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Poem Written on the Occasion of a Siyyum, Italian, Seventeenth Century.(In the United States National Museum, Washington, D. C.)

False and malicious defamation of another's reputation and character, tending to disgrace him in the eyes of the community. The spreading of evil reports in order to injure a reputable name is punishable by a fine and an assessment for damages. The "moẓi' shem ra'" (one who invents an evil reputation) is to be distinguished from the "mesapper leshon ha-ra'" (one who speaks with an evil tongue; see Calumny). The latter makes malicious but true statements, with the intention of exposing the subject of them to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule, which offense is prohibited but is not punishable by fine and an award for damages (Maimonides, "Yad," De'ot, vii. 2).

Against a Wife.

The Hebrew terms "'alilot debarim" (occasions of speech) and "moẓi' shem ra'" occur in connection with the Mosaic law which provides that if a husband questions the virginity of his newly married wife and it is found that he has done so without reasonable cause, he shall be punished with stripes and shall be compelled to pay a fine of one hundred silver shekels to her father. The husband also loses the right of divorce (Deut. xxii. 13-21). If the wife has no father living, the fine is payable to her ("Yad," Na'arah Betulah, iii. 1). Both the accusation and the refutation are allowed only when supported by competent evidence. The phrase "They shall spread the cloth before the elders" is interpreted in the Talmud to mean that the matter shall be thoroughly investigated before the bet din (Ket. 46a). The punishment by a fine was considered unique ("ḥiddush") in this case, the offense being by word, and not by deed (Yer. Ket. iii. 1). This law became obsolete after the destruction of the Temple, when the Mosaic laws concerning capital punishment and fines ceased to be operative.

Rabbinical enactments against slander were very stringent. One shall forgive an insult by a fellow man when the latter asks forgiveness in public, except if he is a moẓi' shem ra' (Yer. B. Ḳ. viii. 7). The question of civil liability for slander is discussed by the authorities, some of them citing R. Jose b. Ḥanina, who said, "Abuse in words is exempt from any liability" (B. Ḳ. 91a); but this may not include slander. The geonic "taḳḳanah" excommunicated the slanderer until he had rendered an acceptable apology (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 1, 1). Israel Isserlein, however, dismissed a civil suit brought by a ḥazzan who alleged he had been discharged through the false report of a slanderer, because it was not shown that he had been discharged immediately as a consequence of the slander. Isserlein nevertheless decided that the bet din might fine the defendant, and even excommunicate him until he had apologized and satisfied the ḥazzan ("Terumat ha-Deshen," No. 307). Asheri quotes the prevailing custom "of checking the tongues of slandérers by a fine, in accordance with the offense and circumstances," and he advises the bet din to act in every case (Asheri, Responsa, rule 101, § 9). R. Benjamin Zeeb rules that persons who slander by word of mouth or in writing are not to be forgiven until after they have made apologies satisfactory to the person or persons slandered (Responsa, No. 240).

The punishment imposed upon one who defames a woman's character is that he shall fast three days—two successive Mondays and the intervening Thursday—sitting barefooted in front of the synagogue, and shall from the almemar and before the congregation implore the forgiveness of the one slandered ("Be'er ha-Golah," on Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 420).

To slander the dead is a grievous sin, forbidden in the strongest terms by the Geonim (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 606, 3). This sin can be expiated only by a fast of many days' duration, by long repentance, and by payment of a suitable fine imposed by the bet din. In addition, the slanderer must beg the forgiveness of the dead at the grave; should this be at a distance he may send a substitute (Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 420, 38; Benjamin Zeeb, Responsa, No. 247).

W. B. J. D. E.
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