While Lashon Hara causes damage to the subject (in reputation,
finances, emotional anguish or other), Rechilut causes hatred
toward the subject, or between the listener and the subject.
Hilchot Rechilut: Chapter 6
- Rechilut spoken in front of a group
- Rechilut spoken in front of the subject
- Rechilut that identifies the source of past harm
- Rechilut that is widely known
- Rechilut from an exceptionally credible individual
- Qualifications for believing a credible individual
- Beieving a credible individual no longer applies
- Innocently spoken rechilut
- Rechilut supported be evidence
- Taking action on the basis of rechilut and supporting evidence
RECHILUT TOLD IN CIRCUMSTANCES THAT MAKE IT SEEM BELIEVABLE
1. Rechilut spoken in front of a group
It is forbidden to accept Rechilut even if it is spoken publicly,
in front of several listeners. The fact that the subject will most
likely hear what was spoken about him (because the speaker said it
in front of so many people, and as a result people will talk about
it), does not establish the information as true. The listener can
only suspect the information, and investigate as it pertains to
2. Rechilut spoken in front of the subject
Just as it is forbidden to accept Lashon Hara when spoken in front
of the subject (Hilchot Lashon Hara 7:2), so too it is forbidden to
accept Rechilut spoken in front of the subject.
An example of speaking Rechilut in front of the subject would be if
A, B, and C are standing together and A informs B of what C said
about him behind his back. Even if C remains quiet and does not
defend himself, this is no proof that the information is true.
Further, even if C typically does respond and defend himself, his
silence does not confirm the validity of the speaker's statement.
This was discussed at greater length in Hilchot Lashon Hara.
One should not believe Rechilut spoken under these conditions (i.e.
in front of the subject) even if the speaker is not violating the
prohibition (Lev. 19:16) "Lo telech rachil b'ameicha - Do not act
as a gossip-monger among your people" [because the speaker is
speaking for a constructive purpose and makes that intention
clear]. For example the speaker tells the listener to be careful
in dealing with someone since that person wants to harm him. How
much more so should one not believe Rechilut or Lashon Hara spoken
alone, with no constructive intent.
Furthermore, the fact that the speaker speaks Rechilut or Lashon
Hara without any constructive purpose implies that the information
may not be true. It is prohibited to speak Rechilut even if it is
true. By relating true but derogatory or inciting information, the
speaker violates "Lo telech rachil b'ameicha," along with many
other prohibitions discussed in the introduction. Since the
speaker freely violates these transgressions, he would be just as
likely to exaggerate or lie about the information he relates.
3. Rechilut that identifies the source of past harm
If someone's livelihood was harmed, and he does not know the cause,
he should not suspect that one of his people caused it. This is in
accordance with the commandment (Lev. 19:15) "B'tzedek tishpot
amitecha - Judge your people in righteousness".
For example, if a local authority takes action against a merchant
(taxes, fines, forced store closing, etc.), the merchant might
wonder whether this authority initiated the action on his own or
someone informed the authority of information (true or otherwise)
that motivated the authority to act. The merchant should not
suspect someone of being such an informant.
Even if others told the merchant that someone spoke against him, it
would be prohibited to believe them. The merchant could only
suspect that the information was true; he should investigate in
order to protect himself from further harm.
Even if others initiated a dispute with the suspected individual
and accused him publicly [note: this is outside a court of Jewish
law, as the proceedings are NOT publicized], and the accused
remained silent, the merchant should not believe what they are
saying. Although there is a commandment to maintain a good
reputation (Num. 32:22, "...you shall be clear before the L-rd and
before Israel"), the accused may have realized that those accusing
him would not listen to any protestations. Instead, the accused
may have decided to merit being one who "is subjected to
embarrassment by [others'] improper speech but does not respond"
[the Talmud states that as a result all his sins are forgiven].
However, if the merchant has evidence to support a suspicion that
someone spoke against him and informed the authorities, he could
believe that the person wronged him, but not harm that person in
return. Later we will discuss what may be considered supporting
4. RECHILUT THAT IS WIDELY KNOWN
The prohibition against accepting Rechilut applies even if one
hears the information from two or more sources, or even if there is
a rumor circulating around the town about a specific action that
the subject did against the listener. Even the speaker(s) have a
constructive intent, such as to save the listener from future harm,
it is prohibited to believe the information since the reputation of
the subject should not be damaged by such speculation.
5. RECHILUT FROM AN EXCEPTIONALLY CREDIBLE INDIVIDUAL
The prohibition against accepting Rechilut applies even if the
speaker is "m'heiman lei k'bei trei," believed like two court
witnesses. This is even the case if the information cannot
possibly be interpreted any other way than against the subject.
