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Necessary background: Lashon Harah (slander) is prohibited, unless it is for a to'eles (constructive purpose).

Can I say Lashon Harah that would be available to everyone, would be beneficial for some people, and I have no way of finding the people for whom it would be beneficial?

For example, let's say I am renting an apartment and my landlord is a miserable wretch. I would like to warn any future tenants about his wretchedness. However, he won't be sending any future potential tenants to me as a reference. Can I post to an anonymous internet site how terrible my landlord was, in the hopes that future potential tenants may google the address and find my review? The information would also be available to people who weren't looking into this apartment.

Would it make a difference if the site I posted to was a primarily Jewish visited site (such as Yeshiva World News or something) or if the landlord was Jewish or not?

  • there was an article on this in last year's edition of Techumin – הנער הזה Jul 22 '14 at 13:45
  • 1
    As to your last line, If the landlord isn't Jewish, then there is no Issur of Lashon Harah, as Lashon Harah doesn't apply when speaking about a non-Jew (that doesn't mean that one should speak badly about non-Jews, just that it's not an Issur of Lashon Harah). – Salmononius2 Jul 23 '14 at 4:25
  • @yez do you find something lacking in my answer or have suggestions to better it? – Shoel U'Meishiv May 14 '15 at 20:28
  • related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/76682/… – mevaqesh Oct 13 '16 at 15:46
  • edited to add more sources... – mevaqesh Jan 1 '17 at 22:20
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If this warning of yours is meant to stop or prevent any loss on behalf on the possible future renters, then it is permitted to tell them Lashon Harah about your past landlord (See the Beer Mayim Chaim, Rechilus, Klal 9). See also The Rambam in Sefer Hamitzvos 297. The Chofetz Chaim also brings proofs based on the Rashbam (Bava Basra 39b), Tosafot (Sanhedrin 73a), and the Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzva 237)

However, The Chofetz Chaim qualifies, that this is only permissible if a number of other conditions are met (such as verifying the information, only altruistic intent, attempting other methods of stopping the loss, etc. see here).

However, telling over this information is only permitted when speaking to the person who stands to lose financially, but to spread it around to others who have nothing to do with the situation and do not stand to lose anything then it is forbidden. If there is no other option, it would still be prohibited, the chiyuv to save another Jew from a loss is not enough of reason to justify spreading it around to other who have nothing to do with it. (As per the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda Baum of Jerusalem)

Thus, posting online where others who are not looking into the apartment will be seeing it, is not considered a valid method of telling over the pertinent information. Rather, you must find a way to tell over this information privately only to the people who are actively looking at the apartment to rent.

If the landlord is a gentile, there is no issur of lashon harah, rather it is mitzvah to warn others of his behavior.

  • The worst type of downvotes are commentless ones..? – Shoel U'Meishiv Aug 10 '18 at 7:07
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According to R. Menahem HaMeiri the definition of l'shon hara, is speech that is meant to be defamatory or hurtful. Thus, statements of a negative nature that are said for a positive reason (in this case warning others of a negative landlord), and not to hurt others, are permissible since by definition they are not l'shon hara. These are his words in is Hibbur HaTeshuva (Meshiv Nefesh I:4):

עקר לשון הרע הוא המתמיד לספר בגנות האחרים ויתן דפי בענינים או שילעג להם למעוט הצלחתם...ומעין זה מי שילעיג על חבריו למעוט השגתם בידיעה...לכונת לעג וליצנות...וכלל הדברים כל אשר יתן מום באדם...ללא כונת ענין נבחר הוא ענין לשון הרע...שאין לספר במומי בני האדם על דרך לעג וליצנות, אם לא יעשה כן...לאיזו כונה

The archetypal l'shon hara is one who frequently relates embarrassing things about others, and adds falsehood to what he says, or he defames them on their lack of success...And similarly one who defames his fellows on their lack of intellect for the purpose of defamation and mockery...The rule is that anyone who ascribes a fault to others...without some specific intent is l'shon hara...For one should not relate the faults of others in context of defamation and mockery, unless he is speaking for some purpose. (Translation my own).

So while you should always use your judgement as to the most effective way to help others while minimizing any damaging effects of one's behaviours, it does not appear that any way of attempting to protect the public could qualify as l'shon hara according to the Meiri.

