Tuesday, June 25, 2024

On Lashon Hara and the Surgeon General’s Warning


On Lashon Hara and the Surgeon General’s Warning

I think every parent was a little relieved to hear the surgeon general of the United States recommend that a warning label be posted on social media. Just like we have warning labels on cigarettes and warning labels on alcohol ads, we need warning labels for parents to know that they should keep their kids off social media as much as they can.

We see it as a plague on youngsters today. Easy access to social media has led to  on line bullying and shaming. Even  in supposedly solid Beverly Hills, a Middle School a student shared a photo-shopped image of a classmate in a very compromising position that had never happened, and the damage was done.

So I can envision a whole series of warning labels coming out now:


. (Wikimedia commons).

Yes get rid of these nonsensical video shorts which are the only way our young people are getting the news now.

I saw someone beat me to the punch with Tik Tok, so I decided to get creative:


Yes, Instagram- images of whatever that no one wants to see.


 The other major source of , I can’t believe it, official government notifications, all reduced to 280 characters!?

So, let’s see how far back our Jewish tradition has dealt with such loose   bombardment of truths,and more often, half-truths, worse  than outright lies.

I can claim that the origin of the “ Tweet” is Biblical: Eccelsiastes 10:20:

גַּ֣ם בְּמַדָּֽעֲךָ֗ מֶ֚לֶךְ אַל־תְּקַלֵּ֔ל וּבְחַדְרֵי֙ מִשְׁכָּ֣בְךָ֔ אַל־תְּקַלֵּ֖ל עָשִׁ֑יר כִּ֣י ע֤וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֙יִם֙ יוֹלִ֣יךְ אֶת־הַקּ֔וֹל וּבַ֥עַל (הכנפים) [כְּנָפַ֖יִם] יַגֵּ֥יד דָּבָֽר׃

Don’t revile a king even among your intimates.
Don’t revile a rich man even in your bedchamber;
For a bird of the air may carry the utterance,
And a winged creature may report the word.

There you go—the first instance of Twitter in history. Maybe that’s why Musk preferred “X”.


Of course, it is clear,  that the danger from loose talk, ill talk of others, is not a Jewish or modern problem. You all had to learn Othello at some point, and there is that famous line, by Iago:

“ Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing; 'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands: But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him And makes me poor indeed.”

Iago, the master villain, who kills by destroying the good people by slander, is the one who teaches us the virtue of a Good Name.!

The very end of our Torah portion this week, Behaalotekha, as interpreted by our sages, brings us to this very topic.

Story of Miriam-Numbers 12,

Miriam and Aaron spoke against [Note: “Against”  is an interpretation, not a literal translation] Moses because of the Cushite woman he had taken: “He took a Cushite woman!”

They said, “Has יהוה spoken only through Moses? Has [God] not spoken through us as well?” יהוה heard it.

We note that Miriam here is taking the lead, not Aaron, who we know is not the confrontationist.

Moses is meek, so God rises to his defense, and Miriam is struck with leprosy.

 We understand, from Rabbinic interpretations, that leprosy is punishment for “ Meztora”-“ Motzi Shem Ra”, speaking evil about someone. In this same vein, the Rabbis understand, in our next portion, that the twelve spies  bad mouth the land of Israel. That’s what we call “ Lashon Hara”, Bad Language.

Here are some of our sources, which the Surgeon General is free to borrow for his warning  label:

Lo telech rachil be amcha--Lev 19:16

Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people. Rachil-rechilut-gossip.  Just as a peddlar ( Rochel) peddles his wares from one to another, so the slander “ goes peddling” his merchandise of slander. Or, as Rashi explains- Rachil  is from spying (Meragel) upon one’s neighbor to find a flaw.


We have another perspective, from the Talmud, about the dangers of “ loose lips”.

(Arakhin 15b:22 ) On the phrase” Be-Yad Halashon”- In the power of the word, but literally, “in  the hand of the tongue”.

