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What is the Jewish view on gossip?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

  

Library » Jewish Identity » Love thy Neighbor | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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A. Gossip in Hebrew is Lashon Hara, which literally means “the evil tongue.” Lashon Hara is Negative Mitzvah #301; it essentially outlaws gossip, true or false, about others or even one’s self.

B. Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, a renowned Jewish leader of pre-WWII Europe, spent his lifetime campaigning against Lashon Hara, writing an entire compendium, the Chafetz Chaim, on the subject, in which he connects a whole ton of Torah prohibitions (31) to the sin of loose lips. For beginners, though, there are three basic no-nos: gossip, Lashon Hara itself, and defamation.

C. By “gossip,” the Torah means prattling pointlessly about people: simply uttering neutral, non-damaging facts. The Torah uses the Hebrew word rechilut—“peddling”—for gossip: buying, selling and trading worthless words wherever you go. By “Lashon Hara,” the Torah means repeating negative truths about others — the most damaging form of evil talk. And by “defamation,” the Torah means repeating negatives untruths about others — rumors, innuendo, second-hand stories.

If you think ill of someone, you will speak ill of him... Conversely, if you think positively of him, you will speak positively of him
How do I not speak Lashon Hara?

1. Use your head

Based on Rabbi Kagan’s widely accepted interpretation, Lashon Hara begins in the mind. If you think ill of someone, you will speak ill of him, no matter what you say. Conversely, if you think positively of him, you will speak positively of him, no matter what you say. Lashon Hara thus really boils down to Ahavat Yisrael: having the right attitude towards people.

2. Use your soul

If your attitude is one of genuine concern and love, then even if you speak negative words, they are not Lashon Hara since they originate in genuine concern and love. Conversely, if you’ve got a nasty attitude towards an individual, then even if you speak positive words, it’s gonna come out negatively—after all, you just don’t like the guy. So for long term results, work on your Ahavat Yisrael—the stoppage of Lashon Hara will come automatically.

3. Be a nice guy

If you’re in a situation where someone says something bad about someone, either find something positive about him to respond with, or politely smile and say nothing. Bear in mind, though, that listening to negative reports, true or false, will negatively affect your view of the person it’s about, so you’re better off just excusing yourself or politely changing the subject. If you’re really strong-minded, though, you should try to drive the new impression you’ve just got out of your head.

TAGS: gossip

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Mitzvot » Love thy Neighbor

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Lashon Hara
Lit.: Evil tongue. Harmful gossip. Lashon Hara is forbidden no matter if the gossip is true or false.
Yisrael
1. Additional name given by G-d to Patriarch Jacob. 2. A Jew who is not a Kohain or Levi (descendant of the Tribe of Levi).
Ahavat Yisrael
lit. "love of Israel," to love a fellow Jew.