THE NINTH COMMANDMENT: YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS AGAINST YOUR NEIGHBOR. Deuteronomy 5:11, Tanakh Version, JPS.
What, exactly, is false witness? Lying about someone? Destroying someone? Does false witness only happen under oath and in a courtroom? Who are the neighbors we shouldn’t bear false witness against?
Even if false witness is a legal technicality, should we be lying about anyone at all, ever? Of course not. But sometimes we repeat what we believe to be the truth in order to warn against “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
In some circumstances it is hard to know when to be silent and when to speak. There have been times in my life when I was not told about the dangers I faced, even though others knew what I was up against. And other times I have been told lies about someone out of spite.
In a court of law a person is sworn under oath to speak the truth and can be charged with perjury if they lie. But what do you call it when a public official lies about an opponent? If there is a policy disagreement there should be open debate about the policy. To knowingly manufacture lying stories and accuse another of crimes without a shred of evidence is another matter. When Harry Reid accused Mitt Romney of not paying taxes based purely on hearsay I felt like he was doing more than lying, he was bearing false witness.
Because of his past actions I can no longer believe one word said by Harry Reid, and by so saying I am not bearing false witness against him since his words are said to mislead and harm others. Anyone can see his lies, and those who don’t need to be warned.
Some things that are said are nothing more than spiteful gossip. I think a rule here is to decide if what you hear is based on a “need to know” for protection from harm or if it has only a prurient interest. Ask yourself, “Why do I possibly need to know this?” And if there is no compelling reason, then just let the matter go.
When and why do you need to know when false witness is given? When you need to protect yourself and your loved ones from harm, when you can help to vindicate the falsely accused, and when a false swearer must be held accountable for his or her lies.
And who is your neighbor? As technology shrinks the world and gives us the ability to contact anyone, anyplace at all, it would seem that we are all truly neighbors. We are further commanded to love our neighbors as we also love ourselves. The Golden Rule applies here, then do the same to others as you would be done by.