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Are there any relationships within which loshon hara is permitted? I guess I mean loshon hara that is said for a purpose--but perhaps not purposes which would meet the strict halachic criteria for saying loshon hara to others.

For example, might it be permissible to talk to one's wife about a difficult boss, merely as a way of including her in one's life, and/or relieving the stress of the situation? More broadly: what extent of loshon hara would be permissible, in what relationships and for what reasons?

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The basic rule is there is no allowance to speak lashon hara to relatives. See for instance Hilchos Lashon Hara (Klal 8, Sif 10). In fact, the Chafetz Chaim there advises against telling your wife all the ways you were mistreated during the day because it will cause her to lose respect for you too!

The Chafetz Chaim in Hilchos Lashon Hara (Klal 6, Sif 4) does give an allowance to listen to someone vent about their day, but only so that they can get it off their chest and won't go telling more people. He also says that the one listening has to be careful not to actually believe it.

  • Am I understanding correctly that this is gender specific: a man can't tell his wife but a woman can tell her husband? – JJLL Feb 18 '15 at 2:22
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    @JJLL you mean the part about what happened during the day? I am not sure if we should read into it so much. He was writing about common occurrences where the man was out and about in beis kneses or the market so it's possible he had more dealings that she would not be aware of as opposed to the stay at home wife. Or, its a very deep insight into human psychology. I'm really not sure myself. – user6591 Feb 18 '15 at 2:29
  • I agree. I was over reading into something that was in the original unedited version of your answer. My mistake. – JJLL Feb 18 '15 at 3:06
  • I don't have it in front of me, but isn't that allowance said as an "efshar"? – Y     e     z Feb 18 '15 at 3:34
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    @YeZ actually he calls it a mitzvah. – user6591 Feb 18 '15 at 3:38
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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 (for example to relieve ones streff and unload on one's spouse), 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 it does not appear that speech without malicious intent, such as in the question would be l'shon hara according to Meiri.

This also appears to be the opinion of this is also 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 Hafets 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)].

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 relieving stress, would be fine.

  • Care to explain yourself commentless downvoter? Would you mind clarifying the object of your scorn: Rishonim, Provence, Lithuanians, or Hassidim? – mevaqesh Jan 1 '17 at 21:21
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    Thanks for this excellent answer; even with my strong bias against its conclusions, I recognize it as a thorough and well-worked contribution to the discussion. I guess the next question is how one would know which interpretation of these laws to follow, since interpretations differ so widely. CYLOR? – SAH Jan 2 '17 at 12:04
  • Of course. Any time one has halakhic uncertainty CYLOR it's the answer. Personally I see so much evidence for the position I presented, that I an not uncertain. – mevaqesh Jan 2 '17 at 12:06
  • You think one can dispense with the CC then? I would personally hesitate to do so insofar as it seems (based on casual observation) that his interpretation is considered normative halacha on this matter by many today. The Shulchan Aruch is also machmir on this – SAH Jan 2 '17 at 12:13
  • @SAH 1) In general I don't feel the need to chase down every prohibiting view in or out of the books. One can always find a source that prohibits something, but i feel comfortable amongst the hallowed assemblage quoted in my answer. | 2) In general, the HH is not an authority I would focus on 3) Particularly in this context I wouldn't be too concerned with his view for multiple reasons. a) A Rishon explicitly disagrees with it. b) his own sources don't seem to actually support him, and indeed seem to support the opposite view [cont.] – mevaqesh Jan 2 '17 at 13:42

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