We hope you have taken the time to read the first in this series where we disccussed “halakha.” With that understanding, let’s explore and explain lashon hara.
Lashon hara is a Hebrew term that is considered halakha. Simply put, that means a behavior which rabbis determined is governed by their laws. Lashon hara is part of “Jewish ethics” and, when violated, is judged by the Jewish legal system.
Just as there is conflict with the definition of “halakha,” there is conflicting information about lashon hara.
1) Some believe lashon hara is simply telling any lie.
2) Some believe it to be the telling of stories that are the ruin of a reputation.
3) While still others believe it means when someone upsets you, and you declare they have offended you.
4) There are also people who believe it is ANY information spoken that might bring harm to another, true or false. In fact, some believe this includes speaking positive things about a friend or relative in front of the person’s enemy. Why? Well, it is beleived that this could tempt the enemy to commit some spoken offense against the person.
This has come about because, just as in halakha, Rabbis in different sects, orders, and communities have defined lashon hara according as they have been led. Here are just two examples:
A) To some, lashon hara is the truth spoken for a wrong purpose. Jewish law segregates truth spoken from lies spoken. Lies fall under the classification of defamation, and not lashon hara.
B) The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, however, defines lashon hara as: “Every kind of trafficking in evil report or rumors—whether true or not—by carrying them from one person to another, or by relating unpleasant or harmful facts about another, is forbidden.”
There are many more examples we could draw from, too. But these two examples will give us some ideas of what could be considered against Jewish law. And using scripture we can also show that Yahweh would not approve of these actions, either:
- Trafficking – spreading reports in any way. Today this would include face-to-face conversation as well as telephone, social media, text message, etc. It is interesting to look up the definition of the word “trafficking” because it means to “deal or trade in something illegal.” When it comes to our words or stories spread, it makes it sound pretty covert, under-handed, and evil.
Leviticus 19:16a is an example of “trafficking.” “You shall not go up and down as a slanderer among your people.” This verse is a good visual of trafficking as it shows movement when it describes someone who will “go up and down.”
- Wrong purposes, evil speaking, or evil reports – Often there is negative motive behind the trafficking of stories. Negative motives (wrong purposes) include things like envy, jealousy, pride, greed, vengeance, bitter root, etc. These motives aer what lead to words spoken with evil intentsuch as negative speaking that taints a reputation.
Proverbs 28:25 WEB: “One who is greedy stirs up strife…”
Proverbs 21:24 WEB: “The proud and haughty man, "scoffer" is his name; he works in the arrogance of pride.”
James 3:16 KJV: “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.”
The bible is rife with examples of potential motives which people use to spread rumors against a
brother or sister.
- Tale-bearing – This includes idle talk, often sensationalized, or implied; meddlesome stories; tall tales, lies.
Proverbs 20:19 Douay Rheims: “He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets; Therefore meddle not with him that openeth wide his lips.”
2 Thessalonians 3:11 Good News Translation: “We say this because we hear that there are some people among you who live lazy lives and who do nothing except meddle in other people's business.”
- Scandal-mongering – similar to tale-bearing, but more scandalous, implying a ruinous rumor. “I heard that man died suddenly. Maybe his wife was cheating on him, and he walked in on them together then had a heart attack!” The only truth in this statement is likely that the man died – the rest is scandalous speculation about alleged infidelity. This goes well with the scriptures about meddling and idleness listed under tale-bearing!
- Insinuation - That situation where someone sounding exasperated says, “Goodness! Don’t even ask me about what Susie did the other day!” Then leaving it to hang for minds to wander.
- Gossip – includes pretty much all of the above and anything even similar to all of the above!
We have all heard these verses in Proverbs 6:16-19 KJV which read “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” Four out of the seven Yahweh feels are abominations fit into what we just described, don’t they?
There is another aspect I would like to bring up which is in addition to the person does the actual SPEAKING. Jewish law says that both the speaker and the HEARER are guilty of lashon hara. You may be exclaiming WHAT? HOW?? Well, this too is scriptural. Many people don’t believe or realize that sitting and listening to someone gossip makes us just as guilty as the person speaking it.
Proverbs 20:19 WEB: “He who goes about as a tale-bearer reveals secrets; therefore don't keep company with him who opens wide his lips.” The talebearer reveals the secrets, but we are not to keep company with those. We are to remove ourselves from that situation, from that immoral influence.
Proverbs 17:4 KJV: “A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips; and a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue.” OUCH! If we listen to those false lips, we become an evildoer, too. We will appear to be liars as we willingly listen to the “naughty tongue.” If we stick around to hear stories, while nodding our heads, we give the distinct impression we are in agreement with what they say. Should we speak against these stories later, this can make us appear hypocritical. Or worse, if we speak the rumors to others we literally become liars for sharing false information. Which brings us to the next scripture I would like to share.
Exodus 23:1 WEB: “You shall not spread a false report. Don't join your hand with the wicked to be a malicious witness.” We must not listen to these stories and spread them, and we must not join forces with those who spoke first. Let’s be real with each other - when we hear one person speak about a situation, we are only hearing that one side. If we turn around and repeat only that side, we are not being honest. We have put ourselves, whether intentionally or not, in a position to be a malicious witness by speaking those stories as though they are truth.
