Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Mitzvah to Speak Lashon Hara

A recent post has led a friend to suggest that I may have run afoul of the Jewish law against "lashon hara" or evil speech.

I take this concern seriously. But in the end, I'm guided by principles more fully laid out at the website of JSafe: The Jewish Institute Supporting an Abuse Free Environment.

Most especially compelling, for me, is the essay by Rabbi Mark Dratch entitled:
"Let Them Talk: The Mitzvah to Speak Lashon Hara"

Here is the excerpt I find most compelling. It appears near the end of the essay. I've redacted the footnotes for simplicity's sake. If you're intrigued, please go read the essay yourself.

It's not easy reading, but it makes a lot of sense, at least to me.

Lashon Hara about the Dead
Is it permissible for victims of a perpetrator who has since died to speak lashon hara about him?

The Talmud indicates that there is no prohibition of speaking lashon hara about the dead, either because the dead do not know what is being said about them or because they do not care what is being said about them. However, because their legacies are at stake, as well as the reputations and well-being of their surviving families, and because they cannot defend themselves, Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 606:3 cites a takanat kadmonim (ancient enactment) that prohibits “speaking ill of the dead.”

Hafetz Hayyim rules: Rabbi Yizhak said: If one makes remarks about the dead, it is like making remarks about a stone. Some say [the reason is that] they do not know, others that they know but do not care. Can that be so? Has not R. Papa said: A certain man made derogatory remarks about Mar Samuel and a log fell from the roof and broke his skull? A Rabbinical student is different, because the Holy One, blessed be He, avenges his insult.

And know also that even to disparage and curse the dead is also forbidden. The decisors of Jewish law have written that there is an ancient enactment and herem (ban) against speaking ill of and defaming the dead. This applies even if the subject is an am ha-aretz (boor), and even more so if he is a Torah scholar. Certainly, one who disparages [a scholar] commits a criminal act and should be excommunicated for this, as is ruled in Yoreh De’ah 243:7. The prohibition of disparaging a Torah scholar applies even if he is disparaging him personally, and certainly if he is disparaging his teachings.

However, despite this enactment, there are times when one is permitted to speak ill of the dead. It is important to note that this prohibition is not derived from the Torah verse banning lashon hara; it stems from a rabbinic decree and is, thus, no more stringent than the laws of lashon hara themselves. Since lashon hara which is otherwise biblically prohibited is allowed if there is a to’elet [beneficial purpose], so too lashon hara about the deceased is permitted if there is a to’elet. While the nature of the to’elet may change—after all, the deceased is no longer a threat to anyone else’s safety—there may be any number of beneficial purposes in sharing this information including: preventing others from learning inappropriate behavior, condemning such behavior, clearing one’s own reputation, seeking advice, support, and help, one’s own psychological benefit, and validating the abusive experience of others who may have felt that they, and no one else, was this man’s victim. [Emphasis added.]

Furthermore, the restriction on speaking ill of the dead may be based on the assumption that death was a kapparah, i.e., it was an atonement for sins. This atonement, however, is predicated on his having repented before his death, and that repentance requires both restitution for the harm caused and reconciliation with the victim. If the perpetrator had not reconciled with his victim, no atonement was achieved. And of such an unrepentant sinner the verse teaches, “The memory of the just is blessed; but the name of the wicked shall rot” (Proverbs 10:7). In addition, Jewish law does not recognize the concept of statute of limitations in these matters.

When All is Said…
Lashon hara is a tool of abuse, both when derogatory speech defames innocent people, destroying their reputations, and when warnings to refrain from derogatory speech are used to silence victims of abuse who cry out for help. As careful as we must be not to speak, listen to, or repeat, disparaging information when it is forbidden, we must not allow the threat of speaking lashon hara to silence the cry of innocent victims. We must carefully heed the words of Pithei Teshuvah cited above:

There is a sin even greater than [speaking lashon hara], and one which is more widespread, i.e., the sin of refraining from informing another about a situation in which one can save him from being victimized—all out of concern for lashon hara… One who behaves in this manner, his sin is too great to bear and he violates, "You shall not stand by the blood of your brother."

Victims of abuse need to speak out, for all kinds of personal reasons, in order to help themselves. Their supporters need to speak out in order to help them. And the community needs to speak out in order to hold the perpetrators responsible and in order to protect other innocents from potential harm. [Emphasis added.]All must be diligent in meeting the conditions required for such speech, including knowledge of or verification of the facts, proper motivation, the curbing of personal animosities, no exaggeration, and the like. Allowances must be made for persistent rumors and circumstantial evidence when their credibility meet halakhic standards. And each of us needs to recommit ourselves to protecting the physical and spiritual welfare of women, children, and men; safeguarding the integrity of the social fabric of the Jewish community; and securing the honor of Torah and God’s very Name.

