SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 7:7-8
There are certain situations where it might be permissible to believe lashon hara about someone, even though he is not known as someone who often commits serious sins.
Mr. Jacobs has been a respected member of the shul for three decades. He is known to be exceptionally honest and forthright, and the rav sometimes discusses private matters with him.
The rav once commented, “If Mr. Jacobs informs me of something of which I was unaware, I consider it as reliable as if I heard it from two witnesses in court!”
One day, Mr. Jacobs is walking by McDonald’s when he sees Mr. Farloran, a member of their shul, sitting at a table eating a cheeseburger. Mr. Jacobs waits until Farloran leaves the store and approaches him. “Excuse me,” he says politely, “may I ask you a question?”
“Mind your own business. Mr. Nosybody,” the man snaps. “I know what you want to ask me; it’s none of your concern.”
In this case, says the Chofetz Chaim, Mr. Jacobs would be correct to inform the rav, for it is important that the rav be aware of this situation, even if he cannot approach Mr. Farloran about the matter. And since Mr. Jacobs is as trustworthy in the rav’s eyes as two valid witnesses — the rav is permitted to believe his report.
However, this halachah applies only if Mr. Jacobs witnessed this himself. He would not be permitted to relate it if he heard about it from someone else, and the rav would not be permitted to believe it if he did relate it.
Even when Mr. Jacobs did witness it and the rav is permitted to believe his report, the rav cannot repeat the report to others.
Let us examine another case involving our friend Mr. Jacobs:
Mr. Jacobs approaches the rav one day to discuss the upcoming bar mitzvah of Chaim Birnik. “It’s so wonderful to see how well this boy is doing in yeshivah,” he remarks. “I remember his father, Mendy Birnik, from when we were teenagers. No rebbi could handle him; he was usually out of class, and sometimes out of school. Baruch Hashem, he straightened out, and he and his wife are raising fine children.”
There is no reason why the well-meaning Mr. Jacobs had to volunteer this information to the rav. He has been guilty of speaking lashon hara. Though the rav considers Mr. Jacobs as trustworthy as two valid witnesses, he is not permitted to believe this report about Mr. Birnik’s past.
Ideally, the rav should have stopped Mr. Jacobs as soon as he said, “I remember Mr. Birnik from when we were teenagers.” At that point, the rav could have said, “One second, my friend. Please don’t tell me anything uncomplimentary about Mr. Birnik’s youth. It’s really not important for me to know this.”
As the Chofetz Chaim notes, if the rav realized where the conversation was heading and did not stop it, then aside from listening to lashon hara, he also transgressed “And before a blind person do not place a stumbling block”, which forbids a Jew to cause another Jew to sin. This is what the rav would transgress by allowing Mr. Jacobs to continue with a report that is clearly lashon hara.
IN A NUTSHELL
One is permitted to believe a negative report that he needed to know and which was related to him by someone whom he trusts like two valid witnesses.
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