1 Corinthians 15:33 WEB: “Don't be deceived! Evil companionships corrupt good morals." Also see the KJV translation: Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Whether it is evil companionship or evil communication, it will corrupt our morals and our manners. We can be led astray – so we must be careful to not be deceived by these temptations.
We MUST be aware of our speech, and we must be aware of the situations we allow ourselves to be in. Scripture says there is the power of life and death in our tongue, in the words we speak. God hates gossip (tale-bearing) – He calls it an abomination. Speech is VERY powerful – it can make or break people’s spirits, emotions, testimony, even their character and reputation. Look at it this way, Yahweh spoke this world into existence! How powerful is that? So, do we need to be aware of our words and be cautious of what
So – can we say that rabbinic lashon hara is biblical?
With all this scriptural evidence we would have to say that yes, in principle, lashon hara is biblical. Yet, we would stand firm to say RABBINICAL LASHON HARA IS NOT a message that we teach. You are probably asking a big WHY? Well, we see issues with using lashon hara in our modern day.
A big issue is that lashon Hara is an official claim in Jewish law made against another person. Biblically speaking, the court of judgment that was set up was the Sanhedrin and was made up of 71 men who heard cases. These led to judgments. Once the Jewish people entered the era of the diaspora, though, they were often cut off from the Sanhedrin by distance. After that point, the decision was made to rely, instead, on a panel of three men when there was conflict that could not be settled. These three men could be three rabbis, or could be just three men the individual community believes are "wise."
This small board of three men who are determined wise enough to judge – this would be called a Beit Din. Yet this is Judaic law, not biblical law. In non-Jewish circles, where people are “Torah observant Christians,” they do not fall under the judgment of rabbis, or this council.
Who, then, makes the decisions in a case that involves a Non-Jew? With all the variations of Christianity and Torah observant communities, who decides right and wrong? It depends.
We recently saw a perfect example of who decides outside of rabbinics. A case came up in the Christian churches where a preacher/teacher was accused of grievous sin. The accusations went public and part of the concern was that there were untruths being spread. In Jewish circles, this would be a case of potential lashon hara. It took some time for those of similar faith to come together and examine the case. Eventually, a board was appointed to bring in an investigator and then hear evidence leading to a decision. This IS an option which can be used. Just as was done in biblical times when Moses called the Seventy. Yet even this can go awry.
A couple years ago, I witnessed one person very upset over the words of another on a social media group. The offended person claimed lashon hara SO vehemently that several other people got involved in the situation. Three men got together in the background, appointed themselves the three wisest men, and they made a judgment in this case. I honestly never stuck around long enough to see how it turned out. Neither did the accused – because it was clear that the “trial” was not fair, nor was it impartial as all three men were deeper friends with the offended. There appeared to be no chance of impartiality.
Another issue we have seen with lashon hara is the flexibility from order to order, sect to sect, community to community, etc., just as with the term halakha. In fact, in researching this topic, there are several websites which contain lists or descriptions of EXEMPTIONS for lashon hara. In other words, there are times when you CAN commit lashon hara and the rabbis will not punish you. In some cases, they believe lashon hara is a “mitzvot,” or commandment. In other words, you are commanded by the rabbinic laws to speak lashon hara, and the if you don't do it, a punishment can be issued.
A nut shell
Well, that is lashon hara in a nutshell. I may have left you with more questions than answers. The summary at this point is that lashon hara is a rabbinic term for what they decide is evil speaking, and it is governed by Jewish ethics and law.
As I said before, it is not a principle Torah For Women will teach. Here are our reasons why:
1) It falls under rabbinic rule. It is halakha – and therefore, must be tried and judged by rabbis or a council of wise, Jewish men. We are not under rabbinic rule.
2) Although based on Biblical principles, lashon hara is, in our assessment, too flexible in both deciding what is and is not “lawful,” and in deciding who hears the cases. These two show a lack of consistent and proper discernment as what is lawful and who hears cases can change with a change in popularity, as we explained briefly in our first article in the series.
3) Our biblical evidence shows that the principle goes along with Yahweh’s teachings. Therefore, since rabbis have decided that sometimes it is a “rabbinical commandment” (or mitzvah) to BREAK a commandment of Yahweh’s, we cannot support this thinking. There are rare circumstances when we may have to choose between two of Yahweh’s commandments, but we should never put ourselves in the position to choose between MAN’S religious “laws” and YAHWEH’S.
Yahweh’s Word is our final authority. Not Judaism. Not Christianity. Not MAN, no matter what man’s claim of authority over us.
In our next articles in this series, we will explain better Yahweh’s teachings on gossip, as well as go over some ideas in our modern society of what can be considered a violation of His teachings. We can also explore who judges us in these areas. We hope to also explain "conversation" well enough for you to feel comfortable when talking with friends and loved ones.
Jewish “Permission” to Commit Lashon Hara
Jewish Encyclopedia Link to Lashon Hara Article
Audio Blog Now Available
Lashon Hara - Part 2
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Lead Author (Bio)
Jim, (Judi's husband), has Sephardi Jewish ancestry and is a minister and head of Shofar Productions. Jim was a denominational pastor, hospital chaplain, and former director of a non-profit community organization.
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