The Chofetz Chaim informs us today that the popular pastime of “armchair financial analysis” is actually a forum for loshon hora. This occurs when a group conjectures about another person’s financial standing. The subject might be a neighbor, family member or wealthy individual in one’s city. Such discussions, without any real toeless (constructive purpose), are forbidden, as they can cause great damage.
Sometimes, the group concludes that, based on their information, the person is actually bankrupt, or at least deeply in debt. Such a conclusion can hurt the person in a concrete way. People who hear of this discussion may shy away from doing business with the person, or they may refuse to lend him money.
Obviously, says the Chofetz Chaim, if there is information that must be conveyed to a certain party to enable him to make a prudent business decision (l’toeles), then one can provide the information if seven conditions (which will be discussed later) are met.
The Chofetz Chaim then discusses the issue of “relative statements.” A given statement might be loshon hora when spoken about one person and high praise when spoken about another.
For example, imagine two people who are discussing the charity habits of some community members. “He’s good for $5,” one comments about a certain individual. If that individual is one of the richest men in town, then the statement would be loshon hora.
If, on the other hand, the subject is a poor person, the statement would not be loshon hora at all.
The Chofetz Chaim offers another example. If someone said of a rabbinical student, “He learns for four hours a day,” the listener would not construe this as praise. Yet if the same statement was said of a businessman with a hectic work schedule, it truly would be exceptional praise.
The Chofetz Chaim concludes by cautioning that, in the above cases, one cannot excuse his derogatory comment concerning the rich man or the rabbinical student by saying, “I wouldn’t mind if they said that about me!” Such rationalization completely misses the point. We have different expectations of different individuals, and what might be complimentary when said about one person could very well be derogatory when said about someone else.