April 12, 2003

RIGHTS WITHOUT RESPONSIBILITIES:

You are what you speak (Rabbi Berel Wein, 4/11/03, Jewish World Review)
This week's Torah portion, Metzora, deals with the plague of tzoraas, the punishment, according the Talmudic sages, for transgressing the sin of slander and abusive speech.

In contemporary society, where everyone demands the right to know everything about everyone at anytime, it is difficult to promote the ideas of privacy, correct speech and avoidance of gossip and unnecessary curiosity of others. Yet while the exact plague of tzoraas is no longer apparent in our lives, the damages of loose talk can be seen all around us. Tzoraas is not only a plague that affects the individual affected by it. Rather, it is a plague that damages society at large as well.

A civilization that approves gossip, condones verbal abuse, insults, obscenities and shameful statements, is itself already plagued. The level of public discourse, as well as that of private conversation, requires elevation and care.

A drive to arrest loshan hara (evil speech) has been prominent in the Jewish world over the last few decades. It is difficult, of course, to assess its true success, but the mere fact that such a drive was initiated and is maintained is in and of itself a positive thing.

In a world of free speech, which is certainly a basic right, self-discipline in exercising that right is necessary. Otherwise, free speech becomes destructive speech. And destructive speech must be avoided at all costs.


It's a strange society we live in where it is insisted that privacy rights cover everything from adultery to abortion, but none of us can shut up about ourselves. One of the things we here are all especially proud of though is that even heated discussions are generally carried on with a great deal of civility--for that we thank you all. Posted by Orrin Judd at April 12, 2003 7:38 AM
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