Hardly a week goes by without the news media broadcasting or publishing a story about untoward practices. It is the stuff that sells newspapers and increases viewer ratings. Journalists will justify their revelations on the basis that it is “in the public interest.”

Are there Jewish criteria for whistle blowing?

Are there guidelines within the Halacha for appropriate or possibly inappropriate revelations?

Certainly, from the perspective of this week’s sidra, Miriam is judged to have gone too far in sharing critical comment about Moses with her brother, Aaron and is punished.

In 1873, a young rabbi started an ethical revolution in the Jewish world. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin, published a work called Chafetz Chayim (He who desires life), pioneering a heightened awareness of the dangers of slander and gossip. Indeed, he became known as The Chafetz Chayim rather than by his real name, so closely was he identified with the public consciousness of these laws. At the same time, he clarified the criteria for when it is right and proper – indeed, mandatory to publicize someone’s faults or misdeeds.

The Chafetz Chayim set down five principles for whistle blowing. Only if all of them can be met, may we speak negatively of someone.

As an aid to memory, we can arrange them according to the letters of the alphabet:

ACCURACY — it is forbidden to exaggerate or embellish. Tell it straight without making it more than it is.

BENEFIT — revelation must be the only way to way to obtain some constructive benefit. Is there any other way to address the problem?

CERTAINTY– we must be sure the information is reliable. Have you double-checked your facts?

DESIRE — the teller’s intention must be constructive, not vindictive. Are you genuinely concerned with the wrongs or are you using this to pursue another agenda?

EQUITY — the revelation must not cause undeserved damage to the subject. It is not equitable to protect one person at the expense of another. What will be the collateral damage of your revelation? Will it cause a company to collapse and perhaps the loss of livelihood to many people?

Obviously, each situation must be weighed carefully but the Chafetz Chayim has given us a starting point to address these issues from a Jewish perspective.

Shabbat Shalom