Character Assassination

Questions to Ponder:

1) You feel a quite sick, so you head to your doctor to get checked out. He assures you that everything is okay, and you'll get better soon. A couple of days later after a follow up phone call, he agrees to put you on antibiotics, just in case. Unfortunately, things don't get better and you end up in the ER on New Years day, being rushed into emergency surgery, having to spend 4 days in the hospital and a month recovering. After all the dust settles, you realize that your primary care doctor had missed what should have been obvious and his neglect caused your hardship. Do you just move on, or try to report him to the medical license board, hire and attorney, and crash his public ratings?

2) You have always dreamed of getting involved in politics, and after many hard years of work, you are a contender for a valuable State Senate seat in your district. You have good ratings, but you are trailing just behind your opponent, Joe Slick. The elections are really heating up, and with only a few weeks to go, your campaign manager bursts into your office with exciting news. They just "dug up" some great "dirt" about Joe. When he was 17, he was kicked off the varsity basketball team for sexual harassment charges against one of the cheerleaders. Your campaign manager encourages you to make a HUGE deal about this to malign your opponents character and score the crucial votes right before the election. Do you give the green light or hold off?

3) You hire a company to fix your sliding glass doors and you were very disappointed with their service. The company showed up late, was rude to you upon arrival, took much longer than expected, and after everything, the doors didn't work the way you had wanted. Your instant reaction is to let the world know how you feel on Google, Yelp, and other rating sites, but as a small business owner, understanding how crucial these rating are, you think twice. Should you voice your concern or keep your mouth shut?

(טז) לֹא־תֵלֵ֤ךְ רָכִיל֙ בְּעַמֶּ֔יךָ לֹ֥א תַעֲמֹ֖ד עַל־דַּ֣ם רֵעֶ֑ךָ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֽה׃

(16) Don't be a gossiper in your nation. Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow: I am the LORD.

(א) לֹֽא־תִרְאֶה֩ אֶת־שׁ֨וֹר אָחִ֜יךָ א֤וֹ אֶת־שֵׂיוֹ֙ נִדָּחִ֔ים וְהִתְעַלַּמְתָּ֖ מֵהֶ֑ם הָשֵׁ֥ב תְּשִׁיבֵ֖ם לְאָחִֽיךָ׃
(1) If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow.
(יז) לֹֽא־תִשְׂנָ֥א אֶת־אָחִ֖יךָ בִּלְבָבֶ֑ךָ הוֹכֵ֤חַ תּוֹכִ֙יחַ֙ אֶת־עֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ וְלֹא־תִשָּׂ֥א עָלָ֖יו חֵֽטְא׃
(17) You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kinsman but incur no guilt because of him.
(יח) לֹֽא־תִקֹּ֤ם וְלֹֽא־תִטֹּר֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֽה׃
(18) You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD.

Chofetz Chaim - Law of Positive Speech

  1. The speaker must have witnessed the incident himself, rather than knowing about it from rumor. (If he has only heard about the incident, then he must verify its authenticity firsthand.)
  2. The speaker should reflect thoroughly, not hastily concluding something is theft or damage or any other offense, that the action in question is truly a violation according to halacha.
  3. The speaker should first approach the transgressor privately, and rebuke him with gentle language (such that the transgressor would be inclined to listen), because perhaps this can have an impact and inspire the person to improve his ways. If the transgressor does not listen, then the speaker should alert the public of the individual’s guilt.
  4. The description of the sin should not be exaggerated [for “effect” or any other reason].
  5. The speaker must have pure intentions. The speaker should not – Heaven forbid – enjoy his friend’s (the transgressor’s) disgrace, nor act out of a previous hatred he felt for the person.
  6. If the purpose of speaking the Lashon Hara (e.g. causing the sinner to repent, warning the community to stay away from such activity) can be achieved in another way rather than speaking Lashon Hara, it is forbidden to speak Lashon Hara.
  7. By speaking Lashon Hara, the transgressor should not be caused more damage than would be appropriate as determined by a court of Jewish law reviewing the case.