There are situations where refusal to answer a question would itself be a transgression of the prohibition against speaking rechilus. When, for example, one is asked whether or not a certain individual was the guilty party in a certain incident, remaining silent is no less revealing than an explicit “yes.” Here, halachah requires one to conceal the facts, and simply say “no.”
The obvious question is: Why is lying preferable to speaking rechilus when both are prohibited by the Torah? To answer this, we must gain a better understanding of the commandment, “Distance yourself from falsehood” (Shemos 23:7).
The Talmud (Shevuos 31a) notes that rather than command us, “Do not lie,” the Torah instructs us to distance ourselves from “falsehood.” In determining whether or not a given statement is “falsehood,” one must examine its end result more than its technical accuracy. A “little white lie,” for example, which is technically correct but intentionally misleading, is falsehood.
Maharal explains that the Torah views personal animosity as a form of falsehood. This attitude is clearly expressed by the Sages’ classic term for animosity: sinas chinam, baseless hatred.
Thus, a statement of rechilus which could be cause for sinas chinam is a potential cause of falsehood – and concealing or altering the facts to avoid rechilus is an advancement of the cause of truth. In the Sages’ words, “One may alter the facts for the sake of peace” (see Rashi to Bereishis 50:16).
It must be noted, however, that under no circumstances may one swear falsely – even for the sake of peace.