Thursday, August 17, 2023

Chofetz Chaim disagrees with Rabbeinu Yona about lashon harah said in public

The Chofetz Chaim states that he built his understanding of lashon harah on Rabbeinu Yonah.
(Introduction to Chofetz Chaim):

"I have taken these halachos from all the scattered places in the Talmud and the writings of those who have issued rulings concerning lashon harah. In particular from the Rambam, the Semag and Rabbeinu Yonah's Shaari Teshuva - who have illuminated our eyes in these halachos."

"The reader should not find it astounding that even though my entire sefer is based on halachic principles and conclusions, but I nevertheless cite in a number of places proofs from Rabbeinu Yonah's sefer – Shaarei Teshuva which is a mussar book [not halacha]. That is because if one examines Rabbeinu Yonah's words in a number of places it is clear that he was very careful with his words and they do not deviate from the halacha. In particular this is true concerning his writings about lashon harah. In fact everything he wrote there is a source in the Talmud as I will explain G‑d willing in this sefer. However he is very sparing in his words and he doesn't cite his sources contary to the practice of Rishonim. Nevertheless, in most cases I did not depend exclusively on the rulings of Rabbeinu Yonah – except in circumstances where a leniency could be inferred (and this is true for other Mussar books)."

Chofetz Chaim (Lashon Harah Be'er Mayim Chaim 10:7.1-23): The majority of this Kelal (10) is drawn from Rabbeinu Yonah in Shaarei Teshuva or his views cited by Shitah Mekubetzes.
 However it is interesting to note, that when dealing with the leniency of the gemora [Arachin 15b] that negative words stated in the presence of three people or said before the person - are not considered lashon harah - he significantly deviates from the view of Rabbeinu Yonah. Futhermore the Chofetz Chaim does not acknowledge this disagreement and in fact he claims that Rabbeinu Yonah supports his view as do all rishonim - except for the Rambam.

This is not simply an esoteric hair splitting issue. This leniency of the gemora which is clearly supported by Rabbeinu Yonah according to its plain meaning - is one of the major justifications to allow newspapers and blogs. 

The Chofetz Chaim (2:2-3) claims that the gemora is only talking about those things which are ambigious and therefore can be understood as lashon harah or as innocent words (avek lashon harah). The Chofetz Chaim states that saying ambiguous statements in the presence of 3 is permitted - and that this is agreed to by all rishonim and poskim (See Clall 2 Be'er Maim Chaim 1) - except the Rambam [and the Maharal].

 However it is clear that Rabbeinu Yonah did not understand the gemora as the Chofetz Chaim did. Furthermore - contrary to the Chofetz Chaim - the Avodas haMelech says it is a dispute in the poskim whether it applies only to avek lashon harah.

 Rabbeinu Yona (Shaarei Teshuva 3:228): Now it is necessary to think deeply about this matter to understand its root. We have said previously that it is permitted to speak disparagingly about a sinner because of the wrong which is in his hands, if it is known that he has not repented. Thus it is permitted to degrade sinners that steal or rob, or cause damage or oppress, humiliate, embarrass, shame or slander others. This applies also to those who do not return what they stole or do not pay for the damage they have caused or have not asked forgiveness for the harm they have caused others. 

However those who want to do things in the best way will first speak with the sinner in the hope that they will succeed - by chastising him - to get him to repent his evil ways. However if he adamantly refuses then they can publicize his ways and his evil deeds. There is an important reason for first chastising the sinner – [even though the halacha doesn't require it]. If he publicly disparages the sinner after he has discovered the bad things that the sinner has done and he explains from a variety of perspectives why these deeds are so bad – then the speaker will be suspected of simply being a slanderer who is concerned only of destroying the other's reputation. People will say, "Even if what he says is true, the proper thing is to try and correct the sinner by educating and chastising him first." From the fact that he didn't first chastise the sinner, the listeners will suspect that the speaker would not have said such derogatory things in the sinners presence but would have flattered him instead ["Yet let no man strive, neither let any man reprove" Hoshea 4:4] – and thus view him also as a hypocrite. Thus they will say the speaker was solely motivated by the pleasure he gets from talking about the guilt of others and he rejoices in their transgressions and thus he feels he gains honor by degrading others – when not in their presence. Consequently he is viewed as simply a gossiper and the dust of slander clings to him.

