We can’t be duped into believing that lashon hara is believable just because it was said in a group or in front of the victim’s face, or if a person claims he would say it in the victim’s face. This gain of trust is the trick of trust is the trick of the yetzer hara, evil inclination because why should the speaker of lashon hara be more trusted and believed just because it seems like it makes sense since why would he stick out his neck and claim something in a group or in the guy’s face if it is not true, but on the other hand this guy being talked about was assumed to be a good upstanding, trusted character until now so how can we decide he isn’t just based on word of mouth of someone else. Even testimony of one witness in court, which is a stronger reason to trust his word is only believable to cause the litigant to swear for some monetary matters, nothing more than that. You are only allowed to be concerned and investigate the matter there is no reason to believe what is heard no matter how believable it sounds and seems to be until you investigate and know for sure it is true. Even if the person who says it can make an excuse that of course what I am saying must be true because why would I say it to his face or in a crowd, even though that isn’t a good excuse to speak lashon hara but it is certainly not a good excuse to accept lashon hara because the people listening still don’t really know if it is true or not.
The Chofetz Chaim says in halacha 11 that the extent of not accepting lashon hara is that you can’t hate them in your heart even if you hear one witness testify in court. That can only enforce a vow in court but no one can believe the claim against someone even in court. Certainly, to no pay up any obligation because of the rumors you heard is absolutely forbidden, for example if there are rumors that a bodyguard for an important person stole thousands of dollars that does not mean he should stop getting a salary. He must be paid until an investigation proves he’s guilty. It doesn’t make a difference how small or big of a sin the rumors speak about whether it’s incest, murder or anything else, you can only be concerned and investigate to seek out the truth while taking proper defensive action but you can’t hold anything in your heart against the person. The Chofetz Chaim in a footnote point out a prevalent problem that occurred in his day and might even continue even today where there are people in the community who are known to be poor and are supported by tzedaka. If someone spreads rumors that they are really doing this as an act just to shnoor from others but they don’t really need the money that does not mean anyone can just give less them what they normally give until it’s proven that the allegations are correct. Until then he has an assumption of being poor and just as we don’t require any stranger who asks for money to prove he needs it so to this person who we assumed until now need financial help should not be denied just based on rumors.
The Chofetz Chaim concludes the 6th chapter in halacha 12 by saying that if anyone did accept lashon hara as truth then he must put in all his effort to change his mind and once he does that then it’s as if he never sinned, just as when a thief returns what he stole it’s as if he didn’t steal. Of course he must admit his wrong doing, video, and accept upon himself to never do it again like any other sin that require the proper repentance process. This is all that has to be done if he just accepted what he hears and didn’t tell anyone but if he told others then he must either ask forgiveness from whom he spoke about or (which might be a better choice, according to Rav Yisrael Salanter in order to not make the person feel bad when he finds out lashon hara was spoken about him) he should convince those he spoke to that what he said was false.
The Chofetz Chaim says there are many details defining what being concerned over lashon hara might mean which will be discussed in more detail in the last chapter, but the general rule is that you can take proper precautions to defend yourself or others but under no means are you allowed to take any actions against him, whether physically hurt the potential threat or disgrace and embarrass him in any way as long as it is unclarified.
The Chofetz Chaim brings down a responsa from the Mahari”k (chapter 188) which is a live illustration of going beyond being concerned. There a story a poor old Jew named Reb Aharon Ruskia who a woman spread rumors that he was adulterous with her and people ran him out of town by publicly embarrassing him and not even allowing him to get an aliyah in shul. When the Mahari”k heard about this he was furious and said it’s a great sin to believe this cursed woman! A person who embarrasses and denigrates a descendant of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, treating him lightly in your eyes, is considered disgusting in the “eyes” of Hashem and will be greatly punished! There is no worse embarrassment then what was done to Reb Aharon, the way he was treated by not giving him an aliyah. Furthermore, the Gemara in Bava Metzia 58b proves from the episode of King Dovid and Batsheva, when Doeg and Achitofel tried talking out and embarrassing King Dovid in public, that embarrassing someone in public is worse than adultery. For King Dovid said, even if I was adulterous (which he wasn’t) then that deserves the capital punishment of strangulation but still he would a get a share in the World to Come but one who embarrasses another in public has no share in the World to Come (if he doesn’t repent before he dies.) Therefore, you have to be very careful and thoroughly check out the matter before you come to conclusions that a person did a wrongdoing which deserves such severe punishment like public excommunication.
