(Cross-posted over on DovBear – click on the comments there for more discussion.)
We all know we are not supposed to speak Lashon Hara. This nasty sin is defined from torah.org as
“..any derogatory or damaging statement against an individual. In Hilchot Deot 7:5, Maimonides supplies a litmus test for determining whether something is or isn’t Lashon Hara: Anything which, if it would be publicized, would cause the subject physical or monetary damage, or would cause him anguish or fear, is Lashon Hara. “
Whether it is the truth or not, doesn’t really matter. One should not be talking about others. Period. It is even an aveirah to listen to it.
I am not perfect, but I try not to speak Lashon Hara. I try not to listen to it. As anyone knows when you have kids they are always telling you the bad things the others did to them. But kids and adults are very different.
What really ticks me off more than anything is that you will often hear religious people talking about certain non-Jewish people in a defamatory way, and when you tell them they shouldn’t be speaking this way, the Lashon Hara-ite will say “it’s ok, he isn’t Jewish”. Wait a sec. He isn’t Jewish therefore you can say what you like? It doesn’t count? That’s baloney. That’s the same thing as saying I can dress bareheaded in a bikini on the beach because there are no Jewish men around to see me. That I can steal from my neighbour because he isn’t Jewish. (oh wait, is that how some people are maskim for you to cheat on your taxes, because it’s a non Jewish government???)
If we are not supposed to talk badly about people, in my view, we should make it our habit to not speak that way about anyone. If you justify gossiping about one person, then what’s to stop you getting used to gossiping and forgetting and then badmouthing everyone. If you are in the habit of dressing in a tzanua way, you don’t give that up when you are in a different habitat. You don’t give up eating kosher when there are no other Jews around. As far as I know there is no halachic suspension clause for when we want / need it. Our Torah, our halacha, our minhagim – they are all about living our life in a certain way. No exceptions. People died to uphold our way of life, and we allow it to be cheapened this way?