Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Mockery and Accusations

Rashi (Gen. 25:19) quotes a midrash that God made Yitzchak look just like Avraham because the leitzanei ha-dor (mockers of the generation) were saying that Avimelech impregnated Sarah. Therefore, God made Yitzchak look just like Avraham so everyone would know that he was Avraham's son and not Avimelech's.

The commentators ask why Rashi uses the term "leitzanei ha-dor" -- why refer to the mockers and not the wicked? Certainly falsely accusing a woman of adultery is a wicked thing to do (cf. Pardes Yosef; Beis Ha-Levi). The Gemara (Sotah 42a) lists four groups of people who do not receive the divine presence: the groups of mockers (leitzim), flatterers (chaneifim), liars (shakranim) and slanderers (mesaprei lashon ha-ra). Why does Rashi choose mockers and not slanderers? Presumably, slander is a more appropriate term for this offense.

Perhaps we can suggest that sometimes lashon ha-ra is halakhically permitted. There are times when one is allowed to accuse a public figure of misdeeds, particularly when others need to beware of his misdeeds (although there are other requirements before one is permitted to make such an accusation, see these posts: I, II, III). Sarah was a charismatic proselytizer who was trying to influence other people to become more religious (cf. Rashi, Gen. 12:5). If she was, indeed, unfaithful to her husband then this is a relevant piece of information for those who might have come under her influence. Presumably, there would have been times when this accusation would have been appropriately raised.

However, there is no permission for making such an accusation in a mocking tone. The Gemara (Megillah 25b) is clear that the only time that mockery is permitted is in regard to idolatry, and regarding this the Maharshal and Shakh rule that it only applies to idolatry inside the land of Israel (cf. Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 146:15 and the Taz and Nekudas Ha-Kessef). In all other cases, even when dealing with a (potentially or definitely) immoral religious leader, and even when lashon ha-ra is permitted, mockery is still forbidden. Therefore, perhaps, those who accused Sarah of infidelity were not necessarily slanderers as long as they did so in the right tone and in the proper venue. But those who mocked Sarah were unquestionably in the wrong.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More