Should a person avoid the company of someone who
constantly swears but is otherwise a decent fellow?
To constantly use vulgarity but otherwise be a decent person is a contradiction in terms, sort of like shoplifting daily but otherwise being scrupulously honest, or eating a cheeseburger every day for lunch but otherwise keeping kosher. No “decent” person can habitually perform acts that are definitively indecent.
Chazal frequently mention “lashon nekiya” (literally, “clean speech”) and employ euphemisms when discussing intimate matters, activities, or parts of the body. Indeed, the Rambam states (Moreh Nevuchim III:8) that one reason Hebrew is referred to as “the holy tongue” is because it has no original scatological terms.
Despite the tawdriness drowning modern society – one can hardly walk on the street today without overhearing shameless and voluble profanity, with some words creatively featured in the same sentence as a noun, verb, and adjective – Jewish society must be characterized by high standards of personal morality and purity of speech.
Lowly individuals, those who lack self-control in many areas of thought and deed, often cannot help but verbalize their unconscious fixation on lecherous matters by recurrent references to it. But we are adherents to a faith that demands discipline in thought, deed, and speech.
The writer Edna Buchanan once noted that “friends are the family we choose for ourselves.” Friends should reflect our deepest values and encourage our better natures. While no one is perfect, and true friends will inform each other of offensive conduct rather than indulge or ignore it, socializing with those whose values are antithetical to ours can only lead to the dilution of our own moral aspirations.
If rebuking doesn’t work, then it behooves us to eschew the coarse companion and find another, more exemplary, social outlet.
— Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, mara d’asra of
Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, NJ
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There are two things to consider here: On one hand, Chazal tell us that we should associate with people who have a good influence on us and not those who can impact us negatively.
On the other hand, due to the mitzvos and principles of “V’ahavta l’re’acha kamocha,” “Ho’che’ach tochi’ach es ami’secha,” and “Kol Yisrael areivim zeh bazeh,” we have an obligation to positively impact others, inspiring and motivating them to improve their behavior.
Thus, on a case-by-case basis, when you encounter someone who is swearing or, for that matter, behaving inappropriately in other ways, you need to weigh the two above-mentioned elements, with the latter taking precedence [which should lead you to] do everything in your power to inspire and influence the individual to stop swearing (or at least make him aware of the problem and help him begin the process of minimizing his undesirable behavior).
Obviously, this needs to be done with sensitivity, b’darkei no’am v’shalom for maximum positive effect. Only if you feel that for whatever reason you cannot have an impact on the person and are being negatively impacted by his swearing would it be advisable to minimize exposure to that person.
But always bear in mind that, at the core, every Yid wants to do what Hashem expects of him, and it’s only his yetzer hara compelling him to behave otherwise (see Rambam, Hilchos Gerushin, end of chapter 2). Thus, it’s certain that we can positively impact our fellow Yid. It’s just a matter of effort and time until we get through.
— Rabbi Simon Jacobson,
renowned Lubavitch author and lecturer
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It is not worthwhile to keep the company of someone who curses. Words are expressions of a person’s inner being. Words reveal what a person thinks.
If an individual uses crude language all the time, it is an indication of what is taking place in his head. When a person’ head is filled with crassness and negativity, his decisions and behavior are affected as well, even if he manages to sometimes project pleasant behavior. Even if he refrains from foul language for any period of time, his psyche is stained.
Mishlei states: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they who love it shall eat its fruit” (18:21). The meaning is that a person’s gift of speech can be a source of great goodness or a fountain of evil. Therefore, our Sages have warned that evil speech is equal in weight to the three cardinal sins together.
In addition, we need to remember that just as impure speech adversely affects the speaker, it also damages the people who hear it. Words enter our beings the way food is absorbed into our body. They become a part of us. But while rotten food leaves our body within days, the crude speech that a person hears lingers a long time, polluting one’s holy essence and influencing personality traits. The damage is difficult to erase.
Thus, the wise person will flee from those who employ crude language on a regular basis.
— Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Tzefas
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Let’s take the gloves off. I suspect we all know prominent people – even rabbis and roshei yeshiva – who violate minor or major prohibitions (commit arayot or their extensions, violate financial prohibitions, speak crudely, etc.), yet still find supporters and friends.
Sha’arei terutzim lo nin’alu. People find excuses for their refusal to remonstrate with sinners and/or shun those who reject remonstration. “They did not have the upbringing,” we tell ourselves, or “They have compensating positive qualities” or “We can help the sinner by engaging with him or her.”
These arguments do not always justify continuing a friendship with such people, but in my experience people draw their lines for reasons as much emotional as logical. I don’t believe a person committed to a friendship with “someone who constantly swears” will be swayed by a brief reply in a newspaper. Let me instead offer some tips for someone in such a questionable friendship/relationship:
1) Ask yourself why you have decided it’s okay – i.e., why you think you’re allowed to ignore unhalachic behavior – to stay friends with this person.
2) Stay sensitive to the conduct. Never normalize the violation of Shabbat, crude speech, financial sins, etc. You may have decided there is value, on balance, in staying in such a friendship (and you may be right), but don’t let that morph into excusing or accepting the behavior. Always remember the standards of Torah and halacha.
3) Revisit the question from time to time; what was true once may no longer be. Posing the question periodically guards against institutionalizing a one-time concession.
Do that and you will have a better chance of making good choices in your friendships.
— Rabbi Dr. Gidon Rothstein, author,
regular contributor to www.Torahmusings.com