and Rabbinic Counseling
- An Overview of Halakhic
and Legal Issues
Rabbi Michael Broyde
Rabbi Yona Reiss
Nathan Diament, Esq.
and Rabbinic Counseling
Rabbis, like all Jews, are prohibited from speaking derogatorily about people without just cause, even if the derogatory information is true, and thus harmful information given over in confidence to a Rabbi may not be repeated to anybody at anytime absent proper cause. In this sense, Jewish law is much stricter than this countrys secular law, which imposes virtually no restrictions on repeating derogatory information when the information is true, or on repeating defamatory statements in private "dinner conversation" type situations.
Three distinctly different things are forbidden to repeat: making unflattering, but true, remarks about a person for no reason; recounting to a person gossip heard about him; and knowingly communicating false, negative statements about another. In addition, it is forbidden as a general proposition to reveal information which is disclosed in confidence. Rabbis, for whom giving advice is a central part of their professional life, must know when it is permissible or prohibited or even mandatory to repeat negative information to another. The details of when this type of conduct is prohibited and when it is mandated have been addressed numerous times and are beyond the scope of this memorandum. However, as a general proposition, it is prohibited to repeat truthful but harmful information about another unless a multi-part test is satisfied. The chief components of such test are:
1) First and foremost, the information must be "LeToelet"-
for the purpose of preventing a real harm to another person (see infra for further
Halakha requires one to inform a Jew of harm that might befall him and which could be avoided; this is based on the verse "Do not stand by while your brother's blood is being shed."  As has been noted by many,  this obligation applies not only to saving lives or preventing physical harm, but also to preventing improper monetary losses. Thus, in the absence of any other halakhically significant factor, a person who learned that another was planning to cause either a monetary loss through impropriety or a physical harm to a Jew would be halakhically obligated to inform the potential victim or the authorities, and thus prevent the loss. This is, obviously, even more so true when the whole community is the victim of a wrong (such as a butcher selling non-kosher meat as kosher).
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