We are striving to love our fellow Jews by improving
the way we interact with others.
Last week’s Stretch of the Week: Take one hour over the course of this week to refrain from speaking lashon hora in the merit of a person in need of a marriage partner, job, or recovery from an illness etc.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Negative Speech for a Purpose
Lashon Hora l’toeles
לשון הרע לתועלת
The underlying factor in the transgression of negative speech, or lashon hora, is the corrupt nature of the person who chooses to find fault with others. G-d wants His people to be spiritually elevated, not gossipmongers.
However, if we are speaking up for a constructive purpose, such as to decry evil, assist someone who was wronged or to do a service for society, this often falls under the category of lashon hora l'toeles, or negative speech for a constructive purpose. This is permissible and sometimes even required, provided the following seven conditions are met:
1) Factual: We must be certain that the negative information is true, either because we saw it ourselves or because we have investigated the matter and confirmed that it is true.
2) Wrong: We must think the matter through carefully to make sure that the act was really a wrongdoing according to the Torah. If we are uncertain, we are obligated to judge the person favorably. However, if there is a concern about potential damage to someone, then the Torah teaches: “Do not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed” (Vayikra 19:16).
3) Constructive: When possible, we must first try to gently reprove the sinner in order to possibly achieve the constructive goal without having to relate the derogatory information to anyone else.
4) Accurate: The information must be relayed accurately, without exaggerating the wrongdoing and without omitting any details that would mitigate its severity.
5) Well-intended: Our intentions must be l’toeles – for the sake of helping or benefiting one or more of the parties involved – not in order to take pleasure in finding fault, and not stemming from motives of personal hatred toward the sinner.
6) Alternative Approaches: When it may be possible to bring about the constructive purpose through means other than relating the negative speech, we are required to try the alternative method first.
7) Minimally Damaging: We should not cause the subject more damage than would have been assigned to him had the case been brought to a Jewish court of law (bais din).
(Excerpts from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)
I received a phone call from one of my teachers who said she wanted to discuss something with me. Her tone suggested that the conversation would be of a serious nature. When the morning of the meeting arrived, I felt as if I was in some sort of trouble, although she greeted me with a warm smile. “Thank you so much for coming to meet with me. I actually wanted to talk to you about your friend Bonnie.” said Mrs. Rosenberg.
Bonnie was an old friend of mine who recently joined me to study Judaism in Israel. Although she was a wonderful girl, she had her fair share of issues. When I decided to study abroad, Bonnie was intrigued and wanted to tag along. Unfortunately, some of her problems tagged along as well.
“There have been a few incidents in the dorms involving stolen property and a few of the girls have mentioned that they have seen Bonnie with items very similar to those that have been missing,” said Mrs. Rosenberg.
Bonnie had a past history of theft. She was caught a few times and reprimanded, but the last time she was arrested and was only pardoned because she agreed to start attending group therapy. I felt that a trip to Israel could help her to turn her life around. When I approached the school about accepting her, I had elected not to mention any of her history out of fear she would not be admitted.
“Mindy, I understand your desire to help Bonnie by encouraging her to come and learn about her Judaism. However, it’s possible that you made a mistake in not being totally honest with us about her past. If we had been informed about this situation, perhaps we could have been better prepared to help her.”
“I didn’t want to take responsibility if she was not accepted. I thought she would just come and somehow everything would work out,” I responded.
“I hear you Mindy, I’m not judging you. Although generally we never speak out against another person, there are specific laws about when it is actually required to do so. I believe this would be one of those cases. You had information that would have been very beneficial for us to know but, out of your desire to protect your friend, it harmed someone else,” the teacher explained. She continued with suggestions on how to guide Bonnie in the dorms and informed me that, although Bonnie was my friend, I had a responsibility to the other girls as well.
I learned many lessons that day. If I see myself as part of the Jewish nation, I must know when to keep my mouth closed, when to speak up for the truth and how to express myself effectively, honestly, and with dignity at all times.
Discussion Question Options:
- When people are unsure if they should mention specific information to someone about a third party, how should they make that decision?
- Do you find that people generally withhold information when they should speak or speak out when they shouldn’t?
- When people ask you about someone and it’s not clear to you whether their inquiry is constructive, what is a tactful way to determine this?
Stretch of the Week:
This week, develop a response to use when approached with information about a third party that is not for a constructive purpose.