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    As we commemorate
    the 90th yahrzeit
    (anniversary of
    passing) of the
    Chofetz Chaim, it is
    an opportune moment
    to reflect on his
    teachings and consider their relevance in
    addressing contemporary issues.
    Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, also known as the
    Chofetz Chaim, was a renowned Jewish sage
    who lived during the late 19th and early 20th
    centuries. His groundbreaking work on the
    importance of guarding one’s speech cannot be
    overstated. The Chofetz Chaim introduced the
    world to the significance of responsible
    communication and transformed the way
    people spoke.
    However, since the time of the Chofetz Chaim,
    technology has rapidly advanced, and negative
    speech has taken on new forms. Today, we
    often encounter lashon hara, or harmful speech,
    primarily on social media platforms.
    Writing a Negative Review.
    Let’s address some common scenarios. For
    instance, is it permissible to write a negative
    review about a business or service provider,
    like a doctor or dentist? Is it permitted to write
    a negative review about a book you didn’t like?

    Is it acceptable to write a fabricated positive
    review if the company offers rewards?
    Let’s begin with the dilemma posed by the first
    questions. On one hand, writing a negative
    review can potentially harm the business owner
    and make them feel bad, which would fall
    under the restriction of lashon hara. On the
    other hand, it may serve to inform others and
    potentially save them from having a similar
    negative experience with the business. So,
    where do we draw the line?
    In his work “Pitchei Teshuva” (Chapter 156),
    Rabbi Yisrael Isser addressed the prevailing
    focus on the prohibition of lashon hara.
    Nevertheless, he deemed it pertinent to shed
    light on another aspect, one fraught with even
    greater moral responsibility and more
    commonly encountered. This pertains to
    individuals who refrain from revealing their
    neighbor’s transgressions, even in situations of
    urgent necessity to safeguard an innocent party
    from harm. Their hesitation stems from the fear
    of violating the prohibition of lashon hara. For
    example, it could be someone who becomes
    privy to another person’s secretive plot to harm
    their neighbor or who covertly prepares a
    hazard in their neighbor’s home or business. In
    such cases, they withhold crucial information
    or delay issuing warnings, guided by the belief

    that it might fall under the category of lashon
    hara. Rabbi Isser strongly asserted that those
    who act in this manner incur a more significant
    transgression than simply bearing this burden,
    as they violate the prohibition of ‘You shall
    not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.’
    This principle also extends to financial
    matters. Whether one observes someone
    stealing from them, their business partner
    engaging in embezzlement, their neighbor
    resorting to deception and fraud in a
    transaction, or an individual lending money to
    a known dishonest debtor who will not fulfill
    their obligations.
    To address these questions, we can once again
    refer to the teachings of the Chofetz Chaim,
    who meticulously outlined the foundations of
    these prohibitions. By applying these
    principles, we can navigate our discussion.
    Lashon Hara Letoeelet.
    The Chofetz Chaim explains the concept of
    “lashon hara letoeelet,” meaning lashon hara
    with a positive benefit, which is permitted.
    Such lashon hara is when our intention is to
    benefit the person we are speaking about, such
    as a teacher providing a negative report to
    parents to help the child improve, or when we
    aim to protect others from potential harm.
    The Chofetz Chaim lays out five conditions
    that must be met to permit such lashon hara
    for a positive benefit.
    1. Verifying the situation is bad.
    The first condition is that we should assess
    whether what happened was genuinely a
    negative occurrence or if it might be a matter
    of our subjective viewpoint. It’s crucial to
    recognize that not every service falling short
    of our expectations should automatically be
    deemed as bad. Many products or services
    we encounter may still be deemed acceptable,
    even if they don’t fully meet our high
    standards. In such cases, it is generally not
    permissible to write a negative review
    because the intention behind the review is to
    express personal dissatisfaction rather than
    to protect others.
    Furthermore, writing a review for something
    you didn’t like, such as a book or a meal at a
    restaurant, is subjective and may not
    necessarily reflect the opinions of others, as
    different people have varied tastes. In
    contrast, when a business is found to be
    deceiving customers, the question of ethics
    and reviews becomes more relevant.
    2. Ensuring the review is accurate.
    The second condition is to ensure that one
    accurately describes what happened in their
    review without any exaggeration.
    3. The correct intention.
    Thirdly, it is essential to have the intention of
    safeguarding others rather than seeking
    revenge for a negative service or encounter
    with the business. Often, negative reviews
    are written out of anger and frustration rather
    than a genuine desire to protect others. The

    Chofetz Chaim emphasizes that engaging in
    such behavior, without a sincere intention to
    benefit or protect, is not in line with the
    permitted use of lashon hara for a benefit.
    4. No other available resolutions.
    The fourth condition is to ensure that there is
    no other reasonable way to resolve and improve
    the business’s conduct. Often, a direct
    conversation with the manager or addressing
    the issue in person can lead to understanding
    and a desire to rectify any wrongdoing. Most
    people inherently aim to provide good service
    and understand that satisfied customers lead to
    more business. Only after we have exhausted
    other means of protecting potential customers
    from harm through the business, and it is clear
    that there is no alternative, should we consider
    posting a negative review.
    5. Punishment fits the crime.
    Finally, the last condition is that our warning to
    others should not cause the person more harm
    than merely protecting others from potential
    harm. In other words, if writing negative
    reviews could lead to consequences such as a
    person’s children being denied admission to
    schools or fellow community members ceasing
    friendly interactions, we should refrain from
    posting such reviews. While we cannot always
    predict the full extent of the impact of our
    words, there are times when we have a strong
    indication of the potential consequences, and in
    such cases, we must exercise caution to avoid
    causing excessive harm.
    Positive reviews.
    When a business requests positive reviews, it’s
    important to recognize that this can be viewed
    as cheating, as others depend on your genuine
    experiences to make informed purchase
    decisions. This remains true even if the review
    accurately reflects your personal opinion. This
    becomes particularly relevant when the
    business entices positive reviews through
    incentives like offering complimentary items.
    The concern arises because readers may
    perceive such reviews as biased and without
    any ulterior motives.
    This action also violates the prohibitions of
    ‘הונאה) ‘deceit) and ‘דעת גניבת) ‘misleading or
    deceptive behavior).