Sunday, May 27, 2007

listening to l'shon hara and nivul peh

I recently did a series of posts on shome'a k'oneh, and just came another reference. The gemara says that one who listens to nivul peh and is silent (i.e. does not protest) is as culpable as the one speaking. Maharal (Nesiv haTzniyus, end ch 4) explains through shome'a k'oneh it is as if the listener were the speaker. I assume the same could be said about listening to l'shon hara as well - it is not an independent issur, but an extension of the issur of speaking through shome'a k'oneh. (Parentheticaly, the Maharal makes an interesting distinction between nivul peh, which is inherently wrong, and l'shon hara, which is wrong because it is a subcategory of mazik, it brings harm to another person.)


  1. Where is the sugya about nivul peh?

    The Maharal's connection to shomei'a k'oneh is interesting, in that, based on the gemara, it seems like one has to verbally express his desire not to be oveir, while by mitzvos, even a mental intent not to be yotzei is enough to negate shomei'a k'oneh.

    The Chofetz Chaim appears to argue with the idea that shomei'a k'oneh makes the listener symmetrical to the speaker, as in his listing of all of the possible issurim that one is oveir when he speaks lashon hara, he states that some apply only to the speaker; I don't recall what he says about lo seileich rachil.

    If lashon hara is a subcategory of mazik, would that mean that one is not oveir if the listeners don't believe what he says? Is it possible to be mazik someone who's dead?

    On a side note, does anyone provide an exact definition of what nivul peh is?

  2. >does anyone provide an exact definition of what nivul peh is?

    In MN 3:8 Rambam says as follows:
    You know how we condemn lowness of speech, and justly so, for speech is likewise peculiar to man and a boon which God granted to him that he may be distinguished from the rest of living creatures. Thus God says, "Who gave a mouth to man?" (Exod. iv. 11); and the prophet declares, "The Lord God hath given me a learned tongue" (Isa. l. 4). This gift, therefore, which God gave us in order to enable us to perfect ourselves, to learn and to teach, must not be employed in doing that which is for us most
    degrading and perfectly disgraceful; we must not imitate the songs and tales of ignorant and lascivious people. It may be suitable to them, but is not fit for those who are told, "And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exod. xix. 6). Those who employ the faculty of thinking and speaking in the service of that sense which is no honour to us, who think more than necessary of drink and love, or even sing of these things: they employ and use the divine gift in acts of rebellion against the Giver, and in the transgression of His commandments

    Pretty scary and it makes sense. It is not only the talking that is a problem but th thinking. I guess R. Chaim in RYBS (Brisker) style would say the Ma'asseh ha'aveirah is dibbur and the Kiyum is Kavannah! :-)

  3. The sugya is Shabbos 33.

  4. Bob Miller9:49 AM

    If someone hears nivul peh in a public lecture or sermon, what is his obligation to protest on the spot, as opposed to later?

  5. we must not imitate the songs and tales of ignorant and lascivious people.

    The answer is somewhat less precise than I would have liked, but I guess that given this guideline, nivul peh can be one of those things best defined by "I know it when I see it".

  6. Anonymous7:22 PM

    QUOTE 1:

    Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat, page 33A, 17 lines from bottom:

    Obscene language causes calamities to increase and new harsh decrees against Jews and the men of Israel die young, and orphans and widows cry out and are not answered.

    QUOTE 2:

    Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat, page 33A, 13 lines from bottom:

    Rabbi Chanan bar Raba taught:

    Everyone knows why a bride enters the chupah to become married, but if anyone perverts his speech by actually speaking about it, then even if [the heavenly court] had sealed a favorable decree of 70 years for him, they will reverse it and decree evil for him instead.

    QUOTE 3:

    Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat, page 33A, 11 lines from bottom:

    Rabah bar Shilah taught in the name of Rabbi Chisdah:

    Anyone who speaks obscene language, Gehinom [Hell] is deepened for him.

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