Rav Pam and the Recent Lancôme Skandal

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rav-pamBy Rabbi Yosef C. Golding

Back in the early ’70s, the very first shiur (of many, many more)  I heard from my rebbi, Rav Avraham Pam zt”l, was a Friday “schmooz” in the Beis Medrash Katan on the second floor in Yeshiva Torah Vodaath.

It was in the late ’60s or very early ’70s and there was a major news story circulating the headlines of the local tabloids about a religious Jew being accused of some sort of business atrocity. I came expecting to hear a “schmooz” on the weekly parsha, but instead, Rav Pam decided to focus on this “news development”.

I remember as clear as day how he started to imitate some of the discussions he had overheard in the hallways of the yeshiva: “Ah shanda, ah chillul Hashem, ah skandal…”

And then his demeanor changed: “Because something is written in a newspaper, does that mean it’s true? Are we permitted to accept hearsay as truth because the papers say so?”

And he went on and on, describing the rules and regulations listed by the Chofetz Chaim in the halachos of shmiras halashon. Suffice it to say, Rav Pam heaped upon us a dose of reality that was sorely missing in our repertoire.

This eye-opening shiur that took place over 40 years ago, recently came crashing into my head when a story printed in a New York tabloid — one that is very far from being a bastion of truth and integrity — hit the public. It was about a $5,000,000 lawsuit against the Lancôme Corporation, purportedly initiated by a frum lady because Lancôme’s advertised claim of make-up that lasted for 24 hours did not last as long as was advertised.

The article quoted the plaintiff by name and quoted her as stating that she was upset with the company because she was making a family simcha and was disappointed in the misleading advertising of the company.

Several frum websites picked up on this and reprinted the article, verbatim, listing the name of the plaintiff for all to see. No one from the sites bothered to first call the family to find out if this was, indeed, fact.

Following that, many, many negative comments were posted on the blog pages of these sites. And to add insult to injury, a frum weekly magazine, without having the decency of contacting the family, commented negatively in its pages a few weeks later, thus compounding the disgrace to the family.

As the family is friends of ours, I wondered about all this; it was so out of character for them to do this. So I asked them…

The answer I got was totally in character of this special family… “We were slandered in vain, and as much as we would love to publicly vindicate our name we will not, because the details of what happened to us would create a much bigger chillul Hashem. We have been guided by Da’as Torah to remain quiet in order to save Klal Yisrael from a real shanda!!”

Fact: The family had the misunderstood case dismissed within 48 hours of them finding out about it.

Fact: The newspaper, websites and blogs, both secular and religious, did not confirm the information before printing it!

Fact: When the family asked people how they heard about the story most had not seen it in the paper or on a media web site. Most of the frum family, friends and acquaintances said someone had sent them an email with a link to the article.

Subsequently, this family went through so much pain… but the hardest part was the way our own people were so quick to judge and spread information that originated from an unreliable source!!

What would the Chofetz Chaim have to say about all those who read and commented negatively on this story? What would Rav Pam have said: “Ah shanda, ah chillul Hashem, ah skandal”?

I remember a subsequent shiur by Rav Pam in which he spent over an hour describing the magnitude of just three words in Parshas Kedoshim: “B’Tzedek Tishpot Amisecha” (loosely translated, “judge everyone favorably”); how in the most outlandish cases, one must find merit in the actions of his fellow Jew.

I wonder how many of us, this writer included, fell into the trap of jumping to conclusions; after all, the newspapers said so, so it must be true…right?

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  1. Thank you Rabbi Golding. We are all guilty of it and rather than pointing fingers each of us should do their part and judge everyone favorably !

  2. While I agree that more sensitivity must be displayed in what we spread around, in this case, I don’t understand how the “facts” you present change anything. Was a lawsuit filed or not? If it was, were the quotes in it accurate or not? Wasn’t that all people were commenting about?

