Does Judaism Sanction Journalism?

Orthodox rabbi Gil Student writes:

R. Eliezer Melamed is active with Arutz Sheva and is the rabbi of the weekly newspaper Be-Sheva (link). In one of his columns (13 Tammuz, 5765/ July 20, 2005), he responded to a question about the halakhic aspect of negative news stories. This column was reprinted in his book Revivim: Am, Eretz, Tzava, pp. 100-102.

R. Melamed begins by pointing out that lashon ha-ra is permissible when there is a constructive purpose (to’eles). There are two types of to’eles:
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  1. To prevent someone from entering a bad business deal or marrying someone inappropriate, in which case the least amount required should be said.
  2. To rebut an improper action so that others do not follow it. In this case, you have to be extremely clear about the action’s impropriety and this cannot be done with minimal language. However, even here you must be honest and may not exaggerate.

R. Melamed quotes from the classic guide to the laws of lashon ha-ra, Chafetz Chaim (1:10:4), that if your intention is to distance people from an improper path, then this is considered a legitimate to’eles.

Menachem Butler comments: "If you’re talking about the Chafetz Chaim and hilkhot Lashon Hara, then you MUST see the very-recently-published article by Benjamin Brown, "From Principles to Rules and from Musar to Halakhah: The Hafetz Hayim’s Rulings on Libel and Gossip," Dine Israel 25 (2008): 171*-256*, esp. n.265 (English)."

F-P writes: "If you look at the list of guidelines in the linked article (or if you look at the same in the Sefer CC) there are a number of conditions before you start publicizing things lito’eles. Most importantly, you need to know that the information is accurate. This is generally lacking in most of these newspaper articles, as well as blogs etc."


DF writes: Is there really any such thing as "hilchos loshon hora"? Seems to me the CC just took a lot of stray aggadic passages and personal incidents mentioned in the gemara, plus the occasional halachik statement, and strung them together. Am I way off base here? Since when do we learn halacha from Aggada?

And to the extent one can call it "halacha", then it should be on the same plane as "hilchos De’os", which everyone feels free to disregard. There are more pesukim that relate to De’os than relate to being a talebearer.

Truth is, everyone does disregard it already. There is nothing in the world for which you cannot justify yourself by saying it’s for a toeles.

Menachem Butler writes:

The second path taken by the Hafetz Hayim was to utilize musar and aggadic sources, including narrative sections of the Bible, in order to derive halakhic norms. Nevertheless, in general, the Hafetz Hayim was very selective in his reliance on musar literature. For example, he does not cite from well known musar works such as Hovot ha-Levavot, Orhot Tzaddikim, Ma‘alot ha-Middot, or Reshit Hokhmah, even though they deal to a significant degree with the issue of libel. These he saves for his book Shemirat ha-Lashon. In isolated instances, he cites musar works of aharonim, such as the Maharal of Prague, the Shlah (Shnei Luhot ha-Brit), and the Vilna Gaon. In contrast, he frequently quotes the various books of commandments, composed in the Middle Ages, which fall on the border between halakhic and musar works, and also Sefer Haredim which "integrates issues of halakhah and musar.’’ Above all, he often cites the book Sha‘arei Teshuvah by Rabbenu Yonah Gerondi. The latter work was the book that most extensively dealt with the issue of libel prior to the time of the Hafetz Hayim. In his introduction, the Hafetz Hayim lists Sha‘arei Teshuvah as one of his central texts, along with Maimonides and the Sefer Mitzvot Gadol. He was aware of the problematic nature of relying on a work of this nature as a source for halakhic rulings, and therefore added the following in a footnote:

"The reader should not wonder about the fact that in this book, which is entirely based on halakhic sources, I refer several times to Rabbenu Yonah’s Sha‘ arei Teshuvah, which belongs to the musar literature. For it is evident to anyone who has delved into his holy words that he was very careful not to traverse the parameters of the law. It is particularly so in the area of libel, where everything that he wrote has a source in the Talmud, as we will clarify in the book, God willing, but, being committed to brevity, he did not cite these sources, in the manner of the rishonim (medieval rabbis). Nevertheless, I generally relied on him alone only in places where his words imply a leniency (as I did regarding other musar works), but for stringencies, I almost always brought other sources, as one who examines [my book] will see inside."

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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