Gossip

'P Noah #2 Fri 1991

From: Rabbi Seymour Moskowitz

(Slight Editing by Yaachov Cohen)

Did you ever hear the proverb: "Ha'Mavet Ve'H'Chayyim Be'yad Halashon" ? (Life and death are on the tongue.)  It was taken from our Bible. (Proverbs 18:21)The Talmud considers Rechilus and LOSHEN HOREH as tri-pronged tongues, which kill three people; (1) The speaker, (2) the one spoken of and (3) the listener. Rechilus is gossip about people, which, though it conveys TRUE information is STILL gossip. Loshen Horeh is gossip that conveys FALSE information. Both types of gossip are forbidden.

The Jewish tradition is vehement in the condemnation of gossip that one great Rabbi (The Baal Shem Tov – Lord of the Good Word in Hebrew) poskened that the KOSHER STATUS of what comes OUT of one's mouth (i.e. one's WORDS) is even more important than what goes IN.

Judaism has unambiguous view about Rechilus and Loshen Horeh. Any negative hurtful speech about others, or even ABOUT ONESELF, whether true or false, whether spoken maliciously or not, is prohibited. Denigrating others is a very common occurrence. It is an insidious malady, which, unfortunately, occupies a large portion of typical daily conversation. In order to eradicate this affliction we must cultivate sensitivity to situations, which are conducive to gossip and to learn to keep SILENT when drawn in to Yentishe situations.

Some who suffer logo mania may question whether silence is psychologically healthy. After all, isn't the principle of psychodynamics to express our hostility at those who anger us lest we turn it against ourselves? And isn't it the current trend in psychotherapy to unburden ourselves of our anger, our hidden resentments and our negative feelings? While unexpressed anger CAN be turned against oneself and lead to depression or worse, there is a world of difference between openly and assertively confronting those who we believe have caused us harm and, on the other hand, going bout prattling behind their backs.

It is, for example, when we feel unable to tell a friend or a colleague that he or she has hurt us that we are most prone to say negative things about him or her to others. Assertiveness involves confronting others in a firm but gently way in private. It secures our own rights without violating the rights of others. Gossip does NONE of these things; it merely SIDESTEPS the problem. It neither secures our own rights, nor respect the rights of others. It is probably true that the expression of a certain amount of negative feelings about others is inevitable, but there is a vast difference between the need to come to terms with past relationships and resentments on the one hand and, on the other hand, the need to speak ill of others.

In Pirke Abot (1:17) R. Shimon HaTzadik states that he spent an entire lifetime in the company of wise men and ALL of the things beneficial to the body that he found SILENCE to be the best.

People who have learned to cultivate appropriate silence and the expression of kind words towards and about others soon come to be perceived and treated by others as loving individuals with a positive attitude towards life. Our words are, in a sense, the building blocks of our souls. For most of us, if these blocks are kind and relatively few, the result will be far more beautiful, healthy and secure.