstantial evidence, divarim nikarim, it definitely makes the lashon hara compellingly true however if it’s possible to judge the person talked about or the situation favorably then you should and not come to conclusions immediately even if there seems to be clear guilty evidence like video footage etc. The Chofetz Chaim says in a note that you should first investigate 7 times before drawing conclusions even If it seems true because the yetzer hara is very strong and quick to try to ensnare you in the trap of accepting lashon hara. No matter how clear and obvious the evidence looks, still be very diligent, 7 times, before deciding what you heard is true. After investigating if you still think it’s true then it can be accepted as truth and fact if there is no other way to judge it favorably. 

The source for this permissibility to accept lashon hara with circumstantial evidence is based on a gemara in Shabbos 56a which discusses the episode of King David supposedly accepting lashon hara from Tziva about Mefiboshes the son of Shaul that he is rebelling against the king. King David told Tziva you can have his possessions, indicating he’s accepting what Tziva said and will punish Mefiboshes. Rav said King David accepted lashon hara but Shmuel said there was indications that Tziva was right. What were the indications? That when Mefiboshes went out to greet King David later he was untidy and dishonorable looking to be in the king’s presense. Though this was a reason to suspect that what Tziva said was true but Mefiboshes rebuffed and pretended to. E friendly so King David told him to split his possessions equally with Tziva. Rav said King David accepted lashon hara because the evidence of Mefiboshes rebelling came after Tziva spoke to King David. How can King David act then upon it? The Chofetz Chaim answered that there was slight evidence that he was rebelling when he did not show up with Tziva upon King David’s request. It was only totally clear afterwards when Mefiboshes came out to greet King David in a disrespectful way. Shmuel held that King David was allowed to accept the lashon hara early because he was sure the real evidence will soon surface as it did but Rav felt that because it didn’t happen yet, the semi evidence isn’t enough and he should not have accepted it. What confounds the issue is that the gemara points out that Tziva is a proven liar in the past so even If there is partial evidence that he’s correct he lost his believability and King David should not have believed him. The Chofetz Chaim in another note said that there was other evidence that Mefiboshes was rebelling because normally he was like part of the family at King David’s table for meals and he had not shown up. This would have been evidence alone that Tziva was right if not for the fact that he proved himself to be a liar. This is why Rav said King David should not have believed him. However Shmuel held that King David listened and acted on Tziva’s advice on condition that he was correct and later saw the circumstantial evidence with his own eyes and that is why it was ok for King David to accept what he heard. What we learn from here is that without real circumstantial evidence it’s forbidden to believe someone speaking lashon hara even if he is not a proven liar until now but with circumstantial evidence even if he did lie some other time it’s permissible to believe him now.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 7 halacha 9 footnotes 16, 17

The next more believable reason why one might think he can believe certain lashon hara is if it was told innocently, meaning “masiach lifi tumo”. The Chofetz Chaim comes out that though this is technically true, that it’s believable to be able to hate the guy whose being talked a out in one’s heart, but you certainly still shouldn’t tell others, and act upon it to cause him a physical or monetary loss because it’s still a degradation of your fellow Jew and even if it’s true you should judge favorably. However practically speaking, it’s very farfetched to have a real pure situation of “masiach lifi tumo” where you can trust what you hear to at least hate the guy talked about in your heart because there has to be no agenda whatsoever to the speaker. He had to have been just shouting and randomly a juicy piece of information which is lashon hara slipped out. A random example I had was if a non-Jew was telling over a story how he saw some guy with side locks, a long coat and a furry hat sitting down to eat a cheeseburger in McDonald’s and he was going on about how him and his friends were making fun of this guy for dressing so weird in the middle of the summer and what comes out of you listening to this is that you figure out a chasid you know ate non-kosher, that’s innocently talking. Now if you asked this non-Jew have you seen this guy around which you described as a chasid in those clothes and he said yes, I saw him in McDonald’s then certainly he’s not believed even if he had no intent of getting him into trouble, that not talking innocently anymore. Also, if you figure out that the speaker might have some agenda like to instill fear into you or to trick you and he’s acting like he’s talking casually without any agenda you still can’t believe him because maybe he’s just a good actor. Also, if let say the speaker was known to hate the guy that he is shouting about and he slips information which seems to be innocently said still it can’t be trusted, not even concerned about because we assume he always has an agenda since he’s an enemy. Innocent talk also certainly doesn’t work if it’s secondhand information because who knows if the first person who said it was talking innocently.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 7 halacha 8

The case of Tuvia in Pesachim 113b is where Tuvia sinned and Zigud told on him to Rav Pappa and Rav Pappa gave lashes to Zigud for testifying as a single witness against Tuvia for no reason. Even in that case even though Zigud might have been a student of Rav Pappa and was trusted for what he says, that doesn’t mean it can be accepted as fact plainly, only unless there are a combination of two factors can it be accepted.