א"ר חמא ברבי חנינא מאי דכתיב (משלי יח, כא) מות וחיים ביד לשון וכי יש יד ללשון לומר לך מה יד ממיתה אף לשון ממיתה אי מה יד אינה ממיתה אלא בסמוך לה אף לשון אינה ממיתה אלא בסמוך לה ת"ל חץ שחוט לשונם

Rabbi ama, son of Rabbi anina, says: What is the meaning of that which is written: “Death and life are in the hand of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). Does the tongue have a hand? Rather the verse comes to tell you that just as a hand can kill, so too a tongue can kill. If you were to claim that just as the hand kills only from close by, so too the tongue kills only from close by, therefore the verse states: “Their tongue is a sharpened arrow” (Jeremiah 9:7). The tongue kills like an arrow that is fired from a bow, at a great distance.


The danger of bearing evil news, even if true, with ill intention, is derived from the story of Saul who destroys the entire city of Nob, because the inhabitants had given shelter to David, his enemy:

The discussion refers to a phrase “ Triple”, like a Triad or a Three-some, in regards to tale-bearing:


Jerusalem Talmud Peah 1:1:47

Why is it called “triple?” Because it kills three: The one who says it, the one who accepts it, and the one calumniated. And in the days of Saul, four were killed: Doeg who said it [he reported that the priests at Nob protected David] , Saul who accepted it [ and executed the people as a result and eventually died himself], Aḥimelekh who was calumniated[ the priest who sheltered David and was killed], and Abner. Why was Abner killed? …The rabbis say, because he did not let Shaul make peace with David. [In other words, he could have ended Saul’s enmity and prevented the greater tragedy.] But some say, because he had it in his power to intervene for Nob, the city of priests, and he did not intervene.”

Is it then any wonder that three times a day, we add in our Amidah prayer:…

אֱלֹהַי נְצוֹר לְשׁוֹנִי מֵרָע וּשְׂפָתַי מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה.

My God, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully.


 This is a phrase taken directly from Psalms:34:14

Which raises the question, How do we gain life?

מִֽי־הָ֭אִישׁ הֶחָפֵ֣ץ חַיִּ֑ים אֹהֵ֥ב יָ֝מִ֗ים לִרְא֥וֹת טֽוֹב׃

Who is the man who is eager for life,
who desires years of good fortune?

And the answer is:

נְצֹ֣ר לְשׁוֹנְךָ֣ מֵרָ֑ע וּ֝שְׂפָתֶ֗יךָ מִדַּבֵּ֥ר מִרְמָֽה׃

Guard your tongue from evil,
your lips from deceitful speech.

 For your inspiration, I am putting here a very popular rendition of this Psalm:


This  leads me to one of the great Sages of modern Jewish teachings, the Rabbi who adopted these verses as the title of his book, and in turn became known  by that title:


The Sefer Chofetz Chaim is a book by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, who is also called "the Chofetz Chaim" after it. The book deals with the Jewish laws of speech.

Yisrael Meir ha-Kohen Kagan (January 26, 1838 – September 15, 1933) was an influential Lithuanian Jewish rabbiHalakhistposek, and ethicist whose works continue to be widely influential in Orthodox Jewish life.

By all accounts, he was a modest and humble man, faithfully devoted to his Jewish faith. For a while, he had a shop selling household provisions, which he and his wife managed.

During his lifetime, Kagan was venerated by Jews and non-Jews alike.

So, I have put here a sampler of his words of advice:

Silverstein translation http://www.sefaria.org/shraga-silverstein

Selected items:


…And if we carefully searched our ways — which of the sins have primarily caused the length of our exile? — we would find them to be many; but the sin of lashon hara above all, for several reasons. First, for it was the major cause of our exile …. This being so, as long as we do not undertake to correct this sin, how can there be a redemption, the sin being so severe as to have caused us to be exiled from our land!




