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I have heard many times people use the laws of shemirath ha-lashon and the principle of diyyun le-khaf zekhuth almost as an excuse to ignore crimes of theft, molestation, et al among religious people.

I have further experienced circumstances where a rabbinic or Hasidic figure has committed grave errors or sins and people rush to their defense under the banner of shemirath ha-lashon and diyyun le-khaf zekhuth, telling people that it is an "averah" to warn others or to even mention what they have done. But aren't the misdeeds of leaders all the more severe and in need of being pointed out to others in order that they not fall prey to them?

My question is: Were the laws of shemirath ha-lashon, etc. designed to protect criminals? And if so, why?

  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/35518 (see the answer there, and this comment). – Fred Mar 27 '15 at 17:13
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    How do you know the rabbinic or Hasidic figure has committed grave errors or sins? – Double AA Mar 27 '15 at 17:20
  • When you say you have "experienced circumstances," do you mean by this phrasing that you personally witnessed "a rabbinic or Hasidic figure [who] committed grave errors or sins," or is your knowledge second or third-hand (or based on information publicized in the press)? – Fred Mar 27 '15 at 17:23
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    Yes, I have. HaShem yirahem alai. Even if I hadn't, however, the question would stand as I was merely giving an example and not putting my own experiences on trial. Kol tuv. – user3342 Mar 27 '15 at 17:38
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    @Maimonist My comment wasn't to put your experiences on trial. There is a halachic distinction between if you observe something yourself and if you do not, and your comment will help people tailor their answers accordingly per your clarification of what you meant in the OP. – Fred Mar 27 '15 at 17:47
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Lashon hara is not a problem when it is intended to serve as a benefit to society rather than just as gossip.

As far as diyun l'chaf zechus, according to the Rambam in his Pirush Mishnayos on the relevant passage in Avos, diyun l'chaf zechus would be where an action that was open to interpretation contradicted what was already known of a person's character. You seem to be describing where there is no such ambiguity. Furthermore, even that restriction does not preclude taking necessary precautions where there is a danger to future victims.

In fact, contemporary poskim note that even the more serious prohibition of mesira would not apply in giving over a predator to responsible legal authorities (provided investigations and sentencing are not generally corrupt processes in that society). In fact, remaining silent would be a violation of "lo sa'amod al dam re'echa", mesaye'a yedei ovrei aveira as well as a chilul hashem.

From: http://www.come-and-hear.com/editor/moser-broyde/

Rabbi Yecheil Michel Epstein Aruch Hashulchan Choshen Mishpat 388:7

Note: As is widely known, in times of old in places far away, no person had any assurance in the safety of his life or money because of the pirates and bandits, even if they took upon themselves the form of government. It is known that this is true nowadays in some places in Africa where the government itself is grounded in theft and robbery. One should remind people of the kingdoms in Europe and particularly our ruler the Czar and his predecessors, and the kings of England, who spread their influence over many lands in order that people should have confidence in the security of their body and money. The wealthy do not have to hide themselves so that others will not loot or kill them. On all of this (the presence of looting and killing) hinges the rules of informing (moser) and slandering (malshin) in the talmud and later authorities, as I will explain infra: These rules apply only to one who informs on another to bandits and so endangers that person's money and life, as these bandits chase after the person's body and money, and thus one may use deadly force to save oneself.

Rabbi Waldenberg, Tzitz Eliezer 19:52

Even in the understanding of the secular court system it appears that there is a difference between primitive and enlightened governments as is noted by the Aruch Hashulchan in Choshen Mishpat 388:7 where it states that "every issue related to informing found in the Talmud and poskim deals with those far away places where no one was secure in his money or body because of bandits and pirates, even those who had authority, as we know nowadays in places like Africa" such is not the case in Europe, as the Aruch Hashulchan notes...I write this as a notation of general importance in the matter of the laws of informing.

See, however, Iggrot Moshe Orach Chaim 5:9(11) who [according to the aforementioned site] writes:

It is prohibited for us to inform on a person for a matter where the punishment is unfounded in Jewish law. In Jewish law, theft is resolved through restitution as measured by an expert, and secular law punishes through imprisonment, unfounded in Jewish law.

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