Four years after Fred Ehrman, Manhattan investment advisor and Jewish activist, took part in a campaign to change what members of the Jewish community read, he is trying to influence how they speak.
In 2002 his target was The New York Times. Convinced that the paper’s Middle East coverage was prejudiced against Israel, he was a leader of an effort to have Jews stop buying the Times.
In 2006 his focus is more personal: He is the founder of an anti-lashon harah project at Lincoln Square Synagogue, which starts with "Lashon Harah Awareness Day" on Saturday, Nov. 11.
Lashon Harah, literally "the evil tongue" in Hebrew, is a general phrase for libel and slander and other types of negative speech that Jewish tradition forbids.
"Most people know what lashon harah is, but most people don’t pay much attention to it," Ehrman says. "It’s probably one of the most important mitzvot in the Torah. Even people who wouldn’t think of going to McDonald’s" sometimes say words they shouldn’t.
In recent years, several Jewish organizations (most notably the Suffern-based Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, named for the early 20th-century sage who wrote the definitive guide on the subject) have undertaken public drives to reduce Lashon Harah.
Lincoln Square’s pilot project, which will include a sermon by Orthodox Union Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb and literature to be distributed, is an attempt to make the topic "a little more tangible," Ehrman says. "This is an experiment [to] raise people’s awareness. It’s not an [exclusively] Orthodox thing at all.
"The synagogue, where Ehrman is an active member, is promoting the project through newspaper ads and e-mail notices. (For information, call  874-6100 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Ehrman says he started an intensive study of the laws of lashon harah a year ago. "I have slipped a couple of times," he says. But he is more alert to others’ speech.
"I’ve become so aware of it. Every time I hear lashon harah I cringe."