Talk & Gossip 101
Slander--the deliberate dissemination of damaging untruths--is banned by Jewish law. So is the malicious dissemination of damaging truths, which is labeled lashon ha-ra (“evil speech”). In fact, every sort of talk about others, true or false, comes under a cloud of suspicion in Jewish moralistic and legal literature. One should not infer from the lack of a clear distinction between the treatment of truth and falsehood here, however, that truth is not valued over deceit, but that spreading even truth can be destructive--and that, on the other hand, Jewish sources recognize that competing values may occasionally need to take precedence over the importance of being truthful.
These include the protection of life and limb and the maintenance of tranquil relations among family members, friends, and acquaintances. However, one must protect oneself against verbal attack, and the Jewish ethical tradition recognizes our legitimate need to confront someone who has done us harm.
Another sort of regulated speech is the taking of vows and oaths. The seriousness with which the Bible treats such self-imposed undertakings leads post-biblical Jewish sources to discourage the use of language in this way. We also encounter in Jewish tradition legal and moralistic discussions about speech intended to deceive and defraud others, robbing them of their emotional well being or valuable time or building up false expectations, even if no financial harm is inflicted. Such speech, too, is banned by Jewish law.
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