Is Gossip Kosher?

In synagogues and yeshivas the evil of gossip is a recurring theme of teaching and preaching.

It's not a coincidence that some rabbis ramp up their interest in this topic just about the time their contract comes up for renewal or during a particularly challenging political struggle.

It's also apparent to anyone who listens to the discourses of the rabbis on this topic, that the content rarely rises above the level of popular psychology.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. In fact we were impressed by this current posting about gossip, "Around the Watercooler: Exploring the psychology of rumors," by Nicholas DiFonzo in a blog of Psychology Today - and nothing shouts pop psych louder than that surprisingly long-lived magazine.

Is gossip kosher then?

DiFonzo argues that paradoxically while it can be a bad thing, at times it has value as moral instruction, moral motivation, and concludes,
...gossip often harms others, extinguishes trust, and injures friendships. These are bad motives and consequences, and it is no wonder that gossip has been frequently condemned in religious and ethical writings. From the Book of Exodus (23:1) in the Bible: "Don't bear vain hearsay."

Yet, as when victory is sometimes realized in the midst of defeat, out of this vain activity comes a social good: explicit applied moral education and powerful moral motivation. I suppose some may use this principle to justify their tendency to spread slanderous gossip, and this cannot be helped.

I, however, take encouragement from the gossip paradox: just when we thought the airwaves could not hold any more lurid tales about the private moral failures of sports figures that we looked up to, Virtue pulls a fast one; it turns out that all along we were undergoing useful moral instruction and that society was regulating social behavior for the common good.

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