  1. The speaker had to have firsthand knowledge that he saw it himself not secondhand knowledge, even if he is believed as two witnesses and the person, he heard it from was believed as two witnesses still the threshold to believe it and take action isn’t there anymore. This is because a person who is honest enough to be believed as two witnesses has within his nature honesty and integrity but that can only be assumed if he is talking about what he saw himself but once it becomes second hand then maybe what he heard was a lie and even if who he heard from is honest but once it’s second hand then this level of trust is one step removed and can’t be trusted anymore to act on.
  2. The other factor is that if he is on the level of being trusted as two witnesses that means you can only distance yourself from the sinner until he repents. Now a days no one has such integrity of being believed as two witnesses anyways so even to be concerned and stay away from the would-be sinner until he repents you can’t do; you have to try to help him, but you certainly can’t take action against him monetarily and physically and certainly you cannot repeat what you have heard no matter how honest the speaker is. This is no different than the Shulchan Aruch in Even HaEzer 115:7 and 178:9 which says that a husband can trust one witness if he wants who says his wife committed adultery to divorce her, but she does not lose her kesuba. Only if there are two witnesses, where we reach the threshold of believability in halacha to take action does she lose her kesuba.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 7 halacha 6,7

We are continuing with the chapter that talks about compelling reasons to believe lashon hara and whether you are allowed to believe it.

Halacha 6: Even if a person goes over to you and starts talking derogatorily about himself and throws others into the story, for example if a Jew says me and my friends went to McDonald’s to eat, or he says we all got mad at someone and started insulting him, or we are all not so smart, in all these cases and the like you are only allowed to believe the story about the person who is talking but not about his friends. This is based on gemara in Kesubos 23b and though there is the famous story of the Chofetz Chaim traveling by train to some town and the guy who wound up next to him, not knowing what the Chofetz Chaim looked like got into a conversation about where they were going and the guy said he was going to see the Chofetz Chaim in some town and the Chofetz Chaim remarked what so great about the Chofetz Chaim and he belittled himself a bit and the guy got all upset and slapped him. When they got off the train and there was a crowd to meet the Chofetz Chaim the guy was quite embarrassed. People say that based on this story maybe you should not even talk badly about yourself but halachically the Chofetz Chaim says you could believe someone if he admits he made a mistake or is imperfect or the like, just sometimes take it with a grain of salt because people are humble.

In halacha 7 we say that even though some people depending on the person and situation are very honest and trustworthy and can be believed like two witnesses however when it comes to lashon hara that doesn’t make a difference because even if what they are saying is true that is still lashon hara and you must judge favorably the person being talked about. Besides that the Chofetz Chaim says that now a days no one has the level of believability as two witnesses so you should always be concerned of what you hear but if need be you can take proper precautions and investigate the matter when dealing with issues or signs which are not clearly known to be forbidden to all Jews or lacking in fine character and the like.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 7 Halacha 5

There is a time when you are allowed to believe lashon hara as truth in a situation where rumors spread by numerous people which don’t stop for at least a day and half across the city that someone who is known to be bad because he does a sin out of spite of Hashem that every Jew knows is a sin, like adultery, murder, robbery and the like and now there’s rumors he did it again or did something else wrong. For example, if a person is known to be an robner and rumors go around the city that he did it again or that this time he killed someone, then people are allowed to believe and even take action against him like insulting him and speaking bad about him and his family like if a child was born out of wedlock with a married woman. These rumors can only be believed if they were started by multiple people and they were not people who are known to hate him. Because if they are his enemy then we don’t believe rumors that they start even the rumors don’t stop, like it goes viral over the internet, still they are not believed if started by known enemies, those that dislike him because it just might not be true. However, if random people or those who know him respectfully start talking about crimes he has done and the rumors continue then it’s permissible to believe them, repeat them and act upon them. The reason for this is because the Torah says you can’t speak lashon hara which would include accepting it only upon those Jews who are considered part of “your nation” but if they decided to remove the Yoke of Heaven and do these outlandish crimes then they aren’t part of “your nation” anymore. They are still Jews but halachas don’t apply to them like not speaking lashon hara and you don’t have to rebuke them because there is only a mitzvah to rebuke those part of “your nation” but if they decided to rebel then you shouldn’t rebuke them because they won’t listen at the verse in Proverbs says: “Don’t rebuke a scoffer.”

