The Sefer Chafetz Chaim (or Chofetz Chaim or Hafetz Hayim) (Hebrew: חָפֵץ חַיִּים, trans. Desirer of Life) is the magnum opus of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, who later became known simply as The Chofetz Chaim. The book deals with the Jewish ethics and laws of speech, and is considered the authoritative source on the subject.
The title of the work Chafetz Chaim by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan is taken from Psalms :
Come, children, hearken to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Who is the man who desires life, who loves days to see goodness? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceitfully. Shun evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.
The subject of the book is hilchos shmiras halashon (laws of clean speech). Rabbi Kagan provides copious sources from the Torah, Talmud and Rishonim (early commentators) about the severity of Jewish law on tale-mongering and gossip. Lashon hara, meaning evil speech (or loosely gossip and slander and prohibitions of defamation), is sometimes translated as prohibitions of slander, but in essence is concerning the prohibitions of saying evil/bad/unpleasant things about a person, whether or not they are true.
The book is divided into three parts:
- Mekor Chayim ("Source of Life"), the legal text.
- Be'er mayim chayim ("Well of living water"), the footnotes and legal argument.
- It is commonly printed together with the text Shemirath ha-Lashon ("Guarding of the tongue"), an ethical treatise on the proper use of the faculty of speech.
Rabbi Israel Meir HaCohen Kagan is commonly known as the "Chafetz Chaim," the name of his famous work on guarding one's tongue. He was born in Dzyatlava, Grodno Governorate, Russian Empire (today Belarus), on January 26, 1838. As his reputation grew, students from all over Europe flocked to him and by 1869 his house became known as the Radin Yeshiva. The Chafetz Chaim published twenty one books. His first work, Sefer Chafetz Chaim (1873), is the first attempt to organize and clarify the laws regarding Lashon Hara. Other notable works include the Sefer Shmirat HaLashon (View the online edition in Hebrew here), an ethical work on the importance of guarding one's tongue and the Mishnah Berurah (printed between 1894-1907) which is a commentary on the Orach Chayim, the first section of the Shulchan Aruch, and has been accepted universally among many Ashkenazi Jews as an authoritative source of Halacha. (View the online edition in Hebrew here. Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6)