However there is another reason for chastising the sinner before condemning him. If he fails to chastise first it is possible that the listeners will think that he is lying and that he simply made up all the slander and that is why he didn't first reveal his claims directly to the sinner but concealed his words from him.

This principle of first chastising helps explain (Arachin 15b), that everything which is said in the presence of the one being talked about is not considered lashon harah. In other words if one first openly chastises a sinner for his deeds and the sinner doesn't repent, then it is possible to publicize the transgression of the sinner and his bad character – because the speaker will no longer be suspected of being motivated simply by the desire to destroy the reputation of another person.

Similarly, if the speaker has an established reputation of not being biased against anyone and not flattering anyone. If he will not talk differently about a person whether he is there or not - meaning that everything he will say when not in the person's presence is the same as when he is. And furthermore that he is not afraid of any man and he has a reputation for always telling the truth. In such a case he will not be suspected when speaking about another man's sins - even when the sinner is not present. This idea is alluded by our Sages (Arachin 15b), Rabbi Yossi said," 'I never said a thing and turned back". In other words, "I never said anything about a person when he wasn't there which I would have suppressed if he had been present. Similarly (Arachin 16a), "Everything which is said in the presence of 3 people is not considered lashon harah." In other words, "Since I made the statement in public therefore it will become known by the person I am speaking about and therefore it is like I said it in his presence."


  1. The reality is that Klal Yisroel has accepted the Chofetz Chaim as the Posek Achron and, if you will, the final word on how we pasken and act on issues relating to Loshon Hora.

  2. I am not aware that the Chofetz Chaim's understanding is binding - except on those people who want to accept it. Do you have sources that make such a claim? I am sure you find people who make that claim - but even if the majority of people accept it - it doesn't make it binding on the minority.

    This is something like the 13 principles of faith of the Rambam. But that is only something people say - but there are disagreements with the Rambam.

    there was never a ruling of Sanhedrin nor did all the rabbis gather together - debate the issue and then have a majority vote.

    Bottom line - the Chofetz Chaim is not the final psak on lashon harah that requires that we follow his rulings precisely.

  3. Are you trying to posit that the Chofetz Chaim has the final say in all halacha from now until the end of time? His is the final word?

    And, what about the three quarters of S"A that he didn't write on? Is he the posek acharon on that as well?

  4. You should change "dispairingly" to "disparagingly".

  5. "the Avodas haMelech says ..."


  6. Rabbi sternbuch writes about someone who disagreed with mishnah berurah, 'avoin pelili'

    The Chazon Ish (Igeres Chazon Ish-41) wrote, “The rulings of the Mishnah
    Berurah are akin to rulings by the Sanhedrin in the Lishkas Hagazis.

  7. To help clarify matters, I have written a precis of RY's words for anyone who is interested:

    Rabbeinu Yona, although not understanding the Gemara to be referring to ambiguous statements, also does not understand it to be a blanket Heter to speak Lashon Hara publicly. In fact, RY does not understand that the situations of אפי מרא or אפי תלתא allow Lashon Hara at all. Anything which would be Ossur because of Lashon Hara is equally Ossur when said in front of the concerned person, or in front of 3 people.

    According to RY, the Gemara is dealing with speech that is anyway not Lashon Hara. He begins section 228 by saying "We have said previously that it is permitted to speak disparagingly about a sinner..." This is a reference to section 221, where RY writes that in Aveiros that are בין אדם לחבירו it is permitted to speak about the sinner "in order to aid the wronged party and stick up for the truth" (ולקנא האמת).

    In section 228 RY adds a further restrictions to this allowance - speaking about such a sinner is only allowed if it is known that he has not done Teshuva.

    He also adds that it is correct and proper ("ואמנם המטיבים דרכם...") that before publicising the misdeeds, the speaker has should try to privately convince the sinner to mend his ways. Only if this does not work may he then publicise the sin.

