Question: If I have spoken Lashon Hara (evil slander) about my friend, must I confront him and tell him what I have done in order to request his forgiveness? Also, what is the law regarding a rabbi who has ruled stringently on a matter when, in fact, there is actually room for leniency, must he ask forgiveness for this?
Answer: In the previous Halachot we have discussed that Yom Kippur does not atone for sins between man and his fellow until one actually goes and appeases the wronged party.
The Opinion of the Chafetz Chaim
Based on this, it seems that one who has spoken Lashon Hara about another must certainly go over to this person, tell him what has transpired, and ask for his forgiveness, for if one does not do so, how can one ask for forgiveness? This is indeed the opinion of Hagaon Rabbeinu Yisrael Meir Ha’Kohen of Radin in his epic Sefer Chafetz Chaim (Laws of Lashon Hara, Chapter 4, Section 12) that one must, in fact, tell one’s friend what he has said about him.
The Opinion of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter
Nevertheless, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes (in his Chazon Ovadia-Yamim Nora’im, page 244) that if one’s friend does not know that he has spoken Lashon Hara about him and it seems that if the individual were to go and reveal this to him, this will make the other individual extremely angry and upset, one should indeed not tell his friend that he has spoken Lashon Hara about him. Maran zt”l quotes the Sefer Shalmei Mo’ed (page 56) who rules likewise in the name of Hagaon Rabbi Yisrael Salanter.
This is actually quite logical, for the main purpose here is for there to be peace and harmony amongst the Jewish nation; by recounting to one’s friend what he has said about him, on the contrary, this will cause great strife and a great lack of peace. It is therefore preferable for one to remain silent, not reveal what has occurred, and to only ask for the friend’s forgiveness in a general manner (i.e. without getting into details), as is customary on Erev Rosh Hashanah. From now on, one should repent fully and accept upon himself not to repeat this sin.
The Opinion of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach
Hagaon Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l adds (in his Sefer Shalmei Mo’ed) that if one insults the honor of his friend and the friend is unaware of this and if the individual were to find out what actually transpired, he would take it to heart and be quite upset, one may abstain from recounting this matter over to him at all; rather, one should merely ask for the friend’s forgiveness in a general manner. Regarding such an incident does the verse state, “Praiseworthy is one who is lifted of iniquity, whose sin is covered.” From now on, one must make sure not to return to these sinful ways.
Unintentional Lack of Learning is Considered Deliberate
Let us now address our second question regarding a rabbi who rules stringently for someone, for instance, if he rules that a chicken is a Terefa when, in fact, this is not the case and there was actually room for leniency. Similarly, if a rabbi rules stringently for a Sephardic individual on a matter which Sephardim usually rule leniently on or vice versa and causes the individual a monetary loss, must the rabbi ask for forgiveness?
Some say that the rabbi need not ask for forgiveness and they bring reasons for their opinion. Maran zt”l, on the other hand, writes in his Chazon Ovadia-Yamim Nora’im (page 243) that their words are completely baseless since our Sages teach us that “an unintentional lack of learning is considered deliberate” meaning that if one sins because he has not learned sufficiently, it is considered as if he has transgressed the prohibition deliberately. Thus, the rabbi must certainly appease the individual whom he has ruled mistakenly for and even offer him monetary compensation for the loss in order for the individual to forgive him.
When the poor of Jerusalem would come and inquire about the Kashrut of a chicken they held in their hands from Maran Hagaon Rabbeinu Tzvi Pesach Frank zt”l in order to ascertain whether or not there was an issue of a Terefa, in instances where the rabbi would lean towards forbidding consumption of the chicken, he would rule stringently and then pay the inquirer the entire sum of the chicken in order for him not to be the source of a monetary loss to the pauper. It then became commonplace for all of Jerusalem’s poor to frequent the home of this righteous halachic genius, for they knew that by doing so, they would never lose out…