Blogging and Loshon Hora (Gossip)

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The Jewish Times article (dicussed below) talks about our blog and the perceived media bias against observant Jewry, but also talks about the inherent conflict between journalism and Judaism.

It is difficult to be a good journalist and follow the rules against lashon harah, gossip or evil speech… Journalism schools teach that all information is good and as long as it is presented accurately and in the proper context, what people do with that information is not the journalist’s problem.

This was an appropriate part of the article, because it explains in part why there are so few Orthodox journalists. Since most journalists are therefore on the outside looking in, a substantial part of the distorted portrayal of Torah observance in the news media is the result not of intentional bias, but simple ignorance.

Similarly, after I quoted Greg‘s note about us, someone submitted the following query in the comments section, asking how one balances blogging with the laws against lashon hora, gossip:

How do you balance the stringent laws of lashon hara with the fact that problems in the community don’t get solved until they’re fully in the public eye? The truth is, even the whole anti-spouse-abuse campaign got hammered by people swearing up and down that it was lashon hara.

The simple fact of the matter is that the laws of Lashon Hora continue to apply. There is no journalist’s (or blogger’s) exemption. Nor do I think it is accurate to say that problems don’t get solved until they are made public. That may be true in rare cases, but there are many others where matters are resolved without mentioning names. I do not believe that we have the right, and certainly not the responsibility, to report badly about individuals.

Right now, there is a web site carrying extremely serious allegations about a member of our community, allegations which, if believed, would result in the immediate termination of that individual’s employment — or great damage to the company that employs him. The “evidence” against this person comes entirely from a blog (and another web page created by the blogger), which also contains a series of allegations against various rabbis and others who are “protecting” this individual.

Anyone who knows any of these people knows that the allegations are ludicrous. If the allegations had a hint of truth to them, then (given their nature) the rabbis in question would be first to tell him he must leave his job. The allegations were discredited long ago — but certain people don’t care. They would rather besmirch the innocent based upon “testimony” which changes substantially each time the story is re-told.

The fact is that you don’t need loshon hora to stop spousal abuse. The rabbis are accused of not caring by people who have never bothered to speak to them directly — and, not incidentally, have a huge chip on their shoulders about Judaism. How many times have we heard the canard about Maimonides endorsing wife-beating, despite the abysmal ignorance of the Hebrew language (not to mention Jewish Law) reflected in this pathetic misreading of the words on the page?

Blogging — or newspaper reporting — is no excuse for loshon hora. In another surprising bit of Divine Providence, yesterday the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation asked me to publicize the following notice (which they also provided as a PDF for all who want to see it nicely formatted). It’s quite appropriate to this topic.

‘Now the Matter Is Known’
Shemos 2:14

After slaying a brutal Egyptian task master to save the life of a Jewish slave, Moshe Rabbeinu discovered that a report of this deed was spread by the wicked, Dasan and Aviram. Moshe realized that the news could only have been publicized through loshon hora.

His response was one of deep dismay: “Now the matter is known.” Rashi explains that “The matter” which became painfully clear to Moshe is that loshon hora was present in Klal Yisrael, and this explained to Moshe why the Jewish people were condemned to endure a crushing enslavement.

The Chofetz Chaim says that this incident fits into a tragic pattern which links most of the major catastrophies of Jewish history with loshon hora: The loshon hora of the Serpent resulted in man’s explusion from Gan Eden; the loshon hora of the spies resulted in the institution of Tisha B’Av as a day of destruction and mourning; the loshon hora of the Jewish people brought about the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash and the length of the present 2,000-year exile.

But this tragic pattern is not a thing of the past. The loshon hora we speak today keeps us in exile*, and keeps the riptide of tragedy crashing up against our people in wave after wave, generation after generation.

Today, we are publicizing the following halacha as a service to Klal Yisrael. In the merit of heeding it, may we be blessed with the strength to turn back the tide.

A negative statement about someone is considered loshon hora even if the information is common knowledge and even if it is printed in a newspaper.*

  1. Loshon hora, by definition, is a true statement. Even though it is true, it may not be repeated, heard or believed.
  2. Doubting what you read in the newspaper is not naivete; it is mature, critical thinking, because media is often biased, incomplete and inaccurate.

Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation
361 Spook Rock Rd. Suffern, NY 10901
(845) 352-3505

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12 Responses

  1. callieisrachel says:

    I spoke with my rabbi about this matter of blogging and loshon hora and he said people who need to vent their feelings and commiserate in an ANONYMOUS way is OK. This does not cause harm or any embarrassment to the people involved. The rules are that intent must be considered in the matter, no harmful intent is invloved in most blogs. One can never try to harm another or cause them to lose a job.