    Now the Gemara of אפי מרא and אפי תלתא comes into play. Even after all the aforementioned conditions have been fulfilled, there is still an additional problem which would prevent us from allowing the speech - not the Issur of Lashon Hara per se, but that of מראית עין. When the listener hears the report of misconduct but is unaware that the speaker has first tried to approach the sinner privately, he may think that the speaker has in fact done so, and indeed would not do so, for a number of possible reasons:

    (1) He doesn't really care about rectifying the situation, and is just interested in spreading gossip;
    (2) He is being מחניף the sinner and does not want to upset him by accusing him to his face;
    (3) The whole report is actually false, and the speaker is embarrassed to confront the person he is defaming.

    In other words, people are liable to suspect the speaker of (1) not acting לשם שמים but rather enjoying the opportunity to denigrate somebody, (2) חנופה, or (3) spreading false rumors about someone.

    In order to avoid these problems, Chazal said that one can only speak about the sinner if he does so (1) in front of the sinner, or (2) in public, when the sinner is bound to find out. In this case nobody will suspect the speaker of any of the aforementioned Aveiros.

    Another way to avoid these 3 problems is if the speaker is known to be a person who (1) does not flatter anybody, to the point where (2) anything he says about someone he would say to that person's face, and (3) he only speaks the truth.

    אפי מרא and אפי תלתא, then, are not Heteirim for speaking Lashon Hara, but on the contrary - they are additional requirements which Chazal made before saying something that is NOT Lashon Hara.

    To sum up: proper Lashon Hara is always Ossur, whichever way it is spoken. The סברא of "it can't be Lashon Hara if everyone knows about it already" is NOT the subject of this Gemara according to RY.

    But - in an עבירה בין אדם לחבירו, when it is known that the sinner has not yet done Teshuva, and the speaker has first tried to rectify the situation before going public, THEN he may publicise the sin in order to help the wronged party. That's it.

  8. Is there a reason why all of my posts seem to be deleted?

  9. A very interesting article. DT, could you clarify the sentence "there was never a ruling of Sanhedrin nor did all the rabbis gather together - debate the issue and then have a majority vote." and what it is referring to?
    If you look at the few debates above, moe is making a very "haredi" view on halacha, ie we have to accept the latest authority etc, whereas DT is making a very modern even HaMeiri type argument, i.e. halacha is not frozen and irreversible.

  10. Eddie I am simply referring to a prinnciple in halacha that Rav Moshe Feinstein and other chareidi poskim state.

  11. THe Aruch HaShulchan Disagreed. As did R' Moshe (who referred to the Aruch HaShulchan as "K'Var Horeh HaZaken" -- The elder already ruled)

  12. @DT - do you mean the Ritva, who states that unless all Chachamim sit together, there is no obligation to follow a majority?

  13. @Eddie no I am referring to normative halacha. These are from my Daas Torah concerning majority rule

    Shai’las Dovid (Mekor Beis Av Maamar 2): … The principle of following the majority only applies if the disputants are debating the issues face to face and concerning the same case. However if they are not debating in one group and the ones who prohibit don’t hear the arguments of those who permit and the matter is not directly discussed between them – then the principle of majority rule does not apply [and it is possible to rule like the minority as it says in many place because the view of the minority makes more sense. G d willing, I will gather together all the places where the halacha is in accord with the minority.]

    Chazon Ish (Beginning of Kelayim): It is well known that the requirement to follow the majority applies only to a beis din which is in session, but regarding scholars holding different views who lived at different times or in different places, the question of majority or minority is not relevant. In a particular area where most of the Torah derives from a particular rabbi and his disciples, and the disciples' disciples, it is correct to follow their rabbi even in a matter in which the majority (of authorities) holds a different opinion. In recent generations most of our Torah has come to us through the specific seforim in our own teachers like Rif, Rosh, Rambam, Ramban, Rashba, Ritva, Ran, Magid Mishna, Mordechai, and the commentaries of Rashi and Tosfos, and whenever there is a difference of opinion (and as mentioned above, majority ruling does not enter) it is in the hands of every individual Torah scholar to decide whether to take a strict view or to select particular authorities to follow; likewise, in the case where no decision has been taken and the question is still open (sofek). In addition to the fact that majority rule does not apply in the above situations, we do not even know what the majority view is, since many scholars did not put their views in writing, and many written views did not reach us. (Therefore Jewish law does not change when new manuscripts are printed which convert a minority into a majority. Despite this, the courage and insight needed to decide on a logical basis are sometimes lacking, and decisions are taken on the basis of numerical majority; but it would be better to rely on those authorities whose views have reached us in all branches of Torah. Even though we do not presume to decide between different Rishonim by conclusive logical arguments, nevertheless, the study of their arguments is a major factor in reaching a decision, and many times our master z"l (Rabbi Yosef Karo) decides in favor of one authority because his argument is convincing and removes difficulties. Our Rabbis have taught us not to abandon the use of our own intellect, and we must place great weight on intellectual comparison which is the connecting link between Creator and created.

