QOTD: The Tension Between Lashon Horah and Obligation Not to Stand By Idly

QOTD = Quote of the Day

Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn has just posted Lashon harah is only prohibited when there is no benefit or to’eles” parts of which I have reproduced below. Go to his post for more on this issue.

The main Torah source prohibiting lashon harah is Vayikra (19:16): “Don’t spread gossip amongst your people. Don’t stand idly by the blood of your fellow. I am G‑d.”

It is important to very  carefully study this verse  to understand what lashon harah is. The first thing to notice is that the verse is not just about lashon harah. The second verse is a command to help people in trouble or to prevent them from getting into trouble. Why are the two issues combined?
A number of commentaries have noted that this dual issue verse teaches that the prohibition of lashon harah is conditional. If a benefit results from saying the negative things that can’t be obtained otherwise – then it is permitted to speak. This is known as the heter of to’eles. In fact we see that it is not a heter but it is a condition that determines whether the negative information is lashon harah. This shows that not every negative statement is in fact lashon harah.

Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Yechava Daas 4:60): … In fact this is the way to understand the verse regarding lashon harah. “Do not speak lashon harah but don’t stand idly by concerning the blood of your fellow.” Even though there is a prohibition of lashon harah, nevertheless the second clause of the verse tells you that it is conditional on this not causing harm. Therefore you are obligated to inform others regarding certain matters in order to them to guard against loss and danger. This is expressed in Nidah (61a) that even though it is prohibited to listen to lashon harah but you should protect yourself from the potential danger you hear about. The Rambam (Mitzva 297) says that protecting another’s money is also included in “don’t stand idly by concerning the blood of your fellow.” … Therefore even if there is only a financial loss, one should inform your fellow man in order that he can protect himself from those who want to harm him. And surely when there is a possible danger to an individual or a group….


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