In Judaism, there is the established rule of not speaking ill of the dead. It's a forbidden act.

According to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, if one insulted someone who died, he should ask forgiveness in the place where he insulted him. If he made a bad name for the dead person, he must also repent for transgressing a Rabbinical ban. -Shulchan Aruch: Chapter 606 5-9

My question involves the specifics of how the rule should be applied.

Could there ever be a situation where it is important to speak ill of the dead in order to impart wisdom onto the living? An example being how one tells another of the importance of not drinking and driving. In many instances (especially in PSAs) we see deceased individuals held up as examples of these sorts of mistakes.

"Patrick drank and drove, now he's dead and so are the two innocent people he killed through his actions. Don't drink and drive."

Would such an example be considered an exception to the rule? Obviously, telling others that a deceased person was an alcoholic who got himself and others killed would be considered speaking ill about the deceased.

That being said, if his bad actions could stand as a reminder to the living and promote a positive change in people, could that not be considered a positive act since his mistake could end up bringing a positive change in the world?

To me more specific.

  • If Patrick drank and drove and killed two people and we don't speak further about those actions, he did a terrible thing and that is the end.

  • If Patrick drank and drove and killed two people but we use his example to raise awareness and foster change in others, doesn't that action possibly honor him in the sense his memory is changing people in a positive way? (Through a tale of caution) Otherwise, his actions simply occurred as bad act and the world doesn't change after the fact.

I may have gone too deep into this. If anything I said was unclear, please let me know and I'll try and simplify it. Thank you!

  • Well, the Torah tells us the story about Miriam get Tzara'at ("leprosy") after speaking ill about her brother Moses. Oct 17, 2017 at 11:50
  • @DannySchoemann See Berachos 13a regarding calling Avraham “Avram.” It seems that the Torah gets a pass since it’s recorded as the events happened, but since we’re talking in hindsight it wouldn’t be permitted. Maybe we can apply the same concept here.
    – DonielF
    Oct 17, 2017 at 12:36
  • Why may one not speak ill of the dead? Is it not because of lashon hara? If so, then whatever leniencies apply to lashon hara (in your example, l’to’eles) should apply here. (Well, maybe not apei telasa.)
    – DonielF
    Oct 17, 2017 at 12:38
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    I think that there is permission in a situation such as yours. In Melachim (Kings) we are frequently reminded of Yeravam and other kings' wickedness. In the Torah, after Korach dies, it says "people should not be as Korach and his group". So we see that there is a precedent to mention someone's bad habits even after death.
    – DanF
    Oct 17, 2017 at 13:20
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    I think the concern would only be lashon hara if Patrick was Jewish, as the laws of lashon hara do not apply to non-Jews, and Jews are permitted to speak lashon hara about non-Jews.
    – ezra
    Oct 17, 2017 at 15:05


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