A Tragic Error

A Tragic Error

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  • April 8, 2019

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 7:13-14

It happened once that Rabbi Avraham Pam was asked to preside over a din Torah [Jewish court case] between two distinguished parties. The din Torah was to be held in Rav Pam’s yeshivah office.

Two people who were on one side of the dispute arrived first and approached Rav Pam at his seat in the beis midrash, where he was engrossed in learning. When Rav Pam noticed the two men, both well known in the community, he did not even nod in greeting. He simply stood up and led them to the office where the din Torah would be held.

A few minutes later, the members of the other side arrived. Upon hearing that their opponents had preceded them and were in the “courtroom” together with Rav Pam, one of them exclaimed, “Oh, no! That means they had a chance to tell Rav Pam their side of the story without our having a chance to respond!” A talmid of Rav Pam responded, “I am sure that my rebbi would not allow them to say a word before the other side is present in the room.” He was right.

Resolving disputes requires wisdom, patience, and, most of all, impartiality. A judge or mediator who even slightly favors one side in an argument has no right to judge the case. In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim bemoans a situation that could happen in a community whose leaders wield considerable power.

… Many people make a mistake in these matters. If something is stolen from them and they suspect a certain individual, they tell the community leaders that they have strong evidence against that individual. The leaders, in turn, punish that person in an attempt to get him

to confess. This is contrary to halachah. Even if devarim nicarim (see previous segment) are acceptable as proof, nevertheless, these leaders need to determine that indeed there was a robbery (as the person claims); and they need witnesses who can vouch that the evidence is true, or determine for themselves that the evidence is true. They have no right to rely on the claimant and punish a Jew without cause. Even to believe in one’s heart that what the claimant said is true is forbidden, because of the prohibition against believing lashon hara …

Those who act in this way do so out of ignorance of the halachah; and out of prejudice towards the accused, whom they have decided is guilty without real proof. This is not the Torah way. We assume a person to be honest unless there is real proof to the contrary that we know firsthand to be true. We also have to be absolutely certain that there is no way to give the person the benefit of the doubt so that his actions can be inter­preted in a positive way.


Community leaders are not permitted to accept one person’s accusations against another without valid testimony or concrete proof.

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