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Hilchot Rechilut: Chapter 1

1. The Prohibition of Rechilut
2. A Description of the Speaker of Rechilut
3. Regardless of Intention
4. The severity of stirring up hatred between friends
5. Rechilut Under Duress is also Forbidden
6. Rechilut to Prevent Personal Loss is also Forbidden
7. Rechilut to Prevent Embarrassment is Forbidden
8. How to respond when confronted for information
9. Not naming names
10. Innocently" stirring up ill will
11. Any mode that stirs up hatred is forbidden

While Lashon Hara causes damage to the subject (in reputation, finances, emotional anguish or otherwise), Rechilut causes hatred toward the subject, or between the listener and the subject.

We now begin chapter 1 of Hilchot Rechilut. The format is very similar to that of Hilchot Lashon Hara.

1. The Prohibition of Rechilut

One who speaks Rechilut about his fellow violates a Torah prohibition: "Lo telech rachil b'ameicha" - do not go about as a talebearer among your people (Lev 19:16). This is a severe sin, as it causes much spiritual bloodshed within the Jewish people, which is why the Torah continues, "Lo tamod al dam re'eicha" - do not stand upon (i.e. allow the shedding of) the blood of your fellow (ibid).

Learn from what happened from the Rechilut of Doeg the Edomite (Samuel I 21-22), [in which he told King Saul that the priest Achimelech of Nob gave David food and weapon as David was fleeing from Saul, and upon hearing what Achimelech did for his rival David, Saul commanded that] the entire Priestly City of Nob be annihilated.

This prohibition ("Lo telech rachil b'ameicha") is the Torah's explicit prohibition against such speech, although one violates many others, as discussed in the introduction to Sefer Chafetz Chaim.

2. A Description of the Speaker of Rechilut

A talebearer (Heb. rachil) is one who carries tales among people, saying, "This is what Ploni said about you..." "this is what Ploni did to you..." or "this is what I heard about someone that he did or wants to do to you...." ["Ploni" and "Plonit" are the male and female Hebrew words used for an anonymous person; in English "so-and-so"; might be used in this context. Sometimes a commentary might use Shimon and Reuven (and Levi and Yehuda) to depict several anonymous individuals.]

Even if the information is not derogatory, and even if the person being spoken about were asked would volunteer the information himself, and even if the information is true, or even if the intention of the speaker was something entirely different, it is still Rechilut.

3. Regardless of Intention

The prohibition of Rechilut applies even if the speaker did not intend to provoke ill will in the listener's heart against the subject, and even if the speaker believes that the subject's actions were correct and just. For example, Shimon criticizes Reuven for something Reuven said about him or did against him, and Reuven asserts that he was right in what he said, and in fact that Yehuda said the same thing. Even if as a defense of his own actions, he has caused Shimon to feel hatred against Yehuda, Reuven's statement is called as Rechilut.

4. The severity of stirring up hatred between friends

The parameters discussed in the paragraphs above apply even if all the information is completely true, without any trace of falsehood - speaking Rechilut is prohibited.

It does not matter if they were friendly and someone told what one said about the other - the speaker is called a "rasha" (evil person), and his actions are an abomination, as stated in Proverbs (ch. 6): "Six are hated by G-d and seven are abominations ... one who places disputes between friends." The Sages say that the seventh [Rechilut] is the most severe.

Also, even if they were already bitter enemies, and someone hears one speaking against the other and he goes and tells him, it is called Rechilut (and forbidden).

5. Rechilut Under Duress is also Forbidden

Regarding the prohibition against speaking Rechilut, there is no distinction whether the speaker states Rechilut willingly, or the listener suspects something on his own and pressures the speaker to tell him what another said about him. Even if his parent or teacher pressures him to tell what the other person said against them, and even if the information is only Avak Rechilut (a lighter form of Rechilut that we will discuss in a later chapter IY"H), in any such case it is still forbidden.

6. Rechilut to Prevent Personal Loss is also Forbidden

Even if the speaker realizes that not relating the Rechilut would cause himself a significant loss, it is still forbidden. For example if he works for someone, and the boss realizes [another has said or done something against him] and tries to compel the worker to inform him of the details, and if the worker would refuse, his boss will suspect that he is collaborating with the guilty party, and as a result he would lose his job and have no way by which to provide for his family. Not speaking Rechilut is included among all negative prohibitions (i.e. "do not..." in contrast to positive commandments such as reciting Kiddush on Shabbat), for which one must lose all his possessions in order not to violate them, as discussed in the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 157:1.

In some cases it would be permissible to reveal the information in order to prevent such a loss and quell the dissention. But one shouldn't rush to rely on this allowance, as many prerequisites must be met, which we will outline in the ninth chapter of this section IY"H.

7. Rechilut to Prevent Embarrassment is Forbidden

Further, if through holding back a story the speaker would not be subject to financial damage, but rather only be chastised or embarrassed, it is certainly forbidden to say anything.

The speaker who holds himself back should not feel any remorse when experiencing ridicule or other mental anguish, for in the World to Come he will be counted among the Ohavei Hashem (those who love G-d), and his face will shine with holiness. The Sages say that one who is shamed but does not shame another, one who hears his chastisement but does not respond, earns the scriptural description "those who love him are like the rising of the sun in its strength." All the more so, one who withstands disgrace for the sake of G-d's command.

See also Hilchot Lashon Hara 1:7.

8. How to respond when confronted for information

Regarding what to answer when asked, "What did X say about me?" it depends as follows: if the person can respond in some way without lying and without speaking rechilut, he should do so. If, however, he knows that the person asking him for information will not accept such an answer, then it is permitted to speak outright falsehood for the sake of peace. However, the speaker must not - Heaven forbid - take an oath or swear falsely, as further discussed in the [Hebrew commentary for our text] Be'er Mayim Chaim.

9. Not naming names

It is also forbidden to help one's friend deduce who spoke or did something against him even without revealing the name of the culprit. Whether to speak more generally, so that only later will his friend realize the identity of the speaker, or if the friend knows what happened but does not know who did it, to give him hints so the friend will deduce who it was, is prohibited.

Special note: Any translators out there? If you're following in the Hebrew text, you'll see that I diverged from the Chafetz Chaim's own structure (although not content) for this paragraph. I'd be interested in feedback for how a non-amateur translator might have tackled this paragraph. Thanks!

10. Innocently" stirring up ill will

It is forbidden to speak rechilut through deception. For example, a person knows that his friend suffered some damage or embarrassment from another, and there was a serious argument between them as a result. Now this person wants to stir up the old dispute, yet does not want anyone to realize that he is instigating it. So, he slyly prepares his speech, and mentions this awful damage or embarrassment that happened to his friend some time ago and seemingly innocently remarks that he doesn't know who did such a thing to him. Through this, the damaged party [the speaker's "friend"] remembers on his own that so-and-so caused him that damage. Any speech along these lines is forbidden.

A question for thought (and discussion?) - why is this mentioned at all? Shouldn't it be obvious that trying to stir up ill will is forbidden, and someone who plays such games knows they are violating these laws? Who is the Chafetz Chaim writing to?

11. Any mode that stirs up hatred is forbidden

There is no distinction within the prohibition of rechilut whether the speaker tells someone directly what another did or said against him, or whether he writes the information. Also, there is no distinction between relating a slight against a person or against a person's merchandise (as with Lashon Hara, see the first section, chapter 1 paragraph 8 and chapter 5 paragraph 7), because in either case it introduces enmity in the listener's heart toward the offender.

HaLashon, Copyright (c) 1996, 2003 by Ellen Solomon and Project Genesis, Inc.

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