By 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?