In the past weeks we have discussed the various prohibitions that relate
to harmful speech. However, there are situations in which it is
permissible and perhaps even required to speak negatively about others.
The Torah tells us, “Do not stand by your brother’s blood.1 ” This means that when our friend is in danger we are
obligated to try to help him in any way possible. This commandment is not
limited to physical danger - it is also incumbent upon us to prevent our
friend suffering financial, psychological, or emotional damage.
Consequently, there are occasions where the only way in which we can
protect a person is by informing him of the negative actions or intentions
of someone else - this would inevitably involve lashon hara. However, in
such situations it is permitted to do so in order to protect our friend,
as long as a number of conditions are met2 .
An example of this is if we know that out friend is about to embark on a
business venture with a person known to be untrustworthy. In this
situation we are obligated to try to save our friend from potential
financial loss. In such a scenario it would be permitted to speak
negatively about one person in order to save the other if the conditions
are all adhered to.
There are other types of situations where it may be permissible to relate
negative information: One is where we need to discuss a person’s faults
in order to help him improve. For example, it may be necessary to discuss
a student in school who is causing disruption and where it is likely that
negative aspects of his character will be brought up. Given the right
conditions, this is considered a valid reason for speaking critically.
Another possible example is where a person feels the need to vent his
feelings by talking about an incident in which someone else caused them
some kind of pain. If the goal of where speaking in such a way is to
release our feelings and NOT simply to criticize the other person, then
one may be allowed to do so. This does not of course mean that we can
discuss these feelings on a day-to-day basis to your spouse or friend!
Rather it refers to rare occasions in which we really feel hurt by someone
and where we feel the need to share our pain with someone close to us.
It is essential to remember that all of the above situations are subject
to a number of conditions that MUST be adhered to before one is allowed to
speak lashon hara. In the forthcoming weeks, these conditions will be
discussed, and it will be apparent that, in practice, one must be very
careful about saying anything negative about others even when it seems
that it should be permitted.
1 Kedoshim, 19:16. 2 These will be enumerated in future essays.