New York – VIN Exclusive: Overhauling ‘Lashon Horah’ In The Information Age

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    New York – A courageous, trailblazing review of the gossip and slander laws in the context of the Internet

    In the past few years, there has been a “Lashon Horah explosion.” Article after article on websites and blogs have been filled with what seems to be pure Lashon Horah. Or is it?

    There has also been another explosion: the explosion of Lashon Horah vigilantes—numerous people and groups pointing out “Lashon Horah” everywhere without really knowing what Lashon Hora is.

    Now, you may already be thinking—and justifiably so—that our yetzer horah is talking here; that we’re merely making excuses for rechilus and motzi sheim ra.

    Not so fast. And let us tell you why.

    Torah society has certainly undergone a polarization of sorts. On the one hand, the Internet explosion has led to this unprecedented explosion in Lashon Horah violations, and of the most permanent, most damaging sort. Everyone agrees on that. On the other hand, there has been a significant rise in Lashon Horah awareness, thanks to the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation and other worthy, wonderful organizations that do such fabulous and positive work. And that, of course, is a very good thing.

    Unfortunately, this awareness is not always accompanied with the realization that sometimes public warnings are necessary. There are many times that necessary and proper things have been shot down because people say, “That’s Lashon Horah!”

    Rabbi Yair Hoffman is a mechanech, the author of several halachah seforim, the former morah d’asra of the Young Israel of Patchogue, a well respected Torah figure with close contacts with many Poskim and a frequent contributor to VIN News. Rav Hoffman points out that both extremes are wrong—and damaging.

    To address this issue and to seek direction ourselves, VIN News asked Rav Hoffman to pen an essay on the very pressing and pertinent issue of Lashon Horah and the Jewish media.

    The essay was shown to numerous individuals for comment: Talmidei Chachomim, educators, lawyers, community leaders, organizational directors and people involved in the media.

    There is no question that the material in this pamphlet is controversial. But the overwhelming response by the abovementioned individuals was that this essay must see the light of day… and that it was about time that something like this was printed.

    For the most part, those that have reviewed the essay carefully have been intrigued and pleased by its contents. VIN News plans to implement its recommendations. But we plan more—our wish is that other Jewish media sources follow suit too.

    Perhaps the essay could also trigger an avalanche of sorts. Perhaps it could prod all Jewish media sources to band together to create a uniform industry standard that would address these points. After all, the medical industry, the education industry, the travel industry and virtually every other industry meets regularly to discuss standards. Yet here, where the fate of neshamos is at state, there are no meetings, no standards and no guidelines as to what can and cannot be written.

    Rav Hoffman has captured that careful balance between what is tachlis dissemination of information and what is Lashon Horah so as to maintain a healthy, vibrant and safe Torah community.

    In a time when Chilul Hashem seems rampant and where the idea of maintaining Kiddush Hashem at all costs has been apparently forgotten, this essay is a very welcome endeavor. VIN News is proud to have had a crucial role in bringing it to light.

    Comments, of course, are welcome—provided they keep to the guidelines enumerated in the essay. And, most importantly, readers should remember that we are a news site, not a Gemara or Shulchan Oruch.

    VIN News would like to thank Rabbi Hoffman for the countless hours of research in the past few weeks to bring to light the importance of this issue.

    Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com

    Below you can read it scroll, zoom in and use the tools for better viewing, or download it, we suggest that you print it out, and read carefully, share it with as many as you could.

    Lashon Horah By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

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    28 COMMENTS

    1. Quote from the article: “Yet here, where the fate of neshamos is at state, there are no meetings, no standards and no guidelines as to what can and cannot be written.”
      I’m wondering if this sentense itself is Loshon Hora????

    2. Thank you so much to both Rabbi Yair Hoffman for this brilliant analysis of the laws of Lashon Harah and its application, utilizing the “fifth chelek of Shulchan Aruch” to the internet.

