SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 8:8-9
The opening chapter of Sefer Melachim tells of the failed coup of Adoniyahu, son of Dovid HaMelech. At the end of Dovid’s life and without his knowledge, Adoniyahu attempted to establish himself as the new king. Long before that, Dovid had sworn to his wife, Bas Sheva, that her son Shlomo would succeed him as king.
Nosson HaNavi, who was loyal to both Dovid and Shlomo, knew that Dovid had to be informed about Adoniyahu’s rebellion and take action before matters got out of hand. He therefore instructed Bas Sheva to inform Dovid of what had happened and to remind him of his oath regarding Shlomo. Nosson told her, “And I will come in [to Dovid] and add to your words.” From this, we derive that one is allowed to speak lashon hara about a baal machlokes, one who initiates a dispute for no valid reason.
In the case of Adoniyahu, Nosson reported on his rebellious actions in order to put an end to the machlokes. Similarly, one can speak against a baal machlokes only if there is a good possibility that this will bring about an end to the dispute. It is not permissible to speak against a baal machlokes merely to vent anger or frustration.
The Chofetz Chaim adds three more conditions:
• The speaker must be certain that the one against whom he is speaking truly is the baal machlokes. He needs to know this either firsthand or from information that he heard and later confirmed as fact.
• His purpose in speaking against the baal machlokes must be to end the dispute, and not because he dislikes the person and is happy to speak against him and cast him in a bad light.
• It must be that the only way to end the dispute is by speaking out against the baal machlokes. If there is a possibility that one can bring about an end to the dispute by speaking directly to the baal machlokes himself, then certainly he must try that first. The Chofetz Chaim notes that at times the baal machlokes is a difficult character, and speaking to him may backfire. Not only will he not listen to reason, he might try to sabotage any attempt to end the dispute. In such a case, it is not necessary to first speak to him.
The Chofetz Chaim ends with a word of caution: Don’t jump to conclusions! Before “launching a campaign” against a baal machlokes, be certain that you truly understand the situation and know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, who is at fault.
It is forbidden to speak lashon hara about someone who has departed this world; the sages of earlier generations considered this a very serious matter and enacted special penalties against people who engaged in such practices. It is particularly serious to speak against a deceased talmid chacham; it is even worse to ridicule his divrei Torah.
IN A NUTSHELL
It is permissible to speak against a baal machlokes in order to end a dispute.
It is forbidden to speak lashon hara against the deceased, especially a deceased talmid chacham and his words of Torah.
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