  2. Yaakov Menken says:

    DMZ – You asked about Loshon Hora about a group. There is, most certainly, such an issue. “Chassidim are lazy.” “MO’s aren’t really observant.” “Yeshiva guys are closed-minded.” “Rabbonim shelter evil-doers.” All of these would be hotza’as shem ra, because they do meet the criteria of Loshon Hora, and are also false.

    What they share in common is that not only do they lack to’eles, but also that if after hearing the above you would meet a Chassid, “MO,” Yeshiva guy or Rabbi, you might believe it and think, “oh, he’s a lazy Chassid!” (etc.) Either of these two things — lacking to’eles or letting the listener think badly of an individual member of a group — is wrong.

    But if you say, “hey, there’s a shidduch problem,” and I meet a person afterwards, am I going to think “hey, he’s bad, because he created a problem?” Of course not — for two reasons. First, the problem isn’t anyone’s fault, any more than someone was responsible for the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Second, even if it were, you wouldn’t point at anyone (or any group) afterwards.

    A better example: people spend too much on weddings. They do, and Rabbonim make rules about it. Does that mean the person who made a huge wedding last week is bad? Not necessarily — sometimes circumstances demand an exception, and you won’t know when or why.

    Think within those guidelines. Any number of posts thus far have been self-analytical and/or self-critical. That’s a good thing. We are a learning and growing community, and we should address problems as they arise.

  3. the element says:

    From where I am from, there are a lot of problems, most of which cannot be dealt with under the table and out of the public eye, because they involve so many people. But the fact is, that no one does a single that compunding the problem even further. In instances like that, it would seem like Lashon Hara, would be a necessary step to in some ways fixing that problem, or at least making it known, so that people who aren’t involved voluntarily can remove themselves from that situation.

  4. Fotheringay-phipps says:

    Just a brief note to commend you for deleting the post. I did not see it and have no idea if it’s true or what the whole story is about, for that matter. But you’re on the right track – there’s no “brave new world” of the internet that suddenly allows all laws of lashon hora to be suspended.

    Keep up the good work.

  5. Shlomo says:

    we are required to talk to authorities in cases of childhood abuse (emotional, physical and sexual abuse), rabbinical sexual misconduct, domestic violence. This includes when an alleged offender is one of our friends.

  6. Fotheringay-phipps says:

    Well I wasn’t sure what the claimers were claiming, and didn’t see what might have been misread. I don’t know if the Ra’avad means no women are ever beaten for anything – he means for failing to live up to spousal obligations (haven’t looked into this, though). I think some people are uncomfotable with the notion of using physical force for failure to live up to spousal obligations. People are more worked up about wife-abuse than husband abuse these days, despite the actual numbers being closer than one might expect.

    I’m with you in general on people taking Jewish sources out of context.

  7. Yaakov Menken says:

    Well, F-P, just drop the word “actual,” and there you are: “not spouse abuse.” The passage says that the court may punish a wife, just as it may punish a husband. The last time I checked, a punishment from the legal system did not quite qualify as “spouse abuse.”

    If you want gender bias, see the Ra’avad there. He says a court beating a man is fine, but never saw that corporal punishment could be administered to a woman. That’s flagrant bias, but I’ve never heard these people complain about the Ra’avad…

  8. Fotheringay-phipps says:

    Not actual spouse abuse – to clarify – the court administers, not the husband

  9. Fotheringay-phipps says:

    “How many times have we heard the canard about Maimonides endorsing wife-beating, despite the abysmal ignorance of the Hebrew language (not to mention Jewish Law) reflected in this pathetic misreading of the words on the page?”

    What is the ignorance involved here (the Rambam does in fact condone it in certain circumstances – if these are stretched it would be a “canard” but you can’t wish it all away).

  10. MJB says:

    Loshon Hara by way of the internet is a very serious issue. I stopped reading the blog you referrenced because I felt that the allegations and innuendo were loshon hara and had very little chance of being “LeToelet” or meeting any of the other heterim. I am really impressed with the quality of the conributors and the respectful and earnest tone of the comments. Aleh Vehatzlach

  11. DMZ says:

    I think I phrased my question incorrectly, so I’ll try again – your response was indeed enlightening, however. I’m desperately wishing I had a copy of the laws of the shmiras halashon beside me to delve into, but alas, all my sefarim are at my new apartment (where I am not at).

    I _thought_, however, that there was an issue with “slandering the community”. Am I incorrect? My thrust was not so much that you had to name names to get action done (although a semi-recent incident with NCSY is worth considering with regards to that), but that there would seem to be an issue of telling tales about the community in general.

    Let’s take for example, I don’t know, the shidduch problem. Is it wrong to state, in public, that the community has serious, serious problems, outline them, and suggest solutions? Certainly, applying this to a named person is wrong, but what about the Jewish community?

    Jewish blogging ethics… might be an interesting book.

    -DMZ

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