Question: Is it permitted to share with others lashon ha’ra that is public information, such as a decision from a beis din?

Short Answer: Negative information about someone, even if public, such as a ruling of a beis din, should not be shared with others on a consistent or organized basis, especially if the intent is to spread gossip.



I. The Gemara

The Gemara (Bava Basra 39a) states, in the name of Rabbah bar Rav Huna, that “any statement that is recited in front of three people is not lashon ha’ra.” The precise explanation of this Gemara is subject to much debate and is discussed at length by the Chofetz Chaim (klal 2), who provides numerous opinions amongst the Rishonim on how to interpret this leniency.

First, the Rashbam (ibid) explains that Rabbah is discussing a case where one person talks negatively about another person to three people (or to one person, but in front of two other people who hear it, as well). There is no prohibition for one (or all) of the three listeners to tell the person being spoken about that the original speaker spoke negatively about him. However, it is certainly forbidden for the original speaker to say the lashon ha’ra to begin with.

Second, Tosafos (ibid) writes that it permitted l’chatchilah to share negative information to three people together. Tosafos adds that this is consistent with the view of R’ Yosi (cited in Article #8) from Arachin (15b), who remarked that he didn’t care if lashon ha’ra that he spoke reached the ears of the person he was speaking about. This was the basis of the ruling of Rabbah (in Arachin), that it is permitted to speak negatively about a person to his face.

The Chofetz Chaim is very bothered by the opinion of Tosafos. It seemingly contradicts numerous gemaras and midrashim, that speaking lashon ha’ra to multiple people is worse than speaking lashon ha’ra to one person. Accordingly, the Chofetz Chaim explains that this Tosafos needs to be understood together with Tosafos in Arachin (15b), who limits this ruling to cases where the lashon ha’ra is a statement that can be interpreted in two ways: negatively or positively. Tosafos means that lashon ha’ra like this may be recited in front of three people, as the speaker, knowing that his words will certainly reach the ears of the person he is speaking about, will be careful NOT to speak in a way that his statements will be construed as saying something negative.

Accordingly, lashon ha’ra is only permitted in front of three people if it is the type of statement that can have multiple connotations. It is unclear, however, whether Tosafos agrees to Rashbam’s leniency, that three people who hear bona fide negative lashon ha’ra may tell the information to the person being spoken about.

Third, the Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 7:5) has a different approach. Like the Rashbam, the Rambam writes that lashon ha’ra is prohibited, even when said in front of three people. However, the Rambam differs from the Rashbam, in that one of the three listeners may subsequently share this information with another person ONLY if he does not intentionally share it with intent to spread it, but rather just shares it once haphazardly.

The Chofetz Chaim (B’eir Mayim Chayim (Klal 3, n.3) cites a possible source for the Rambam. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (31a) cites a story about a bachur in R’ Ami’s beis midrash who revealed one of the “secrets of the beis midrash” that had been kept under wraps for 22 years. R’ Ami kicked the bachur out of the beis midrash. Even though this secret was known to three people, it was not to be publicized intentionally with the aim to spread it to others as this bachur intended. The Chofetz Chaim also cites a proof for the Rambam from the leniency about speaking lashon ha’ra about fighters (see Article #7). If not for the fact that Adoniyahu was a fighter, it would not have been permitted for Nasan HaNavi to share Adoniyahu’s proclamation with David HaMelech. This is despite the fact that Adoniyahu’s proclamation was well publicized to more than three people and would eventually be known even to David HaMelech.

The Chofetz Chaim notes that, according to the Rambam, it is permitted to even share an objectively negative fact about someone haphazardly if it was said in front of three people. However, the Rambam does not agree with the Rashbam that one of the three listeners may inform the person being spoken about that there was lashon ha’ra spoken about him, as this intends to spread the lashon ha’ra.

Fourth, Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei T’shuvah 228) limits the leniency to lashon ha’ra about a sinner. Since it is permitted to give him musar to his face, it is also permitted to speak lashon ha’ra about him to three people, as this is tantamount to giving him musar to his face. Because three people heard the musar, it will surely reach the ears of the sinner.

Fifth, Rashi (Arachin 16a) writes that any statement said by the “baalim” in front of three people, may be recited to others and is not lashon ha’ra, as the speaker knows it will be passed along. The Chofetz Chaim is unsure whether Rashi is learning like the Rashbam, that it is only permitted for one of the three people to repeat the statement to the person it was said about, or whether Rashi is to be read literally, that any statement said (by “baalim”) to three people may be passed along to others, as the speaker obviously doesn’t mind the information being spread.


II. How Do We Pasken?

The Chofetz Chaim (klal 2:2-3) paskens like Tosafos, that only statements which have multiple connotations and are said positively may be recited in front of three people. The Chofetz Chaim does add that “some say” (the Rambam) that three who hear lashon ha’ra (improperly) may recite it without intent to spread. However, this must only be a once in a while statement, not frequent sharing.

Additionally, the Chofetz Chaim puts an additional limit on the Rambam, based on the sefer Yad HaKetanah, that this once in a while spreading must be haphazardly and without specific intent to spread it.


III. Practical Application

The Mishneh Halachos (9:353) applies the above rulings to a p’sak din from a beis din. The Mishneh Halachos was asked whether a ruling of a beis din may be shared with others and publicized, as it invariably took place before three judges.

The Mishneh Halachos, relying on the limitations of the Rambam, rules that it may not be publicized except “meisiach l’fi tumo” (haphazardly) and without intent to hurt the losing litigant. It certainly may not be shared with others if there is no practical purpose and if it will cause a financial loss (i.e., the losing litigant will lose income) to the losing litigant. The Mishneh Halachos extends this ruling to publicizing a beis din ruling concerning sins of one of the litigants. Even though the litigant should want to publicize his t’shuvah, it is not the responsibility of others to publicize his sins and t’shuvah. The ruling may only be publicized if the losing party is recalcitrant and refuses to adhere to the ruling.

Rabbi Ephraim Glatt, Esq. is Associate Rabbi at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and a practicing litigation attorney. Questions? Comments? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.