According to rabbinic tradition, it is the capacity of speech that distinguishes humans from the animals and from all other parts of Creation. The Torah demands of us to use that divine gift of speech wisely and carefully in order to protect the human-ness of victims of abuse, as well as the humane-ness of every member of our society.


Migdalor Guy said...


I fail to see how inclusion of accusations against Reb Shlomo in the WIKIPEDIA ENTRY meets the relatively stringent yet generous (and halachically questionable) criteria set forth by Rabbi Dratch. Rabii Dratch's essay is just that-an essay, and hardly meets the standard of being a t'shuvah (aka responsum.) One simply cannot toss-off extant t'shuvot in the casual manner Rabbi Dratch has done, simply calling it unacceptable.

There are the beginnings of an important and needed t'shuvah in what Rabbi Dratch has written. Judaism needs to give victims of abuse the opportunity to speak out, even if the accused is dead. But it's not quite fully fleshed out enough to support the case for inclusion of the charges in the WikiPedia entry-most importantly because the accused has no opportunity to respond. There are no "experts" to offer opinions on this matter. This is not a question of a scientific dispute or disagreement where scholars can weigh in with considered opinions. This is a biography of a human being, albeit flawed, as are we all.

Being able to tell their stories in Lillith, and on various websites working to empower victims of abuse provides the opportunity for the victims to speak out, as Rabbi Dratch is calling for. I do not believe inclusion of these charges on Wikipedia would prove any more valuable or efficacious in helping Reb Shlomo's possible victims heal.

I might go so far as to suggest that perhaps there could be a stub or separate Wikipedia entry on these charges, but they should not be included in the main biography.

Migdalor Guy

Migdalor Guy said...

In the end, having seen how the issue was resolved on the actual Wikipedia Bio page, I think the solution was reasonable and the entry about as appropriate as it could be. At least in terms of WK policy. Well crafted, David et al.

As for halacha, well, I stand behind my contention that Rabbi Dratch's essay falls short of the necessary elements to be an acceptable t'shuvah.


David in DC said...

Thank you for your contributions to this discussion.

I agree that the resolution brokered by MPerel on the Wikipedia discussion page led to an appropriate solution, at least in terms of WK policy.

I look to Rabbi Dratch not for a formal t'shuvah, but as a teacher and scholar who has thought these things through. The final decision is mine.

I do not even know whether Rabbi Dratch would conclude that his essay authorizes my speech here. But I'm not looking to him for authority. The responsibility lies with me.

I read Steven Weiss' take on my efforts and conclude that the benefit of my speech to the community and to the victims overmatches its power to hurt.

"The solution would seem to be pretty simple: almost no traditional tunes in Judaism have a known author, and just forgetting Carlebach wrote this music wouldn’t be hard to do.

And yet, so many Jews have a problem letting go of the association, even when the country is littered with women who shudder every time they hear the man’s name."

We can agree to disagree about this, I hope.

William Dwek said...

The Swine Flu is common in PIGS.

This is a clear indication that it is the Dayanim (“Judges”) and “Rabbis” of today who are the PIGS and swines.

They twist and use the Torah for their own power and commercial benefit.

They are corrupt. And they are interested in only one thing:


Not the Torah.

William Dwek said...

When “dayanim” and “rabbis” use the Torah for their own power and commercial profit, this is the behaviour of a swine i.e. a Pig.

No other “rabbi” will ever act against another “rabbi” - even when he knows his colleague is clearly desecrating the Torah. Each rabbi is only worried about losing his own position.

Therefore, the “rabbi” and “dayan” will never effect justice. And he will never truly stand for the Torah or the Honour of Hashem. His pocket will always prevail.

The Torah must never be used for commercial gain and profit. Am Yisrael can only be lead by those who have the necessary love and respect of Hashem and the Torah.

William Dwek said...

1. The “dayan” and “rabbi” may use lies. They turn the innocent into the guilty, and the guilty, become the innocent. They will not hesitate to tell lies in the Synagogue.

2. The “dayan” and “rabbi” may steal. They steal and siphon off money for themselves, from the community and individuals.

3. The “dayan” and “rabbi” may commit murder. They may shame a Jew in public, even repeatedly. This is one of the most vile acts of murder in Jewish law – and they know this.

