The Chofetz Chaim writes that it is permitted, and at times even a mitzvah, to speak loshon hora about an apikoros. The Chofetz Chaim defines apikoros as someone “who denies the Torah or the prophecies of Israel, either the written Torah or the Oral Torah, even if he says that he believes in the entire Torah except for one verse or one law which is derived from the Torah through the principles transmitted at Sinai.”
In our day, it is difficult to relate to this halachah. This is because the typical non-observant Jew today is a far different personality from the nonobservant Jew of Europe a century or two ago. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the vast majority of Jews were observant of every point of halachah. The winds of change, which were first felt in Germany some two centuries ago, led to the so-called “Enlightenment,” from which later developed Reform Judaism, Jewish Socialism and Communism, and other movements which sought to uproot authentic observance of Judaism. It was in this heretical climate that many, including young men and women who had been raised in observant homes, were swept up by the awful momentum of the time and abandoned the ways of their forebears.
It is a mitzvah to speak derogatorily of an apikoros to publicize his wickedness so that the innocent will know to keep their distance from him and not fall prey to his influence. However, as we have mentioned previously, the average non-observant Jew in our day has the status of a tinok shenishbah (a child who was captured by gentiles) and it is forbidden to speak loshon hora about him.
The Chofetz Chaim stresses that we cannot assume that someone is an apikoros based on hearsay. We can consider someone an apikoros if we personally heard him make heretical statements, or if there are consistent reports throughout the community that the person’s statements and behavior place him in this category.
In concluding this segment, the Chofetz Chaim expresses his concern that baalei loshon hora (habitual gossipers) will use this halachah to label innocent people as “heretics,” thereby claming that blatant loshon hora is a mitzvah! These sinners may feel justified in spreading negative information about anyone whom they please and claim that this was sanctioned by the Chofetz Chaim himself!
Nevertheless, the Chofetz Chaim chose to put these laws into print, citing the verse “For the ways of Hashem are straight; the righteous walk in them and sinners will stumble over them” (Hoshea 14:10). The Torah is the Torah of truth, and when it is followed faithfully, it guides a person’s life along the path of truth. But when a person bends the Torah to fit his own will, then the Torah’s power to guide the person is lost, and he is driven strictly by his own desires.