"Are you for us or for our adversaries?" - Joshua (Yehoshua) 5:13 **UPDATED**

In light of everything, we'd like to recommend these articles, this one, and especially this one, where it says:

The Hebrew term for speaking badly of others is called lashon hara, literally "evil language." Interestingly, the Torah calls "evil language" anything negative, even if it's true. (Slander -- malicious, false information is called motzi shem ra, literally "giving another a bad name.")

In sharp contrast to the Western adage about sticks and stones not hurting, Judaism looks very gravely upon misuse of speech. Our tradition teaches that lashon hara can destroy many lives, even unintentionally, in one fell swoop:

  • the person speaking,
  • the person spoken about,
  • and the person spoken to.

Let's look at why.

  • The person speaking: Although you briefly become the center of attention when you dish out a juicy piece of gossip, in the long run people start mistrusting you. "Gee, I wonder what she says about me when I'm not around." People don't trust gossips and will avoid confiding in you. In the end, you're killing your own reputation. Furthermore, because you are misusing the gift of speech that Hashem gave you, you are also lessened in His eyes.

  • The person spoken about: The person under discussion is, of course, being killed in everyone's eyes. Whether the information is true or false, it is hard to take back defamatory words already spoken and undo the character assassination already committed. That person's reputation is forever blemished.

  • The person spoken to: Interestingly enough, this is the person who is the most culpable, even though s/he is seemingly the innocent one. All s/he did was listen! But the Talmud says that listening to lashon hara is even worse than speaking it; the person had the power to stop it and didn't. Now the transgression is complete.
From The Jewish Encyclopedia of Moral and Ethical Issues
by Rabbi Nachum Amsel:

"The Danger of Improper Speech"

In demonstrating how harmful the written or spoken word can be, it has been said that the pen (or the spoken word) is mightier than the sword. However, Judaism does not compare the pen (or tongue) to a sword, but to an arrow (Jermiah 9:7). How is an arrow different conceptually from a sword? According to the Midrash (Midrash, Tehillim 120:4), unlike a sword, an arrow, once released cannot be stopped, while a sword can be retracted until the last instant. A spoken word is similar to the arrow, not the sword, since, once it is uttered it cannot be retrieved. Evil speech is also analogous to an arrow because an arrow, although aimed at one particular target, can easily go astray and inadvertently hurt an unintended vicim.

Lashon Hora, evil speech, like the arrow, although intended for one victim, often inadvertently hurts someone else.

The damage caused by speaking evil is often worse and more permanent than a physical blow. While a physical injury may often heal completely, a person will rarely recuperate completely from the efffects of evil speech against him or her, even after an extended period. It is for this reason that the punishment for publicly embarrassing someone with words is much more severe than the punishment for physically hurting an individual. Even a murderer who is punished with death by the Jewish court does not lose his share in the world to come, while one who publicly embarrasses an individual does indeed lose his or her share in the world the come, which is a far greater punishment than the death penalty.

Someone who speaks ill about others helps destroy the world (Maimonides, Hilchot De-ot 7:02), and he who listens is deemed even more culpable than the speaker, since if no one would listen, the sin could not be committed (Maimonides, Hilchot De-ot 7:03).

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