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Ask the rabbi Torah and Jewish Thought Lashon Hara

Lashon hara/Slander about Tanach heroes

Rabbi Ari ShvatCheshvan 21, 5781
10
Question
Shalom Rabbi, My name is Tova. I was recently assigned a term paper for school in which I am expected to choose a character from Tanach who underwent a test, and analyze their development as a person because of the test. I chose to write about Yehudas character change from being a person who was concerned about self interest to a person who took responsibility for others, etc... I researched different meforshim and articles, and as I started writing my paper, I felt that I may be writing lashon hara about Yehuda since I was using my own words to describe his flaws. I found that a certain article which analyzed Yehudas character referred to Yehuda as "egocentric" and "wanting to take without giving back" (before his character change). I understand that the tzadikim are human beings and that the Torah points out their mistakes, but I am asking if what I am writing would be considered lashon hara because I am not analyzing Yehudas character change straight from the meforshim or text; rather I am using the ideas mentioned in more contemporary articles and my own words (such as "egocentric", "concerned about his self interest", "not taking responsibility", "selfish", etc...). If my words would be considered lashon hara, is there any way I can still discuss Yehuda in my term paper without chas veshalom slandering him? Are there any meforshim you can direct me to which discuss Yehudas flaws/ mistakes so that I am not making any assumptions in my paper? Thank you so much for you time in advance and Shabbat Shalom! Best, Tova
Answer
One of the important general rules of Lashon HaRa as outlined by the Chafetz Chaim, the classic work on the topic, is that if the issue is already known to the masses, then it's not prohibited. He davka brings an example from such stories like what you mentioned regarding Yehuda, that the Torah and Talmud brings them only if they were eventually known to all, and in order for the generations to learn from those mistakes. If you read Hebrew, you can find an article I published on the web on this issue in the context of journalism and newspapers. I would just be careful to word the paper in a respectful way, which is always proper, and how much more so regarding our heroes in the Tanach, e.g. "self-centered" sounds better than "selfish". In general, I highly recommend the website of Yeshivat Har Etzion and the Herzog College, see for example: http://www.hatanakh.com/en/articles/yehuda-and-tamar-%E2%80%93-story-within-story Or https://www.etzion.org.il/en/yehuda-and-tamar All the best in your quest for truth and Godly morality!
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