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What should one do if family or friends use curse words in conversation?



At the outset let us refer to the Gemara (Shabbos 33a) “For the sin of obscene language, calamities increase and difficult decrees (against the Jewish people) and young Jewish men die. The Gemara clarifies by citing a verse (Isaiah 9:16): “Therefore, over His youths Hashem will not rejoice, and on His orphans and His widows he shall not have mercy, for all of them are hypocrites and evildoers, and every mouth speaks obscene language. Yet despite all this, His anger has not turned away, and His hand is still outstretched.” The Gemara continues, “And any who profane their speech even if they [the heavenly court] had sealed a favorable decree of seventy years [euphemistically long life], they will reverse it and replace with an evil decree.”

We find further that the Gemara cites Rabbah b. Shila in the name of R. Chisda that whoever engages in nivul peh – obscene language – the chasm of Gehinnom will be deepened to accept him, as the verse (Mishlei 22:14) states, “Shucha amuka pi zaros – a deep pit for the mouth that speaks aberrantly…” R. Nachman b. Yitzchak adds: Even the one who listens and remains silent, because it states z’um Hashem yipol shom – he that is abhorred by Hashem shall fall there.

Now why should the one who innocently listens receive such a harsh punishment? To answer we go back to the Baraisa above (33a, supra) “For the sin of vain oaths, false oaths profanation of Hashem’s name, and the desecration of the Sabbath, wild beasts multiply and domestic animals decrease, the population decreases and thus the roads become desolate.”

Rashi (s.v. “Chillul Hashem”) explains that it refers to a man of stature (to which we all surely aspire) who when people see that he, from whom we are to learn, is careless in his actions – listening to this obscenity and not remonstrating his fellow – they too not only follow his lead but assume there is no substance to Torah teaching.

The Talmud (Kesubos 5a-b) relates a teaching of Bar Kappara. What is the meaning of the verse in Parshas Ki Teitzei (Devarim 23:14) “V’yased tih’yeh lecha al azeinecha – And you shall have a peg among your implements?” Do not read azeinecha (implements) but rather oznecha (your ears). This means that when one hears an obscenity he is to plug his ears.

Now obviously when those near and dear see your attitude, that you don’t countenance any form of obscenity, surely they will get the message. Yet being that we are frail human beings, this is simpler said than put into practice. However, it is for us to work on ourselves to provide an example that is worth emulating. Indeed we refer back to the verse in Yeshayahu, where it concludes “b’chol zos lo shav apo v’od yado netuyah – Yet despite all this, His anger has not turned away, and His hand is still outstretched.”

Indeed, Hashem is always there for us. The question remains: are we there for him?

– Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.

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Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

What are we, a nation of sailors? We are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation!

People usually curse in order to attract attention when they feel they will otherwise be ignored or to underscore a strongly held point. It is like using an exclamation point in the middle (!) and at the end of every sentence! But cursing has become so common that it has lost its shock value – except, of course, in the polite and refined society where Jews should strive to live. Indeed, it has become so prevalent that, in Israel, curse words are frequently uttered on live television and radio, or in ordinary conversation, because they are perceived as American slang, like “OK” or “shopping.” They are not OK, even when stuck in a long shopping line.

Rambam wrote (Moreh Nevuchim Part III, Chapter 8) that Hebrew is called “the holy tongue” because it has no original expressions for the bodily parts, functions and secretions that comprise most of the vulgarity in use and so utilizes figurative language. As such, one who resorts to these words is making constant reference to the animalistic side of life, which does not speak well of where his or her thoughts are. Moreover, the Gemara (Shabbat 33a) states that due to the sin of vulgar speech, troubles proliferate and harsh decrees are renewed. That alone should resonate today.

Children should be admonished. I recall when the threat of having one’s “mouth washed out with soap” did the trick, as I also remember hearing people protest that “there are ladies present!” The latter seems unfortunately quaint today. Even family and friends should be gently rebuked as to what is acceptable discourse. We should guard our tongues and our language. Since there are people who preface their vulgarity with “Pardon my French,” I have stopped speaking French.

A holy nation is typified by purity of speech.

– Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is Israel Region Vice-President for the Coalition for Jewish Values and author of Repentance for Life now available from Kodesh Press.

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