29 - Lashon Hara and Rechilus part 2

The Torah prohibition of Deragatory speech and gossiping applies not only to speaking but also to listening to what someone else is saying, and believing it to be true.

We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chusim for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.


Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Stop yourself when you’re about to speak negatively about a community institution.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.

Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #29


LASHON HARA AND RECHILUS - לשון הרע ורכילות

PART 2 – Listening and Accepting


The Torah prohibition of lashon hara and rechilus applies not only to speaking but also to listening to what someone else is saying, and believing it to be true.  An even greater offense is to express agreement with the prohibited statement.  The issur to believe lashon hara applies no matter who the speaker is, old or young, Jew or non-Jew.  

The Chafetz Chaim maintains that deliberately listening to lashon hara that is being spoken is also a violation of a Torah prohibition, even if the listener does not believe what he hears.  However, in a case where there is a specific constructive benefit to listening to what is being said, such as to prevent future damage, we may listen and take precautions, as long as we do not accept what was said as the truth.

If we hear a negative report about someone, and are able to interpret what took place in a positive way, we do not have to disbelieve the facts.  On the other hand, if we are aware of the facts beforehand, and the speaker now sheds a negative light on what took place, we are not permitted to believe his negative interpretation, as that would constitute accepting lashon hara.

Even in a case where it appears obvious that the report is true, such as when the lashon hara is said in the presence of the subject, and he remains silent, not making any attempt to defend himself, we are still not permitted to believe the lashon hara.  Even if the subject is not quiet by nature but usually speaks up, we cannot take his silence as a proof of the truth of the report.

If one witness testifies in bais din, we may not accept his report as true.  Only a testimony of two witnesses is acceptable.  On the other hand, if we hear a report from two people, if it isn’t delivered properly in bais din, it is not considered reliable testimony, and it may not be accepted as truth.

(Excerpted from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)

Story(based on a true story)

When I landed myself a job at a great school about an hour from my house, I was thrilled.  When I found a spot the next year in a car that would be driving there daily from my town, I was even more thrilled.  My husband and I only had one car, so this was a big deal.  

They picked me up that first morning with plenty of time.  Mrs. Kellerman was our driver, her twenty-year-old daughter sitting next to her in the front; we would drop her at her new job, not far from the school where the rest of us worked.  I sat with two other fellow teachers in the backseat, biding our time for the long ride.  It was a little crowded, but it was free and much quicker than public transportation.

Within a week, though, I knew I had a problem.  After the first day of meet-and-greets, mom and daughter slipped into what had became a routine-using the ride as their daily talk time.  And that talk time seemed to revolve around other people.  

I heard stories and opinions about people in my neighborhood.  Some were funny stories, some were complaints, and some were just people comparing notes.  I heard stories about teachers and staff in the school we taught in.  They were told without names, and the daughter didn’t know who the subjects were, but I certainly did.  And I heard it all, quietly, from the back seat.  The co-teacher who was too laid back to work with, the rigid vice principal, and my neighbor from down the block who had once hit Mrs. Kellerman’s car, they all came alive during those long rides.  She even had an off-hand comment about one of my back-seat-mates, who just sat there and stared.

The three of us just sat there as the conversation flowed in front of us, occasionally looking at each other with disbelief.  Although when I tried to mention that perhaps what they were saying was not so appropriate it would help but then their conversation would just continue five minutes later.

I tried not to hear, but I couldn’t put my fingers in my ears for two hours a day.  So I tried not to believe.  Mrs. Kellerman and her co-teacher clearly had different styles, I told myself, but that doesn’t mean the co-teacher is wrong; the beginning of the school year is a time for adjustment.  Many of the stories about the vice principal had apparently been heard from others-maybe they weren’t true.  And my neighbor... Well, she did hit the car, I knew that already.  But the rest of the stories including her reactions, I didn’t have to believe those.  

But I began to notice what I’d heard creeping into my views of the administration at my school.  I too now viewed the vice-principal as stubborn and possessing only book-knowledge without enough real-world experience, and I had to make an effort not to allow that idea into our interactions.  And judging the subjects of the numerous stories favorably was causing me some very negative feelings about my generous driver, because I was having a hard time judging her favorably at the same time.

Something had to give.  I needed the ride, but at what cost?  We hadn’t budgeted for the bus every day, but I might need to do that.  

I confided in a long distance friend, who came up with an obvious solution.  I couldn’t stick my fingers in my ears, but I could use an iPod.  I got into the car the next morning and sheepishly apologized for being antisocial, but I had decided that the car rides would be my shiur time.  Then I stuck my ear-buds in and surrendered to Rav Berel Wein’s latest MP3.

The next year, I found a different way to school.  And I worked hard to judge Mrs. Kellerman favorably.  But she made it pretty hard for me.

Discussion Question Options:

What strategies can we use not to listen to lashon hara and rechilus when we cannot escape being in a place where they are spoken?  

Why might a person remain silent when hearing negative speech if it isn’t true? How can we judge him favorably?

How can we help ourselves not to accept lashon hara or rechilus after we’ve heard it? 

Stretch of the Week:

Come up with a strategy to get yourself out of an anticipated lashon hara situation.


Stretch Of The Week