Rabbi Yuval Sherlo
Photo: Gabi Newman
Repentance rules for talkbacker
Reader who wrote offensive comments against religious scholars on certain website asks Rabbi Sherlo's advice on atonement. Answer includes three stages
Dozens, hundreds and thousands of comments – "talkbacks" – can be found under articles on Israeli websites from readers seeking to address the article itself (in the best-case scenario) or its writer and other talkbackers (usually in the worst-case scenario).  


The talkbacks are often offensive, although not legally problematic. Still, after a talkback is published, its writer can no longer take it back and delete it.


This is what happened to a reader who regretted a talkback he sent to a certain website. He decided to turn to Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, head of the Petah Tikva Hesder Yeshiva, for advice. 


"Dear rabbi, I have failed. I expressed contempt for religious scholars by writing inappropriate comments on the Internet. How can I take it back? Do I have to contact them and ask for their forgiveness, or not?"


Here is the rabbi's answer:


"It's very hard to fix things written on the Internet. The reason is that they are not deleted and appear time and again on different search engines. Therefore, every person writing on the Internet must act in a very responsible manner.


"One must remember that according to the Shulchan Aruch code of laws for Yom Kippur Eve, a person does not have to forgive slander against him, and Rabbi Moses Isserles explains that the slander resurfaces even after the forgiveness request and forgiveness does not solve the problem. So one must be very, very careful.


"So what should be done to make amends? There are three stages to this amendment (and we are talking about hurting any person, not necessarily scholars):


"A. If possible, call and ask for forgiveness. Each case must be considered individually, as it can sometimes be a lot to ask for; but, in principle, it's the right thing to do. It’s important both for the person whose forgiveness we seek, even if he is still hurt and insulted, and for the person asking for forgiveness as part of shame's 'atonement repairs.'


"B. Try to repair the damage. You can't erase what has been written, but you can write other talkbacks (of course only if that's what you really thinks, and not lies) mentioning the good things about the person you hurt. Here too, each case must be considered individually as it can sometimes be a touch of slander in itself and can evoke harsh words against that person, but you must do all in your power to restore the offended person's reputation.


"C. Turn the fall into a repair, and make a deep internal decision that you shall not resume the sin of writing nasty things about another person in public. This is an answer out of love, which turns malice into rights.


The full Q&A with Rabbi Sherlo appears on the Petah Tikva Hesder Yeshiva's website




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