Q: My sister is an eighth-grader, soon to be entering high school. When I came to my parents for Shabbos and we sat down to talk, I inquired about some of her friends and which high schools they were planning to attend. My sister refused to answer. She claimed that some of the girls had registered in high schools that were not of the highest caliber, or were even far from it, and it would be lashon hara for her to tell me about it. She added that, in her opinion, as soon as one hears that a girl is in a certain high school, this automatically “labels” her. Is there really a problem of lashon hara here?
A: The sister was right in refusing to answer.
It’s well known that during the high-school registration season, this subject is a very sensitive one and is the topic of conversation for eighth-graders and their parents. Therefore, it is only natural that when they hear at this time about a girl who was accepted to a “second-class” high school, the girl is put on the “dissection table” to discuss the reason — scholastic ability, character, yiras Shamayim, hashkafah in the home, etc. — which inevitably leads to a lot of lashon hara. Therefore, the conversation described by the questioner is, at the very least, avak lashon hara, because the participants will automatically be drawn into pointing out the girl’s flaws. After a while, when things quiet down and every girl will have found her place, b’ezras Hashem, then, even if people hear that girl x is attending high school y, they are less likely to analyze the matter and the concern for avak lashon hara decreases.
In light of the above, it would seem that even if one might argue that it is a known fact where each girl has registered, nevertheless, during the registration period, when the subject is “hot,” and every piece of information piques the curiosity and stimulates lashon hara, then reporting that a particular girl has registered in a specific high school, even if done off-handedly, with no intention to publicize the matter, still must be seriously suspect of being deemed avak lashon hara.
Therefore, the sister did the right thing by refusing to answer and was wise not to answer even regarding the girls who’d been accepted to the top schools, so as not to imply anything about those who were not as successful in being accepted.
We should add that in a case where it is possible to answer, “I don’t know,” that is definitely preferable, as Chazal have taught us (Brachos 4a), “Accustom yourself to say ‘I don’t know.’” But in the case at hand, it was understandably not relevant to answer, “I don’t know,” so she was right in answering as above.
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