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Is describing how someone looks loshon hara if the attributes are commonly perceived as negative?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – msh210 Feb 15 at 22:54
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A relevant source might be Nedarim 50b:

ההיא דאתיא לקמיה דרב יהודה מנהרדעא לדינא ואיתחייבת מן דינא אמרה ליה שמואל רבך הכי דנן אמר לה ידעת ליה אמרה ליה אין גוצא ורבה כריסיה אוכם ורבה שיניה אמר לה לבזוייה קאתית תיהוי ההיא אתתא בשמתא פקעה ומתה:

A certain woman came before Rav Yehuda of the city of Neharde’a for judgment, and she was found guilty in the judgment of her case. She said to him: Would Shmuel your teacher have judged me in this manner? He said to her: Did you know him? She said to him: Yes. He was short and potbellied. He was dark and his teeth were large. He said to her: Did you come here to disparage him by describing him in this manner? Let that woman be in a state of excommunication. After he excommunicated her, her belly split open and she died, as a punishment for having disparaged a Torah scholar.

Maharik (teshuvah 185) notes that even though on the surface she could have claimed that she didn't mean to be insulting, that wouldn't wash:

וגדול' מזו מצינו בפ' הנודר מן המבושל (נדרים דף נ) גבי ההיא איתתא דאיחייבא בבי דינא דרב יודא כו' דא"ל ידעתי ליה אמרה ליה אין זוטר ורב כרסייה וכו' וא"ל לבזויי קא מכוונת אמר לה תהוי ההיא אתתא בשמתא וכו' ומביה ראיה במרדכי בת"ש השייכות לסדר נשים דמשמתינן אע"ג דמצי למימר לא לבזויי נתכוונתי כו'.

Moreover, we find [the story from the Gemara cited above]. From this the Mordechai, in the teshuvos relevant to Seder Nashim, proves that we excommunicate someone [who talks this way], even though they could argue that they didn't mean to be insulting.

Granted, then, that in that case there's the additional factor of disparaging a talmid chacham, it does suggest that such a description is lashon hara.

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    Also there it was probably intended to be insulting. That would certainly make it worse. The OP's case sounds like no ill will is intended. – user6591 Feb 14 at 20:08
  • @user6591 I don't think we have to assume that she meant it to be insulting either, and in fact in a teshuvah of Maharik (linked there at Sefaria) he cites the Mordechai as saying that excommunication would be warranted in this kind of case "even though the person could argue that he didn't mean to be insulting." – Meir Feb 16 at 4:28
  • Meir why not include this relevant discussion with sources in your post? – Double AA Mar 16 at 23:06
  • Might this case be different because (1)She was discussing a major Talmid Chocom in a way that (2)possibly wasn't even accurate (3)in a very disparign way.What about a more mild comment like he is fat/has too much acne/warts etc? – Schmerel Mar 17 at 1:59
  • @Schmerel (1) and (3), sure, but (2), not necessarily. (And your examples are no less subjective - hence not necessarily completely accurate - than her statements.) – Meir Mar 17 at 15:34
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the chofetz chaim has 7 conditions thta let's one speak lashon hara. if you are missing one then it is an aveira.

The concept of lashon hara Letoelet let's one speak lashon hara. the chofetz chaim says you neeed these 7 condition.

1-Thethe one telling it to you had to witnessed the incident himself, rather than knowing about it from rumor. (If he has only heard about the incident, then he must verify its authenticity firsthand.) 2-The speaker should reflect thoroughly, not hastily concluding something is theft or damage or any other offense, that the action in question is truly a violation according to halacha. 3-The speaker should first approach the transgressor privately, and rebuke him with gentle language (such that the transgressor would be inclined to listen), because perhaps this can have an impact and inspire the person to improve his ways. If the transgressor does not listen, then the speaker should alert the public of the individual’s guilt. (In a case where the speaker knows in advance that the transgressor won’t listen to rebuke, we will discuss it IY”H in paragraph 7.) 4-The description of the sin should not be exaggerated [for “effect” or any other reason]. 5-The speaker must have pure intentions (“to’elet,” lit. “purpose”). As we will discuss later in paragraph 4, the speaker should not – Heaven forbid – enjoy his friend’s (the transgressor’s) disgrace, nor act out of a previous hatred he felt for the person. 6-If the purpose of speaking the Lashon Hara (e.g. causing the sinner to repent, warning the community to stay away from such activity) can be achieved in another way rather than speaking Lashon Hara, it is forbidden to speak Lashon Hara. 7-By speaking Lashon Hara, the transgressor should not be caused more damage than would be appropriate as determined by a court of Jewish law reviewing the case. This is discussed in detail in Hilchot Rechilut chapter nine. [An example would be if a thief would be obligated to repay the victim $100, but Lashon Hara caused him damages of $500.]

this was mostly copied and pasted off of this website https://torah.org/learning/halashon-chapter10/

  • Please tell me what I did wrong that you marked a thumbs down. I would like to improve my knowledge and i would love to know my mistake in your eyes. – Mordechai Schmerler Mar 16 at 22:46
  • I didn't downvote. But this list doesn't really answer the question, because the list you presented is about describing Ploni's aveirah to others, whereas the OP's question was about describing Ploni's negative appearance. – Meir Mar 17 at 1:11
  • when can describe a negative appearance if it fits in these 7 categories then the chofetz chaim permits it – Mordechai Schmerler Mar 17 at 1:13
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Lo and behold I am quoting in the name of myself:

"If you describe an event or a person based on your perceived objective truth with an absolutely neutral frame of mind, describing said event or person is not lashon hara. However, it would be decent to use positively connotations like "heavy woman" instead of "fat woman" in the case of a description of a person. Can you remain super objective and neutral (like I think many Rabbis do) when describing a person? No giggling, no malicious thoughts and so on? If so, Then describing a person's appearance is not lashon hara."

I have no rabbinical source to back it up and would welcome edits to my answer (adding fitting sources) since I'm pretty sure many Rabbis of the past and present would agree with my view.

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    This is incorrect. The first line of the main body of the Sefer Chafetz Chaim says explicitly that the prohibition of Lashon Hara can apply even to 'absolute truth'. sefaria.org/… – Salmononius2 Feb 16 at 0:15
  • And the speaker [of lashon hara] transgresses a negative commandment, viz. (Vayikra 19:16): "Do not go talebearing among your people." And this [lashon hara] is also in the category of rechiluth. //////// Talebearing and speaking the "absolute truth" (as if we know what that is - specifically wrote "perceived objective truth in my answer) seem like opposites to me. Isn't a tale by default "fantasy"? – Ilja Feb 16 at 0:46
  • a) Google 'define tale'. While primarily used for fictions, it can also be used for a true story. b) even if 'tale' meant falsehood, that's putting too much stock in an implication of a translation. The Chafetz Chaim wrote אֲפִלּוּ עַל אֱמֶת גָּמוּר and used the Passuk of לֹא תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ as the source, so even if this specific translation might be inexact, the Chafetz Chaim is clearly writing that one can transgress Lashon Hara while speaking 'truth' (absolute/subjective is irrelevant). – Salmononius2 Feb 16 at 1:08

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