  3. Just saying it was misunderstood without any details will not help any matter
    Nobody believes you. Granted we should have not heard about this to begin with even if true , but trust me you are not helping matters

  4. Thank you for a great article. I personally have had to sit shiva meaning I dealt with death and everything that comes along with such a painful time in ones life. All of that pain and heartache combined does not equal the pain, sadness, hurt, suffering and tears one experiences when wrongfully accused yet openly bashed by certain “chareidi” media who claim to protect Klal Yisroel. You simply cannot escape the wrath of the injustice nor will you ever be the same.

    We have yet to ever see on any site an active campaign to correct and absolve a person, Moisad or anything else we have destroyed once it is proven the initial story was wrong. Dan L’kaf Zchus is lost in our generation.

    Al ayleh ani bochiya

  5. I would like to appologize to the family. I am very very sorry. May they they only see blessings in life. I’m very very sorry.

  6. Thank you for a refreshing article.

    unfortunately this “problem” is not going away to soon.

    the victims are many and it takes being a victim to realize how awful this feels.

    unless of course one does as Rav Pam points out, and that is in essence to live by the Halacha.

    on behalf of myself I apologize for “reading ” the blog sites that posted it.

    I did not get an e mail link to the story from anyone , nor did I send an e mail link to anyone.

    the family should be zocheh to all good things always , and may this incident encourage us to be ever more careful in what we say, hear, read and post.

    PLEASE dear websites and blogs -know that you are accountable for all the material you post and make publicly available.
    NO matter what disclaimer and source quote you are claiming-YOU WEBSITE owners and moderators are responsible!

    hatzlacha and Shabbat shalom.

  7. Being the victim of a community wide (out of town) vilification based on unsubstantiated jealousy and sinas chinam that cost me my health, parnassah, and shalom biays, from people who “wanted to help” and “protect the community”, I must thank and compliment the writer of this article. This week’s Parsha speaks to the inyan, as we said in yeshiva. It is something too many are not careful in, or even understand what we should, can, or are not allowed to say.

  8. I am sorry but the information came from a filing made by her attorney in federal court. This can hardly be described as “an unreliable source”. While it is possible that she didn’t understand what she was getting involved in, that her attorney was not authorized to file the case, or that the whole story was made up those possibilities are remote.

  9. Torah tells us that those indifferent to honor and dignity will launch a holocaust against the respected. It happens every day in some way or another. We can choose to fight the lashin hora all we want or we can pray to Hashem for true divine intervention. Guess which way fixes the problem..

  10. I am trying to understand this article, which of the following options apply:

    1) A person never filed a lawsuit against the company and yet it was reported falsely that she did.
    2) It is wrong that people commented on a lawsuit that was filed.
    3) The lawsuit was filed and when it became public it was embarassing so it was withdrawn?
    4) It is wrong to comment on a lawsuit that is filed against a company by a Frum person.
    5) If a Frum person files a lawsuit against a company one should always call the person and find out if it is true?
    6) One should ignore all stories regarding lawsuits by Frum people because we never know if they are true.
    7) The whole story is made up.
    8)The whole story is true but we should Judge everyone favorably in every case as a general rule.

  11. This article is refreshing. B’tzedek tishpot es amisecha (judging favorably) is a de’oraiso obligation. This is independent from lashon hora. Therefore, for any frum person/publication/organization to publicize this in a way that compromises their reputation is in violation of this din. If it isn’t true, the ones who spread it are spreading motzi shem ra and many other aveiros to boot.
    The reason the details vindicating the family are unclear is b/c daas Torah instructed them not to divulge them. Although one may be skepticle of this for obvious reasons, the halachic obligation is to give them the benefit of the doubt in this regard, especially considering w/e facts anybody reading this has, they are sorely lacking enough info to cost these b’chezkas innocent people their chezkas kashrus, and thus we have no justification not to believe them.
    This is not only the halachically responsible thing, it is also the ethically responsible thing as well as the most reasonable approach.
    May we be zocheh to see the days when at least klal Yisroel will look to the Torah for guidance.


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