The Laws #8

Forbidden Without Naming Names

Lashon hara is forbidden even without naming names. So if I tell a derogatory story, words that hurt, words that damage, and I don’t mention the name, already I have a problem and I will have potentially violated the lo sa’aseh of speaking lashon hara.

However, it depends. If I tell over a story and through the context, through the setting, you are able to deduce who the person I’m speaking about is, automatically I violated a total, complete lo sa’aseh, a full negative prohibition that is 100% lashon hara. If I tell a derogatory story without mentioning the name but you can’t deduce who it is, you don’t know you just know that someone did x, y, and z but you cannot figure out who that someone is, it’s still forbidden, but that’s called avak lashon hara. To be complete lashon hara, to violate the full lo sa’aseh you have to actually convey the derogatory information with the person’s name, it’s attributed to him, now I defamed that person, I put them down.

If I tell over the story but it’s vague in the sense that the details of the story are clear but the who is not clear, that’s still a prohibition. It doesn’t immediately violate the lo sa’aseh of “לֹא תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ”, because again it’s still vague, but it’s at least forbidden rabbinically, it’s forbidden mi’d’rabbanan. It’s called avak lashon hara.

Sometimes it can lead to complete lashon hara if tomorrow you fill in the rest of the pieces. So for instance, if I tell you a story and I leave out the name, but tomorrow you figure out through the situation or the context who that someone I was speaking about is, then it turns out to be complete lashon hara. So if I tell over lashon hara without the name, if you’re able to deduce directly either now or later on who the person is, it violates a full lo sa’aseh. Even if you never find out it’s called avak lashon hara; it’s still forbidden. It’s only asur d’rabbanan, not d’oraysa, but it’s still in the category of lashon hara with the name or without the name.

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