Introduction to the Laws of the Prohibition of Lashon Hara and Rechilut


Negative Commandments

One who bears tales against his friend transgresses a negative commandment, viz. (Vayikra 19:16): "Do not go talebearing among your people." What is talebearing? "Loading oneself" with words and going from one to another, saying: "This is what ploni [so and so] said about you"; "This and this is what I heard ploni did to you." … And there is a sin much greater than this — lashon hara, which is included in this negative commandment. And that is speaking disparagingly of one's friend, even if what is said is true. But one who speaks falsely [about his friend] is referred to as a "motzi shem ra" [one who spreads an evil report].

[ Don’t post it on Facebook or Instagram or Tik Tok in the first place]

And the speaker or the receiver [of lashon hara] also transgresses (Shemoth 23:1): "Do not receive [tissa] a false report," which can also be read as: "Do not spread [tassi] a false report," so that this negative commandment includes both [the speaker and the receiver].

[Don’t open the post you got, and if you do get one, don’t retweet or repost or click “like”]




Positive Commandments


And he [the speaker of lashon hara] also transgresses (Vayikra 19:18): "And you shall love your neighbor as yourself," whereby we have been commanded to be as solicitous for our friend's money as we are for our own, and to be solicitous of his honor, and to speak in his praise, as we are solicitous for our own honor.




And if through his lashon hara or rechiluth he lowers his friend so that he loses his livelihood as a result, as when through evil-heartedness he publicizes his friend as being dishonest, or, if he is a worker, as being unfit for his work, or the like, he also transgresses (Vayikra 25:35): "And if your brother grows poor and his hand falls with you, then you shall uphold him [even if he be], proselyte or sojourner; and he shall live with you." And (Ibid 16): "And your brother shall live with you,"…. How much more so are we commanded not to cause him to lose his livelihood!

[Remember, it all shows up when the boss interviews your neighbor for a job!]



Seif 5

There is no difference in the issur of speaking [lashon hara], as to whether one speaks it of his own volition or whether his friend stands over him and begs him to tell him — in either case, it is forbidden. And even if his father or his Rabbi — whom he is obligated to honor and to fear and not to contradict their words — even if they importune him to speak of a certain thing, and he knows that in the midst of the account he will perforce come to speak lashon hara or even only the "dust" of lashon hara, he is forbidden to consent.


This issur of lashon hara obtains whether it is actually spoken by mouth or stated in a letter [ That would include a false Tweet!]  . There is also no difference whether he speaks it explicitly or by sign.[ No Emogis and GIFs!] In all modes, it is in the category of lashon hara.


Seif 9

And know also that even if in demeaning his friend he demeaned himself with the very same slur — even if he began by railing thus against himself, he has nevertheless not left the ranks of the slanderers.

Seif 8

There is no difference in the language of the exhortation, whether he exhorted them not to mention the subject at all anymore, or whether he said to them, "Let none of this be made known by you" — in all modes, it is forbidden to reveal the demeaning of another, even to a different person; how much more so to the person demeaned himself. For if it is revealed to another, in the end it will become known to all, and even to him [the person demeaned] through the channels of "Your friend has a friend, etc."


And, therefore, one must take great heed, even if a man is known to have had a certain fault in his youth, but from then until now he has been conducting himself correctly; or if it is known about his forbears that they did not conduct themselves correctly at all, but he does not hold on to their ways, and all such things, where, in truth, he is not open to aspersion, it is forbidden to demean him or to shame him before his friends because of this [early fault]. [ Don’t go searching on Google for someone’s dirty past!]


Seif 12

 That is, when someone lectures in the house of study it is forbidden according to the din to mock him and to say that there is nothing to his lectures and there is nothing to hear. And in our many sins we see many people to be remiss in this, not considering this mockery as an issur at all. But according to the din it is absolute lashon hara. For through such speech it often happens that he causes monetary loss to his friend, and, sometimes, pain and shame, too

 [ Don’t knock your professor-or the Rabbi-no matter how boring the lecture is!]


Seif 13

If one revealed to his friend, in the presence of three, details of his occupation or trade or the like, things which, in general, are otherwise forbidden to repeat afterwards to another, lest this result in injury or pain to him — now, since he himself revealed it in the presence of three, it is evident that this is of no concern to him, even if it comes to be known in the end. Therefore, the one who hears it from him is permitted ab initio to reveal it to others, so long as he [the teller] does not make it clear that he is opposed to his doing so. [ In today’s terms, if you were not made to sign an NDA-non-disclosure agreement, you may share trade secrets, as  they are no longer secret].




