- What is Considered Avak Lashon Hara?
- Speaking in Public
- Praise that Causes Harm
- Living in a Lashon Hara Neighborhood
- Children Speaking Lashon Hara
- Repeating Conversations
Avak Lashon Hara refers to speech which incites the speaking of actual Lashon Hara. Avak means dust, symbolic of the dust that gathers on one’s shoes and clothing as he travels.
1. What is Considered Avak (dust) Lashon Hara?
Some things are forbidden because they are Avak Lashon Hara (traces of Lashon Hara – it can incite speaking of Lashon Hara). For example, someone might say, “Who would have expected So-and-So would be like he is today?” or, “Stop talking about So-and-So, I don’t want to tell you what’s going on with him,” and other such statements.
Furthermore, praising someone in front of a rival is also Avak Lashon Hara, because it will cause the listener to disparage the subject. (Note: From this we learn that other conversations are forbidden, such as simply mentioning the name of someone about whom the listener is likely to gossip.) Excessive praise is forbidden even if the listeners do not dislike the individual, because it is common to end off such statements with criticism, such as “except for his negative character trait of….” or that the listeners will respond, “Why do you praise him so much when he has such a negative trait….”
2. Speaking in Public
The above [not giving excessive praise, since it could precipitate Lashon Hara] applies when not speaking in public. In public, however, it is forbidden to praise a person at all, because in a group of many people it is common to find people who distort facts or act with envy, so that by mentioning someone’s good points it brings about disparaging talk.
(Note: If however, one knows that the listeners will not speak negatively about the subject, for example if they don’t know him, it is permissible to praise him, so long as it is not overdone.)
If one wants to praise someone who is known by all to be a good and righteous person in whom no evil or culpability is found, the speaker may even praise him before his enemies, for they will be unable to disparage him. Should they try to speak unjustly of the subject, everyone will know that they are wrong.
3. Praise that Causes Harm
An individual must also take care not to praise his fellow in a way that will cause him harm. For example, if a guest were to go in the streets and publicize the graciousness of his host–the food and drink, and the efforts made on the guest’s behalf–crooked individuals would take advantage of the host and consume all of his money.
This is what is meant by Mishlei (Proverbs) 27:14, “He who loudly praises his neighbor, while rising in the morning, it is viewed as a curse.” From this we also learn that when gets a loan from his friend, he should not publicize the greatness of his friend’s deed, because that will cause unscrupulous people to try to take advantage of the friend, and he will not be able to shake them.
One is obligated to watch his words so that others should not interpret his statements as innapropriate; the listeners might consider him as a speaker of Lashon Hara. If one causes himself to be suspected as such, his behavior (words and actions) fall under the prohibition against Avak Lashon Hara.
4. Living in a Lashon Hara Neighborhood
It is forbidden to live in a neighborhood of “ba’alei lashon hara” (habitual speakers of Lashon Hara), and all the more forbidden to sit among them and hear their conversations. Even if he does not intend to accept what they say, the very “bending his ear to listen” is forbidden, as discussed in 6:2. If one knows one of his students to be a ba’al Lashon Hara, and he knows that his attempts to rebuke the student will not be heeded, he should distance himself from the student.
If one happens to find himself in a crowd of ba’alei Lashon Hara, and he hears them speaking Lashon Hara, if he realizes it is possible that a rebuke will influence them to stop, he has a Torah obligation (in contrast to a Rabbinic obligation) to rebuke them. Even if he assesses that his rebuke will have no effect, he should not be tainted by them, and he is therefore forbidden to keep quiet for they might say that he was part of their group (i.e. listening like everyone else). He must respond by protesting in a manner by which he will be spoken of as respectable and upright. This is one of the reasons why one is obligated to leave a gathering of r’sha’im (constant and willful sinners), for he is punished for hearing their words and being unable to answer them.
5. Children Speaking Lashon Hara
Know further that even if one hears his young son and daughter speaking Lashon Hara, one must protest against their doing so and remove them from such activity, as it is written in Mishlei (Proverbs): “Teach the child according to his ways,” and is discussed in Orach Chaim (the section in Shulchan Aruch that discusses laws of daily living) 343:1 with regard to teaching all the prohibitions in the Torah.
6. Repeating Conversations
If one tells his friend something, [the listener] is forbidden to repeat it to others without his friend’s permission, especially if it is something that contains Lashon Hara.
This is the end of the chapter on Avak Lashon Hara, laws of speech associated with Lashon Hara. This is anything someone says that isn’t technically Lashon Hara itself, but causes Lashon Hara to be spoken (e.g. “I can’t tell you what he did at the conference.”)
Although paragraphs 4 and 5 aren’t actions (i.e. statements) of the individual, perhaps they are mentioned here because the individual’s presence in the situations associates him with the Lashon Hara spoken.
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