Friday, September 12, 2014

With Great (Solar) Power, Judaism and Domestic Violence; Judaism’s Top 40: Gossip; Shabbat-O-Gram

Shabbat Shalom!

Mazal tov to Matthew Goodman and family, as Matt prepares to become Bar Mitzvah on Shabbat morning.  Join us for services in the lobby tonight, and in the sanctuary tomorrow.  We got off to a great start with Cantor Fishman last week – come tonight to keep things rolling!  And a reminder to get those “Book of Remembrance” blurbs in ASAP.  The deadline is fast approaching.  We have a number of them already.

The Ray Rice Case

The release of the Ray Rice video this week has focused our attention on the issue of domestic violence.  Clearly our society has a long way to go in this area. As Naomi Graetz has written in this summary of Jewish legal views on this topic:

“For many years there has been a myth that domestic violence among Jewish families was infrequent. However, there is much data demonstrating that domestic abuse is a significant and under-recognized behavior in Jewish communities in Israel and the Diaspora. Jewish women typically take a longer time to leave abusive relationships for fear that they will lose their children and because they are aware of the difficulties in obtaining a get, a Jewish divorce document” (Find a more detailed article by Graetz here). 

In England, it’s been documented that one in four Jewish women suffer abuse in the home. Former Stamford Rabbi Mark Dratch established JSafe  to provide resources and assistance to victims in this country.

While this is not a problem that wills simply go away, neither can it be whisked under the rug.  Hopefully the NFL will be able to asset constructive leadership on this subject, once the dust from this week’s revelations begins to settle.  Meanwhile, people in our community who are currently in abusive relationships should know that I am here to help – and that they are not alone.

With great (solar) power comes great responsibility

As you know, we were recently honored nationally  as a “Cool Congregation” for our largest-in-the nation solar panel project.  We can pat ourselves on the back for that one, but we also need to maintain our status as leaders in the religious effort to reverse the tide of Climate Change. With great (solar) power comes great responsibility.   As such,  we will be a host venue for next week’s ”Climate Talk Tour,” a series of talks on faith’s role in this key issue of our times.  That will take place here on Wed. at 7 PM., the day AFTER Ari Shavit speaks here for the Hoffmanm lecture.  Both talks are very important.

And  join me at the Climate March on Sept 21.  You can read more about the march, from a Jewish perspective, here.    You can find out more about the logistics here.  The organizers are expecting an enormous turnout for what could be one of the largest mobilizations of its kind ever.  Special trains from New Haven have been arranged, but my feeling is that they will likely be packed by the time they get here, so we might be best off taking a local, which starts in Stamford.  Based on the current Sunday schedule, the 9:02 seems a good option.  Depending on how many people who want to join me, I might contact Metro North to see if seats can be reserved.  But otherwise, just plan to be there on your own.

Why go through all the bother to march?  See this video clip.

Judaism’s Top 40:
Elul 17, #25 - Shmirat ha-lashon –  Avoiding Gossip

Judaism believes that words have great power.  After all, the world was created through words.  Language is a gift that should be used wisely.  Gossip is dangerous and takes many forms, including malicious slander, unintentional slips of the tongue and even swearing (both in terms of cursing and in taking false oaths).  Long before the invention of email, the rabbis believed that a gossiper in Babylonia can kill someone in Rome.

CURSING:  what does it mean to curse God's name? If, as we read in Genesis, every human being is created in God's image, that divine part of us that is the essence of our humanity.  To insult God is to debase our own innate godliness, our human capacity for goodness and kindness.  Sometimes curses can be a creative way of dealing with powerlessness.  We see that in the colorful Yiddish curses that have sprung up.  And Jews have had good reason to shake their fist at the heavens.  When Job's wife implores, "Curse God and die," Job has every reason to do just that - but he refuses to, recognizing that God's blessings and curses are intertwined.  In fact, the very word translated as "curse" in Job 2:9 is "barekh", which also means to bless.  Job refuses to render God one-dimensional, the source only of evil and not of life's blessings too.  That's what cursing does. It turns God into a stereotype.  Once "bleeping" becomes your only way of express passion, you are unable to communicate creatively, to probe the complexity of deeper feelings. 

GOSSIP: Once on the High Holidays, I challenged the congregation to go from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur without gossiping.  No one could do it.  It’s impossible.  But everyone became much more aware of what they were saying, which is really the goal of the laws of gossip.

It is our good fortune that the greatest champion of sacred speech that the Jewish world has ever known lived only a century ago. Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan was also known as the Chafetz Hayyim, the Seeker of Life, after a book he wrote with that title. Kagan was the first to systematize the laws of gossip for a popular audience. He died in 1933, which is just about when everything began to go awry for the civilized world. Now, as distilled by the Chafetz Hayyim, here is how Jewish law instructs us to clean up our use of language.

• It is considered lashon hara, evil speech, to convey a derogatory image of someone even if that image is true and deserved. A statement that is not actually derogatory but can ultimately cause someone physical, financial or emotional harm is also lashon hara.

• It is lashon hara to recount an incident that contains embarrassing damaging information about a person, even if there is not the slightest intent that s/he should ever suffer harm or humiliation.

• Lashon hara is forbidden by Jewish law even if you incriminate yourself as well.

• Lashon hara cannot be communicated in any way shape or form, for instance through writing, verbal hints, even raised eyebrows. When that person you can't stand turns away and you roll your eyes in disgust to a third party, that is a form of slander known as "Avak Lashon Hara," the residue of evil speech.

• To speak against a community is a particularly severe offense.

• Lashon hara cannot be related even to close relatives, even to your spouse. The columnist Dennis Prager argues that this goes too far, saying, "If you never speak about other people with your partner, you're probably not very intimate with each other." Telushkin suggests that if we are going to gossip we should develop a way of talking about others that is as kindly and fair as we would want others to be when talking about us.

• Even something that is already well known should not be repeated. Even the latest lurid Washington scuttlebutt or Hollywood scandal.  We still can't talk about it unless that information has a direct bearing on the well-being of the person we're talking to.

• Tattling is a no no. This is called Rechilut in Hebrew. The crux is this: if you know that a person has spoken badly about your friend, you don't go to your friend and tell him, because all it does is cause him pain and provoke animosity between the friend and that other person. Well, you ask, shouldn't we have a right to hear what's being said about us? In practice, however, the one small piece of gossip transmitted often provides a totally false impression. Who here has never said a negative thing about the person you love the most? How devastating it would be for a so-called friend to tell our loved one about it. Mark Twain said, "It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the heart; the one to slander you and the other to get the news to you."

• And finally, not only does Judaism prohibit the spreading of lashon hara, we can't listen to it either. And when we can't help but hear it, we are instructed not to believe it. Imagine how different our lives would be if everybody gave the victim of gossip the benefit of the doubt.

Have a great Shabbat!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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