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While buying meat at the butcher, a teacher’s reputation is put through the social media wringer in outreach clip

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

The video's story of the destructive power of gossip  begins innocently in a butcher shop. (YouTube screenshot)
The video's story of the destructive power of gossip begins innocently in a butcher shop. (YouTube screenshot)

A new video about the evils of gossip is spreading as fast as, well, gossip.

On September 17, an English-language video with Spanish subtitles, titled, “Lashon Hara” (Hebrew for “evil speech”), was uploaded to YouTube without any description or attribution. In the last six days, it has received upwards of 14,700 views and generated heated discussions on social media.

The slickly produced video shows just what can happen when people jump to conclusions and don’t keep their mouths shut when a teacher from a local Orthodox Jewish school is spotted buying $132 of expensive meat.

Thanks to the power of texting, tweeting, emailing and posting on Facebook (not to mention good old-fashioned talking by phone), it takes just 20 minutes for the poor teacher’s good name to be dragged through the mud.

“Over four hundred people in the community think they know there are serious problems with Shloime R., and the news is spreading to Monsey, Lakewood, Lawrence, Chicago, Miami and LA,” we are told.

If that were not scary enough, it is then explained exactly how this has happened (just in case we missed the point the first time):

“At 2:29 this afternoon, Shloime R. was a beloved rebbe and a respected member of the community. By 2:55, less than a half hour later, his reputation, and that of his wife and children was destroyed. In the time it took Shloime to walk home, over 400 people became convinced that he was actually loaded with unexplained money and might be a poor role model for his talmidim in his cheder. Only none of it was true.”

And then comes the kicker: “If lashon hara is like a gun that can destroy a person, then lashon hara on the Internet is a weapon of mass destruction.” This statement is accompanied by some pretty terrifying pyrotechnic graphics.

Inquiring minds wanted to know who is behind this video, obviously meant to prevent people from extrapolating terrible things from a single purchase at the butcher shop.

A little digging uncovered that the clip was put out by the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, a New York-based outreach organization promoting the Torah’s wisdom on human relations and personal development. It is named for the Chofetz Chaim, also known as Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, an influential ethicist and leader of the Mussar movement in Lithuania in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The foundation turned to Shoot East, an Israel-based video production company for assistance in making the video.

“We actually sent this video, which is on Vimeo, out to 50,000 people worldwide as part of our Tisha B’Av program this summer, but somebody in Brazil took the initiative of adding the Spanish translation and uploading it to YouTube,” said Boruch Reiss, the foundation’s media director.

Lashon hara on the Internet is a weapon of mass destruction’

“We didn’t put it on YouTube, because people in our target market generally have programs on their computers that filter out YouTube,” Reiss added.

However, the foundation, which has disseminated other powerfully worded videos about lashon hara, plans to post the video to its website during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

“It’s an importance message. It’s something we want to give over and to show that it is something people can really tackle… we are trying to help people help themselves,” said Reiss.

While appreciative of the need to guard one’s tongue, some find the video more than just a bit over the top.

“My experience on the Internet does not reflect the almost satirically exaggerated concerns of the video. I just don’t see wanton gossip or character assassination based on rumor and innuendo,” said Rabbi Eliyahu Fink of Santa Monica, California. “If anything, people are still reluctant to speak up against those deserving of serious criticism.”

But Reiss is sticking to his guns (though obviously not the character-assassinating gossip variety) on the video’s intended message.

“The whole point is that the Internet is a catalyst. People don’t realize the extent to which it enables lashon hara to jump worldwide at lightning speed,” he says.

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