23 May 2006

"Everyone Talks About It...

but no one wants to do anything about it."

This is a comment that usually refers to the weather. Sadly, though, this time, I am talking about how people will turn their backs on their fellow yidden, yet at the same time, gossip about their tzarot (tzurris, for those who prefer Yiddish).

Sh'mirat ha-Lashon (guarding the tongue) is a much-neglected mitzvah in our communities. Perhaps some think that kashrut observance or Shabbat is more important. There are even those who call you on the "carpet" for your "non-tziusdik behavior" if more than a tefach of hair is showing through your tichel, yet they have a bad case of what cool yiddishe maidel calls "bathroom words".

Violation of sh'mirat ha-lashon falls into the following categories: lashon ha-ra (which we are all familiar with), rechilut, motzi shem ra, and l'vanat ha-panim.
I am going to post my definitions of these terms and I want my readers to add their 2 shekalim on the topic.

Lashon ha-ra (literally "evil tongue") is talking about someone's tzarot to someone to whom it is not relevant or not helpful. However, it is perfectly acceptable to warn others of a sexual predator in your community. [I know you agree, Sephardi Lady.] It is also not lashon ha-ra for two professionals (teachers, psychologists) to talk about a case, as long as identifying details are not given. A third acceptable case of warning is when one had been taken advantage of in a business transaction and you want to prevent the same from happening to others.

Rechilut is "innocent" gossip, the type of talking about people that is done "to make conversation". One source said that this could be positive or negative speech. It could be considered rechilut to report to your friends that you saw "Rebbetzin X" at Macy's buying a $150 suit. It's wrong to discuss her business without her permission.

Motzi shem ra is slander, creating lies about a person to totally discredit him. A woman who has since been ostracized from her community for her verbal crimes had claimed that a rabbi's child was not his because "he doesn't look like the rabbi." (She claimed that the rebbetzin had an affair so the boy was a mamzer to boot!) The m'shugah did not know (or care to realize) that his son was adopted.

L'vanat ha-panim (literally "whitening of the face") is embarassing someone with your words or actions. Even making a "harmless joke" about someone's abilities (or lack thereof) with something can cause embarassment.

The homeless situation with bibnis (see Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Ba-Zeh) is being discussed throughout the community but no one is willing to help him out with a place to stay or help finding a job. I only know about this because I am asked, "Is it true that XXX is sleeping in his car? Oh, he needs to get help." "No kidding." I want to say to them.

A note to the Chumra of the Month club...Can your members start focusing on sh'mirat ha-lashon instead of worrying about exposed elbows? A tzius mind creates tzius dress, my m'karev rabbi once told me. Just something to keep in mind.


  1. This is the best post I've ever read!!!!!
    Kol Hakavod!!!

  2. Great post! The "Lesson A Day" of Lashon HaRa was a great idea but the unfortunate consequence is that people think that the exact issues discussed by the Chofetz Chaim in that sefer are the only points to worry about when it comes to bein adam l'chavero.

    I think I will post a story on this subject. Thanks for giving me an idea for tonight. =-)


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