by Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman
Maggid Books/Michael Scharf Publication Trust of Yeshiva University Press, 2015
Very rarely is a book published that addresses an already familiar subject and revolutionises the way we understand it. Yet this is precisely what Rabbi Daniel Feldman has done in his False Facts and True Rumours, which is part of ‘The RIETS Practical Halakhah Series’.
In this groundbreaking work, Rabbi Feldman presents a thorough yet highly stimulating analysis of the laws of lashon haRa with a particular emphasis on the philosophy underpinning these laws. Naturally, one would expect a book such as this to refer to other rabbinic works that have addressed the subject of lashon haRa, and False Facts and True Rumours does this, and so much more. The footnotes in False Facts and True Rumours contain a dazzling array of sources, each of which adds depth to this book and all of which are clearly referenced in the excellent list of sources at the back of the book. However, in addition to the thousands of rabbinic references, a further major contribution to this volume is the inclusion of relevant research from contemporary psychologists and sociologists. Thus, the reader can begin a chapter by reflecting on a ruling by the Hafetz Hayim and seamlessly move on to considering an insight by Susan Cain about how words are heard by others; from remarks by Daniel Kahneman about bias to insights about the way that Miriam spoke about her brother Moshe.
As previously mentioned, False Facts and True Rumours explores the laws of lashon haRa not only from a practical perspective but also from a conceptual perspective, and it is this refreshing approach helps the reader consider aspects of these laws which are often difficult to comprehend. For example, in his discussion regarding why it is wrong to speak lashon haRa that is true, Rabbi Feldman explores the fascinating difference between truth as said and truth as heard and explores a variety of cognitive biases that interfere with each of us.
A further topic addressed in False Facts and True Rumours is ‘Permitted Lashon HaRa’ in which Rabbi Feldman explores the rationale for speaking lashon haRa l’to’elet (for a positive purpose). Among the topics addressed here are lashon haRa in educational settings and in businesses, and I particularly enjoyed Rabbi Feldman’s treatment of speech as therapy, and the halakhic perspective on ‘venting’ as a method of reducing mental stress.
In addition to these more subtle applications, False Facts and True Rumours discusses the laws of lashon haRa as applied to the internet, and touches on a variety of issues including the permissibility of forwarding unflattering emails and how to apply these laws to easily accessible information on the web.
Rabbi Feldman concludes his book with a wonderful summary which I think beautifully captures the tone and warmth in which the book is written. He writes, ‘a life devoted to understanding and refining commitment to these principles is a life of ever-expanding sensitivity, of ever-growing awareness, of ever-increasing appreciation of the complexity of humanity… It is an affirmation that humans must not be painted by the brush of their worst moments, and that the full picture of an individual will always be so much more than any other person can grasp at any moment. It is, in essence, to derive infinite potential through perceiving the infinite potential in others. We are deeply fortunate to have a tradition of texts and teachings that can guide us in developing the personalities necessary to give expression to these values.’
False Facts and True Rumours is an outstanding book that can be read but should be studied. It has enriched me as a reader and profoundly changed the way I understand the laws of lashon haRa. I cannot recommend it enough.