      Yahser Koach also to VIN for this tremendous Kiddush Hashem. Our community often is slow to appreciate the benefits of technological advances, and understandably utilizes caution because of the harm that they can do to society and to individuals if not utilized appropriately. It takes great leadership and vision to see the big picture and to pioneer such a great service as VIN has done. It took great courage to create this site that has helped our community confront many problems that have not been addressed until now.

      To show that changes can be made in the way things are done, and that new ideas can be kosher, is an even bigger Kiddush Hashem. That you have recently posted guidlines for comments, and now a guideline for your own reporting based on Torah and Halacha, shows that people need to think a little bit more before they criticize every new endeavor.

      I particularly want to thank you as an advocate for children’s safety from sexual abuse, for alerting the community to both the terrible danger that exists. For too long we have for too long hid our heads in the sand, and refused to acknowledge this mageyfa. This has lead, as others are finally acknowledging, to thousands of karbanos of injured children. It also has created a dangerous community for children, and a safe haven for sexual predators.

      As this article by Rabbi Hoffman alludes to, as a society we are only as sick as our secrets. I would humbly suggest that VIN consider taking the next logical step and providing a registry to parents of those in our community who have been convicted or are known to rabbanim and leaders to be child abusers. The same guidelines described by the Rov, could be implemented in assessing when and how it would be used, and who would need to be included.

      Aside from protecting innocent Jewish children, this perhaps would also serve to stop molesters from getting to the point in which they are so harmful that they need to be publicized even in the secular media making an even bigger Kiddush Hashem. After all, we have seen time and again that a community covering up for child abusers leads to a far worse Chillul Hashem then when it makes a Kiddush Hashem by actively identifying them and protecting children from them.

      Asher Lipner, Ph.D.
      Vice President, Jewish Board of Advocates for Children

      • One point I make in this debate is that, paradoxically, CM penalties (jail, ostracism, loss of work, etc.) are TOO harsh. Consequently, people are reluctant to Maser (even when they should) and reluctant to speak LH (even where it’s a mitzvah).

        If we would keep a registry of SO suspects and a) keep those people away from children, and b) NOT work all out to ruin their lives, then perhaps more people would not slip under the radar, and, consequently, more victims would be spared. And, isn’t preventing new victims the #1 priority?

        Mr. So-and-so, you have a problem? Fine. Be a handyman, not a school bus driver.

      • Dr. Asher Lipner,
        Are you suggesting to provide the already in place Megan’s Law registry to families or to come up with our own “for frum families” registry?

    3. Among the many powerful words coming from the smart pen of Rabbi Hoffman are the following, at pages 3-4:

      “There is no question that the media can and must function in this capacity, as a counter-balance to the corruptive nature of leadership and power. For example, when a powerful institution can erroneously house and protect an indisputably open and present danger (3) to Klal Yisroel, a counterbalance must be implemented in order to effectively neutralize that danger.

      “There are a few cases that transpired in recent years, where organizations protected people that presented a clear and present danger to young children, and that the situation was addressed only because the media got involved. The leadership of these organizations, did not make the necessary and proper decisions under these circumstances, and endangered the welfare of numerous children. Surprisingly, it was the Jewish media sources, however, that did make the proper decision in exposing the issue.

      “(3) It has been conclusively demonstrated that child molestation has a devastating effect on the psycho-social development of children and adults. See Tzitz Eliezer volume for a ruling on how a psycho-social consequence can impact halacha.”

      Let’s give public credit to notable computer media which have protected Jewish children: UOJ, Emes V’Emunah, The Awareness Center, Hirhurim, Rabbi Horowitz, Vin News, Chaptzem, JSafe, Daat Torah, Failed Messiah, Jewish Whistleblower, Jewish Survivors of Sexual Abuse, Jewish Board of Advocates for Children, and Survivors for Justice.

      Notable print media protecting Jewish children include: The Jewish Week, The Jewish Press, The Jewish Star, Five Towns Jewish Times, Jewish Daily Forward, Baltimore Jewish Times.

