The Dust of Lashon Hara

Speaking ill of someone is not the only way to besmirch his or her reputation.

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Praise—at the Wrong Time and Place

Maimonides wrote, “Whoever relates the virtues of his neighbor before the persons’ enemies, that constitutes the “dust of lashon hara.” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Character Development 7:4).

If you are speaking to a group of people, among whom is one you know dislikes another person, don’t start singing the disliked person’s praises. Perhaps you believe that complimenting that person in front of his or her adversary is doing him or her a favor. The Jewish tradition does not agree. True, it’s possible that the adversary will listen in silence when your words are first uttered; his or her silence might even continue for as long as you are present. However, when you depart, the antagonist will likely start in with a litany of all that he or she dislikes about the other. (If, however, the person’s antagonist starts attacking him in front of a group, it is commendable for you to speak up on behalf of the person whose name is being besmirched.)

If you want to lessen a person’s animosity for another, then speak one-on-one to the antagonist. But don’t praise someone in a group containing the person’s enemy. All you will guarantee is that the others in the group will eventually hear a delineation of all that the person’s enemy dislikes about him.

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Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of Jewish Literacy and Words that Hurt, Words that Heal, along with other widely-read books on Judaism and the "Rabbi Daniel Winter" murder mysteries. He lives in New York City and lectures widely throughout North America.