    Minchas Chinuch (78:2): Look at Get Poshut in Principle #1. There he says this that we follow the majority opinion according to the Torah – it is only when the dissenting sides have debated the issue face to face. However if they haven’t debated the issue together but rather each side has written his opinion on his own as we find in the responsa of poskim – then even if the major of authorities agree to one view – in that case we don’t say that the majority view should be followed. That is because if they debated the issue directly than the majority might change its position and agree with the minority….

  14. @gershoni please look at the Chazon Ish found in the back of the Mishna Berura - he disagrees many times with the Mishna Berura. Does that make him a zaken mamre - Chas v'shalom!

    Please provide the source for Rav Stermbuch

  15. Avodas HaMelech (Hilchos De’os 7:5): If these negative words were said in front of three then it has become public knowledge and therefore if one of the three repeated them to others – it is not considered lashon harah. However that is only where there were no intention of revealing and spreading the negative information further… In truth this law that what is said in front of three is not lashon harah is a dispute amongst Rishonim. That is because it is puzzling that saying it in front of three people makes it acceptable. Does it make sense that negative speech said in public is permitted and acceptable but not when said in private speech?! In fact the gemora says the opposite that public speech is worse than private speech. Furthermore this idea contracts a number of statements in the Talmud and Biblical verses. For example, the lashon harah said by the Meraglim (spies) was said in public as was the lashon harah of Tziva and Doeg. The seriousness of public lashon harah is also found in the Sifre in Tatze and Bahaloscha. The explanation for this is written by an number of the ancients. They say that the leniency is not for lashon harah but rather only for saying things such as “there is a fire lit in so and so’s house” which is only avek lashon harah. But lashon harah itself it is clear that publicly saying it is worse than in private. Other rishonim explain that the leniency is only for rechilus and not lashon harah. In other words since the speaker at the time he said these words said it in public that is a proof that he doesn’t care whether they be repeated and thus it is not rechilus. The Sheiltos (#28) states this view explicitly as does the BeHaG and also Rashi. Therefore we are forced to say that the Rambam chose a new approach in his explanation of the matter and said the case was where someone violated the prohibition of lashon harah and spoke negatively about another in the presence of three people. If one of the three listeners now told over the material to another the Rambam says it is not the prohibition of lashon harah. The Chofetz Chaim (Be’er Mayim Chaim Clall 2) goes into great length discussing the text of the gemora that says, “Any matter which is destined to be revealed is not lashon harah and similarly what ever is said in the presence of three is destined to be revealed. He cites this view as minority view (yeish omrim). …. However the view of Rabbeinu Gershom to Bava Basra is that all derogatory words said in front of three as well as if these three repeat them to others it is not considered lashon harah. Thus he clearly says the issue is not rechilus but lashon harah as we said before. Also the words of the Ri Migash and the Ravad which are mentioned in the Shita Mekubetzes to Bava Basra show that they agree with this view….

  16. according to Rabbeinu Yonah you are allowed to say negative things about a sinner. The requirement to chastise first but is recommended. Thus newspapers or blogs are not violating the prohibition of lashon harah. Rabbeinu Yonah clearly understands the heter of 3 or before the one being spoken of - differently than the Chofetz Chaim

    My point being that the Chofetz Chaim is not saying the same things as Rabbeinu Yonah - despite his claim that he is presenting the view of all rishonim and dayanim. Rabbeinu Yonah would permit newspapers writing about sinners while the Chofetz Chaim would not. In addition Rabbeinu Yonah would permit the average person talking about public knowledge about sinners while the Chofetz Chaim would not.

