Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lashon Harah - revisited: Daas Torah on Lashon HaRah

[See  Balancing terror of lashon harah]
Having spent much time on the issue of abuse, one of the main difficulties in dealing with abuse is the fear of lashon harah. It is right up there with the fear of mesira. In our days it is believed that the Chofetz Chaim compiled the Shulchan Aruch on lashon harah and that there is nothing more to discuss because he simply nailed down every issue and halacha. In other words, it is believed that if you want to understand the issur of lashon harah all you need to do is master the sefer Chofetz Chaim without going back to the original sources.

In fact, the Chofetz Chaim did more than simply compile halachos - he made major decision and interpretations which in fact involve significant disputes amongst poskim. Consequently there are not only legitimate alternative psakim dealing with many issues but there are even alternative definitions of what constitutes lashon harah and rechilus.

The issue of lashon harah is not simply a theoretical issue such are the study of korbonos - there are major differences in action which result if you use the alternative views that were rejected by the Chofetz Chaim.

Of course many people assume that one can not disagree with the Chofetz Chaim. When I compiled my index to the Mishna Berura and wanted to write an introduction regarding the nature of the Mishna Berura, Rav Sternbuch advised me against it. He said even though in previous years there was no [problem] disputing the Mishna Berura or even acknowledge that it wasn't entirely written by him, but  "in our times the Mishna Berura has become kodesh kedashim." However just as there was no official canonization of the Mishna Berura there was no canonization of the sefer Chofetz Chaim.

Because of my concern getting a viable balance between the concern for lashon harah with that of a functioning society, I have decided to write a Daas Torah volume on the sources and issues on Lashon HaRah.  A clear expression of the need to balance the concern for lashon harah with the needs of a viable society is expressed in the following Pischei Tshuva.

Pischei Tshuva(O.C. 156): I want to note here that while all the books of mussar are greatly concerned about the sin of lashon harah, I am greatly concerned about the opposite problem. I want to protest about the even greater and more common sin of refraining from speaking negatively when it is necessary to save someone from being harmed. For example if you saw a person waiting in ambush to kill someone or breaking into someone’s house or store at night. Is it conceivable that you would refrain from notifying the intended victim to protect himself from the assailant - because of the prohibition of speaking lashon harah?  By not saying anything you commit the unbearable sin of transgressing the prohibition of Vayikra (19:16): Do not speak lashon harah [but] do not stand idly by when the blood of your fellow man is threatened? By not speaking up, you violate the mitzva of returning that which is lost to its owner Devarim (22:2). Now if you can understand the obvious necessity of speaking up in these cases then what is the difference between a robber breaking into someone’s house or store or seeing that his servants are secretly stealing from him or that his partner is deceiving him in their business or that another person is cheating him in commerce or that he is lending money to someone that you know doesn’t repay? How is this different from stopping a proposed marriage to someone you know is a wicked person who would be a horrible husband. Saving a person from these situations is clearly included in the command (Devarim 22:2) to return to the person himself or his money. From where do we get the mistaken idea that in the case of murder, I will speak up but that it is prohibited to say anything in other situations where someone is being harmed? The general principle is that these are matters which depend upon the speaker’s motivation. If the informant’s intent in relating these matters is entirely to cause harm that is lashon harah. However if his intent is to bring about benefit to the other person and to save him and to protect him – then it is a great mitzva. In my opinion this is the underlying intent of the Yerushalmi which the Magen Avraham brings which says that it is permitted to speak lashon harah about people who cause disputes. … It is obvious that even concerning those who cause disputes it is not permitted to speak lashon harah gratuitously about them in all matters. It is only permitted for those things directly related to the particular dispute. It is only permitted concerning that which they are trying to harm others. In such a case it is permitted to reveal degrading things about them in order to save others. … Unfortunately I have seen many times where someone witnesses another person trying to cause harm to someone – and he suppresses the information and says, “Why should I get involved in a matter which isn’t my business…However one needs to be very careful about these and similar matters. Our Sages have said – when the permissibility depends on motivation - it says, “And you should be afraid of your G‑d.”

25 comments :

  1. "Consequently there are not only legitimate alternative psakim dealing with many issues but there are even alternative definitions of what constitutes lashon harah and rechilus."

    You seem to be implying that if one (a layman) doesn't like the net results of an accepted psak, he can go hunting for another psak by another rabbi that is more up his alley, that he likes better, and gets the results he is seeking. Something like rabbi-shopping based on the desired results or desired psak.

