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Terrible Rumor

Terrible Rumor


Dear Rachel,

I recently overheard a conversation where people were saying terrible things about a friend of mine. It turns out that a nasty rumor was spread, one that I personally know to be untrue, and it is getting around like wildfire. As I wasn't directly involved in the conversation, I felt awkward saying something which would have made it clear that I was basically eavesdropping. Meanwhile, my friend has no idea that this rumor is going around. I am not sure if it is better to tell her or just hope she doesn't find out about it. I also wonder if it is appropriate to speak to those who were talking about my friend, even though they were not responsible for starting this rumor. Suggestions?


Los Angeles

Dear L.R.,

There is a story told of a guy who was really upset with someone in his community, and ended up saying terrible things about him. With time, he regretted what he had said and wanted to fix the situation and put an end to the rumor he had spread. He went to his rabbi and asked for advice. The rabbi told him that he should take a pillow filled with feathers and walk around his neighborhood. Everywhere he went he was to leave a few of the feathers.

It is virtually impossible to make it go away So, it was easy enough and the guy did exactly as he was told, and returned to the rabbi with the pillow empty. The rabbi then told him that he should go back and pick up all the feathers...

Clearly, once a rumor has started and spreads, it is virtually impossible to make it go away. This is precisely why there is extensive Jewish law dedicated to being careful about what we say and how we speak of others. Judaism has always recognized the power of our words and their ability to create realities that are very hard to change. More so, there is the concept that embarrassing another person is likened to killing that person!

That said, what should you do with this situation?

As you ask two different questions, let's start with the conversation you overheard. You know who was talking about your friend, and regardless of whether or not they started the rumor, they certainly know where they heard it. Though I don't think it is your responsibility, if you consider yourself a close friend of the victim of this rumor you should definitely call someone from that group, whoever you are most comfortable with, and tell her that you overheard her speaking the other day, and you wanted to set the record straight that what they heard is completely false. Explain that this is a good friend of yours, that you can vouch that there is no truth to the allegations, and that you wanted them to know because you know they would never want to further the damage that this rumor has already caused.

It is in her power to fix it But go a step further. Ask her whether she can tell you who told her or her friends that rumor, and whether she knows who started it. If you are able to find the person who started the rumor, and you are fortunate to be able to get her to admit that she made it up and knows it is not true, try to explain the damage it is causing and that it is really in her power to fix it. Especially now with email and text messaging, she can with one fell swoop send a message saying that she had misunderstood or misheard and that the things she said have proven to not be the case at all.

In terms of your friend and whether or not you should tell her, I think you must. Specifically because of how fast things travel you can be sure that if she doesn't hear it from you, she will hear it from somewhere else, and that will be much harder. She also most likely knows the person who started it and can point you in the right direction.

Minimize the damageIt is going to be hard for her to know what people are saying, so you definitely want to minimize the damage. You do not need to tell her that the rumor is going around and everyone is believing it. Rather, let her know that someone asked you if the rumor was true and told you that she heard it but didn't believe it. That way she knows it is out there but doesn't need to immediately feel that everyone knows. You should also let her know that you already made it clear to that person and others that the rumor was a blatant lie and that you are more than happy to clear the air with anyone else she wants you to speak to.

And make sure when you do speak to others that they also realize just how damaging cruel words can be and that it serves as a lesson to you to make sure to be very careful both with what you say about others, and what you allow yourself to believe when that juicy rumor is whispered in your ear!

Much luck and your friend is lucky to have you in her life!


"Dear Rachel" is a bi-weekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sara Esther Crispe.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of and wrote the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Anonymous Chatsworth, CA via January 6, 2013

Rumors made Me Change Shuls My friend and i were the victims of some vicious rumours at a synagogoue we both belonged to for years. It was a very toxic environment. We both joined a local Chabad synagogoue and we are feeling much better. Reply

sinead hadavi cheam, uk April 30, 2012

terrible rumor My mum used to use the story of the feathers, I have always kept it in mind. I liked you advise, having been the victim of the same sort of thing, luckily I found out who my true friends were. Reply

Anonymous NoCity, Na April 14, 2012

Boss who spreads rumors A vp in our large corporation spreads rumors about people. Most of them have to do with who (he believes) is having an affair, who's gay, things like that. Its gross to watch him glad hand someone and then try to trash their reputation behind their back, He has a sidekick who's a lobbyist and theyve spead these rumors in front of his employees. It seems like he does this in order to intimidate his employees, like he wants them to think if they don't kiss up to him he'll spread rumors about them too. And it seems to work! Its irritating to watch his employees constantly kiss up to him. The company is a regulated monopoly and he has political connections in high places. Do you have any suggestions on how to keep my sanity? Reply

Anonymous Randolph, Nj April 2, 2012

The blind man I love your column. My rebettzin also quoted a book with a man who continually was jabbed in the back while walking down the street, when he finally turned to yell, he saw a blind man behind him and had been jabbed with a cane. When the cruelty and gossip of certain people hurts too much, I try to remember these two stories. Given that, if I had the strength, I'd gently force the group to change their tone. A woman I do not know was recently did with a challenging and life threatening disease that shall remain nameless. Women were gabbing on and on about the details in front of children who may know her kids. I did not even know her. I approached the women, said, wow you must be wonderful close friends to be so involved, who is starting the meal chain? Carpool for the kids? can I be a backup? That shut them up real quick without my breaking the laws of lashon hara but having said that, I am no expert and have in the past made mistakes. Do the right thing. Reply

Lisa Providende, RI January 22, 2011

Terrible Rumor I classmates used to tell me: "Don't talk behind people's backs. If you have something to say, you say it to their faces!" I would tell your friend what's going on and be with her when she defends herself. Reply

Anonymous LA, CA June 11, 2010

Did I spread the rumor? What to do if somebody hurt me and I told to the others that I was hurt. I didn't tell the name by whom I was hurt, but some people to whom I told about this person, can recognise this person? Reply

Gemini minneapolis, MN March 2, 2010

victim of the latest rumor bout me so i heard another through the grapevine. The thing that sucks is that the person who said these LIES is supposed to be one of my true friends! Reply

Shira Malka Atlanta, GA January 29, 2010

What if the rumor is true? What is your advice if the rumor is true - would you do or say anything different? Reply

Anonymous January 27, 2010

Rumor My own sister spreads rumors about me, my husband, and my children. She will not speak to me and has not done so for five years. She sends back letters and gifts. I cannot see the nieces and nephews that are her children. I tried to talk it out with her, but she will not speak to us. I apologized although I do not know what I did. I just said sorry for anything I did to hurt you. I talked to counselors including rabbis. No success. It is a sad situation, and she is convincing others of falsehoods. I pray and pray. Reply

Linda Klein Stanton, Ca January 24, 2010

Rumors I think your advise is excellent. I, myself, was the victim of a nasty rumor many years ago. It was a very painful experience to have gone through as my neighbors quit talking to me and I didn't understand why. Only many years later, when I happened to be visiting the area, did someone come clean and tell me what had happened and apologized for her part in it. It could have been so different had someone come to me and told me what was going on at the time. I was so hurt that people/neighbors would actually believe what had been said about me. Luckily for me, my true friends did not live in this apartment complex. This woman is very lucky to have a friend who cares enough to get involved and do the correct thing by her friend. Thank you, on her behalf, for your good words of advice. Reply

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