Thursday, April 15, 2010

Evil Speech and Blogs

I think VIN is right about the Lashon Hara problem on Orthodox blogs. Even responsible ones. More about that later.

Lashon Hara means ‘evil speech’ and that is forbidden by the Torah. What is’evil speech’? It is usually defined as revealing private negative - or even positive - information about another Jew to others even if it is true. In other words – gossip. But it doesn’t end there.

There is a principle cited in the Gemarah (Arachin - 16a) called Api Tlasa – meaning information that has been revealed to at least three people. Revealing such information is not considered Lashon Hara. The Gemarah explains that once three people know about it, it is bound to spread and be revealed to others.

The Rashbam in Bava Basra (39a) adds that it is completely permitted for any of those three individuals to repeat the story. The Rambam (Hichos Deios 7: 5) Paskins that once that information is known by at least three people – it is considered revealed information and the laws of Lashon Hara no longer apply.

However according to most Rishonim - although it may not technically qualify as Lashon Hara - if the information is completely negative and is repeated solely for the purpose of spreading it -it is still forbidden. Unless there is a Toeles - a positive purpose in doing so.

There are many situations that allow such information to be revealed. An example given by many Poskim is when discussing Shiduchim. One may tell an individual negative information about a potential ‘date’ as long as he tells the truth – which includes that if it is only a rumor and not substantiated, that it be expressed that way. It should also be done in a way that is least harmful to the subject of that information.

Another clear example of Toeles is informing a community that a reputed child molester has moved into their neighborhood.

There are still other instances of Toeles, such as protesting publicly bad behavior by religious leaders that has been made public in the media. In my view it is important for Torah Jewry to make loud and clear Macha’ah – a protest to the world (both to other Jews of all stripes and to non Jews to whom we are supposed to be a guiding light) in order to show that Torah Jews do not condone such behavior. Even and perhaps especially when it is done by a religious figure. And as a Hochacha – making it known to our own community that such behavior is Assur. And that it is a Chilul Hashem - warning our people not to behave in such a manner.

My blog is not only about reporting and commenting on bad Jews. Hashkafa has a large role here. And sometimes even Halacha has a role as it does in this very post. But I will admit that a great deal of this blog is about commenting on people and events in the Orthodox Jewish world reported in the media - which are most often negative.

So is what I do Lashon Hara? I think that most often it is not.

Bearing in mind the Halachic discussion above I first ask myself, how well known is the information? Have the conditions of Api Tlasa been fulfilled? If it has been reported in any of the media whether Jewish or secular, Ha’aretz or the New York Times – it clearly has. I am in fact not informing people about anything they don’t already know. I then ask myself if there is a Toeles - a positive purpose to my writing about it If only to comment on how it affects Klal Yisroel and how I believe we should all react to it. If the answer is yes, then I proceed.

In the case of my blog Lashon Hara frequently occurs in the comments section. I try and filter it out whenever I can. But it is a virtual impossibly to so carefully monitor the sometimes hundreds of comments in a single day. I may miss a few. But when it is pointed out, I usually rectify it deletion or careful editing - attempting to not distort the intent of the comment. Do I always succeed at that? No. I am only human.

I will also admit that I may at times violate this prohibition too although I try very hard not to. It is a virtual impossibility to self censor in an unbiased way.

VIN had an editorial about websites, blogs and Lashon Hara that brings up some very good points. It was written in the current context of the news about former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lapolianski - a Charedi Jew and until now a hero to many including me. The Jewish media has been all over this story. Some Charedi wesites spoke about it (YWN) and others said that they would not ( The fact happens to be that both of those websites are governed by Poskim who will permit or forbid various stories.

Obviously there must have been a Machlokes HaPoskim on this story. But is that really the case?

VIN correctly points out that it is all subjective. Orthodox blogs – especially Charedi ones - are always accusing each other of violating the laws of Lashon Hara. I think he has a point. It all depends whose ox is being gored. I think we are all guilty of that including me – although I try very hard not to do that.

There is indeed a lot of hypocrisy going on in the world of Orthodox blogs – as VIN points out. Accusations of Lashon Hara are always leveled by those who agree with the philosophy of the subject being criticized.

If a Charedi personality is criticized Charedim will start screaming ‘Lashon Hara’ at the top of their lungs. If the subject is a Modern orthodox personality Modern Orthodox Jews start doing the same thing. Often commenters from both communities do so with extreme anger and venom – if it is their ox that has been gored!

It is rarity (although it does happen) to find a Modern Orthodox commenter accusing anyone of Lashon Hara about a Charedi wrongdoer. They usually do the opposite. They pile it on. The same is true in reverse. Charedi commenters have no mercy when it comes to piling on to Modern Orthodox wrongdoing.

I think it would serve us all well when reporting on wrong doing in any segment of the Torah world that we step back and think though very carefully just how to report it - responsible bloggers as well as those who comment on them.

Sometimes names can be omitted and the message will still get through. Other times it is important to mention names (if they have already been revealed by the media) in order to have the maximum impact which will help discourage others from similar wrong doing. The bottom line for me is what is best for Klal Yisroel. That is what guides me here. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t. I hope that in the majority of the cases – I do. I am guided most by what I believe is good in the eyes of God.