Gossip and Tisha B’Av

The Jewish Internet

By Mark Mietkiewicz, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

Mark Mietkiewicz

Did you read on the Internet how a famous fashion designer once uttered a racist remark on a popular talk show and was told to leave immediately? Well, if you did, forget about it. It’s not true (http://bit.ly/lashon1).

Although the Internet can be a wonderful source of knowledge, it has probably become the world’s biggest breeding ground of malicious rumors, scurrilous innuendo and good old gossip. Or as Judaism would look at it, bad old gossip. The Internet may be new but gossip has been around for thousands of years and Judaism has quite a bit to say about it.

Gossip in Hebrew is usually translated as lashon hora, literally evil tongue. A piece of gossip may be true and it may even have been said without malice but that does not make it any more acceptable in Jewish law (http://bit.ly/lashon2).

One of the greatest proponents of codifying the laws against lashon hora was Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1838-1933), better known as the Chofetz Chaim (http://bit.ly/lashon3).

The Chofetz Chaim lists 31 commandments which may be violated when a person speaks or listens to lashon hora (http://bit.ly/lashon12) including “In righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” and “You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people (Lev. 19:15-16).”

The Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation steps up its efforts at this time of year. From July 19, the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz, to Aug. 9, Tisha B’Av, Jews observe a three-week period of semi-mourning, known as the time when many national calamities have hit the Jews.

But instead of blaming outside forces, the Talmud says that the cause of the destruction of the Second Temple was the senseless hatred and ill will displayed among Jews.

Since gossip and ill will are very much contemporary issues within Judaism, the Chofetz Chaim Foundation has created programs to spread the message about lashon hora (http://bit.ly/lashon1).

What do you do if you want to report the irresponsible behavior of a co-worker while respecting the rules of lashon hora? According to the Professional Ethics and Halachah website, there are four situations when you are not only permitted, but obligated to speak negatively about others:

• to help the person spoken about,
• to help or protect those negatively affected by the person being spoken about,
• to prevent a community dispute,
• and to help others learn from the first person’s faults (http://bit.ly/lashon6).

Rabbi Mark Dratch highlights a specific area where keeping silent is unacceptable: in the case of abuse. He quotes the Orach Chayim: “There is a sin even greater than (speaking lashon hora), 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 hora…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 (http://bit.ly/lashon7).’”

The rabbis teach that lashon hora is like killing three people because it:

1. destroys the reputation of the victim,
2. damages the perceptions of the listener,
3. and diminishes the standing of the speaker (http://bit.ly/lashon8).”

Rabbi Moshe ben Asher tells how hurt he was when he found out that someone close to him had been uttering lashon hora about him. When there was no admission or apology on behalf of the friend, there was no forgiveness on behalf of the rabbi. And then the friend died. That prompted Rabbi ben Asher to do some soul searching about coming to terms with lashon hora (http://bit.ly/lashon9).

So how do you break the gossip habit? Slowly. Choose an hour daily during which you will make a deliberate effort to speak no evil. Once that becomes comfortable, gradually expand your gossip-free period. And how does the Internet fit into the resolution to cut down on lashon hora? Very conveniently. You can kick off your own campaign by making your anti-lashon hora pledge online (http://bit.ly/lashon10).

And if you want to try something a bit more high tech, join the No Lashon Hora Facebook group (http://bit.ly/lashon11).

Mark Mietkiewicz is a Toronto-based Internet producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet. He can be reached at highway@rogers.com.

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