Does Lashon Hara only include negative comments about somebody or can it be positive ones? I believe I read in a Chofetz Chaim book that it could be either, yet I had a big discussion with a rabbi who claimed that it includes only negative comments. Here are three scenarios: 1. A man passes the Boards and becomes an MD, yet tells nobody. His wife, who is very proud of him, tells me and I congratulate him. He’s a bit upset that I found out. Did his wife commit Lashon Hara? 2. I am a Ger Tzedek, and proud of it, having converted into Orthodoxy when I was 64. I don’t mind discussing it with anybody. If somebody tells somebody else that I am a Ger, is that Lashon Hara? Does it matter if I am present or not? 3. In the business world I use a pen that also records conversations (LiveScribe). In the state of NJ, it is OK to tape a conversation as long as one person knows they are being taped. I use the tape to jog my memory when writing a report, and nothing else (e.g., not to play it back later and say “this is what you said”). Is this considered Lashon Hara? Thank you in advance.
Lashon Hara (evil talk - the prohibition in Jewish Law of derogatory speech) can be also in supposedly positive remarks. But it all depends on his intention. See the Talmud (Erechin 15b) about one who tells others that fire can be found by so-and-so. If his intention was to say it in a derogatory sense, hinting that they are always cooking there because they eat a lot, it is the rabbinical prohibition of Avak (dust – traces of) Lashon Hara. Perhaps the Rabbi you spoke to meant to say that the intention of a remark has to be negative in order to transgress the prohibition of Lashon Hara (Chafetz Chaim, Laws of Lashon Hara 2, 2). Likewise if one praises a person in the presence of his enemies, or praises excessively even not in the presence of his enemies, it is Avak Lashon Hara which is prohibited even though his words were totally positive, because it will lead to defame him (Chafetz Chaim, Laws of Lashon Hara 9, 1). Regarding the three scenarios: 1. The wife is transgressing Avak Lashon Hara by revealing it without her husband’s permission (Chafetz Chaim, Laws of Lashon Hara 9, 6). If the man told it to his wife as a secret then she is transgressing Avak Rechilut (dust – traces of gossip. Chafetz Chaim Laws of Gossip mongering 8, 5). 2. Saying about a person that he is a Ger Tzedek (Jewish convert) can be considered Lashon Hara if the intention is to degrade him, because it is forbidden to mention or remind someone of his previous actions or his ancestor’s actions. It makes no difference whether the Ger is present or not. However if it is only between him and the Jewish convert he is transgressing the prohibition of Ona’at Devarim (verbal abuse). If he is insults him then he is transgressing the prohibition of Malbin Penei Chaveiro Barabim (embarrassing a friend in public where his face turns bright red and then turns white). And if he tells it to other people, he is transgressing the prohibition Lashon Hara even if it is not in his presence. Nevertheless if he has no intention to degrade him but rather to praise him for abandoning the vanity of this world and coming to shelter under the wings of the Divine Presence, and the Ger is not embarrassed at all but rather proud of it, it is not considered Lashon Hara. (שערי תשובה לרבינו יונה שער שלישי מאמרים מט וריד, חפץ חיים פתיחה לאוין סעיפים יג ויד, ובהלכות לשון הרע כלל ד סעיף א). 3. It is not Lashon Hara to record the conversation, but it should not be done from the Jewish point of view without the person’s permission as it says "Love your fellow as yourself" (Leviticus 19, 18), and in the words of Hillel “That which is hateful to yourself, do not do to your friend" (Tractate Shabbat 31a).