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    1. Indicating that there are legitimate alternative pesakim is a time honored practice. People being aware of that there are different views amongst rabbis has always existed. Of course as you point out they can be used to game the system. My concern is to provide information such as what I did regarding child abuse. It is up to each individual and hopefully with their rabbi to decide what to do with it. The possibility of abuse of the information is not a reason not to provide a scholarly discussion of legitimate alternatives. For example a person is not going to go to gehinom for following the view of the Taz instead of the Sma.

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    2. "For example a person is not going to go to gehinom for following the view of the Taz instead of the Sma."

      True. But if he follows the Taz instead of the Sma when that makes life easier for him, and for that reason, but then follows the Sma instead of the Taz on another issue when that is easier... and sometimes the reasoning of the psakim he picks and chooses conflict with the reasoning of other psakim he picks and chooses (all to find the easiest route out), I'm not sure that's a methodology that avoids gehenim.

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    3. disenfranchised frumSeptember 25, 2013 at 8:26 AM

      What "accepted psak" would that be? The sefer Chafetz Hayim is an "accepted psak" ?! That's a whole lot of psakim in there, and who accepted it upon all people?

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  2. "When I compiled my index to the Mishna Berura and wanted to write an introduction regarding the nature of the Mishna Berura, Rav Sternbuch advised me against it. He said even though in previous years there was no disputing the Mishna Berura or even acknowledge that it wasn't entirely written by him, but "in our times the Mishna Berura has become kodesh kedashim." However just as there was no official canonization of the Mishna Berura there was no canonization of the sefer Chofetz Chaim."

    This paragraph you wrote is entirely unclear as to what you are trying to say. Can you clarify?

    What's the problem with writing the introduction? Is Rav Sternbuch saying that in previous years after the Mishna Brura was published no one argued against the psakim issued by the Mishna Brura? When was that period and when did it end?

    And are you implying that the Chofetz Chaim didn't write the entire Mishna Brura??

    And what do you mean by it becoming kodesh kedoshim? Are you saying that is a good thing or a bad thing?

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    1. Is Rav Sternbuch saying that in previous years after the Mishna Brura was published no one argued against the psakim issued by the Mishna Brura? When was that period and when did it end?

      Thanks for pointing out the difficulty, I left out a critical word [problem] which I just added to the post

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    2. And are you implying that the Chofetz Chaim didn't write the entire Mishna Brura??
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      Did you ever read the Chofetz Chaim's biograpy of his father that is published in the collected writings of the Chofetz Chaim? He clearly says that his father didn't write the Mishna Berua himself.

      I once asked Rabbi Bluth who was Rav Moshe Feinstein assistant before Mordechai Tendler - about Rav Moshe's view of the Mishna Berura. He said that Rav Moshe once stated that the Mishna Berura had greater authority because it was written by a committee of talmidei chachomim rather than a single author.

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    3. "Did you ever read the Chofetz Chaim's biograpy of his father that is published in the collected writings of the Chofetz Chaim?"

      Did you mean to write the Chofetz Chaim's son's biography of his father? (You wrote the CC's father.)

      "Rav Moshe once stated that the Mishna Berura had greater authority because it was written by a committee of talmidei chachomim"

      Is Rav Moshe basing his idea that it was written by a "committee" based on the aforementioned biography or based on something else?

      And who was on this "committee"?

      Also, I was taught by multiple rebbeim that the Chofetz Chaim had ruach kodesh. Any thoughts?

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    4. Did you mean to write the Chofetz Chaim's son's biography of his father? (You wrote the CC's father.)
      ===========
      yes thanks for pointing out the error.

      Rav Bluth did not know the basis for Rav Moshe's comment.

      Regarding Ruach hakodesh - it doesn't mean infallible. A rav once told me that he discovered a mistake in the Mishna Berura. He went to a number of major talmidei chachom and no one wanted to say it was a mistake. Finally he went to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach who said of course it was a mistake and that the Chofetz Chaim was not infallible.

      Regarding your teachers - there is a tshuva written by Rav Menashe Klein that makes such a statement. it is based on the Divrei Chaim which dealt with a teacher who claimed that the Ohr HaChaim was not written with ruach hakodesh. Rav Klein wants to say that all major rabbonim have ruach hakodesh.

