Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lashon harah: Chofetz Chaim permits for to'eles only when not motivated by hatred.

There is a very fundamental question that affects not only the laws of lashon harah but also the issue of rescuing someone from harm such as child abuse.

For example the understanding of the mishna and gemora  of Sanhedrin (73a) is disputed. Do we stop a rodef from killing a person or a rapist from attacking a woman because we are commanded to save the victim or because we want to stop the perpetrator from sinning?

We learn also learn from this gemora that there is an obligation to "not stand idly by the blood of your fellow". It is important to note that this verse is the end of the verse that is the source for the prohibition of not speaking lashon harah. There are a number of sources which say that the prohibition of lashon harah is therefore connected with the mitzva of saving others. In other words there is no prohibition of lashon harah when someone is in danger - either physically or financially.

Another way of phrasing this question is - will a person be hurt if we fail to keep the mitzva of "not standing idly by the blood of ones fellow"? If a person died after we avoided rescuing him - would he have died if we had tried to save him? If we saved him - would G-d have found another way of rescuing him if we had not? In other words is the mitzva of saving another independent of whether or not the person is actually rescued?

Another example is found in the laws of lashon harah. We know that it is permitted to speak lashon harah to save a person from harm by warning him that somebody is planning on attacking him. The Chofetz Chaim however says that before a person can say lashon harah there are 7 conditions that must be filled. If even one of these is not fulfilled he says it is prohibited to say anything. One of the 7 is to'eles (benefit). We normally say that to'eles means it brings a benefit. The classic description of lashon harah says that just as a snake bites without getting pleasure so is the case of speaking lashon harah. It is something which does not bring benefit and therefore it there is a benefit it would be permitted. However the Chofetz Chaim has an additional understanding of to'eles. Not only must benefit result from the telling of lashon harah - but also the intent of speaker has to be for benefit and not because of hatred or the enjoyment of pointing out someone's faults. The Chofetz Chaim says that this requirement can be seen from the fact that Jews have been harmed by non-Jews as part of G-d's plan to correct their ways. Even though it was G-d's will and desire that they harm the Jews they were were severely punished for doing it. That is because they didn't hurt the Jews because they wanted them to stop sinning but rather because they of hatred and enjoyment of the suffering of the Jews.

To put it more clearly, if a person was robbed and he wants to tell others that he was harmed because of his hatred for the assailant the Chofetz Chaim says it is prohibited to say anything - even though there is benefit in that the others will know to guard against the robber. Similarly the Sema (C.M. 421:28) says that if a person sees an assailant beating up someone one he can normally stop the assault even if he needs to beat up the assailant since there is a mitzva of stopping a person from sin. However he adds that if typically he does not intervene to stop assault  but on one unusual occasion he decides to intervene -  he is not allowed to beat the assailant. The Sema says because we know from past experience that he is not motivated to stop a person from sin. Therefore his intervention this time must be because he has hatred for the assailant. The Sema rules you can not rescue another by beating the assailant if your motivation is hatred rather than a desire to stop him from sinning.

Understanding this issue has tremendous implications for self-defense and the defense of others. The discussion will continue in a future post.


  1. Now that you have just defined toeles according to the chofetz chaim, I still don't understand your heter for discussing the Tropper scandal. In fact, from previous posts it looks like you dislike Tropper and the EJF from before the entire ordeal. I understand that you said Rabbi Sternbuch told you to publicize the issue, why? Please inform me of the Toeles.

  2. Very good topic.

    A person who can not differentiate lashon hara of awareness of a problem, unfortunately, is easily manipulated.

    "In order to escape accountability for his/her crimes, the perpetrator does everything in hispower to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator's first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence him absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens."

  3. Who knew there were still ostriches out there with their heads in the sand like "Bob Goldber" who claim they know of no toeless to publicize against Tropper?

    Or maybe "Bob" is just another Tropper troll?

  4. Archie,

    Is everyone you disagree with a Tropper toll?

  5. No. Just the ones who make exceptionally stupid comments.


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