"Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren, being still a lad even with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought evil report of them unto their father." Genesis 37:2 (JPS).

From contemporary views on halacha, it seems that it would be bad to report ("speak lashon hara") about anyone - even if the issue is a true wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the Torah seems to suggest that we are sometimes required to present evidence of bad behavior to a judge.

Was Joseph speaking lashon hara or was he simply giving a factual report to his father, the judge, about something gone bad?


1 Answer 1


The Shalo Hakadosh (Parshas Vayeshiev) writes that from the words "ויבא יוסף את דיבתם רעה" (Yosef brought evil reports to his father), it seems that Yosef did not fabricate these stories (otherwise it should have said he "made up" the reports).

The Midrash relates that Yosef would tell his father that his brothers were guilty of eating meat that was not slaughtered and engaging in forbidden relationships with women. The Shalo questions how if such stories were true, it could be reconciled with the fact that all twelve sons of Yaakov were holy and righteous.

He brings a fascinating explanation: The brothers would use the secrets of Sefer Yetzirah to create artifical animals and women (golems), which halachically did not require to be slaughtered and were not considered human beings to transgress the laws of illicit relationships. Thus they did not actually transgress anything, but Yosef mistaking them for real people and animals would inform their father. The Chofetz Chaim quotes this story as an illustration of how careful one must be to judge another favorably and avoid lashon hara.

  • What about Yosef's accusation "that they demeaned the sons of the handmaids by calling them slaves"( Rashi on Bereshit 37:2, s.v. "Et Dibatam Ra'ah")?
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Feb 19, 2013 at 17:39
  • If Yosef was "mistaking them for real people and animals", does that mean he was "simply giving a factual report to his father, the Judge, about something gone bad"?
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Feb 19, 2013 at 17:53
  • @TamirEvan The Shalo explains this there (I left it out in the answer for the sake of brevity). The brothers rejected the requests of Bilha and Zilpa's sons to join in because one who is not "meyuchas" cannot involve himself in Sefer Yetzirah. However, Yosef was unaware of their motivation.
    – Michoel
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 0:57
  • @TamirEvan If it was factually incorrect it would be "motzei shem ra". Lashon Harah is telling tales which are true but for no constructive purpose. It seems in this case Yosef was genuinely concerned about his brothers' behaviour, but should still have investigated more thoroughly.
    – Michoel
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 1:02
  • 1
    @Lee I have edited my answer with a link to the original source, and yes we are referring to the same person.
    – Michoel
    Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 6:04

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