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 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.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 7 halacha 1 and part of 2

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.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 6, halacha 11 cont. and halacha 12

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.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 6, halacha 11, footnote 30

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.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 6 halacha 10 footnote 25  

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.