The levaya of one of the fallen soldiers
The levaya of one of the fallen soldiersArutz Sheva

It is an extremely rare moment when the Israeli government is halakhically correct and a hareidi newspaper is halakhically incorrect – but I would like to suggest that this rare moment may have happened this morning in Eretz Yisroel. I also suggest that Yated apologize. [Note that the Hebrew language paper is not affiliated with the English paper of the same name.]

The hareidi paper roused a storm after its front page headline reported a "multi-casualty" incident in Gaza - before the matter was cleared for publication by Israel’s government censors.

The front page of the paper displayed the words, "Not cleared for publication: A multi-casualty incident." With a red background. As we now know, rachmana litzlan, five frum soldiers were killed in the incident.

We know that the IDF censor places a gag order if soldiers have fallen until it has gotten to each family whose son fell, individually and personally, this so that parents will not be frantic knowing that soldiers were killed but not knowing who they are. Only then is the incident made public by the media.. Three representatives come to the door of each home to tell the parents, the dreaded "knock at the door."

We know from the Gemara in Pesachim (3b and 4a) that one should not be the bearer of bad news. Doing so invokes the pasuk of Shlomo HaMelech in Mishlei (10:18), “U’motzi dibah hu k’sil — one who voices bad news is a fool.” The Gemara relates three episodes where bad news is told over but only by manner of a hint. The Gemara applies the aforementioned verse.

I recall my saintly father-in-law, Rabbi Yaakov Hirsch, zt’l, and his illustrious chavrusa of over half a century, Rabbi Chaim Polskin, zt’l, telling each other that they had a levayah to attend that afternoon, but without telling the name of which of their friends had passed on. They only found out at the levayah itself. Such was their observance of this ideal.

The Reasons

Before we attempt to find the answer, it is important to identify the various reasons why we should not be the bearer of such news. The Chasam Sofer in his chiddushim on the page (“Rav”) asks the question, pointing out that, at the end of the day, the bad news ends up being conveyed anyway through the hint.

The Chasam Sofer explains that Hashem watches over the broken-hearted, to heal them and comfort them, as Dovid HaMelech explains in Tehillim (51:19), “Lev nishbar v’nidkeh Hashem lo sivzeh — Hashem will not deject a broken and crushed heart,” and (Tehillim 91:15), “Imo anochi b’tzarah — I am with him in despair.” However, the Chasam Sofer points out, every negative tiding has upon it a ruach of tumah, a spirit of impurity, and Hashem does not mention His Holy Name on evil (see Sifrei Ki Seitzei 254; “V’nishmarta mi’kol davar ra” also includes bad tidings, and v’shav mi’acharecha).

The withdrawal of Hashem’s Shechinah that is brought about by mentioning the evil tiding thus causes the removal of the healing and comfort that Hashem generally provides. Hinting to it, on the other hand, does not drive the Shechinah away.

Rashi, however, on Pesachim 3b “Ahadrei,” indicates that the reason for it is because if people were to find out immediately and directly, the information would unduly shock them.

Shulchan Aruch

The prohibition or, perhaps more accurately, custom, is discussed in Shulchan Aruch as well (Y.D. 402:2). His language is somewhat ambiguous; in the beginning he writes that one is not obligated in informing another of a death, but it would seem that it would be permitted. Yet, he concludes that one who does so is called a fool, a k’sil.

There are exceptions to the prohibition which would lead to differences in halakhah. In many communities, a car drives slowly around the neighborhood announcing a levayah. This is done for kavod ha’meis, for the honor of the deceased, and most halakhic decisors, poskim, permit it.

Another exception mentioned by the Rema is if there are sons who can say Kaddish for the deceased. The exception is not permitted, however, on a yom tov so as not to bring anguish on a holiday. The Maharam Schick in his responsa (O.C. #26) writes that this is an obligation based upon the verse “Do not stand idly by your brother’s blood.” If you are obligated to save another person during his lifetime, you are certainly obligated to save him after his demise, and Kaddish elevates the soul.

For Websites and Newspapers

Rabbi Dovid Tahari, a Sephardi posek from Beitar Illit, in his sefer titled Zichron Yitzchok (p. 327), suggests that the prohibition does exist in regard to writing. His proof is that in the illustrations in the Gemara, they could have just imparted the information through writing. The fact that they didn’t is indicative that there would have been a prohibition as well.

One can object that the import is that they had met up, and, generally speaking, writing then was only done with ink and quill, something that was not exactly common when one meets up with someone.

Rav Yitzchok Yosef (Yalkut Yosef Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Vol II Siman 338 Chapter 3) also rules that it is prohibited to inform in writing as well.

When one considers the reason of the Chasam Sofer, it would seem unlikely that the Shechinah would be driven away from a distance, and it would thus be unlikely that, according to him, it would be prohibited on that account.

On the other hand, according to Rashi, it is highly likely that it could shock the reader even at a distance. This is perhaps borne out by an incident that occurred on February 3, 1959. The famed American musician Buddy Holly died in a plane crash, and his wife, Maria Elena, who was pregnant at the time, suffered a miscarriage when she heard of his death on television. His mother collapsed when she heard the news.

The incident forever changed America because from that point on, as was done from the start in the IDF, authorities and media no longer report deaths until the family members of the deceased have been informed. (See Time magazine article by Claire Suddath, “The Day the Music Died,” February 3, 2009.) That was the turning point that changed the policy in the US. The minhag in the world at large is like Rashi.

One could perhaps draw a distinction between that case and websites and newspapers in that the bad news in 1959 was heard on television, whereas the negative information in newspapers and on websites is read.

The fact that it may be a minhag rather than a halakhah can also be grounds to be more lenient. It is this author’s view, however, that the websites should be more sensitive to this halakhah and should only allude to bad tidings unless there is a clear-cut “kavod ha’meis” such as encouraging people to attend funerals.

It should be further noted that Rav Yisroel Salanter, zt’l, the founder of the Mussar movement, wrote that during an epidemic or pandemic, people have a tendency to get more depressed. Because of this, he advises that people not engage in overly depressing activities during such times.

Conclusion

It would seem that an apology is in order in this case. It should also be looked at as an opportunity to teach Torah to others.

Rabbi Yair Hoffmanis a Torah educator and writer who can be reached at [email protected].