Thursday, July 14, 2011

What's the harm in a little Lashon Hara now?


lashon hara  `läshən `härä (ערה ןושל) is the prohibition in Jewish Law of telling gossip. Lashon hara differs from defamation in that its focus is on the use of true speech for a wrongful purpose, rather than falsehood and harm arising.
A culprit was named very quickly. Within hours of the announcement of the discovery of the body of young Leiby Kletzky, rumors spread of the name of a suspect. These rumors were later confirmed when NYPD Commissioner announced that the suspect,**** ****, gave statements implicating himself.

I hid the face click if you want to seeThe name and picture of the suspect spread quickly across the blogosphere, facebook and twitter. None of the rhetoric is terribly shocking. Many called him a "monster" and there are already a few groups on facebook calling for his execution, which won't happen (NY State has no Death Penalty statute).
The question though is, is it okay to speak Lashon Hara about somebody so clearly evil?
I would say no for two main reasons. Before I get into that, I want to make it abundantly clear I am not against the reporting of sexual abuse or the exposure of abusers. It has become clear  that this is an issue in this community and the desire to save the community from embarrassment has come at the expense of victims. If you are aware of such abuse you are morally obligated to report it, or you yourself are as guilty as the perpetrator. If not sharing information either allows an abuse to continue, or leaves potential victims unaware and therefore vulnerable to abuse, that is clearly bad. What I am opposed to is the gratuitous gossip within the community once the matter is cearly known. Clear? Good!
First, Facts in Cases Like This Tend to be Murky and Unreliable, Especially In the First Few Days and Can Have Bad Consequences.
I give you for example, the case of Richard Ricci. After the much publicized abduction of Elizabeth Smart in 2002, authorites announced that they had a suspect, Mr. Ricci. He was a loner, ex-con, who had worked for the Smart family and knew their home. He was placed into custody, while many in the media tried to uncover as much info on him as possible. Most concluded that he must be the culprit. There was even evidence to suggest suscpicious activity.  He died in custody, leaving behind his newly wed wife. Ricci of course, was not the kidnapper. It was another suspect whowas captured over a year later.
The urge to jump to conclusions not only lead to the death of an innocent man, but it took attention away from finding the true culprits. Furthermore, it subjected Ricci's wife to undue scrutiny and harassment.
The evidence against Leivy Kletzky's alleged killer is much more conclusive. However it is likely that it will only get more comprehensive as time goes on. The lesson learned is nothing is lost by reserving judgement for the time being. The police and district attorneys are doing their job.
Second, lashon hara is a bad habit to start and a hard one to get out of.
It takes a bit a strength to resist the urge to gossip. The urge is only greater when the infraction is as horrible as the murder of a child. However, if you wish to controll the urge, there is no greater test then when you are presented with somebody pure evil. If you can resist speaking lashon hara about Leivy's killer, you can resist speaking lashon hara about pretty much anybody.
Third, Focus Should Be on the Victim
In all the articles I've read about this horrible episode, I've read lots of facts about the suspect. I know he has two ex-wives. He worked in a plumbing store. I even know where his father worked. I've heard many descriptions of him from creepy, to quiet or even kind to children. However I've head almost nothing about Leivy. What did he like to read? How did he get along with his sisters? Was he an active child or was he shy? How can anybody honestly utter the words Zikhrono Livracha (of blessed memory) if we don't know anything about him. Where is the article in the post telling us he he was? Where is the group on faceook that describes his favorite play activities?
Finally, it Honestly Does No Good.
Cursing the name of the alleged murderer will not bring Leivy Kletzky back to his family. Talking about his previous arrest, will not expediate his conviction and sentencing. Speaking lahon hara in this case will not affect him; it can only affect you...negatively. Anger is not a healing force. It is only destructive. In the Tanya it is described as an evil characteristic emanating from the element of fire. It will only hurt; and I refuse to allow the murderer of a child affect me in any way.

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