The next prerequisite for allowance to publicize lashon hara about a person who did some wrong to someone else and you want to try to fix the issue. 3. You have to rebuke the perpetrator first, is soft manner, in that way he might fix the issue, be it pay back the money for damages or give back what he stole, or apologize, without needing to tell anyone what happened. If he doesn’t listen, then it can be publicized to hopefully force him to make retribution. If you don’t think he will listen to you, that will be discussed in halacha 7. The Rambam says clearly that it’s forbidden to publicize the matter before rebuking him in private. There are different ways in how to understand Rabbeinu Yonah if part of the Torah obligation of rebuke is to first rebuke before publicizing or when it is just better character to not publicize the issue first. However, the Chofetz Chaim does point out that by first rebuking the perpetrator before publicizing makes sense for another reason since while confronting him you can question why he did what he did, what was his motivation, what happened in his eyes, and you will be doing some investigative work which is part of the second rule. You might come out that what happened is different then what you thought, or you might show him he is in the wrong and convince him to fix his error. Either way talking to him publicizing it is crucial because it will also fulfill the second prerequisite. Rebuking and investigating are connected to each other.
Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 10, halacha 2
There are 7 prerequisite rules that must be met before you are allowed to speak lashon hara to help a fellow person. We discussed the first two rules:
There are 7 prerequisite rules that must be met before you are allowed to speak lashon hara to help a fellow person. We discussed the first two rules:
1. You have to have seen the act with your own eyes or have circumstantial evidence to know what you heard second hand is for sure true. If you just heard something 2nd or 3rd hand with qualifying its authenticity it would be lashon hara to repeat what you heard even if the purpose is to help someone who was stolen from or hurt. However, there is a difference between name calling, meaning dropping a name of the perpetrator, if you only have second hand knowledge, which is forbidden, or just warning someone of what happened without any names. For example, the Rashbam in Bava Basra 39b was saying that people can pass along information that someone’s property might have been taken over by someone else illegally, and this can be passed on person to person until it reaches the owner so that he will be care to bring documentation that he is the real owner. Even though it’s possible the would-be squatter is just taking care of the land since the owner lives some place else, and it all might be a misunderstanding which could result in giving a bad name of a thief to someone, but that is of course forbidden, but what one can do is say I heard someone took over your land, without dropping any names, so that the real owner will put together his proof of ownership.
2. You can’t jump to conclusions, and make a quick judgement call about what you saw. You have to first digest the matter. See if there is something you missed, do some investigation before reporting what you saw to someone else, to be sure your claim is true. For example, if one is 80% sure he saw someone take something out of someone purse, you can’t just inform the authorities of a certain man who you name which is a thief, you have to first clarify that it is in fact true, for example you can tell the owner you think something was stolen from his purse. If he can confirm that to be true then a name might be able to be revealed in order to get the stolen object back because it is more clear it actually happened. Or if you see someone hurt or embarrass someone else you can just tell people what happened and tell them to stay away from this guy. Research the matter, maybe he was responding to what the victim did to him first. Bottom line, what you saw must be clearly known and understood before telling someone else about it, even if it is to help the victim or help the would-be perpetrator to repent because you have to make sure there is a real perpetrator and understand what exactly he did.
The topic of this chapter is whether or how one can speak lashon hara about someone who transgressed a mitzva between man and fellow man like stealing, denying a loan, causing injury, embarrassing, or causing pain to others and onaas devarim. If one knows someone else hurt or stole from the other then you should first rebuke the perpetrator and if he doesn’t listen and you know without a doubt that he did not do Teshuva which includes returning the stolen object, paying back damages, or apologizing for embarrassment etc. then you are allowed to tell others about what happened if it will help the victim get his money and to resolve the truth but there are 7 rules you must meet when you tell it to others.
There is an argument between Rabbeinu Yona and the Rambam (accept according to the Lechem Mishna) whether you can repeat what you saw a person do against his friend in all situations, as per the Rabbeinu Yona, or only in situations where money is involved i.e. stealing, physical injuries etc. but if it’s just a matter of psychological embarrassment and pain which just needs an apology then even if he doesn’t repent and ask for forgiveness the Rambam holds you can’t share what you saw with anyone else whereas Rabbienu Yona says you can for the sake of revealing the truth and making sure he doesn’t do this to anyone else. Keep people away from the perpetrator.
The fact that you have to know for a fact that he didn’t return money owed before speaking lashon hara is true by a normal Jew and especially a sage, you have to be sure to not talk up so quick because chaza”l say you can be assured if a sage sinned one day he has repented by the next day but if you know the money wasn’t paid back, even if the sage might feel remorse it’s not a complete Teshuva until payback so it’s lashon hara to spread what happened if it will get the perpetrator even a sage to pay back what is owed and keep people away from him until he fully repents
Halacha 5: According to the laws of chinuch, educating your children, one has to even make sure from a young age to train them not to speak lashon hara or any other bad talk like cursing or lying. This is extra important for parents to teach their children because the Vilna Gaon says that it is very hard break habits so, especially for speech and character traits fathers should train there children to have positive character traits and refined speech from a young age so that it will be habitual when they grow up and not the opposite, if parents don’t rebuke then children say whatever they want and train them selves to speak lashon hara, lies, and cursing, which is why they continue when they grow up, since it is so hard to break the habit, though not impossible.
Halacha 6: If someone tells you something you shouldn’t repeat it unless he tells you, it indicates to you that you are allowed to repeat what he said, except for lashon hara, even if he said you can repeat it, of course you can’t. This is based on a gemara in Yoma 4b: “How do you know if someone tells you something you can’t repeat it unless he gives you permission? The pasuk says ‘Hashem spojefrom the Tent of Meeting saying.'” “Saying” means you can repeat it.
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.
More examples of Avak Lashon Hara
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.