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    5. Rav Menashe Klein (7:160): A shochet who wants to pasken like the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch in all matters and not like the Mishna Berura… I don’t understand what you are asking. Do you mean that he is being disrespectful of the Mishne Berura or you mean that he comes form a place that relies on the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch even against the Mishne Berura and he is simply following the custom of his community? The distinction between these two is simple. If he is being disrespectful then he is in the category of one who doesn’t believe in the words of our Sages in every generation and he doesn’t believe that contemporary gedolim merit ruach hakodesh. It is obvious that someone who lacks ruach hakodesh is not able to composes a holy work such as the Mishne Berura. If he doesn’t believe that the Mishne Berura was written with ruach hakodesh then he is an apikorus and denier of G d’s Torah…Look at Divrei Chaim (Y.D. 2:105) concerning a teacher who insulted the honor of the Ohr HaChaim and said that the sefer wasn’t written with ruach hakodesh. After much discussion he concludes, “That in truth even in our days there are true sages who are not influenced by earthly matters and they have ruach hakodesh as we see stated explicitly in the Moreh Nevuchim and Ramban. Therefore not only did the Ohr HaChaim clearly compose his sefer with ruach hakodesh but all authors even in our generation if they are worthy of it compose their works with ruach hakodesh. That means that their wisdom and understanding is in agreement wth the Truth of the Torah. This is mentioned in the gemora with Rabbi Eliezar. It is also stated as a practical halachic ruling in Takfo Cohen (C.M. 25:123-124) where he says that one can not say “kim li” (use a minority opinion) against the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch because all of its rulings were written with ruach hakodesh. Therefore a teacher who denies the ruach hakodesh of the Ohr HaChaim is an apikorus because he doesn’t believe the gedolim who testified on the Ohr HaChaim that he was deserving of ruach hakodesh. Thus this teacher is a denier in the principle of ruach hakodesh and ridicules the words of the Talmud mentioned before and it is good that you did not leave your sons in his hands. “ See these words which are like firery coals. Therefore concerning this shochet, I say that if he doesn’t believe that the words of the Mishna Berura were composed with ruach hakodesh and therefore are in agreement with the truth of the Torah – he is a heretic and denier of the foundations of our faith. It is not only this shochet but all schochtim who do not believe in this their shechita is unkosher. (Unfortunately due to our many sins there are many teachers in our time that do not believe that even in our generation that there are contemporary gedolim who have ruach hakodesh and are able to ascertain and be in agreement with their wisdom to the truth of the Torah. See Orchos Tzadikim (Shaar HaTorah) where he writes that a person who studies Torah for pure motivation merits that his two kidneys are made into two fountains. And he produces new insights into Torah that were never heard before. A person who does not believe this is unquestionably an apikorus and denier. If he teaches others then they also will be drawn after him – due to our many sins.).

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    6. The son who wrote the biography - Rav Aryeh Leib - said he wrote part of the the Mishna Berura and that is the reason why you can find inconsistencies in the psak. Further he claimed to have written a number of Biur Halachos to hilchos Shabbos

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    7. I am trying to understand the Ruach Kodesh idea in cases of complexity and dispute.
      For example: The Rambam criticized the Geonim, suggested their view was influenced by Tsaddukkim. The Gra criticised the rambam saying his view had been distorted by the [accursed] philosophy!
      Then there were the mutual attacks between the Gra and the Chassidim, notably the Alter rebbe; or R' Emden and R' Eybeschutz.

      Are such cases Elu v'Elu or mutually exclusive, and cannot all be Ruach kodesh?

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  3. The Pischei Tshuva cited (O.C. 156) is citing clear cut cases (murder, thievery, etc.) where it is permitted to speak up. He is not speaking of unclear cases where it is debatable whether the alleged wrongdoer is in fact a wrongdoer or not.

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    1. You are missing the point. Because of the fear of speaking lashon harah people are machmir and end up not conveying negative information which is required by halacha.

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  4. Also, the Pischei Tshuva isn't disagreeing with anything written in the Sefer Chofetz Chaim.

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    1. Didn't say he was. I was merely pointing out that there is an inbalance in speaking negative material - even when the halach requires it. A significant reason for that in our day is the sefer Chofetz Chaim. People view the issur of lashon harah as very complex and therefore to avoid the slightest transgression will be inappropriately machmir.

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    2. " People view the issur of lashon harah as very complex and therefore to avoid the slightest transgression will be inappropriately machmir."

      There is truth to the idea that the issur of lashon harah is very complex and therefore to avoid the slightest transgression one should be appropriately machmir unless one asks a shaila from a posek beforehand, as it is easy to violate a real issue of loshon hora unless one is an expert at the laws of loshon hora.

