Sefer Chofetz Chaim hilchos rechilus chapter 6 halachos 8,9

Halacha 9: Even if someone speaks rechilus mesiach lifi tumo, meaning it just came out in a story that someone did or said something to someone else, and there was clearly no intention of the speaker maliciously wanting to tell on the guy, then even though there is more reason to believe the story still one cannot conclude it’s the truth and accept words of rechilus.

Halacha 10: If there is circumstantial evidence for the rechilus there are 5 rules that must be met to be able to accept it as truth.

1. The circumstantial evidence must lead us to believe that the rechilus is true and there can’t be any possible way to judge the suspect favorably.

 2. The evidence for what the suspect did or said has to be absolutely recognizable not just slightly recognizable.

3. The person speaking the rechilus would have had to have seen the evidence firsthand, not heard through other people.

4. Only if knowing this evidence will be useful for the listener or others in the future can it be used to allow rechilus to be said. If there is no use for anyone to listen to this, then people anyways can’t listen to rechilus even if it has circumstantial evidence backing it up.

5. Circumstantial evidence only allows one to believe in one’s heart that what he heard is true but that does not mean he can now go tell it to someone else unless of course it will be helpful for people to know for the future. He certainly can’t take matters into his own hands and monetarily or physically hurt the suspect. If a court cannot act on circumstantial evidence to execute someone or hold them monetarily responsible for damages, unless there are two witnesses that testified then certainly one may not act on his own accord. He must go through the courts to take action. This only help to take proper precautions for one’s safety, monetarily, physically, and psychologically.

A proof that circumstantial evidence doesn’t work to take action is a case in Bava Basra 93a where a known to be goring ox was seen chasing another ox and then it ran into a meadow, and they were both found later with the goring ox standing over the other ox with bloody horns and the other ox lying there with fresh blood spurting out. It seems obvious that the goring ox gored the other ox still in all the peak is in Choshen Mishpat 408:1,2 that if there isn’t completely clear evidence of the incident, like two witnesses seeing the actual goring then the owner of the goring cow isn’t even liable in court, certainly action can’t be taken outside of court.

Another case quoted in the name if the Mahari”k from gemara Sanhedrin 37b which proves the point is of a person seen running after another with a sword and they turn the corner into an alley and afterwards the chaser is found with a bloody sword in hand standing over a dead body,, but he is not sentenced to death since there were not 2 witnesses that actually saw him kill. The Mahari”k says this also applies to monetary damages no matter how apparent it might seem the court can’t just make the suspect guilty if it’s not absolutely clearly what happened, like with 2 witnesses testifying, so certainly people can’t take matters into their own hands.

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.