4. The “dayan” and “rabbi” will not hesitate to use Lashon Hara (the “Evil Tongue”) to suit his own ends. Slander and gossip. This too, is one of the worst acts of murder in Jewish Law. Their slander is never challenged by the community, because they hold positions of power. And the slander may begin with the Rebbetzin herself.

5. The “dayanim” and “rabbis” worship idols and other gods. Their only god is Money. Especially the “Dayanim” – the “Judges” who sit on a Beit Din. They only care about their high incomes and retirement packages. They have little or no love for the Torah or Hashem.

In the case of Lubavitch/Chabad, all their rabbis are carrying out a form of Avodah Zarah – strange worship. They are using mediation and intercession. This is completely forbidden, and against the Torah. We are only to pray to Hashem, directly ourselves.

6. When the NAME of Hashem has been taken in Vain – repeatedly - by reshaim, the “rabbi” will turn a deaf ear and blind eye to the


This is the abhorrent behaviour of a Pig.

This is an extremely severe and dangerous situation.
There is NO forgiveness for this evil sin and aveirah.

7. The “dayan” and “rabbi” may also offer large bribes, tell lies and bring False Witnesses – when he in fact has committed the crime. These are heinous acts of the most despicable kind. This is especially vile when the “dayan” is sitting on a “Beit Din.”

8. The “rabbi” may commit adultery. And when he gets divorced, he may spread slander about his own ex-wife, blackening her name – when in fact he was at fault.

9. The “dayan” and “rabbi” may also desecrate Shabbat – if it suits him. He will use physical violence against another Jew or Jewess at any time. This evil and venomous behaviour is 100% against the Torah.

Eliyahoo William Dwek said...

A further word of advice regarding those who masquerade as a ‘dayan’ ‘rabbi’ or false ‘mekubal’:

1. These men may knowingly and willingly, deliberately deceive a Jew or Jewess. e.g. in the area of shidduchim, or offering to perform a ‘pidyon nefesh’.

This abhorrent and deceptive behaviour has caused tremendous harm to people who are innocent and trusting.

2. Do not ever ‘kiss the hands’ of these men (which they might offer to you in public).

3. And do not be duped into queuing and waiting, to see them for their ‘brachot’ (‘blessings’). They peddle ‘brachot’ purely for their own selfish gratification and ‘kavod’ (‘honour’).

Their duplicitous behaviour is nothing short of deception and cunning. In short they are abhorant and causing so much harm to amm israel. They prey on the vulnerable, and those who are naïve, unsuspecting and trusting of these pedlars.

Eliyahoo William Dwek said...

Any man who chooses to be a ‘rabbi’ (‘true teacher’ of Torah) or a ‘dayan’ (‘judge’), or a ‘mekubal’ (‘kabbalist’) should be doing so Voluntarily. Out of his pure love for Hashem and the Torah. And his Ahavat Yisrael.

If he refuses to do community work voluntarily, and wants and accepts payment for everything he does, such a man should not be leading a community. He should get a job and earn a living. He can collect milk bottles or clean the windows. That is what is called ‘earning a living’.

Torah is learned, studied and taught: out of Love. Voluntarily. But the ‘rabbis’ have turned the Torah into their ‘Profession’, from which they earn money.

We are commanded in the Shema to:

‘LOVE Hashem, your G-d, WITH ALL YOUR HEART, and with all your soul and with all your might.’

‘VE’AHAVTA et Hashem Elokecha BECHOL LEVAVECHA uvechol nafshecha uvechol meodecha.’ (Devarim, Vaethanan, 6:4-5)

Is the ordinary man or woman PAID to pray to Hashem, or to say some words of Torah? No. Has veshalom! But the rabbis are. These men can give ‘lovely’ shiurim that they have rehearsed. But they would not give a shiur without being paid for it.

The true hachamim and rabbis of old, all actually worked at proper jobs and professions.

Wake up! Even a little child could have worked this out. These salaried men can never truly stand for the Torah, because in a case of conflict between a correct course of action according to the Torah, and the rabbi or rav’s pocket – his pocket and position will always prevail.

Pirkei Avot: (2:2)
“Raban Gamliel beno shel Rabi Yehuda HaNassi omer: yafeh talmud Torah im derech eretz, sheyegiat shenaihem mashkachat avon. Vechol Torah she’ein imah melacha sofa betailah ve’goreret avon. Vechol haoskim im hatzibbur yiheyu imahem leShem Shamayim……”

“Rabban Gamliel, the son of Rabi Yehuda HaNassi, said: It is good to combine Torah study with a worldly occupation, for working at them both drives sin from the mind. All Torah without an occupation will in the end fail and lead to sin. And let all who work for the community do so for the sake of Heaven………”