    I would agree with you that Rabbeinu Yona would not permit saying negative comments about people who have not sinned - just because it is common knowledge

  17. maybe the chazon ish held himself as an exception as part of the lishkas hagozis. if you disagree what is your interpretation of the kovetz igros.?

    also let's say there are 20 places where the maharit disagrees with beis yosef. does someone today have the option of saying I think the maharit was a bigger godol than beis yossef and in all those
    cases I am going to follow the maharit instead of beis yossef. He cannot do so because the minhag of klal yisroel has been to accept the pesak of beis yosef. once that is the minha then that is the halachah like beis yosef. (same as minhag of klall yisroel to accept pesak of gemarah) I would have thought that where ever the minhag has been to accept the pesak of mishah berurah, one cannot over turn it and be meikal because one finds an alternative view no matter how authorative eg rabeinu Yonah.

    re rabbi sternbuch . just a letter I saw hanging up on the wall many years ago, cannot give a source.

  18. Thank you for your reply.

    "I would agree with you that Rabbeinu Yona would not permit saying negative comments about people who have not sinned - just because it is common knowledge."

    As far as I understand it, that is why the Chafetz Chaim cites RY as a Rishon "would not permit saying negative comments about people who have not sinned - just because it is common knowledge." The Chafetz Chaim is not discussing talking about a sinner בין אדם לחבירו who has not yet done Teshuva where publicising the Aveira could help the offended party - which is the only case where RY allows it. Such speech is explicitly allowed by the CC elsewhere in his Sefer. In fact, in such a case it seems that the CC would actually be more lenient than RY, because he does not require אפי מרא or אפי תלתא in such a case (presumably because RY is a יחידאה in his Shita).

  19. @Chaim - you missed my point. The Chofetz Chaim says that the heter of public knowledge of before 3 or before the person talked about - only applies for avek lashon harah. He furthermore says that all the Rishonim agree with that. I have shown that this asssertion is not correct.

    Furthermore that Rabbeinu Yonah says the heter applies in cases of someone who has done wrong - that they obviate the need to give chastisment before reporting his crimes.

    The Chofetz Chaim says that there are 7 conditions which must be fulfilled before you are allowed to say bad things about another person. Furthermore he makes many restrictions in Clall 4 regarding regarding stating that a person is a sinner. (Please provide sources that Rabbeinu Yonah has similar restrictions).

    In particular, do you agree that there is a difference between the Chofetz Chaim and Rabeinu Yonah about the permissiblity of reporting an embezller or child molester and other crimes regularly reported in newspapers and blogs?

  20. 1. "The Chofetz Chaim says that the heter of public knowledge of before 3 or before the person talked about - only applies for avek lashon harah. He furthermore says that all the Rishonim agree with that. I have shown that this asssertion is not correct."

    How have you shown this? You yourself agreed to me that acc. to RY the Gemara is not referring to a blanket Heter to repeat rumours (i.e. Lashon Hara) simply because everybody knows it already.

    If the sin is בין אדם לחבירו AND the speaker feels that it is necessary to publicise it in order to help the wronged party (NOT simply "in cases of someone who has done wrong", as you write) then it is permitted acc. to RY.

    2. "...that they obviate the need to give chastisment before reporting his crimes."

    I'm not so sure about that. RY's wording would indicate that it is always better to try to remedy the situation by rebuke first, even though it may not be required מעיקר הדין. On the other hand, one of the חששות of מראית עין that RY raises is that people may suspect the speaker of not having tried to rebuke the sinner in private first. If such rebuke is not really required, why is there a problem of מראית עין? And if it is required, then how does publicising the sin (thus removing the מראית עין) sidestep this requirement? I am not clear on this point.

    3. I never said that RY agrees to all the 7 תנאים, although it seems that he does agree with many of them.

    4. "In particular, do you agree that there is a difference between the Chofetz Chaim and Rabeinu Yonah about the permissiblity of reporting an embezller or child molester and other crimes regularly reported in newspapers and blogs?"

    Not really. The CC may be more Machmir because he demands that the Kavana be 100% לשם שמים - something RY might not agree with - but they both agree that it is only allowed when the sinner has not repented and reporting the sin can help the wronged party (or others liable to be wronged in the future). If you think that this applies to newspapers and blogs, then it is Mutar acc. to everybody.

    Of course, it goes without saying that if the sin is not known but merely suspected, this should be made clear by the speaker/journalist/blogger as the CC says, and I think that RY would agree, because it is logical.

