Jewish Core Value

Avoidance of lashon hara (literally, “evil tongue”) — gossip, “bad-mouthing”1

Pronunciation

Rhymes with “The phone – ta da!”

In Traditional Jewish Life

Speaking evil of someone is clearly forbidden; some rabbis of the Talmud equated lashon hara with murder.2 One story compares lashon hara to the feathers in a pillow which have been thrown to the wind. Like those feathers, evil words fly here and there; they are carried along to be picked up by many people; they cannot be unsaid or retrieved.

Jewish law (halakha) makes distinctions between different kinds of lashon hara, but in popular use the phrase simply refers to any kind of malicious speech. In Jewish thinking, what happens in Las Vegas does not stay in Las Vegas.

Jewish tradition points to examples of the consequences of lashon hara: Moses’ sister Miriam was afflicted with leprosy by God for slandering her brother. The serpent in the Garden of Eden spoke evil of God to Eve, who listened and believed the serpent’s evil speech (listening to and believing lashon hara are forbidden in Jewish thinking as much as speaking it). The Talmud3 says that the cause of the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70  was the moral condition of that generation — specifically, Jews slandering their fellow Jews.

Old Testament Basis

These are just samples of the many verses of Hebrew Scripture that warn against evil speech.

Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.
(Leviticus 19:16)

Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. (Psalm 34:12-13 [verses 13-14 in the Hebrew])

He who conceals his hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool.
(Proverbs 10:18)

New Testament Teaching

Again, there are many more New Testament verses to warn against evil speech.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” (Ephesians 4:31)

“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”
(James 1:26).

Examples of this core value in contemporary Jewish culture

You and your Jewish Friends

If you are discussing spiritual or even cultural issues with a friend:

“Did you know that Jesus (the New Testament) upholds Jewish core values? For example, it talks about avoiding lashon hara …”

(Many Jewish people believe in this core value but some may not know the Hebrew term for it. If your friend does not recognize the term, you can mention that you learned about it here; perhaps your friend might like to read this article and give an opinion.)

If a Jewish friend tells you that Jews who believe in Jesus aren’t really Jewish, or are deceptive:

“I’m not sure you want to say that. That could be lashon hara.”

If they offer a negative opinion on Jesus (such as that he was a deceiver, or responsible for centuries of anti-Semitism):

“Be careful, that’s really lashon hara. Jesus taught people to love others”*

*Of course Jesus taught much more, but that’s a good entrée point.

END NOTES

  1. From Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy (New York: William Morrow, 1991), p. 522.
  2. b. Arakhin 15b.
  3. b. Gittin 55b.