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Bintel BriefI found out a colleague opposes abortion. Is it OK to tell others so they can avoid working with her?

Bintel explores the Jewish rules around gossip — and the idea of political litmus tests in the workplace.

The Forward has been solving reader dilemmas since 1906 in A Bintel Brief, Yiddish for a bundle of letters. Send us your quandaries about Jewish life, love, family, friends or work via email, Twitter or this form.

Dear Bintel,

I was on a Zoom call organized by and for members of the film industry to discuss how we can respond meaningfully to the fall of Roe

There were several hundred people on the call. We were told that it was a “safe space,” but no mention was made of confidentiality. At some point during the call, one woman said, “I think it’s good, actually. Women should have babies.” We were SHOCKED. (Why was she on the call in the first place?) 

When I started telling others outside the call about this, but not revealing the identity of the woman who had made the comment, they started asking me who she was — not just for gossip, but because they would want to know so that they could choose not to work on a project with her if it came up. 

Is it ethical for me to reveal her identity? Is there a right way or a wrong way? Does it make a difference if I tell people individually vs. post it publicly? What’s my responsibility here? 

Anti-Anti Abortion


Dear Anti-Anti,

I understand how painful the Supreme Court’s decision overturning the constitutional right for abortion was to so many people, and how personal it felt. I had two abortions myself, and like many of my Gen X feminist peers and those who came after us, I’d taken reproductive choice as a given, for granted. I have a teenage daughter — and son — and it’s shocking and upsetting to absorb that they’ll be coming of sexual age in a country where abortion access is determined by geography and class. 

But I don’t think your question is about abortion. It’s about diversity in the workplace, freedom of expression and, yes, lashon hara — gossip. 

You said the Zoom call was for people in the film industry — not for an abortion-rights advocacy group. I have no doubt that most people who would join a call billed as “how to respond meaningfully to the fall of Roe,” and perhaps many people who work in the industry, do favor abortion rights. But there should not be a litmus test, in the film industry or any other workplace (except among abortion providers) that is explicitly about advocacy on this issue. Why should the “safe space” not be safe for the woman you mention or any other person invited to join the call to air their opinions? 

(I’m guessing you’ve oversimplified her comment, perhaps because your outrage blocked you from listening fully. But even if not, the First Amendment protects people’s right to state their opinions even in dopey, outdated ways.)

Your letter says that colleagues wanted to know the woman’s identity “not just for gossip” but so they could refuse to work with her on a project, as though that somehow justifies it. In fact that makes it worse. You’re not just gossiping about her, you’re aiming to excommunicate her, to make her what the Torah calls herem. 

Do you really want to work in an industry where people can refuse to collaborate with you because of your political views? Are you ready to have managers inquire about who you voted for before they hire you? Should every producer be checking political-donation files, online petitions and YouTube videos of protests before enlisting gaffers and grips? 

And do you want to work in a place where people are afraid to share their views and perspectives, to wear a button or display a bumper sticker, to bring their whole selves to work, lest they cross some invisible, unstated and no doubt ever-moving politically correct line?

Just imagine it was flipped — people were going to refuse to work on a project with you because you support abortion access. Or gun control. Or Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state. Oh wait, you don’t have to imagine that one, because it happens already: Jews and Jewish groups discouraged or blocked from participating in leftist coalitions and spaces, or isolated on college campuses, even though they support not only the stated agendas of those coalitions but also the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. 

And, since we’re talking about the Supreme Court here, consider your letter in the context of a different case, that of a Colorado graphic designer who says she has the right to refuse to make websites celebrating same-sex marriage despite a state law barring discrimination against people because of sexual identity. Most on the left don’t think she should be allowed to reject same-sex clients — so why is it OK for you and your colleagues to refuse to be on set with someone who thinks “women should have babies”? 

I’m reminded of the haunting, poetic quotation from Martin Niemöller, a German pastor, who regretted not speaking up earlier against the Nazi regime. “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist,” he said, repeating the framework for trade unionists and Jews. “Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

If you and your colleagues prevent this woman from getting work because of her view on abortion, that’s one fewer person who will be around the industry to defend your right to think whatever you think that might soon be out of favor. Or to just be who you are. 

As for telling other people what was said on the call, it’s worth remembering that lashon hara is considered a very serious sin in Judaism. The 19th-century sage the Chofetz Chaim said gossip “kills three” — the speaker, the listener and the person being spoken about. That’s multiplied as you repeat the gossip — exponentially, I suppose, if you were to post it on social media. (Interestingly, if not entirely relevant, a rabbi-friend I consulted told me that a person who might see such a post on Facebook and then share it, either there or in real life, is not guilty of lashon hara, since it’s already public information.)

So, Anti-Anti, I’m going to say it’s not ethical for you to reveal her identity, whether telling people individually or posting it publicly, and that all the ways are the wrong ways — because the very idea that people should excommunicate a person for having a certain political perspective or sharing it in a safe space is wrong. 

Sincerely,
Bintel

Engage

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