1. The Violation Against Speaking L"H, Even in Front
of the Subject
The prohibition against speaking Lashon Hara is so severe, that the
Torah prohibited it even if the information is true and in any other case.
It also doesn't help if the speaker is careful to speak about the subject
secretly and takes care that the subject never hears about it, for that
is also forbidden. In fact, as a result of such action the speaker
also receives the curse (Deut. 27:24): "Cursed be the one who strikes
his brother in secret."
Even if the speaker determines that he would say the same thing in front
of the speaker, or even if h actually speaks Lashon Hara about someone
to their face, he violates the prohibition against Lashon Hara.
In some ways the violation is worse when in front of the subject rather
than behind his back, because when said to the subject's face, in addition
to the prohibition of L"H, the speaker also "adorns" himself with the traits
of arrogance and audacity. The speaker will incur more negative judgments
as a result, and in some cases causes the embarrassment of the subject,
which, as we elaborated on in the introduction, is a violation of (Lev.
19:17) "You shall not bear sin because of him."
(In the introduction, the Chafetz Chaim explains that this verse,
"You shall rebuke your neighbor and not bear sin because of him," refers
to not embarrassing someone when rebuking someone to help them improve.
All the more so it must be forbidden to embarrass someone when not for
a constructive purpose!)
2. When the Leniency of Speaking in Front of the
The leniency mentioned in the words or our Sages that [speech is permissible
if] the speaker would not stop from saying the information in front of
the subject, specifically regards Avak L"H. The speaker's words have
two meanings, and if we interpret them one way the information is not derogatory.
This issue is known to be dependent upon the intention of the speaker and
the way in which the information is related at the time, for if the speaker
chooses to he can take care to use a gentle tone of voice and avoid any
gestures so that nothing derogatory can be found in his statements, or
else the speaker could speak such that the listener understands the intent
of the speaker to be of the other, derogatory interpretation.
This is a very difficult subject to condense, and therefore our Sages
said that if the person speaks in a manner that he would not be embarrassed
to use even in front of his friend [the subject], in such a case the speaker
clearly does not have intentions to denigrate the subject and it is therefore
permissible. If, however, it is recognizable from his manner of speaking
that he does intend to denigrate the speaker, and if it would be human
nature to be embarrassed to speak in such a way in front of his friend
[the subject] - even though the topic itself, when interpreted negatively,
is only Avak Lashon Hara, and it's even true, and the speaker thinks he
would be comfortable saying exactly the same thing in front of the subject
- it would be forbidden.
3. Lashon Hara Meant as a Joke
Know further about the severity of the prohibition against Lashon Hara,
that even if the speaker is not speaking out of hatred, and does not intend
for his statements to be derogatory, but rather only spoken in jest and
lightheadedness, even so since they are in truth derogatory statements
they are forbidden according to Torah law.
4. Lashon Hara Without Names
The prohibition against speaking Lashon Hara applies even if, at the
time of the conversation, the speaker does not identify the subject about
whom he is speaking against. Even if the speaker only relates the
story without mentioning the parties involved, yet from the details of
the story the listener discerns which person the speaker refers to, the
information is Lashon Hara.
Furthermore, even if the speaker's words contained no negative information
whatsoever, yet because of his speech harm or embarrassment is caused to
the subject, he would also be guilty of speaking Lashon Hara. If
the speaker intended to create such a result through pretending to disguise
the subject, the Sages' term for such actions, "Lashon Hara B'Tzin'a,"
concealed Lashon Hara, would apply.
5. Feigning Innocence to Spread Lashon Hara
There are many more ways through which Ba'alei Lashon Hara (habitual
speakers of L"H) convey their information through misrepresentation and
deception. For example, they speak "innocently" about something as
if they have no idea that what they convey is Lashon Hara, or they ask
about someone's recent activities, or many other means. Any such
methods to "innocently" convey Lashon Hara are forbidden.
6. Lashon Hara With No Impact to the Subject
Know further, that even if no harm is caused to the subject from the
Lashon Hara spoken, as when the listeners did not believe the information,
or for a similar reason, even in such a case the speaker's words are not
exempted from the prohibition of Lashon Hara, and require atonement.
In addition, even if the speaker evaluates in advance that his words will
not have any impact on the subject, he is still forbidden to speak them
since the information is derogatory.
The Chafetz Chaim completes the chapter with perhaps the most fundamental
concept in Lashon Hara, giving the benefit of the doubt. As a result of
judging favorably, we very likely will refrain from speaking Lashon Hara.
7. The Commandment to Judge Favorably
It is important to know another fundamental concept within the subject
of Lashon Hara.
If one sees a person what said or did something, whether something Bein
Adam L'Makom (between man and G-d) or Bein Adam L'chaveiro (between man
and fellow man), and it's possible to judge the speech or action favorably
and give the benefit of the doubt, if the person is a "yirei Elokim" (sincerely
G-d fearing individual), we are obligated to judge him favorably even if
the action in question is more logically interpreted negatively.
If the person is a "beinoni" (average person) in that he is generally
careful to avoid sin yet on occasion falters, and the doubt could be equally
interpreted favorably or unfavorably, one is obligated to follow the favorable
judgement. This fulfills what our Sages say, that one who jugdes
his fellow favorably will receive favorable judgement from G-d; he also
upholds the commandment (Lev. 19:15), "Judge your fellow people righteously."
Even if the speech or action seems more likely to have a negative judgement
as its interpretation, it is proper that the matter should be considered
a doubt, and not as a definitive, negative evaluation.
In the case that the action is more likely favorable, it is certainly
forbidden to judge negatively. And if one judges negatively, and
as a result goes and speaks negatively against the person, not only has
he violated "Judge your fellow people righteously," but he has also violated
the prohibition against speaking Lashon Hara.
8. The Prohibition Against Speaking when Judging
Even if the situation seems to lean to the guilty side, such that the
commandment to jugge favorably does not apply, and the observer decides
in his own mind that the person is guilty of the action in question, there
is no justification because of this incident to go and disparage the person
to others, without first fulfilling all of the conditions discussed in
the coming chapters 4,5, and 10. For there are many situations for
which even though the person can be judged negatively, the one (privately)
judging him cannot embarrass or disgrace the person, as will be clarified
in these later chapters.