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Kosher Speech

Kosher Speech

What comes out of one's mouth is as important as what goes in.

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"Kosher" is a term traditionally applied to food prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary laws, but it can just as easily be applied to speech. Because what comes out of one's mouth is as important as what goes into it.

There are Jewish laws that apply even to one's speech, and one who endeavors to abide by these laws will notice a tremendous difference in not just how he speaks, but also in how he acts and feels toward others.

There are many different kinds of speech that are "non-kosher" and best to avoid.

EVIL TALK (LASHON HARA)

The most common, and perhaps the most serious speech problem is lashon hara, literally, "evil talk." It refers to any statement that is derogatory or potentially harmful to others -- even if it is true.Although there are other distinctions in Jewish law, the term lashon hara is also popularly used to include tale bearing (rechilus) and slander (motzei shem ra) or spreading lies.

The prohibition against "evil talk" means that one may not disclose that someone else did something wrong.

In simple terms, this means that one may not tell his friend that someone else did something wrong. Nor may one make a statement about someone that will bring physical, psychological or financial harm to that person. Any statement that will lower the subject in the eyes of the listener is to be avoided.

The above rules, however, do not apply in all situations.

There are situations where one is required to speak up, such as in warning about a prospective marriage or business partner. To know when to remain silent and when to speak up is the subject of an extensive body of law. By turning to the Torah for guidance, one can learn what should and should not be said in all situations.

Why is watching what one says so important? If you take a look at just about every broken marriage, shattered friendship, or ruined career, you'll see that the damage was often caused by hatred. And where did that hatred come from? Often, it starts with a few hurtful words.

HURTFUL WORDS (Ona'as Devorim)

"The pen is mightier than the sword..." and words can cause more pain than any weapon.

The Torah says that the greatest pain in this world is embarrassment. One who embarrasses another so the person blushes is judged as if he spilled blood.

One who embarrasses another is likened to a murderer.

And one who embarrasses another so the person's face becomes ashen and drained of blood is likened to a murderer.

Consider all the little comments we make all the time to our parents, spouses, co-workers, or children. One poorly chosen word spoken in anger can cause major damage in a relationship. This is why the Talmud suggests this formula for a good, long life:

There is no greater advice than silence.

DECEPTIVE TALK (GANEVAT DA'AT)

Fooling people with words is also problematic. Asking a salesman "How much is this item?" is deceptive if one has no intention of actually buying the item.

If you really need to know, be straight and say initially that you have no intention of buying.

In many other ways we mislead others through our speech, including flattery and boasting.

DISGUSTING SPEECH (NIVUL PEH)

Another kind of "non-kosher" speech is disgusting language. Included in this category are such things as curse words, off-color jokes, or negative innuendo.

What's wrong with saying an occasional curse word?

The Torah teaches that the way one acts on the outside affects who one is on the inside. So even if a person is basically good, once he begins to speak in a crude way, his character will become negatively affected.

The more crude a person's speech, the more crude he becomes.

The more crude a person's speech, the more crude he becomes.

Idle chatter also falls into this category of impure speech. A Jew shouldn't talk just for the sake of talking. First, this often leads to gossiping about others, simply because a person has nothing better to say. Second, in Judaism there is a concept that each person is allotted a certain number of words in their lifetime. Who wants to waste them on idle chatter?

USE WORDS POSITIVELY

Speech becomes "kosher" when a person chooses to point out the good in others rather than the bad, when his words uplift others and to encourage and advise them.

"Kosher" speech is also categorized as speech that is free of expressions that are beneath a Jew's dignity. He instead uses words that reflect the traits of humility, modesty, and loving kindness that are a manifestation of his soul.

THE KEY TO JEWISH UNITY

By giving the Jewish people guidelines to "kosher" speech, God has also given us a tremendous gift -- the key to living peacefully together.

"Kosher" speech is the tool for preventing and neutralizing the anger, bitterness and jealousy that commonly exist between people. It brings in its place love, kindness and harmony, which unite the Jewish people with each other and, ultimately, with God.

Learning to use "kosher" speech is a very worthwhile investment. The benefits for oneself and for others make"kosher" speech a win-win choice.

Published: January 22, 2000


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Visitor Comments: 12

(12) Michael Gallegos, October 29, 2012 11:29 AM

Great reminder on use of words and conduct

(11) Yochana, October 28, 2012 1:43 PM

This is so important

Thanks so much for remind my self of how important this on this very well written article .

(10) Hannah, April 7, 2012 3:51 AM

thank you

thank you for these wonderul words. I have a freind who thinks nothing of words, many things she will say are hurtful, rude, she doesnt realize it, her opinion is everything and how she voices it is with curse words, i made an effort to try and help, and endured her wrath with words that hurt so badly i cried for many weeks, when i read your artical, it made me feel better, i have always been out of the loop with current ugly words and looked upon as odd, "too proper" no , i love humnity nd i now that what i experienced felt like i knife in my back, and i did have a tummy ache and felt dizzy when she said her words, I prefer to stay quiet if i feel angry and go think about why i feel angry and let it go than to godsdip and slander , and hurt people. my brother and i are estranged as he has no good words for me judinging, and cruel curse words when he doesnt get hs way, slander for my father and mother of blessed memory becasue he wanted more from their wills, more money, so cursing is his way to tearme down, so i no longer speak with him, as he has nothg kind to say, it hurts, i still love him but from afar, as i developed high blood pressure when being around him, now that condition is gone, yes, it is true gossip, curse words, slander, cause fear and pain. I am so glad that you wrote your words, it helps me to feel better just knowing that someone understands what words can do. I orefer to lift up people not hurt them. thank you very much

(9) KAREN ZIMMERMAN, April 4, 2011 4:03 PM

FANTASTIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I LOVEDTHIS..THANK YOU..SADLY,MY EMAIL ACCOUNT HAS BEEN HACKED OR I WOULD LOVE TO GET YOUR NEWS LETTER...UNTIL I CAN AFFORD ANOTHER COMPUTER,I ASK IF YOU CAN FEED TO MY FACEBOOK PAGE? IAM ,RESPECTFULLY,KAREN ZIMMERMAN

(8) laura salmans, March 30, 2011 1:07 PM

true verdad

I really enjoyed this and thinking of speech as "kosher" is awesome to help remember ."garbage in :garbage out "

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