      There are others. And the struggle continues. There is much to be done. “The sun is hot…” Rabbi Hoffman strikes a sensible path.

      • Of those sources you want to give ‘public credit’ to, there are many good, hardworking, noble organizations and individuals. There are also, however, several slanderous, underhanded, disreputable blogs and ‘yellow journalists’. This is a serious problem with child advocacy in our community today. Very often it seems like anyone who digs up any sort of ‘dirt’, no matter how credible or tastefully presented that dirt is, is a brave defender of childrens’ rights. I think its very important for advocacy groups to distance themselves from the bad groups who capitalize off of scandals or engage in rumor-mongering and falsehood. A lot of people are very turned off by that and stop taking advocacy seriously (as I’m sure you’ve seen). With the internal political realities surrounding abuse today, I think that those who take a deliberately controversial, angry and especially a slanderous approach have done far more harm than good.

        • Hear, hear. A lot of these so-called advocacy groups are just hiding behind the mask of helping kids. Obviously it’s an important issue, but it needs to be gone about the right way. As a well-respected Rosh Yeshiva once told me about one of the bloggers #7 mentions: “If the story’s true, action needs to be taken, but I am not mekaneh the guy’s (meaning the blogger’s) gehinnom.”

          (Obviously I am not referring to Rabbi Horowitz’s website; he’s great.)

      • while many of the publications and websites you wrote about have done a tremendous job of awareness others you mention in giving a shkoach to have utter trash filth and anti-torah values on their websites and in their publications. I cannot understand how you can compare vin news and Rabbi Horowitz in the same sentence as uoj the jewish week etc…

      • Regarding what you say: “Give Credit to Where Credit is Due”

        It’s obvious that the one and only reason why these “Non-Frum News Sources” (which you mentioned) regularly expose the Frum, is not because they care about the Molestation Issue but only because of their Agenda, being “Anti-Frum” and they outwardly jump upon and rejoice in ecstasy, upon any and every opportunity, to smear the Frum.

        As a matter of fact, these news sources, rarely ever “announce” sex offenders of the non-Jewish and the non-frum world, (which accounts for 99.99999% of all offenders). Rather they are all biased only against the Jewish and or the Frum offenders, only.

        • I can only testify, based on my personal experience: the vast, overwhelming majority of the advocates I have met, across the Jewish spectrum, are sincere and dedicated. A good percentage of the advocates, but certainly not all, are also abuse victims, and that fact should speak for itself.

    4. I am still reading this work by Rabbi Hoffman, but from what I have read… all I can say is Yasher Koach! I have been studying a lot from the Chofetz Chaim and this work really brings reality to the online blogging/news community.

    5. While i applaud VIN for bringing this article to light, i must say that the following statement scared me…..
      “And, most importantly, readers should remember that we are a news site, not a Gemara or Shulchan Oruch.”
      i hope you are not suggesting that you are not bound by the Shulchan Aruch. Specifically, to moderate your articles as well as any blabber that someone else posts on VIN.
      Familiarizing yourself with the laws of the Shulchan Aruch and then not following them may be worse then not having known in the first place.

      Wishing Hatzlacha and much success to VIN.

    6. Firstly, I must say that this is one incredible article. Secondly, I think that the whole tone of the article indicates that some of the websites are doing the right thing but going about it all wrong.

