Lashon Hara: Gossip and Talking about Others

Jewish law goes well beyond secular law in this arena, and forbids the telling of a negative statement about another person, even if it is true.

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talk and gossip quizRabbi Abraham Twerski, a psychiatrist, wisely observes that this rabbinic dictum no longer applies to Jews who were raised in ritually observant households. For example, the woman's husband never expressed a desire to eat shrimp. Had he done so, he would probably have become nauseous. The prohibition against eating forbidden foods has become so internalized among observant Jews that refraining from such foods no longer requires any self-sacrifice.

But there is one commandment that almost all observant—and non-observant—Jews are tempted to violate: the ban against speaking lashon hara. Many otherwise observant Jews frequently violate this biblical prohibition. They would do well to update the rabbinic quote to read, "One should not say, 'I do not like to gossip,' but rather, 'I really enjoy talking about and listening to the intimate details of other people's lives, and discussing other people's character flaws, but what can I do, since my Heavenly Father has forbidden it?'"

Adopting this attitude will not only lead to a diminution in gossiping, it will also, as Twerski argues, offer a powerful lesson of true religiosity to one's children. He advocates cutting short a discussion at the dinner table because it is becoming gossipy, and explaining to your children that you are tempted to continue the discussion, but that such conversations are forbidden by God. By doing that, you can demonstrate to your children "by living example the negation of [your] will to that of a higher Authority. It may well be one of the few lessons they'll never forget."

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Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of Jewish Literacy and Words that Hurt, Words that Heal, along with other widely-read books on Judaism and the "Rabbi Daniel Winter" murder mysteries. He lives in New York City and lectures widely throughout North America.