If one wishes to bring his friend into his affairs, such as to hire him for his work or to go into partnership with him or to make a match with him, and the like, even if until now he has heard nothing negative about him, still, it is permitted to make inquiries of people as to his character and his dealings. Even though they may tell him something negative about him, still it is permitted, since his intent is for his own good alone, so that he will not come afterwards to injury or to strife or to contention and desecration of the Name, G–d forbid. But it appears to me that he must apprise the one he is making inquiry of, that he wishes to make a match with him [the one he is inquiring about] or enter some kind of partnership, as mentioned above. [ Therefore, I may do a background check on a job applicant, as long as that is  known and agreed to. This is a legitimate action for self-protection.]



And know that just as it is forbidden to slander one's friend, so is it forbidden to "slander" his possessions (see Rabbeinu Eliezer Mimitz in Sefer Yere'im). And it is very common, in our many sins, that one shopkeeper slanders the wares of another (and so, in other instances of the same kind), out of envy. And this is absolute lashon hara according to the Torah. [ A form of truth in advertising]


                                So, you now have the warning label on your smartphone or computer- from the Surgeon General, and Rabbi Weinberg, to the great ethical authority, the Chofetz Chayim. You can also throw away your newspaper Tabloids, and have a much better life!

Monday, June 17, 2024

Our Oldest Fragment of the Bible and What It Tells Us About Hebrew


Our oldest fragment of the Bible and what it tells us about Hebrew



The Shabbat of the portion Naso- Numbers

The blessing of the priests, which we use in the Cantor’s repetition of the Amidah and also by parents for children is in this portion.

Beautiful structure pyramid style 3 words 5 words and seven words

כד  יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ.  {ס}

כה  יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ.  {ס}

כו  יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם.  {ס}


Repetitive rhythm. If any of you have had the chance to watch the Cohanim reenact the Dukhanan service, and it's done well, it can be very inspiring.


It's especially instructive because it comes right after a very disturbing elements for us, which is the portion of the jealous husband. It follows a listing of specific families among the Levites , their jobs, and then shifts to  the law of lepers,  and then it goes to the question of trespasses of human beings one against the other in business , so see a flow from issues of ritual impurity, to impurity of crimes between fellow and fellow, and then to the impurity that is caused when there's a crime between a husband and wife , when the husband is jealous of the wife.

The name of God is written on a scroll, is stirred into water the wife drinks, and if she is innocent, nothing happens to her and they live happily. If she is guilty, then her body is bloated and distended, and woe to her—she is cursed

but note, she is not killed or beaten to death, as is done in the middle east even into modern times.

The units goes one to deal with a man  or woman who takes a vow to abstain from wine in particular, the Nazir. Again, a discussion of defilement, as the Nazir may not be in contact with the dead—again , an impurity that upsets or creates a barrier.

In all of these, then, the proper order of the world is upset, and it must be cleansed away. Therefore, the placing of the blessing of the priests, to provide blessing and peace, undoing the rupture that can take place between the Israelite and fellow human, male female, or human to God.

Now, it takes me to my main point—about the blessing of the priests and the antiquity or origins of ourselves, as Jews. And then, some surprising asides.


How far back can we really trace ourselves? How far back can we really find evidence of the Bible ?

We don't have any complete existing manuscripts of the Bible, with the full punctuation of the Masoretic scholars,  that go back more than about 1000 years. There is the Leningrad Codex , on which most printed versions are based,and another one the Aleppo . Then in Bologna, Italy, researchers discovered the oldest complete Torah scroll, matching our texts. Before that, we have fragments or partial scrolls of different Bible texts, as in the Cairo Genizah, perhaps as far back as 1500 years ago, the Dead Sea Scrolls, that  can go back about 2000 years ago.  