    7. Congratulations to Rabbi Yair Hoffman on walking a path where few have dared to travel. But it is most appropriate at this time to point out the greatness of the Late Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l who before the era of the internet and in the infancy of the American Technological explosion had the foresight to see through to its core. It takes a divine vision to finger the purpose of a new era amidst all the glitz, glare and excitement that, that age introduced. Many of the pull quotes mentioned throughout the comments especially Elliott Pasik and Asher Lipner point directly to the genious of the Lubavitcher Rebbe who channeled the abilities of Televiison and Radio to broadcast and televise to a world hungry and thirsty for the word of G-d. He clearly was way ahead of his time as is apparent in retrospect by the ensuing opposition to his call towards publicizing Torah and Mitzvos through the tools that technology at that time afforded us. Furthermore, hats off to the tireless dedication and devotion of the esteemed shluchim of Lubavitch who perpetuated the Rebbes call every step of the way. So while Rabbi Hoffman duly deserves our vocal support and appreciation for charting a path towards using technology as a tool to spread kiddush Hashem and finding and reconciling the dangers of the internet that we have heard so much about. It is time that we all pay tribute and applaud the foresight and innovation of the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l for solving the problem before it really arose and realizing where we would be today as a nation if we all would have heeded his call.

    8. The utter beauty of anonymity and the internet and a bloggers ability to impact the real world really came afore when UOJ made mincemeat out of the molester Kolko and his enabler Margolis. The oy oy tisk tisker made the Chofetz Chaim roll over in his grave when they abused hilchos loshon harah as reason not to expose the pedophile known to many as “Hot Kolko.”

      As will be seen, the internet ban is a fools errand, an abrogation by resonsible mechanchim of their responsibility to teach safe and proper use. Of course, you would actually have to be able to teach in order to teach that.

    9. My reply to #7 and #14.

      Rav Ahron Kotler, ztl, said the following, quoted in David Kranzler’s book, “Thy Brother’s Blood: Orthodox Jewish Response During the Holocaust” (Artscroll 1987): “I would prostrate myself before the Pope to save the fingernail of one Jewish child.” A footnote informs that two witnesses heard these words, including Rav Ahron’s daughter. From 1942 through 1945, Rabbi Kotler was deeply involved in Vaad Hatzalah activities. He met with Reform and secular government officials. He and his allies were criticized by other orthodox rabbis in the Yiddish press for doing so. Meanwhile, he did not open a yeshiva – in Mt. Kisco, NY I believe – until after the conclusion of the war.

      As it happens, the people I’ve met at some of the nonorthodox groups are very dedicated, and I’m guessing Rav Ahron would rather deal with them, than Pope Pius.

    10. I would like to thank VIN and Rabbi Hoffman for writing this wonderful piece. I have a few questions. While its a great idea to get all Jewish media to adhere to the laws of Loshon Horah, how can a particular media that is so slanted in their political ideology (i.e a left-wing reputable Jewish news source demonizing “settler” Jews) be taught loshon horah?

      How and who monitors the Loshon Horah of the Jewish media (if it was said)?

      Are individual blogs under this guideline? I know of one Jewish blog that I read that has a Chofetz Chaim anti-loshon horah emblem on it?

    11. UOJ and other bloggers may be a little harsh for some. He does however point out the hypocrisy that exists within the frum hierarchy of Gedolim. There truly are Gedolim in our time. There are also those who we may consider Gedolim and are not. How can one call a person who covers for molesters a Gadol while there are children being destroyed on a daily basis. This cannot possibly be called Daas Torah. The problem of bugs, money, shidduchim, internet etc. pale in comparison to the problem we have with molestation and how we respond to it. This cancer is destroying Klal Yisroel as it trickles down to future generations. The damage is everlasting. Open your eyes and stop looking at our system as it is with rose colored glasses. It needs alot of improvement. My eyes were opened by UOJ and encouraged me to take action against my molester who was at one time my Rebbe. If it prevents one more child from experiencing the horrors of molestation all of the trouble is worth it. All those who are committed to stopping molesters and exposing the enablers through blogs or public askonim in this area like D. Hikind and N.Rosenberg need to be commended and respected instead of those who some perceive as Gedolim and Rabbonim who sweep this under the carpet, avoid the issue and refuse to take a stand and be involved.

    12. my rebbe in private discussions declared that if a person is a danger to society, be it physically or spiritually, and even more so if the victim is a child there is an obligation to publicly expose this person for the danger that s/he is, simply because awareness by the public of this person as a dangerous person will stop this person from committing future harm.

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