Q: I learned in the sefer Chofetz Chaim that there is a heter to listen to and share lashon hara with another person, in order to relieve hurtful feelings.
- Is this leniency dependent on specific conditions, or is it allowed in all cases?
- May this leniency be applied more easily with regard to a wife/husband who shares her/his distress with a spouse? I assume this is so, based on the precept that couples generally share their experiences in order to calm down, even when there’s no practical purpose in the conversation. Examples would be: I’d tell my husband that I witnessed someone doing something unacceptable and was really bothered by it, or my husband would tell me about difficulties he has with his chavrusa.
A: The Chofetz Chaim brings this heter, and I quote: “…And it is possible that this is the halachah, if one’s intention in sharing information is to gain relief. This would be considered intending a constructive purpose” (klal 10, siman 14, in the comments). It seems that the Chofetz Chaim maintains that this practice is halachically permissible. However, he prefaced the statement with the word “v’efshar — and it is possible,” to advise us that this heter has serious limitations. It may only be used for very painful and disconcerting situations, and when there is no alternative for relieving distress. If, however, you can manage to take your mind off it in a different way, or you are not that bothered, then there is no heter to share such information.
In addition, the Chofetz Chaim outlines some limitations: “…And he should abide by the conditions of lashon hara for a constructive purpose,” and gives an abridged version thereof: 1. One must know that the accused is indeed responsible for the wrong, and one must not have heard it secondhand, and certainly not make assumptions. 2. It must be clear that the action was wrong. 3. There is no option of approaching the wrongdoer directly. 4. One must not exaggerate or add details based on anger or imagination. 5. One must intend the constructive purpose of calming down, and not to speak out of hatred, etc. 6. There is no alternative way to calm down. 7. Sharing the information won’t cause the subject substantial harm.
There is no difference in the leniency whether you share the information with a stranger or a spouse. Even though it is more common for spouses to air their grievances, you must adhere to the above conditions.
In summation: According to the details delineated by the Chofetz Chaim regarding this halachah, it is clear that it isn’t a free-for-all, and one must weigh all the options before making use of this heter.
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