Posts Tagged ‘Zwi Werblowsky’

The Rabbinical Condemnation of Gossip and Slander

June 4, 2018

I found this passage on the condemnation of gossip by the rabbinical sages of late antiquity in the book, Knowledge Goes Pop, by Claire Birchall (Oxford: Berg 2006). Birchall is, or was, a senior lecturer at Middlesex University, and the book, subtitled ‘From Conspiracy Theory to Gossip’, is about popular knowledge, such as conspiracy theories and gossip and how it is formed and shapes the way people see the world. The book also examines how valid it is compared with official knowledge, and the question of ‘why does such (mis)information cause so much institutional anxiety?’.

The chapter on gossip contains a discussion of its condemnation in the Bible in both the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the New Testament, before going on to describe how it was also attacked by the great Jewish sages of the Talmud. The passage reads

Editors of The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion explain that the rabbis of classical Judaism in late antiquity warned against gossip in the most heightened terms. For example, the rabbis claimed that slander, talebearing, and evil talk were worse than the three cardinal sins of murder, immorality, and idolatry. Indulging in lashon ha-ra is seen to be akin to denying the existence of God (see the entry for ‘Lashon Ha-ra’ in Zwi Werblowsky and Wigoder 1986). Of note for our discussion later concerning the unstable verity of content transmitted through gossip is that while Judaism distinguishes between slander (lashon ha-ra) which refers specifically to true talebearing, and motsi’shem ra (causing a bad name) which applies to untrue stories, ‘both are totally forbidden by Jewish Law’ (Zwi Werblowsky and Wigoder 1997:648). Here, then, the verity of the gossip is not at issue, but rather the very act of passing potentially damaging information on whether true or false. (Pp. 98-99).

In Mike’s case, and those of the countless other decent people like him, who have been libelled by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement, the truth of the accusations made against them is very much the issue. In the case of these decent, anti-racist people, the stories and claims made by Gideon Falter’s outfit and the JLM are very much a case of motsi’shem ra – causing a bad name – as they’re intended to be. They’re intended to smear and provide grounds for the expulsion from the Labour party of critics of Israel and left-wing opponents of the Blairites.

This passage also shows how the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement conveniently forgot these moral injunctions when they decided to vilify and malign those of opposing viewpoints. And this includes self-respecting Jews, who have lost relatives in the Holocaust, and/or have been subject to real anti-Semitic abuse and violence themselves.

But this doesn’t alter anything: their tactics of smear and libel are nevertheless condemned in the Talmud, no matter what specious stories they may make, claiming to be defending Jews, or rather, Israel, from anti-Semitism.

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