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Thank you to David Solomon for this review material, which was part of his class for BMT students in Jerusalem in 1993.

  1. The Prohibition Against Speaking Rechilut
  2. The Prohibition Against Accepting Rechilut
  3. Repentance for Speaking or Accepting Rechilut

This is the second of three review classes on Hilchot Rechilut.

Hilchot Rechilut Review: Part 2

III. Prohibition Against Speaking Rechilut

It’s Rechilut even if:
– it’s true
– someone persuaded the speaker to say it
– communicated in a form other than speech (i.e. writing, gestures)
– names are not mentioned (but are easily deduced)

With certain exceptions (most notably an intentional and spiteful sinner) it does not matter who the subject of the Rechilut is. Even if it’s a member of the speaker’s family, the speaker has no special permission to speak against that person more than any other. Also, speaking against an “am ha’aretz” (person oblivious to most Torah laws due to limitations of intelligence or education) is forbidden. It is important to note that speaking against a Talmid Chacham (Torah scholar) is two offenses in one: speaking Rechilut against an individual, and speaking Rechilut against the Torah which the scholar represents.

The audience hearing the Rechilut does not matter; causing ill will against the subject is forbidden regardless of who feels the ill will against him.

It’s important to be careful not to speak Rechilut when trying to straighten out a problem. For example, if Reuven tells Shimon that Levi called him a klutz, Shimon can’t ask Levi “Why did you call me a klutz?” because Levi might realize that it was Reuven who repeated it. Also, if two children are fighting, it might not be a good idea to tell the parents since it could start a fight between them and not resolve anything. It’s important to review the parameters of speaking Rechilut for a constructive purpose very carefully before taking action.

It’s also important to try to avoid speaking Rechilut when trying to avoid speaking Rechilut. If Sonny asks Terri, “What did Elise say about me?” and Terri replies, “I cannot tell you,” then Terri has implied that Elise spoke against Sonny, which is Avak Rechilut. Instead, Terri should try to respond in a way that doesn’t make any implications. If she cannot do this without lying, she is even permitted to tell an outright lie to avoid stirring up ill will between Sonny and Elise.

IV. Prohibition Against Accepting Rechilut

It is forbidden to hear and accept Rechilut, even if:
– the listener has a special relationship to the speaker
– the information is widely publicized
– it is spoken in front of everyone involved
– there is more than one speaker relating the information
– the speaker is speaking in a state of innocence (unaware of the implications of what he says, which might make it more likely to be believed)

If the information has relevance to the listener, he is permitted to hear the information but may not accept it as true. He can investigate the validity of what was said to the extent that it can help protect him or resolve a situation. When listening, he should indicate to the speaker that he has a constructive purpose in listening to the information so that the speaker or any other participants do not assume that they are conducting a “gossip session.”

V. Repentance for Speaking or Accepting Rechilut

Like Lashon Hara, repentance for speaking Rechilut involves 2 components:

(1) Repentance Between Man and Fellow Man – If the Rechilut he spoke was accepted, and especially if the Rechilut caused harm or distress to the subject, the speaker must ask the subject’s forgiveness. If the subject is unaware of what was done against him, it is prohibited to inform him since that would cause him grief; instead, the speaker should ask for forgiveness in a more general way (“I sinned against you”).

(2) Repentance Between Man and G-d – Maimonides lists three parts to the repentance process between man and G-d:

(a) regret for one’s actions
(b) private confession to G-d (i.e. in prayer or similar format)
(c) commitment not to repeat the sin in the future
However, this repentance is not complete until repentance between man and fellow man is completed (if required).

As with any sin between man and fellow man, the sinner should attempt to make amends. If he spoke Rechilut, he should try to retract what he said to the original audience (unless, of course, that would further remind the listener of his dispute or other hateful feelings against the subject). In the case of accepting Rechilut, the listener should undo the damage in his mind by convincing himself that the information is not true, or perhaps by ending his dispute in a respectable way. Someone who accepted Rechilut but did not speak or encourage it might not have to make any active amends between man and man other than in his mind; however, if his participation in a conversation appeared to be an agreement or approval of the Rechilut spoken, he should retract his agreement (if that can be done without causing further damage).

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HaLashon, Copyright (c) 1996, 2002 by Ellen Solomon and Project Genesis, Inc.