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    3. The question is whether can it be simplified. The Rosh Yeshiva of Slabodka Yeshiva once told my son that the Chazon had said that he didn't understand the need for the complex discussions of the prohibition of lashon harah. The prohibition is simply not to say something which will hurt another person.

      It is clear from other sources e.g. that the laws are not complicated. This seems apparent from Rav Elochon Wasserman's comment in sefer on Yevamos #70. But there needs to be a shift to a concept based understanding rather than multiple details.

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  5. A truly excellent and courageous post. It is perhaps of importance to mention the Fast of Gedaliah. many people see this fast simply as a halachic obligation, and just another opportunity to do teshuva. But the story of Gedaliah in Sefer Yirmiyahu tells us that Gedaliah's security officers warned him beforehand that Ishmael ben Netanya was plotting to kill him. Gedaliah refused to believe this "evil report" , and denied his security people the opportunity to kill Ishmael first.

    Had the book of DT on Loshon hara been available then, perhaps history might have been different.

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  6. Hamatzil nefesh achas beYisraelSeptember 25, 2013 at 2:19 AM

    First, I would like to thank you Rabbi Eidensohn for bringing up this dire issue.

    Harodef achar hazachar is only intent, not only are we obligated to intervene and reporting it to the authorities whoever that might be, but everyone is obligated to waste him away at the cost of the perpetrators life. Harodef is only intent, no evidence of harm yet, no raglayim ledavar yet, it is sufficient just the knowledge of intent and there are no explicit conditions itemized what that might be, it is up to the understanding of any bar daas that this Rodef is up to no good, you must intervene, "Ve'elu shematzilin ossan benafshosehem", as in line with "Lo taamod al dam reacha". These are Psokim of Poskei HaDor in accordance with the Mishna and the RASH'BA.


    It is analogous with a young child crossing the intersection riding a bike on green light, comes a drag race car crossing red lights that can and will fatally run over the child chas veshalom if no one intervenes.
    Question:

    If anyone could have his way to block the runaway vehicle in any which way even at the risk of it's drivers life, what would you suggest,
    1) We first need to confer with authorities whether the child wore a helmet, if the bike is registered, and conforming to any and all bike regulations.

    2) Or tackle the issue of life and death at hand, intervene in any which lifesaving way even at the expense of the drivers life, without the slightest consideration of the drivers surviving family. This will save not only this child, but many others that are potential victims in harms way. If a hero was successful in intervening, would you demand justice buy punishing him to death. "Ken hadavar hahi".

    It is my understanding, that all those utilizing lashan hara, messira as a lame excuse for not putting precedence over LIFE, let alone defenseless children's LIVES, is a NOGEA BEDAVAR and MECHAPEH and not Leshem Shamayim, umarbeh shifichos damim beYisrael veasid liten et hadin. Tze ubdok, vetimtza.

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  7. I can't wait to get a copy of your next book!

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  8. I think a lot of people will be interested in purchasing and reading this sefer. Unfortunately the chumors and lack of a rational, utilitarian approach to Loshon horo has become the best shield for all abusers. I for one will be very interested to see the differing opinions and approaches to this topic. Wishing you the best in this endeavour Rav Eidensohn!

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  9. Rabbi Eidensohn,

    Thank you for taking on this project.

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  10. disenfranchised frumSeptember 25, 2013 at 8:25 AM

    Part of this problem is a dysfunctional way of relating to religion. People today can't seem to accept that halacha at times leaves it up to the individual to decide his course of action based on his honest-to-goodness intentions and that if he's being honest with himself and his motivation is x y z, then ABC is permitted. Most people react to such scenarios with disbelief "no one has that pure intention anymore." Or "you can say you intend x, but really...." Or even assume skepticism about themselves "somewhere deep down I want it that way (the lenient way) because it's easier, therefore I must go with stringency" and "I'm incapable of determining what my true intention is - only a rav or gadol could divine such a thing - therefore I cannot act based on my seeming intention" It seems part and parcel of the pope problem in modern day charedi Judaism, where Jews see average other Jews as being incapable of just about anything but especially independent thought or intellectual honesty.

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  11. The real problem is am haratzus in halacha. Therefore in many areas of halacha people are machmir instead of breaking their heads on the Mishna berura and biur halacha or on the shulchon aruch and the nosei keilim. Halacha is a very neglected part of Judaism today.

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