With Innocence and With Proof

Both in the laws of loshon hora and the laws of rechilus, the Chofetz Chaim has stressed that someone who intentionally relates negative talk without a constructive purpose is deemed a rasha (wicked individual), for he intentionally transgresses Torah prohibitions, and obviously his words cannot be believed. But what if such vremarks were not made maliciously, in the way of a gossipmonger? What if the person conveyed the information Meisiach L’fi Tumo, as a casual remark with no harm intended?

The Chofetz Chaim refers us to the laws of loshon hora (Day 62). There we learned that with regard to those laws, the principle of Meisiach L’fi Tumo carries no weight. Here, too, if someone casually — and seemingly innocently — speaks rechilus in the course of conversation, we are not permitted to believe it. If the speaker’s report could be understood in a favorable way, we are required to give the subject the benefit of the doubt.

Another concept, which we have already discussed, is Devarim Hanicarim (recognizable signs), circumstantial proof which indicates that a report is true. Here, the Chofetz Chaim enumerates the five conditions which must be met before one can accept rechilus as fact based on circumstantial proof:

1. There is no way that the information can be interpreted in a favorable way.

2. The evidence must be directly related to the report and it must be solid, not superficial.

3. The listener has firsthand knowledge of the evidence. If he heard about the evidence from someone else but did not confirm it personally, it cannot be relied upon.

4. As we have stated many times, one may listen to rechilus only for a constructive purpose. If there is no such purpose, it is forbidden to listen to the report, regardless of how convincing the evidence seems. If one heard the report accidentally, he must disregard it.

5. After meeting the above four conditions, one is permitted to accept the information as fact and act upon it constructively. However, he is not permitted to share the information with others (except for a constructive purpose) — including his wife, parents or close friends. And he certainly cannot use the information as an excuse to harm the individual in any way.

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© 2020 Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation

© 2020 Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation

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