Being concerned for what you heard does not mean to be on the offensive and taking action against the would-be perpetrator, it only means to be on the defensive. One must be very carefully when telling others of a possible threat to be sure they will just listen and take precautions on the defensive because if you see they will go on the offensive then you cannot warn then since the whole reason you are allowed to warn then is because of the verse “Love your neighbor as yourself” just as you would not want any harm done to yourself then you should inform others who might be in harm’s way. However, if you know the people you will tell will go on the offensive and hurt or embarrass the would-be offender then why should his blood be any redder than their blood and the mitzvah of “Love your neighbor as yourself” will apply to the possible offender because he might be a threat to others, but they are definitely going to be a threat to him so it’s better. It to tell them anything.
Bottom line you can only be concerned about lashon hara you heard to be on the defensive but not to act on the offensive.
There is a difference between being concerned and taking proper precautions about something you heard and having a doubt about someone after you heard something about him or her. A concern and a doubt are two different things which must be differentiated. You can have concerns but you can’t have doubts just because you heard rumors or lashon hara.
This is illustrated from a gemara on daf 61a which tells a case of two Jews from the Galilei who rumors had it were murderers. They came to Rabbi Tarfon and asked him to hide them from the Roman Government. Rebbe Tarfon told them I can’t hide you be I have to be concerned that maybe you are murderers and the government will be out to get me for hiding criminals but I will not turn you in and my advice to you is to go hide yourselves because I can’t have a doubt that you might be murderers since every Jew has an assumption of being kosher good people until proven otherwise. This is the difference between a concern and a doubt. The Rosh asked a question how can we even be concerned that the rumors or lashon hara might be true and allow harm done to someone like if he was caught by the government?
The Chofetz Chaim has a few answers to that question in this footnote and towards the end of footnote 28. One of them is that it comes out one can only be concerned when what he hears will effect him or others like in this gemara that if these people were murderers then by protecting them it might put others in danger so can’t actively protect them but can’t turn them in because maybe they aren’t murderers. But let say the case last week of the guy who rumors say he ate non-kosher out of spite of Hashem then can’t be concerned about the rumors and not give him charity if he needs or redeem him if he is captured since it is just rumors even if he was known to be bad in other ways but just not so bad.
Another way of answering for Rebbe Tarfon was that the only reason why he didn’t save them was because he knew they can save themselves but if they couldn’t then he would have to protect them even if the government might go after him because the Torah says “don’t stand over the blood of your friend” you have to help any Jew in need even if they are suspect of doing really bad until it’s been proven they actually did it. This happens to be a very sensitive subject which might clarify how Jewish institutions seem to protect or hide would be Jewish criminals but until they are proven to be guilty of wrongdoing then we have to assume he is innocent even if he has a shady past we have to assume he has slipped so low until proven otherwise and you can’t even have doubts. However at the same time they and everyone should be concerned that the rumors or allegations might be true in order to take precautions to protect yourself and others from potential danger on any level.
There is a very strange dichotomy on how to approach lashon hara if heard and could be useful. The Chofetz Chaim says though it’s forbidden to accept lashon hara according to the Torah it is permitted or even obligatory to be cautious for what you heard in order to protect yourself or others from possible harm but at the same time you also must believe in your heart that this person is no different than any other Jew and has a chezkas kashrus, he an upstanding good Jew even though someone said something bad about him. This has major ramifications in halacha for example, if someone says that he saw someone eating non-kosher out of spite, meaning he had two steaks in front of him, for example, one kosher and one non-kosher and he put aside the kosher and ate the non-kosher one that shows he doesn’t care about Hashem’s mitzvos as opposed to someone who’s a glutton and just likes non-kosher food because it tastes good. Now if there were two witnesses that testified in court that this person sinned to spite Hashem not just because he liked eating non-kosher food and the court makes a decision and declared that this is Jew is outside of “your nation” then though he is a Jew still but there are certain laws that don’t pertain to him, for example if he lost an object you found you don’t have to return it to him, if he asks for tzedaka you don’t have to give him, or even if he is captured you do have to redeem him. But this status only applies if it was declared in court, but if you just hear someone tell this story and it was never taken to court then the person must still be treated as a normal Jew all halacha applying to him. This is true even if he is known to be on the fringe and was known to do other songs but not bad enough to be out of ” your nation” you still can’t believe the story and treat him differently though you could take note of any concerns and take precautions if you think this person can harm you or others.
The rule of thumb is anything which constitutes speaking lashon hara is also the sin of accepting lashon hara. There is no difference whether you are listening to someone talk about someone else’s misdeeds, or his family’s misdeeds whether it’s past or present or just name calling either way there is a prohibition of speaking and accepting lashon hara. However it is possible that a person who is listening to “lashon hara” will get a sin but the speaker won’t. This is in the situation where the speaker should speak up to try to help a situation but the listener is forbidden to decisively accept what he hears as truth until he does his own research and finds out himself, he just has to be concerned of the problem mentioned.
