Jewish law's response to slander over the ages moved from strong disapproval to imposing real communal consequences.

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The above is from the legal point of view. Morally, the slanderer meets with the strictest condemnation. A rabbinic saying has it that a habitual slanderer is unworthy of “receiving the divine countenance” in the World to Come. Whoever makes a habit of speaking slander, say the Rabbis, acts as though he denies the existence of God (Babylonian Talmud, Arakhin 15b).

The scholar who, more than anyone else in the past few hundred years, devoted his life to combating lashon ha-ra, “the evil tongue,” as slander is called, was Israel Meir Kagan, the Hafetz Hayyim. Among other matters mentioned by the Hafetz Hayyim in his comprehensive works on the subject is that Jewish law makes no distinction between libel and slander, between written and verbal calumny. He demonstrates that the prohibition of “evil talk” includes: listening to it, making libelous remarks about a competitor’s merchandise, and praising a person to his enemies, who will react by speaking ill of him. According to the Hafetz Hayyim, defamation of a whole group, not only of an individual, is forbidden.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.