  21. so what is your interpretation of the kovetz igros.?

  22. @Chaim - I find it difficult to understand why you keep repeating yourself. What is unclear to you when I state the Chofetz Chaim says that the heter of 3 people is only for avek lashon harah and all the rishonim and dayanim agree. - but it is clear that the heter to speak lashon harah before three is in fact a dispute amongst rishonim and poskim as seen clearly by the Avodas HaMelech and the way Rabbeinu Yonah explains the meaning of before 3.
    if you can't see this obivous point then there is no point in continuing this discussion.

  23. Because RY does NOT allow speaking LH before 3, unless it is about a sinner בין אדם לחבירו who hasn't done Teshuva, in order to help the situation, in which case there is ANYWAY no Issur of Lashon Hara, only מראית עין, as I explained. The Chafetz Chaim is saying that there is nothing that is Ossur to say because of Lashon Hara which becomes Mutar when said in front of 3. RY is in full agreement with this.

  24. @Chaim - you have an interesting way of wording things. Bottom line the Chofetz Chaim not only reads the heter differently than Rabbeinu Yonah but in the real word what they would permit or prohibit is significant differentl. I am talking about the actual cases.

  25. I don't think so. We'd have to examine an actual case, where you could show me that the CC is Machmir (because of his understanding of the Gemara, not due to the additional תנאים) and RY is מיקל.

  26. @Chaim - the Chofetz Chaim eliminates it as relevant as a heter - he says it only appliles to avek lashon harah.Rabbeinu Yonah says it applies to also lashon harah.

  27. Now who is wording things in an interesting way? Why don't you provide an actual case where you think that the CC would be more Machmir than RY?

  28. who wrote this sefer avodas hamelech? [perhaps a rabbi kaufman in jerusalem?]
    is this sefer accepted lihalacha by poskim?
    did the author intend it to be halacha limaaseh or even lihalach [viloi limasseh]? or just as pilpul & /or he'aros...?

  29. is it possible, therefore to say that the CC in act misrepresents the RY? I am sorry to use "secular" language, but is there a a more rabbinic way of putting it?

  30. that is very nice. I wonder how many people who point to the CI for Chumres actually care about what he wrote here.

  31. That IS what DT is saying. I am arguing that DT is misrepresenting the CC, or RY, or both, or neither (I can't work it out).

  32. Rabbi Eidensohn please answer, thanks

  33. The author I believe is Rav Menachem Krakowski who lived in Vilna and was an uncle of Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik . I think in fact he contributed some research to the volume.

    I haven't seen anything problematic in the sefer. He seems to be focused on clarifying views and concepts rather than being concerned with psak. In short it is a work of scholarship.

    The part that I posted is obvious if you actually look at the sources he mentions and the question is why did the Chofetz Chaim claim otherwise?

  34. These sources are very important to my understanding of halacha, and logically they lead to the kind of concepts i have been arguing, and of course not getting full approval. So let me show where this leads me to logically, and then tell me why it doesnt work - or does it?

    Since we are not obliged to follow any particular majority, then there is no Daas Torah - in other words i am not obliged to follow R' Shach, ROY , or anyone else who the papers and yeshiva teacher claim are authorities. That is in terms of current or recent leadership.
    Next, going back in history, a Rav can argue what he likes, as long as it is logical. Thus for example, a Rav is not forced to accept Rambam, Shulchan Aruch Mishneh Brurah etc. If he doesn't like a particular gezeira of Chazal, he is therefore not obliged to take the strict position of Rambam that they are irreversible; or the moderate and pragmatic position of Raavad that they are reversible even without being greater in Hochmah. he can even take the position of HaMeiri,
    Rambam also says elsewhere that a minority position can be so clear that the majority will accept it and reverse their position.

    Again, going backwards, why should this radical person or rav accept the Talmud, so what if it was accepted many Jews, today the world is different, etc.

    This all follows logically from the above arguments. The response, of course is that this person is an apikores or Conservative. Even if that is a majority view of major rabbis, the minority view is not obliged to listen to them. that is why i find the CI above so astonishing, and so brilliant.

  35. Obviously, this permit of Rabbeinu Yonah does not apply to an anonymous blogger.


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.