Keep in mind, that it doesn’t mean that old manuscripts didn’t exist- it is rather, that the earliest manuscripts disappeared with the ravages of time, and the texts were then copied anew by scribes, or, perhaps going further back, committed to memory.


Of course, we also have evidence from outside, such as Septuagint, the translation into Greek commissioned by the Ptolemies of Egypt,  not long after the time of Alexander. Here too, are fragments, in Greek, that are older that the Hebrew texts, but they serve as proof that the Hebrew original had been very well known and authoritative, long ago, albeit with some significant variations.

 For all our gripes about the historic Christian Church and theological anti-Judaism, we owe it to the early Church founders for preserving, at least in various translations, our Bible texts, as well as many other texts that we ignored, such as the Macabbees.

So let's look at what we have going back to my opening.

That's why this blessing of the priest is so beautiful for us because of the Torah text this is exactly the oldest one that we have.


Ketef Hinnom scrolls

The two silver scrolls were uncovered in 1979 at Ketef Hinnom, an archaeological site southwest of the Old City of Jerusalem, and were found to contain a variation of the Priestly Blessing, found in Numbers 6:24–26. The scrolls were dated paleographically to the late 7th or early 6th century BCE, placing them in the First Temple period.[5]

Discovered by a 13 year old volunteer!

It's ironic that this is found in what is called Ketef Hinnom, Corner of Hinnom.

That is because Hinnom becomes the basis for the word Gehenna, taken from “ Gei Ben Hinnom”, the valley of the Hinnom family , the Jewish hell. To make a long story short, it seems to have been the place where children were sacrificed, a practice common among the Phoenicians/Canaanites and their colonies across North Africa.  Hence, it is appropriate that in a place associated in the Bible with the worst human evil, in this same place, we have the oldest  piece of the Torah, a piece  this is now tells a story of love in the form of God's blessing.



1.     -h/hu. May be blessed h/sh-

2.     -[e] by YHW[H,]

3.     the warrior/helper and

4.     the rebuker of

5.     [E]vil: May bless you,

6.     YHWH,

7.     keep you.

8.     Make shine, YH-

9.     -[W]H, His face

10. [upon] you and g-

11. -rant you p-

12. -[ea]ce.


Scroll KH1

The scroll KH1 measures 27 by 97 millimetres (1.06 in × 3.82 in).

·        [Top line(s) broken]

1.     ...] YHWH ...

2.     [...]

3.     the grea[t ... who keeps]

4.     the covenant and

5.     [G]raciousness towards those who love [him] and (alt: [hi]m;)

6.     those who keep [his commandments ...

7.     ...].

8.     the Eternal? [...].

9.     [the?] blessing more than any

10. [sna]re and more than Evil.

11. For redemption is in him.

12. For YHWH

13. is our restorer [and]

14. rock. May YHWH bles[s]

15. you and

16. [may he] keep you.

17. [May] YHWH make

18. [his face] shine ...

·        [Bottom line(s) broken.]



Of course, these scrolls are almost impossible to read!

1)    Severely torn and fragmented, as you can see, so there is much of “ creative reading”

2)    The script is ancient, or paleo-Hebrew, not at all looking like our print, though there may be a semblance to our script Hebrew.



Which leads me to my third direction- from whence our Hebrew? How come the Torah text doesn’t look at all like the text here?


So, for this, we have to go to the Sinai desert, where we discover the very first writings in what can be called the first experiment in creating an alphabet== or an alef-bet. In other words, a system in which symbols represent individual sounds that make up words, rather than pictures to indicate words and sounds that are then combined to create more or newer words. The Egyptian Heiroglyphs- about 1000 signs, Mesopotamian Cuneiform- also about 1000 signs, Chinese, as many as 10,000 or more. This means that only the highly educated could master and utilize it. So-

We get to the Sinai, where the people working the mines there were tired of trying to master all these signs just to tell the boss they needed another shovel. So we get:



The Proto-Sinaitic script is a Middle Bronze Age writing system known from a small corpus of about 30-40 inscriptions and fragments from Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai Peninsula, as well as two inscriptions from Wadi el-Hol in Middle Egypt.[2][3][4][5] Together with about 20 known Proto-Canaanite inscriptions,[6] it is also known as Early Alphabetic,[7] i.e. the earliest trace of alphabetic writing and the common ancestor of both the Ancient South Arabian script and the Phoenician alphabet,[8] which led to many modern alphabets including the Greek alphabet.[9] According to common theory, Canaanites or Hyksos who spoke a Canaanite language[10] repurposed Egyptian hieroglyphs to construct a different script.[11]


PS Where it mentions “ South Arabian”= that is not an ancestor of the Arabic alphabet—that arose almost 2000 years later, after the formation of the Hebrew alphabet and Aramaic alphabets.


So who is scribbling away in those caves?


 Many of the workers and officials were from the Nile Delta, and included large numbers of Canaanites (i.e. speakers of an early form of Northwest Semitic ancestral to the Canaanite languages of the Late Bronze Age) who had been allowed to settle the eastern Delta.[20]




Who are those “ Northwest semitic speakers”? Ancestors of the Hebrews and other related tribes that had been going back and forth Canaan to Egypt, as we have in the descriptions of Abraham and Jacobs son going down to Egypt.

They took what had been developing in Egypt to add specific sounds, and  threw out the pictographs and the words and syllables that went with them.  24 consonants, no vowels needed, and anyone could learn to read and write!




We start with the image for OX, which still looks like an ox head, simplify it , then give it a value as place holder for sounds,name the sound for the image, alef, for the head of cattle. By the time it gets to Phoenicia, hundreds of miles to the north, it is made clean and simple,an ox head,lying on its side.The ancient Greeks flipped it upside down—A. Ashkenazi Hebrew script kept it in its side,but moved the horns over, away from the head.


From this to Phoenician, Canaanite, Hebrew, to Greek and Latin, hence to all European languages, and  Aramaic and hence, Arabic, and even Sanskrit of India. The scribbles of the mine workers has become the alphabet of note of  the entire world.


So, we ask the question- how come we can’t read it?


The Evolution of Two Hebrew Scripts

Paleo-Hebrew or Phoenician script was used before Aramaic script was introduced by Jews returning from Babylonia.

By Jonathan P. Siegel




Until the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. the paleo-Hebrew script was the only alphabet used by the Israelites. After the Babylonian destruction, Judean leaders and the important people of the country were deported to Babylon. Fifty years later, Cyrus, King of Persia, who fell heir to the Babylonian empire, declared that the Judean exiles could return to their land and rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. According to the Bible, 42,000 Judeans chose to return (Nehemiah 7:66).

They brought back with them a new language—Aramaic—and a new script—the square Aramaic script—both of which were in common use in the Persian Empire. Ultimately, the Aramaic script replaced the older paleo-Hebrew script, but for hundreds of years the two scripts were used simultaneously by the Jews.

The square Aramaic script which the Jews brought back with them from the Babylonian exile also derives from the original proto-Canaanite alphabet, but via an entirely different route, which accounts both for the similarities and the marked differences.

Initially, the Aramaic language and script were reserved for official correspondence with the Persian government. …

Thus, by Alexander the Great’s time, we find two languages (Hebrew and Aramaic) and two scripts (paleo-Hebrew and square) being used simultaneously by the Jews.

But by the first century A.D. the Aramaic script had become predominant.


Mixed script, our Aramaic “ Ktav Ashuri”, Assyrian, with God’s name in the original Hebrew script.

The final triumph of the square Aramaic script occurred after the Bar Kochba or Second Jewish Revolt (132–135 A.D.).

Jews adopted the new square script, especially for our Torah scrolls, while our cousins to the north, the Samaritans, retained the older Hebrew script for their scrolls.


A Samaritan Torah scroll

A Polish scroll, Ashkenazic script, 20 th century, in our ark.


So, a few miners, working in the Sinai, who spoke a language that may have been an old form of Hebrew, created a system of markings that revolutionized communication around the world till our times, and with it , the communication of ideas that still affect our workld today,