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 7 halacha 3

There are two reasons why you can’t believe slander/lashon hara even if you hear two or more people saying the same thing.

1. Is that if it is said for no good reason then the speakers are bad people and how can you believe what a bad person said verses the person being spoken about who is assumed to be a kosher person.

2. Is that even if what they are saying is to warn others of impending danger that doesn’t give anyone the right to believe what they are saying as truth, only two witnesses in court who are official witnesses are believed unequivocally.

Any other time one can and should only be cautious take the proper precautions to protect yourself and research and investigate the matter to see if it is really true or not.

The Gemara in Pesachim 113b says that a rebbe if he feels he could trust his student as if he is two in order to stay away from someone who is doing inappropriate things according to the student. The Chofetz Chaim explains that this is a special circumstance where the relationship between rabbi and student is so close and trustworthy that this student is like two witnesses testifying in court and is therefore unequivocally believed but in general two people or more are not believed for what they say if it is lashon hara since slander usually leads to, comes with lies or at least leaving out information or exaggerating so in normal circumstances it cannot be believed no matter how many people say it it can only be taken into consideration as a concern, investigated and take proper precautions.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 7, halacha 2 continued

Even though there is compelling evidence that the lashon hara heard is definitely true you still can’t decide that it is for sure true without doing you own investigation even if the person being spoken about is right there in the room and stayed quiet. That is no indication whether what is said is true or not. Maybe the person decided it’s better to stay silent then to exacerbate a fight or he thought there is no point speaking up because no one will believe him anyway.

A proof to the ffact that silence is not an admission when it comes to lashon hara is from a halacha in Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 178:9) that if one witness testifies in court that a woman was adulterous and the husband believes him as two witnesses then he should be concerned and divorce because he has a right to make himself forbidden to her. But we don’t absolutely believe this one witness to cause her to lose her kesuba even though a woman proven to be adulterous does lose her kesuba. Also, if he doesn’t trust what the one witness said he doesn’t have to divorce his wife, even if his wife was silent when the claims were laid out against her. Even according to the Maharshal brought down in the Beis Shmuel there who says her silence is an admission that’s only in this case where such a claim deserves an answer if not true since it has such severe repercussions but in general an insult or claim does not have to be answered, in fact the gemara in Chullin 89a says that the world is worth being in existence because of those who are quiet when an argument ensues.

So if a single person who testifies in court of such a serious matter as adultery, which if he is lying he is putting his whole integrity on the line, destroying the life of this woman, and having her husband divorce, and she was quiet but still the Shulchan Aruch says we can’t decisively believe what he said, all the more so anyone else who speaks lashon hara even if he has the Chutzpah to say it in front of the victim that still does not give the listeners a right to believe it. Why should you believe a bad person who does the sin if lashon hara over the assumed kosher status of the one spoken about?! Even if he had a right to speak to warn others of a possible threat still those listening must only be concerned and investigate.

Furthermore, even if the victim being spoken about is a person who always speaks up and defends himself against any attack, like for example someone like President Trump, but this time he is quiet still that is not an indication that what was said was true because there can be any number of reasons of why he was quiet as stated earlier. The Rema (Even HaEzer 2:4) says that if A person was called a mamzer/bastard to his face and was quiet that is not an admission and even if he was called a mamzer/bastard and he defended himself then right afterwards was called a challal/illegitimate kohen and was silent that still isn’t an admission. It makes no difference whether it was claimed in a heated argument or not, and if it wasn’t during an argument then the best people can do is just be suspicious and do research if need like for shidduch purposes, etc.

The Chofetz Chaim concludes in his footnote that all this is obvious but he feels he spell it out so that people won’t people tricked by their yetzer hara/evil inclination to believe any slander no matter how compelling the initial evidence is, without an investigation.