Rabbi Shimon Kessin
The definition of Rechilus
Just as the Torah prohibits Loshon Hora, so too it prohibits Rechilus (tale-bearing)95. What is the difference between the two? When a person speaks Loshon Hora, he reveals information that can create damage for someone. When he speaks Rechilus, he reveals information that can cause two Jews to become enemies or to simply become hostile and angry at each other. Rechilus is therefore the revelation of certain information to a listener (“recipient”) causing him to feel that he (or a close family member96) has been adversely affected by another Jew, which then creates an animosity between him and that other person97. Rechilus is actually a special case of Loshon Hora since by causing hostility between two Jews you damage their relationship. It is, however, a distinct prohibition due to its special power to create hostility.
The different effects of Loshon Hora and Rechilus
The effects of Loshon Hora and Rechilus can be quite different. For example, if someone tells you in idle conversation that Chaim (a person you both know) is a very selfish man, this is Loshon Hora. Your reaction, if you believe it, would possibly be to lose respect for Chaim and no longer associate with him socially. Loshon Hora, by fostering loss of respect, prevents or destroys friendships. However, if someone tells you that Chaim told him that you were a very selfish person, this is Rechilus. Your reaction would be much stronger. Not only would you possibly cut off from Chaim socially, but chances are that you would be so furious with him that you could even become his enemy.
Rechilus can cause two Jews to become enemies with each other
Rechilus, by fostering hostility, can actually create enemies. You would be speaking Rechilus if you revealed to a listener certain negative remarks or actions that someone said about him or did to him (or to anyone close to him such as family or friends) and because of this he could become angry at the person who said those remarks or did those things.
The reason why Rechilus is prohibited
But what is wrong with Rechilus? The prohibition of Loshon Hora is understandable since you are being told someone else’s flaws. But if you are told someone’s negative opinion about you, don’t you have a right to know? Don’t you have a right to know who is your true friend and who is not? Why should the Torah prohibit such information?
Unbridled Rechilus would destroy the brotherhood of the Jewish people
The answer is surprising. It is a common occurrence that when people are in a bad or sullen mood, they say negative things about other people. In such a mood, it is possible for husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, friends and acquaintances, to make disparaging remarks about each other to third parties. Certainly, however, they don’t want the people they are talking about to know about these comments from these third parties because it could jeopardize their relationship with them. They are just venting or complaining, a common human trait, and don’t really mean what they say. Because of this, the Torah doesn’t want people to know the negative remarks said about them unless they need this information to protect themselves.
The Torah feels that if a person was always told the negative remarks that other people were saying about him under all circumstances, he wouldn’t have a friend or relationship left in the world because of the resentment he would develop toward these people. Unbridled Rechilus would therefore make everyone into enemies and destroy the brotherhood of the Jewish people99. That is one of the main reasons why Rechilus is forbidden.
An example of everyday Rechilus
Let us give an example where even innocent remarks can be considered Rechilus or Avak Rechilus.
Sarah met her sister-in-law Miriam at the shopping mall. Miriam was carrying many packages and Sarah commented about that. Miriam explained that she had had a great day shopping, buying many things on sale, on clearance, and at great discounts. Sarah bid Miriam farewell and on her way home met her brother Reuven, Miriam’s husband. Sarah then told him of her meeting with Miriam at the mall. Suddenly, Reuven became very angry at his wife for her extravagant shopping spree. Sarah painfully realized that her revelation incited her brother (Miriam’s husband) to become angry at his wife. She realized that she had just spoken Rechilus even though her remarks were not negative because she could have anticipated that since many marriages have money issues, possibly so does that of Miriam and Reuven. She understood that as innocent as her revelation was, she should have thought of their possible repercussions first.
The prohibition of Rechilus tells us that not everything that a person knows or experiences should be revealed because not every person has a right to know these things since it can create hostility. Even if the information doesn’t directly affect the listener adversely and therefore it is not considered Rechilus, you should still be careful before you reveal it if you can anticipate that it can create jealousy and hostility.
For example, if you have a friend who is going on a five-week vacation to Europe or Eretz Yisroel, should you spread this news around to common friends? Do these other people need to know this information? If it may make them jealous and incite them to speak Loshon Hora, then of course it is better that they don’t know. Again, just because you know something doesn’t mean you should reveal and share it. Beware of the possibility of creating jealousy and hostility even where no Rechilus is involved.