Tag: Rudeness

Gossip, the Anti-Torah

http://www.bizdevblog.com/bizdevblog/images/istockphoto_gossip.jpgNot too long ago, I posted about Rudeness All Around: Loud Public Cellphone Talking, Texting During Services as a way of opening up a conversation about texting, cell phoning and other activities that fragment the common decency upon which civil society depends.  It led me to a conversation about Lashon Harah, gossip, as a nefarious force which undermines community. 

Recently I learned that our ancient rabbis recognized this same danger, branding gossip (in not so many words) as the “anti-Torah.”  My colleague Dr. Judith Abrams, founder of Maqom, a program for spiritual searching and serious Talmud study, illuminating the Talmudic Teaching (originally posted on Tzei ul’mad: A Blog of Continuing Jewish Learning).

One of the things I love about studying Talmud is that it’s like a kaleidoscope: take a look, shake it up, turn it around, take another look and you see a whole new picture.

We all know that there are 4 things that benefit you here and in the world to come:

  1. honoring father and mother
  2. doing deeds of kindness
  3. bringing peace between people and
  4. the study of Torah is equal to them all. (Mishnah Peah 1:1)

The (Talmud) Yerushalmi, in its gemara to this mishnah, shakes the kaleidoscope and show us the other side of this teaching, i.e., the four things that hurt you here and in the world to come:

  1. idolatry
  2. murder
  3. inappropriate sexual relations
  4. lashon hara (gossip) is equal to them all. (Yerushalmi Peah 1:1, 8a1 in the Artscroll Elucidation)

Each of the four good things is paired with its photo-negative. The links are easy to see: Honoring ones parents includes honoring one’s divine parent, i.e., God. So idolatry is the anti-honoring parent deed. Deeds of kindness show we treasure life. Murder, of course, is the farthest from that that we can get. Peace between people depends on appropriate boundaries and inappropriate sexuality dismisses such boundaries as meaningfless. What I especially love is that gossip turns out to be the photo-negative of Torah study. It’s words that can do so much good or so much harm.

But here’s the real catch-22: according to the (Talmud) Bavli (Baba Batra 164b-165a), everyone gossips to some extent every single day. Unless you’re going to stay in a cave somewhere and never speak again, your going to at least do the “dust of lashon hara” everyday. Since you couldn’t live anywhere near a complete Jewish life in such isolation, there’s only one thing to do: add more Torah words to your life. In that context, Torah study isn’t just a good thing…it’s the one thing that tips the balance back into your favor, shoring up the imbalance that inevitably follows gossip.

So Torah study isn’t just good for you lishmah…it compensates for lashon hara.

Rudeness All Around: Loud Public Cellphone Talking, Texting During Services

There is a thread on our Rabbinic listserve addressing the increasingly challenging problem of how to deal with noisy teenage guests at Bar/Bat Mitzvah services.  It has morphed into questions about how to deal with the incessant texting that these kids now engage in during the service.  (Interesting question is whether having them text – thus remaining more quiet – is an acceptable solution to the noise during services.)

A recent New York Times article, As the Rudes Get Ruder, the Scolds Get Scoldier, laments an equally challenging problem – the loud cellphone talker in the restaurant, coffee shop (or in NYC, on the subway).  A relative of the rude person who parks in the handicapped spot (but is fully physically abled), Loud Talker seems oblivious to his rudeness.  So how do we respond?

I recall an incident a few years back, Just Two Weeks after Yom Kippur and Already I’m Sinning. There in the street stood a woman, leaning toward the window of a big SUV, having a conversation. After observing a few cars swerve around her, I came to believe that she was endangering herself and others by standing in the road. I opened my window and called out, “Could you move to the other side of the car? By standing there you are making it unsafe for our kids.” She and the woman in the driver’s seat of the SUV looked strangely at me and said, “What?” I repeated my concern, “Standing in the street, you are making it unsafe for our kids and yourself. The cars are swerving…” She looked at me again, pondered what I said, and called out, “Shut Up!” 

Flabbergasted then, I’m still flabbergasted.

How do we respond?  Torah (Leviticus 19:17-18) teaches “You shall not hate your kinsman in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Say something, because rudeness can be cured.

But say it with sweetness as we learn from 12th century Maimonides, One who rebukes another, whether for [personal] offenses or for sins against God, should administer the rebuke in private, speak to the offender gently and tenderly and point out that he is only speaking for the wrongdoer’s own good… (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot De’ot 6:7).

How would you respond to Loud Public Cellphone Talker?  To Teen Torah Service Texter?  To Handicapped Parking Space Stealer?  I’m dying to know…