By Yaakov Segal
Web sites and blogs have totally redefined the famous mashal (example) regarding one who spews Lashon Hara or Motzei Shem Rah into the public sphere. Repentance can more easily be obtained when one slanders someone in private; one tries to repair the damage by correcting his misstatements to the private few who have heard them.
But when one slanders someone publicly, how can one attain teshuvah (repentance) by correcting his statements? It is like trying to gather up feathers from a torn pillow that were released into the wind!
Today, one doesn’t need a pillow or any wind; with the click of a computer mouse, you can cause untold damage in this world to the one you have slandered…and possibly irreparable damage to yourself, in the next World, as well. Remember, the laws of Shmiras Halashon are very complex and, I assume, one should be at least as wary of what comes out of his mouth, as one is on the food products that one puts into his mouth.
So let’s think for a moment: if I comment on an article or event on a blog, and it might construe an aveiroh (sin) that our Chazal say is equivalent to the three cardinal sins of Judaism, shouldn’t I think a little harder before I click that mouse, sending what may be a very big mistake into cyberspace, never to be retrieved? And lest you think Chazal were exaggerating regarding this aveiroh, I challenge anyone reading these lines to ask ANY Orthodox rabbi as to the veracity of Chazal’s warning.
The Chofetz Chaim warns us from the Zohar how these aveiros empower the Satan and bring wanton “death and destruction” to the world. When we read of terrible events that seem to take place almost every day in our community, instead of commenting “BDE” and shrugging one’s shoulders, doesn’t it make a lot more sense to do something about it?
Now, so far, I have addressed comments and responses to postings. What about the postings themselves?
Is one excused from the stringent laws of Shmiras Halashon (I include in this the disparagement of Gedolim, Torah institutions, Chessed mosdos, targeting people for personal destruction, etc.) when posting or printing an article? Is one allowed to reprint falsities, slander, etc. from outside secular sources and claim “It wasn’t me; I just reprinted it”?
I will let Poskim decide whether or not that information is considered “b’apai t’lasa”, in the public domain. I sincerely doubt it, especially if there is even a minute amount of untruth to it, you will be guilty of spreading Motzei Shem Rah, which is even worse than Lashon Hara. In fact, the Chofetz Chaim, in his discussion of “apei t’lasa” concludes that one should never rely on this heter, because the conditions needed to rely upon it are too complex and the subject of great debate among the commentators.
I clearly remember Rav Pam’s zt”l admonition regarding this: “If you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say it!”
And if one is “ovair” one, or many, of these issurim by publishing something they shouldn’t have, and you, the reader, reads the post, the blog, or the comment, and may believe even a small portion of the venom you have read, you, too, have transgressed the laws of Shmiras Halashon. The Chofetz Chaim says that one is a sinner merely for sitting down with a group that is known to exchange lashon hara, even if he intends not to believe what he hears. By the same token, isn’t one a sinner for reading the blogs even if (at least initially) he does not intend to believe what he reads?
It’s not for me to make judgments regarding any particular web site (or for that matter, any printed newspaper or magazine). But don’t we have a responsibility to make sure we print and read only that which hews to halacha…and click on only those sites that can add to our Olam Habah, not which detract from it?!
(The author acknowledges the constructive comments to the original drafts of this piece by several authors of books on Shmiras Halashon.)