In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim discusses several well-known misconceptions concerning loshon hora. To the person who says, “It is not loshon hora because it will never get back to the subject,” the Chofetz Chaim responds: It is forbidden anyway. Even if in reality the report will never get back to the person about whom you are speaking, it is nonetheless loshon hora in the full sense.
The second misconception is one of the primary excuses for speaking loshon hora: “This isn’t loshon hora; if he were here, I would say the exact same thing right to his face.” Unfortunately for the speaker, according to halachah, this excuse is entirely unacceptable. By making such statements in the subject’s presence, the speaker would transgress the additional sin of causing hurt through words (ona’as devarim) and possibly the grievous sin of embarrassment as well.
The Chofetz Chaim writes, however, that there are a few cases of statements where the subject’s reaction is taken into account.
“Miriam’s going to be late for our meeting,” a woman tells her co-worker. The statement seems to do nothing more than convey a simple fact. No judgments have been spoken as to whether or not it is bad that she is late.
The Chofetz Chaim says that whether or not such a statement is permissible would depend on how the subject would react if it was said in her presence. Here, we take into account the manner in which the statement was given over; i.e., the tone of voice, body motions, etc.
If the statement is said derisively, it is obviously forbidden. An example of this would be if the woman speaks in an anger-tinged tone that is filled with frustration: “Miriam’s going to be late for our meeting!” and then rolls her eyes upward, to complete the message of displeasure.
The ultimate loshon hora barometer is one simple criterion: If the statement comes across as derogatory, then the Torah demands restraint.