This also appears to be the opinion of R. Elhanan Wasserman, who generalises this to all interpersonal mitsvot. He writes in Kovets Ha’arot (Yevamot: 70):

ולולי דבריהם היה נראה, דכל האיסורין שבין אדם לחבירו אינן איסורין אלא דרך קילקול והשחתה שלא לצורך... וכן בלאו דלא תלך רכיל, מותר לספר לה"ר על בעלי מחלוקת כדי להשקיט המריבה. וכן בלאו דאונאת דברים... ומוכח מכ"ז, דכל האיסורין האלו הותרו לצורך תועלת

If not for their words, it would appear that all interpersonal prohibitions, are only forbidden in the context of degrading and tarnishing others for no purpose...And so too with the prohibition of gossiping, it is permitted to tell l'shon hara on disputants to quell the dispute...And similarly with the prohibition of onaat d'varim [verbal abuse]...And it is evident from all this that all of these prohibition are permitted to achieve an end. (Trans. my own).

Importantly, they do not attach conditions to to'elet, as the Haffets Hayyim famously does.

Similarly, the eminent modern day halakhic authority, R. Asher Weiss Shlit"a writes in Minhat Asher to Leviticus (p. 268) that to'elet renders speech permissible and not l'shon hara, by definition.

באיסורי תורה צריך לדון בדיני דחיה האם תועלת זו ראויה לדחות איסור ...אבל בהלכות לשה"ר לאו מדין דחיה אתינן עלה, אלא יסוד האיסור תלוי במדה רעה וכל שכונתו לטובה...ולא לרעתו אין בזה עבירה כלל, ודו"ק בכ"ז כי לענ"ד ברור הוא

With Torah prohibitions one must evaluate with the laws of dehiya [prioritisation], whether this to'elet [purpose] is sufficient to supersede a prohibition. But with the laws of l'shon hara, we are not utilising the law of supercession. Rather, the very definition of the prohibition depends on negative character traits, and anything in which his intent is for good...and not for someone else's harm, has no prohibition whatsoever, and consider all of this, for in my humble opinion, it is clear.

He shows that this is the opinion of Rashi (Moed Katan 16a s.v. amar lei la'avuha) and sharply disputes (p. 267) the Haffets Hayyim's attempt at escaping the implication of Rashi:

אך בחפץ חיים...כתב...ודבריו קשים לכאו' דמלבד שאין הדברים מתיישבים בלשון רש"י

However in Haffets Hayyim...he wrote...and his words appear difficult, for besides for the fact that his words don't fit with Rashi's wording...

[Like R. Elhanan, he connects this to the idea that interpersonal mitsvot in general are by definition only prohibited when they are malicious. (In particular he connects this to the prohibition of overcharging, see p. 267)].

This apparently nearly unanimous view expressed by the Meiri, R. Wasserman, R. Weiss, and the numerous authorities they cite as support, is expressed by R. David Cohen Shlit"a, as well:

This to my mind [is similar to when] the poskim speak about lashon harah l’toeles [for a helpful purpose], which is not limited to loshan harah. Any [transgression of] bein adam l’chaveiro [when it is] l’toeles is mutar (cited here, page 7)

Importantly, he clarifies (p. 267) that there are limits to the limitation of l'shon hara to cases of malicious intent:

דשאני המספר לשה"ר דרך קלות ראש דהרי פושע גמור ובזה ודאי עובר בחטא כיון שהדברים מצד עצמם הם לשה"ר גמור ובדרך שחוק וקלות ראש מנבל הוא את פיו בכה"ג פושע הוא אף שלא התכוין להרע לחבירו

For it is different if a person speaks l'shon hara with frivolity, since the matters are intrinsically l'shon hara and in the context of frivolity and levity, he pollutes his mouth. In such a case, he is a willful sinner even though he didn't intent to harm his fellow.

That is: "I was just having a good time", isn't a legitimate excuse to speak disparagingly about someone. However, by all indications, speaking when there is some specific purpose, such as warning others of a negative landlord, would be fine.

  • +1 - this seems to coincide with the attitude of some today who feel there shouldn't be "hilchos lashon hara" - it's meant to be a judgement call of what is constructive speech and what is destructive. – Y     e     z Dec 8 '16 at 5:17
  • @Yez Exactly. b"h I will add more sources for this...The Chazon Ish is said to have said pretty much exactly that. – mevaqesh Dec 8 '16 at 5:30
  • @mevaqesh could you add more sources? Especially that Chazon Ish. Ive tried finding it. No luck – Shoel U'Meishiv Jun 14 at 10:10

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