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Lashon hara (or Loshon hora) (Hebrew לשון הרע; "evil language/tongue") is the prohibition in Jewish Law of telling gossip. Lashon hara differs from defamation in that its focus is on the use of true speech for a wrongful purpose, rather than falsehood and harm arising. By contrast, Motzi Shem Ra ("spreading a bad name") consists of untrue remarks, and is akin to slander or defamation.

Speech is considered to be lashon hara if it says something negative about a person or party, is not previously known to the public, is not seriously intended to correct or improve a negative situation, and most importantly, is true. Statements that fit this description are considered to be lashon hara, regardless of the method of communication that is used, whether it is through face-to-face conversation, a written letter, telephone, or email.

According to the majority of Torah scholars, lashon hara is considered to be a most serious sin. Therefore, they proclaim, how much more serious is such a statement that is false?



"Lashon" is translated as "language" or "tongue". The word is generally translated as "evil speech". It is true that the concept of lashon hara is regarding true and correct statements. Lies and false and exaggerated information fall into a worse category called Hotzaat Diba, or derogatory/slanderous or defamatory speech which is, in fact, worse than lashon hara in many ways.


The main prohibition against lashon hara is derived from Leviticus 19:16: [1] "Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people; neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD." The Talmud (tractate Erchin 15b) lists lashon hara as one of the causes of the Biblical malady of tzaraath. In Sotah 42a, the Talmud states that habitual speakers of lashon hara are not tolerated in God's presence. Similar strong denouncements can be found in various places in Jewish literature.[2]

In Numbers chapter 12, Miriam gossips, or commits lashon hara, with her brother Aaron. She questions why Moses is so much more qualified to lead the Jewish people than anyone else. G-d hears and strikes her down with tzara’as. Miriam must stay outside of the camp for a week due to the tzara’as. During this time, all of Israel waits for her.

The two major halakhic works on lashon hara are Chafetz Chayim and Shmirat HaLashon ("guarding [of] the tongue") both by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1873). Chafetz Chaim lists 31 speech-related mitzvot mentioned in the Torah. The English book Guard Your Tongue anthologizes the teachings of these two books and provides many examples of prohibited speech.


There are times when a person is obligated to speak out, even though the information is disparaging. Specifically, if a person’s intent in sharing the negative information is for a to’elet, a positive, constructive, and beneficial purpose, the prohibition against lashon hara does not apply. Motzi shem ra, spouting lies and spreading disinformation, is always prohibited. And if the lashon hara serves as a warning against the possibility of future harm, such communication is not only permissible, but, under certain conditions, compulsory.

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