The Yad HaKetana (hilchos Deos 9:8) says that even if a person says something negative which is the truth it is still called a lie and a waste. Why is it a lie if it’s true? He says if there is no basis or purpose to what is said then granted it’s a waste but it’s even a lie since there is no purpose or even a negative purpose to say it. The Chofetz Chaim has another reason of why a true negative statement is a lie which is the effect of what you say could be a lie because if for example you speak negatively about someone’s family or what he did in the past but he’s a good guy and did teshuva now so Hashem loves him and he has a clean slate therefore it’s a lie to make people think otherwise.
This halacha discusses the importance of judging favorably instead of accepting lashon hara especially towards the rabbis or those who are righteous and G-D fearing. The extent one should go to judge favorably a sage, rabbi or Jewish court is expressed in the example the note gave.
If a person storms out of Jewish court guilty as charged and goes over to his friend to tell him what happened and in the process of proving his innocence he lashes out at the court claiming they don’t know how to poskin and saying quite a bit of nasty words about them. Even though it sounds like he has a very good case of innocence the person listening still should try to calm down the guilty party and surely not accept anything that he says, for several reasons.
1. It is known, based on a Shach in hilchos Shechita, that baal habatim think differently than Torah sages. So, what they perceive to be logically true might not be what the Torah mandates in halacha.
2. The court can only judge what is presented in front of them and it is possible that a fact which is added, I now might not have been mentioned in litigation so the court poskined based on what they heard and there should not be any claims against them.
3. Even if the case was wrong there is a gemara in Brachos 7b that says there are times where it is decreed in Heaven that someone should lose a court case for whatever reason or maybe the other litigant has a better mazel as the Rosh says elsewhere. But the gemara in Sanhedrin 8a guarantees if there is a misjudgment the guilty party or loser will get the value of his loss somehow at some point.
4. If you see you can’t convince the guilty party to calm down at least you can’t believe what you hear and at the very least you should go over to the rabbis and question them what happened for either they will tell you their reasoning, share with you the sources from where they came up with their psak, or maybe they will realize they were wrong and they will change their psak, which in that case you fulfilled the mitzah of rebuking properly, as the Rambam (hilchos De’os 6:6) says that it’s better to fight out the issue in halacha then to bear ill will against them in your heart.
At the very least one has an obligation to look into the matter before deciding they are wrong and the more one judges others favorably Hashem judges them favorably
The Chofetz Chaim says that there is a prohibition of
accepting lashon hara not only if what the person is saying might be a lie, but
even if what he is saying you know is true and the person saying it is giving a
negative twist to it, if the listener does not judge the situation favorably
when he is supposed to, not only does he transgress judging a fellow Jew
favorably which some poskin say is a mitzvah in the Torah, “bitzedek
tishpot amisecha” but he also received the prohibition of accepting lashon
hara just because he did not judge the situation favorably. One of the examples
I made up was what if you saw a hunter shoot a child in the forest and someone
else ran over to you who saw the same thing and said this hunter should be
caught and executed for this horrible act of viciously gunning down an innocent
child. This is obviously lashon hara, but you yourself saw it happen however
you have to judge the situation. What’s the child doing in a forest where
people hunt? Did the hunter aim for the child or was he aiming for a deer, etc.
etc.? You can’t come to conclusions so quickly and accept that the shooter is
malicious, you have to judge favorably until all the circumstances are clear.
The Chofetz Chaim brought 3 proofs that not judging favorably and accepting lashon hara even if true is a sin:
A. Clearly the person who spoke the lashon hara sinned, therefore so to the one who accepted it.
B. Yeravam ben Navat was rewarded kingship over the ten tribes of Israel for not accepting true lashon hara from the prophet Amos of someone in Israel stabbing him, and he accepted that even if it is true it is a prophecy from G-d. So because he judged the prophecy positively though it was negative and against him he was rewarded to become king even though he became a very evil king.
C. King Shaul actually accepted the lashon hara from Doeg that Achimelech helped David, which Achimelech admitted to but Shaul believed Doeg and killed many people for helping David because King Shaul thought David was rebelling against his rulership and wanted to dethrone him in his lifetime. Doeg was called someone who always speaks lashon hara because of this and King Shaul was branded someone who accepts lashon hara, even though it was true that Achimelech helped David but he didn’t judge him favorably that it was intent to help someone make a rebellion against his kingship.
