shmirat haloshon - When it is Okay to Speak Loshon Hara

This post is dedicated in merit that Hershel ben Etya Sarah have a yeshuah.

Elisheva Maline

In one of my first articles on the topic of shmirat halsohon, I mentioned that speaking loshon hara is one of the main causes of sin'at chinum (baseless hatred) and also one of the underlying reasons G-d allowed the Romans to destroy our second Beit haMikdash (Holy Temple). 

After cautioning us with veracity about the collateral wreckage loshon hara leaves in its wake (i.e. the sins that accompany it), not to mention a long string of consequences, the Chofez Chaim outfits us with seven rules defining the exceptions to guarding one's tongue. These are called 'Speaking loshon hara li'toeles,' blabbing with a constructive purpose in mind. 'That's not permission to say, "Make a run for the loopholes." These rules are meant for staving off pending disasters, not causing them. So, if you're someone who enjoys poking fun at others for nothing better than your own entertainment and when confronted protests, "But the Chofez Chaim said it's okay," don't think twice about whether you're hiding behind pretense or not.

What does speaking or accepting loshon hara li'toeles (for a constructive purpose) look like? How are we supposed to know when a situation calls for speaking li'toeles or not? The classic examples regarding whether one may speak loshon hara or not are usually filed under shidduchim (matchmaking issues) but for the sake of my audience I will outline a scenario which is a tad more relevant. "You know your friend is looking for work; you also happen to know that the agency she has scheduled an interview with cheats their employees'. How do you know if it's okay to say something about her potential date with disaster?

The seven laws of when one can speak li'toeles are written down in the A Daily Companion as follows:

(1) One must be absolutely certain that the information he wants to relate is accurate. Either he has to have witnessed an incident first hand or he has to have thoroughly investigated the matter and found it to be accurate. If one gets second-hand negative information and wishes to pass it on to another person, he must make it clear that his words are based on hearsay.

(2)  One must think the matter through and decide whether some kind of wrong has actually been done. Sometimes, what one may think was a misdeed may actually have been something that was halachically (according to Jewish law) permitted. Therefore, he must be certain that his information, as well as his interpretation of the information, are 100% correct before he passes it on. 

(3) One must first approach the wrongdoer and attempt to persuade him to rectify his behavior. For instance, one has spotted a store owner cheating one of his customers. Approach the owner first and beg him to return the money he stole. Only after this fails is one permitted to approach the wronged man and let him know that he was being put on.

(4) One is not permitted to exaggerate the information in any way, shape or form. This can be especially difficult when discussing matters that involve one's emotions. Anyway, no one said it isn't hard to control oneself; just do it.

(5) One's intentions should be solely for the sake of helping the person being victimized. If one harbors any ill will toward the subject of the loshon hara, he cannot relate the information (in any case, one should do everything in his power to rid himself of ill feelings). For instance, if the effect of a storekeeper's telling his customers about some competitor's wrongdoings with the goal of drawing the potential clients further into his own business then he is forbidden to relate any negative information about the competition. In addition, if one has a vested interest in the results of the negative information he wants to impart, it is advisable to consult a rabbi on how best to proceed. 

(6) If one can get the same results without speaking loshon hara, then one must go with that option. For instance, someone wants to warn a friend not to shop at a certain store because the owner is dishonest and he knows he can help his friend without besmirching the proprietor then he should avoid speaking about it. 

(7) One is not allowed to convey information if it will result in the subject suffering a greater loss than the halacha permits.

Now, one can see how it is impossible to make a correlation between speaking li'toeles and looking for loopholes so onee can relate loshon hara sans a guilty conscience. Except for the unlearned and self deluded people, I suppose, people generally don't make the word toeles synonymous with loopholes anyway. Let me know whether you ever happen upon an incident you need to speak loshon hara li'toeles about. I am eager to hear that instances happen and that the Chofez Chaim's rules are being adhered to. 

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