Whats so bad about gossip Internet provides answers

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Gossip in Hebrew is usually translated as lashon hara, literally the evil tongue. A piece of gossip may be true and it may have been said without malice but that does not make it any more acceptable in Jewish law. An article on the topic appears at www.jewish.com/askarabbi/Ethics/Lashon_hara_and_dishonesty

According to the Web site of Sha'arei Shalom Congregation in Ashland, Mass., "The rabbis teach that lashon hara is like killing three people because it destroys the reputation of the victim, damages the perceptions of the listener, and diminishes the standing of the speaker." The article is at www.rjca.org/lashon.html

One of the greatest proponents of codifying the laws against lashon hara was Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1838-1933), known as the Chofetz Chaim; an article is at http://torah.org/learning/halashon

The Chofetz Chaim lists 31 commandments that may be violated when a person speaks or listens to lashon hara, including "In righteousness shall you judge your neighbor" and "You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people" (Leviticus 19:15-16).

Another article is at www.ahavat-israel.com/ahavat/am/gossip.asp

In recent years, the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation has carried on Kagan's work and steps up its efforts at this time of year. On July 29, we mark Tisha B'Av, known as the time when national calamities hit the Jews. But instead of blaming outside forces, the Talmud says that the cause of the destruction of the Second Temple was the senseless hatred and ill will displayed between Jews. Since gossip and ill will are very much contemporary issues within Judaism, the Chofetz Chaim Foundation has created videos and other programs to spread the message about lashon hara. You'll find information to download at www.kesserisrael.org and then click on KesserMesser — Tisha B'Av 2001.

Cutting out gossip may sound fine in theory. But can it work in the real world? Rabbi David Bassous examines whether we have the right to discuss the private lives of politicians or celebrities.

"To report on a politician's private dealings, if it sheds significant light on his character, may be acceptable," he writes. "This is because knowledge of the politician's character helps voters make an informed decision at election time. However a celebrity's private life is of no relevance to the public and should not be reported on without the celebrity's permission." Bassous' essay is at http://home.earthlink.net/~etzahaim/halakha/confid.html

What about psychotherapy? Sanford Drob, a psychologist at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York, has written a fascinating article on lashon hara at www.newkabbalah.com/losh.html

He acknowledges that therapy may involve expressing negative feelings about others but says that it should never be an end unto itself. "If after many weeks and months of psychotherapy a patient continues to 'unburden' him or herself about the misdeeds and injustices of others, I begin to suspect the 'unburdening.' And the fixation upon the past, to be a source of the patient's problems rather than an effort towards their resolution."

So how do you break the gossip habit? Slowly. Choose an hour daily during which you will make a deliberate effort to speak no evil. Once that becomes comfortable, gradually expand your gossip-free period. And how does the Internet fit into the resolution to cut down on lashon hara? Very conveniently. You can kick off your own campaign by making your anti-lashon hara pledge online at www.anshe.org/machsom-lfi.htm