Today was admittedly very difficult. The Chofetz Chaim in footnote 17 was trying just to be honest and not make people think that we have to go to the extreme and say something is forbidden on a Torah level when it really isn’t. The case we are dealing with is when one is too lazy to get up and leave, granted he is disgusted with the lashon hara he hears and has no intent to accept it as truth so he does not transgress the Torah prohibition of accepting lashon hara but he was just too lazy to get up and leave though he had a chance so he gets a rabbinic prohibition of not actively staying far away from lashon hara. The Chofetz Chaim asks why he doesn’t get a Torah prohibition just like a married woman who was kidnapped and was given the chance to leave but doesn’t so if her capturers have relations with her she is now forbidden to her husband because she showed willingness by not leaving when she had a chance whereas beforehand when she would have been permitted to her husband because anything the captors would have done would assumed. To have. even forced against her will. Furthermore we see by Esther in the Purim story that she only became forbidden to her husband, Mordechai, only after she invited Achashverosh to her party and he had relations with her that night, for until then she was just completely passive letting Achashveirosh do whatever he wanted and not having any delight in what he did, but when she invited him to the party, even though her intent was only to save the Jewish people but she now showed willingness to be with him. Why is the person who could have gotten up but didn’t only out of laziness and therefore privy to lashon hara any different then these women and the red fore also get a Torah prohibition for not leaving? The answer is that he is still different because we know his intent is not to have any benefit from the lashon hara and no rebuke could have stopped them from speaking the lashon hara and on the contrary he was disgusted at what he heard, so on a Torah level he did nothing wrong it is just that the Rabbis said you should put your finger in your ears or walk away and he was to embarrassed and lazy to do that so he only has a rabbinic prohibition. But these women must acquiesce at some degree to being to their kidnappers because why else would they be forbidden to their husbands just because they were too easy to go home? And with Esther, though she was just doing it to save the Jews but because she initiated the party know what would happen that night it shows some level of willingness which forbade her to Mordechai. Whereas the one who sat down to eat did not realize any lashon hara would be spoken so he isn’t as bad though he still should have gotten up when he had the chance.
Note 18 said that though the gemara in Kesubos says you should put your fingers in your ear which will make it hard to hear and might stop them from speaking because they see you do something abnormal which will tip them off to stop but nowadays people think you look like. A fool and ridiculously funny and will just make fun if you so it is better to just walk away.
We are back in action, slowly plugging away in Sefer Chofetz Chaim. Today we learned that the only excuse to stay still and not walk away from a conversation of lashon hara is if when you got there you did not think they would be speaking lashon hara and they were, and also if there is no way of escape.
A. When you came you can already over hear them speaking lashon hara,
B. You are just too lazy to get up or
C. You know that the nature of this group of people is to speak lashon hara and make fun of others then you can’t even sit down with them and should certainly overcome any laziness even if you disagree with what you are hearing and get up and leave. If you don’t you are included with them as wicked people who involve themselves in lashon hara.
The footnote to note 16 in the Be’er Mayim Chaim points out that there are two problems in scenario A. and C. One is a rabbinic prohibition to stay away from hearing lashon hara, even if you are disgusted in what you hear and don’t accept it. It’s one thing to be passive and just not get up when you find yourself in a conversation of lashon hara and can’t get up, rebuke, or put your fingers in your ears but actively sitting down when you hear lashon hara being spoken where you are supposed to be going to or if you know these people always slander others, they love doing so then the rabbis forbid you to actively but yourself into that situation from the onset. You also transgress the positive mitzvah of clinging to Hashem by wantonly deciding to cling to this group of lashon hara speakers when actively sitting down with them. As for the second scenario of not getting up out of laziness when you could then you only transgress the rabbinic prohibition, not the positive mitzvah of “bo sidbak” clinging to Hashem since when you first came you did not think it would lead to lashon hara.
But the Chofetz Chaim points out through a couple of
gemaras that ignoring the rabbis and their enactments is a grave sin. |
We gleaned a few insights from our discussion today:
1. We see that we have to keep our ears open when coming to sit down in a group to be sure they aren’t speaking lashon hara. That might mean, for example at a wedding upon sitting down at your table if you hear lashon hara you would have to walk away, maybe act as if you have to get something or speak to someone before sitting down, then come back when you think they have stopped speaking lashon hara.
2. Another insight we realized that though putting your finger in your ears might be embarrassing but now a days we find people walking around with headphones, barring whether that is derech eretz/proper manners or not, but if you do it and you begin to hear lashon hara then you can turn on the music or Torah lecture, etc. so you cannot hear it and that is the same way without it being embarrassing as putting your fingers in your ears, perhaps even more effective.