The Laws #12

The Ha-Ha Heter

Many people are under this misguided notion that if the story that I tell ends with people around it saying, “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,” then it’s permitted. So for instance, let’s say I tell a story that’s cutting, that destroys a person’s self, that embarrasses him to an unbelievable extent, but everyone after I’m done says, “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,” somehow we’ve made the assumption that that is permitted.

Well, it’s not. The ha-ha heter doesn’t exist. If I embarrass a person, if I cut into them, even if it’s humorous, even if I find it funny, even if other people find it funny, it doesn’t make it permitted. It’s ”מלבין פני חבירו ברבים”, in public. If it’s private it’s a lesser lo sa’aseh, but it’s still a lo sa’aseh. But the fact that people find it humorous doesn’t make it permitted.

Explains the Chafetz Chaim there’s a very similar concept when it comes to lashon hara. Let’s assume that I’m telling lashon hara as a joke. I’m telling you that so-and-so did such-and-such. And I’m really just saying it as a joke and everyone laughs afterwards. If I told a story that’s true and people laughed afterwards it’s obviously lashon hara. The fact that I said it in jest, the fact that I made people laugh with it doesn’t make it permitted. If I made up the story and it really never happened and I tell it in jest, I tell it as a joke, again I violated not lashon hara but I violated motzi shem ra.

The only exception would be if everyone knows that it’s completely false in the sense that everyone recognizes it’s a purim shpiel, it’s something that really has no basis and as I’m telling it people realize it. That might not be included in the issur. But the minute I begin the story in a serious way, whether I think it’s funny and you think it’s funny or not, the fact is I spoke lashon hara, I damaged a person. The fact that it was said in jest doesn’t make it any more permitted, it still violates a full lo sa’aseh, “לֹא תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ”.

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