However, if the information has a constructive future purpose, the
listener may believe the speaker and take action to protect
himself. Nonetheless, he should not repeat the information to
others, including his family, unless there is a future benefit in
telling them. This applies only if the information was heard
directly from the highly credible person; if it came secondhand
from the person, the listener may not believe it or take any
6. QUALIFICATIONS FOR BELIEVING A CREDIBLE INDIVIDUAL
Someone can only be believed as a highly credible person if he is
righteous in all matters of speech: the person does not lie or
exaggerate, and he can be relied on for the complete accuracy of
all he says, just like two witnesses that are successfully
interrogated by a Beit Din (court of Jewish Law). If, however, the
individual can only be trusted in not speaking Lashon Hara or
Rechilut about someone, he should not be believed as what he says
could include falsehood.
Considering a credible person's statements as true is only relevant
for believing the information; it is forbidden to harm or disparage
the subject of the information in any case.
7. BELIEVING A CREDIBLE INDIVIDUAL NO LONGER APPLIES
The permissibility of believing a highly credible individual only
applied during Talmudic times (before 500 C.E.). The modern (past
1000 years) halachic authorities state that there is no such thing
as a highly believable individual anymore.
Therefore, it is forbidden to accept Rechilut stated by anyone.
The listener can only investigate its validity and take precautions
as the information is relevant for the future.
Unfortunately, people make great mistakes in this area. While they may be
careful not to speak or believe L"H and Rechilut, they will believe what
others tell them "for their own good." They think that since their
parents or spouse (or other trusted individual) is telling them this
information, it must be accurate and without falsehood. There is no basis
for such a belief. (Believing close family members was discussed in
Hilchot L"H 8:14, and we will discuss it again in Hilchot Rehcilut 7:5.)
8. INNOCENTLY SPOKEN RECHILUT
The prohibition against accepting Rechilut also applies when it is heard
from someone who is "mesiach l'fi tumo" - speaking in innocence [and
unaware of the implications of his statement]. In other words, the
speaker did not intend to upset the listener; it was as if something
relevant suddenly came out of his mouth.
[In Hilchot L"H 7:9 the Chafetz Chaim elaborates on the case of
"mesiach l'fi tumo." He explains that the concept does not apply
if the information is not conclusively negative, such as if it is
possible to give the benefit of the doubt, or if the information is
a subjective character assessment. It also does not apply if the
speaker only heard about the information from others.
Even in a real case of "mesiach l'fi tumo," the listener may not
accept the information as true or tell others about it. It is
certainly forbidden for him to use the information as a
justification to harm the subject.]
9. RECHILUT SUPPORTED BY EVIDENCE
The issues regarding the permissibility of accepting Rechilut when
there is corroborating evidence to support the information is
discussed in detail in Hilchot L"H 7:10-14. To make it easier on
the reader I will summarize the points here. Five conditions are
(A) The evidence must prove that the only interpretation possible
is negative. Even if evidence proves that a story is true, it
provides no value unless it supports the negative conclusion of the
(B) The evidence must be explicitly relevant to the story, not just
(C) The listener must have seen the evidence himself, not just
heard about it from others.
(D) The information and evidence must have constructive implications
for the future.
(E) The evidence and information can be believed only; the listener
may not speak negatively about the subject, and certainly may not
harm the subject.
All of these requirements are discussed in detail in Hilchot L"H.
10. TAKING ACTION ON THE BASIS OF RECHILUT AND SUPPORTING EVIDENCE
Unfortunately many people make the mistake of taking action against
another when they have no halachic basis to do so, resulting in further
Torah violations. For example, if someone's business is disrupted or
otherwise harmed, and he has evidence that someone else caused to this
harm (through the other's speech or action), the individual erroneously
justifies damaging the other in return. He thinks that because someone
else wronged him he is permitted to take action against the other in
This is incorrect for several reasons:
(A) If the victim is speaking L"H against the other for revenge, he is
violating the Torah prohibition against taking revenge. (See also
Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 388:9.)
(B) The victim may speak about the other if it is the only possible method
to rectify the situation. In other words, if by telling others what this
person is saying about him, the other will cease disparaging him. If
there are other ways to stop the ot her person, or if speaking about the
other will not help, it would be prohibited.
(C) The victim may only speak about the other (to protect himself) if he
witnessed the other's actions against him. If he only has substantiating
evidence that the person wronged him, he may not act against the other.
And if the substantiating evidence is not conclusive, he is not even
permitted to believe the Rechilut (or his own suspicions) that the other
person wronged him.
So in nearly all cases it is forbidden to act on Rechilut or supporting
evidence that implicates someone in causing harm to another, even if the
person who wants to take action has purely constructive intentions.
HaLashon, Copyright (c) 1996 by Ellen Solomon and Project Genesis, Inc.