The Trustworthy Witness

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIMLaws of Loshon Hora 7:7-8
In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim begins discussing three situations where seemingly there is reason to allow the listener to accept loshon hora as fact. These situations are:
1. Where the speaker’s integrity is, to your mind, beyond reproach, to the point where his word alone is equivalent (in your eyes) to that of two men testifying in court.
2. Where the derogatory information is inferred from an innocent remark which was not spoken with the intent of conveying negative information.
3. Where there is strong evidence indicating that the derogatory information is true.
The Chofetz Chaim devotes the remainder of this segment to a discussion of the first of these situations. Earlier, we discussed a case where a person witnessed an act of sin, but knew that the sinner would ignore his words of rebuke. In this case, if it is likely the person will repeat the offense, then the witness would be allowed to relate the information to the sinner’s rav or someone else who is in a position to offer rebuke. One of the three conditions which make this permissible is that the rav or parent knows the witness and trusts his word as he would the testimony of two witnesses.
Here, the Chofetz Chaim points out that for the witness to be permitted to relate what he has seen, it would have to have been an act which was an intentional violation of a well-known halacha. However, in a situation where the perpetrator may have acted out of ignorance or unwittingly, the witness would be required to give him the benefit of the doubt. He would not be allowed to report the incident in a derogatory way to the person’s rav; if he did report it, the rav would not be permitted to accept the witness’s interpretation. The same applies in any situation where it is not clear that the subject has intentionally violated a mitzvah.
For instance, a local charity is seeking a donation from a successful young businessman in the community. The young man refuses to contribute. While giving charity is certainly required by the Torah, refusing a particular request is not a violation of that law. Perhaps the young man has given his share elsewhere, or has less to give than others think. In this example, even if the fundraiser feels that the young man is being stingy, he is not allowed to approach the young man’s rav and ask that he rebuke his congregant for his stinginess.
Similarly, even when the speaker is a person whom the listener trusts implicitly, he would not be permitted to accept any sort of report which the speaker is forbidden to discuss; for example, that the subject lacks intelligence, that he has a shameful family history, etc.
The Chofetz Chaim states that in cases where the information does pertain to an obvious sin, the listener cannot accept the report (from someone whom he trusts like two witnesses) for the purpose of rebuking unless the speaker himself witnessed the incident. Furthermore, the listener, may not repeat the information to others unless there is a constructive purpose (and all 7 conditions are met). Obviously, the listener may not cause the perpetrator physical or monetary harm as a result of the report.
It is important to bear in mind that when one approaches a rav or parent to exercise their positive influence on someone, a potentially volatile situation has been created. This is especially true regarding parents; many parents resent hearing negative reports about their children and when they are approached with such reports their defense mechanisms shift into high gear. In such cases, extreme care and caution should be exercised so that the negative words which are spoken can achieve their intended purpose.
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