Why was the Second Temple destroyed? – Because of the baseless hatred (Sinat Chinam) that existed there. (Gemara Yoma 9b)

The Chafetz Chaim notes (in his introduction to Sefer Chafetz Chaim) that our Gemara does not refer solely to hatred one keeps locked up in his heart but also to its expression through Lashon Hara (evil speech)1. The Gemara illustrates this by presenting “stabbing each other with the daggers of their tongue (i.e. speaking evil of one another)” as its example of baseless hatred.

Someone once said to the Chafetz Chaim: “Now that I’ve read your book, I feel like I can’t say anything!” The Chafetz Chaim responded: “Before you’d read my book, you couldn’t say anything as you didn’t know what was permissible to be said. Now that you’ve read it, you know what you are permitted to say.”

There are times when discussing someone’s shortcomings is clearly constructive and the responsible thing to do. This is true either when one is attempting to assist the person he is speaking about, or when he is trying to protect others from that person. In such cases, though negative traits or actions are being mentioned, the statements made do not constitute Lashon Hara. Destructive speech is Lashon Hara; constructive speech is not.2

It is permissible to speak negatively about a person in the following situations:

·        to help the person (e.g. to discuss a person’s faults with someone else in order to help the person improve), or

·        to help anyone victimised by the person (or to protect people from falling victim to his behaviour in the future), or

·        to resolve major disputes, or

·        to enable others to learn from the mistakes of that person,

provided that the following seven conditions are met:

·        one’s remarks are based on first-hand information and careful investigation, and

·        it is apparent that this person is wrong, and

·        (in general) the person has been spoken to but refuses to change his behaviour, and

·        the statement to be made will be true and accurate, and

·        the speaker’s intent is for a constructive purpose only (and there’s a reasonable chance the intended goal will be accomplished), and

·        there is no alternative means by which to bring about the intended result, and

·        no undue harm will be caused by the statement.3

1.       i.e. any statement which is either derogatory or ‘potentially harmful’

2.       Sefer Chafetz Chaim 10:4

3.       Sefer Chafetz Chaim 4:5,7, 9 & 10

 

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