Jewish tradition takes the spoken and the written word very seriously, so much so that there are entire law codes dedicated to the concepts of slander and tale-bearing (lashon harah and rechilut). In one passage of the Talmud, we learn that slander is more dangerous to humanity than individual acts of idolatry, adultery, and murder. The commentary notes that it is slander, tale-bearing, and other forms of hate speech that bring humans to quarrel and which very often lead to bloodshed.
These texts are warning us about the power of words. They are reminding us that the promotion of hate speech can have grave effects, and we must not only be careful about the way we speak as individuals but also be alert and responsive to the words of others. As the 13th century commentator Chizkuni taught, “Do not spread evil tales that have come to your attention, but rather be the one where this practice stops from gaining further ground.”
We are seeing a new level of slander and tale-bearing gaining ground in our country and around the world. This week, the Jewish community has been a target of such hate speech, and we are starting to see that these words are, like our rabbis warned, bringing our community to quarrel. They are also producing a warranted fear that the words could lead to more violence. Unfortunately, the Jewish community has been here before. We have seen and experienced the worst of humanity. We have survived and have resolved that the spread of hatred against the Jewish community, and against all people, will stop with us. Let us be the ones to stop this speech from gaining ground and instead turn to one another in tolerance, acceptance, and love.
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