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If a prominent Rabbi (meaning someone who heads a community or institution, not just anyone who has semicha) makes a statement that is technically halachically correct/acceptable but is easily misconstrued or misunderstood. If that comment becomes public knowledge, meaning it is posted online and seized upon by the media in a way that brings shame to either the Rabbi, his affiliated organization or Judaism as a whole; should the Rabbi apologize? Please cite sources either from chazal or written halachic rulings.

I am assuming

  1. What was said does not violate halacha in any way
  2. The thing that was said was done so not expecting that it would be exposed to the greater world
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You're asking specifically about apologizing, but would this question work better if it asked "what steps should he take?". I mean, it sounds like apologizing, while relevant, isn't his top priority -- correcting the mistaken impression would be, no? –  Monica Cellio Mar 15 '13 at 15:41
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@nikmasi What?? Adderabba! Saying such things in public is the biggest insult to Torah and the honor of Talmidei Chachamim, and a Chillul haShem as well. –  Double AA Mar 15 '13 at 15:53
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@nikmasi You said it brings shame to the affiliated organization or Judaism as a whole. That is damage. –  Double AA Mar 15 '13 at 15:54
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@DoubleAA I don't know about that. There are many things that Jews do which the would looks down upon them for but we don't apologize for. I give my kid a bris milah no matter how heathenistic the world may esteem it to be. –  user2110 Mar 15 '13 at 15:55
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"Should he apologize" seems, actually, very vague, since "apologies" can take all kinds of forms that have very different meanings and effects. So, what you're really asking is "should he make a statement, and what should it be?" It seems to me that this is a question of PR judgement much more than of Halacha or even Mussar, and that it's very unlikely that there would be sources that would both address this question and be applicable to other cases. –  Isaac Moses Mar 15 '13 at 16:57

3 Answers 3

From pirkei Avos perek 1:11 we see that Avtaylon warned not to say something which can be misconstrued .one should be as clear as possible.

One can also see from the gemara in Yoma 86a that the Rabbanim would be careful with their actions so one should not learn and misinterpret their actions(see case with Rav and Abaye) and cause the greatest sin of chillul Hashem.

On the same daf Yitzchak davei Rabbi Yannai said that anyone whose friends are embarrassed on account of his bad reputation (even if untrue) is a case of chillul Hashem .

It seems quite clear one has an obligation and responsibility to correct a false idea.

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See the gemarah in Yoma for more info. –  sam May 6 '13 at 22:35

I read a story of Rav Shach who gave a childless couple a bracha that they should have kids.

soem time later they had twins. Rav Shach came to be the bris.

At the bris the father asked him to be the sandek. He asked who would be the second sandek. the father replied something about the grandfather. Rav Shach then said that either he will be the sandek for both or not at all.

After a few minutes the word spread and some one there started spreading a rumor that Rav Shach is such an arrogant person for demanding to be the sandek for both kids or not at all.

When Rav Shach heard this, he announced to everyone that the reason he had done this is so that when the two babies grow up there should not be jealousy between them that one of them had a big rosh yeshiva as sandek.

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Good story. Did he apologize? –  Seth J Mar 17 '13 at 0:09
    
who? rav shach? –  ray Mar 18 '13 at 18:35
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Yes, because that's what the question is about. Without that information it's irrelevant. –  Seth J Mar 18 '13 at 18:39
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I think you have the question exactly correct. Your answer gives a perfect example of such a case. But you don't tell the reader if he apologized or not. I'm not saying R' Shach should have apologized. I'm saying your answer is irrelevant without that information. –  Seth J Mar 19 '13 at 12:03
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If it were obvious, you'd probably have a few upvotes, no? I did not down vote, because I had a pretty good idea what you meant, but it's not in the answer, so I did not feel I could upvote. I'm offering you constructive criticism here to help you improve your answer. –  Seth J Mar 22 '13 at 12:26

Maaseh Rav - Rabbi Feldman made comments about Dov Lipman based on his understanding of what Dov had said. These comments were seized upon by the Jewish media, many of which decried the Chareidi leader's stance. When he later discovered that he had his facts wrong he apologized. As to whether or not the comments violated halacha see this post

I assume both his initial comments and later apology were intended to be made public.

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I don't think this falls under the category of apologizing for comments that could be misunderstood. His words and intent were understood correctly. He had been misinformed and spoke about what he had been led to believe were someone else's words and intent. His apology, such that it was, was not because his words were misconstrued, but because he had been misinformed. –  Seth J May 14 '13 at 15:55

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