My Ears Were Burning

Loshon hora, or evil speech, is strictly prohibited in Judaism.  We are taught, as children, that Loshon hora hurts not just the subject of the gossip, but that harm is also done to the person who utters Loshon hora and the person who hears it.  Truth is not the issue.  Speaking poorly of someone, even a simple, factual recitation of an individual’s most spectacular failures, is wrong and should be avoided. 

Three victims – the speaker, the listener, and the subject.  It is easy to be victimized by Loshon hora in 2010.  I was last night. 

The red light was flashing on my Blackberry.  I had missed a couple of calls during dinner.  One even left a voice mail message.  I quickly checked the voice mail.  What I heard was a conversation between two guys.  At least one of them has yet to learn how to lock his smart phone. 

My golf buddy, Karl, “ass dials” his family and friends all of the time, often while he is on the course.  These two guys were in a far more private setting.  They talked about many of their mutual friends and all of it was clearly recorded on my voice mail.  I knew that it was my responsibility to erase the conversation, but I couldn’t do it.  Like much of gossip, it was banal, self-serving, and boring.  Yet I listened. 

Three victims – the speaker, the listener, and the subject. 

Were they hurt by the Loshon hora?  Yes in that we are harmed by anything that leads us away from being the best people we can be.  Me?  I was both a listener and a subject, a victim who listened long enough to hear my own name mentioned.  I have no one to blame other than myself.

 I can’t tell you what they said about me.  The voice mail ended soon after I became the subject.  And the truth is that it wouldn’t matter.  The harm was already done.

A Day Before 9/11

A pastor in Florida wants to burn some Korans and the world is outraged. Which part of the above sentence is more surprising? Are you shocked that a Christian minister would want to be the #1 symbol of hate and intolerance in this country? Or, are you amazed that a man leading a congregation of less than fifty people, many of whom are his relatives, could cause an international frenzy? (I will not name him. I will not link to him or any story about him.)

This isn’t even the first time a Christian fringe group has publicly burned or threatened to burn the Koran. It won’t be the last.

I was sitting in my synagogue, surrounded by fellow Jews, observing the second day of Rosh Hashanah earlier today. I thought about this trouble-maker, this man so sure of his cause that only a sign from G-d could deter him. Would it matter if he was stopped? It is not possible to stop every Christian pastor out to display his hate for others or feed his need for attention.

And then I thought about the Kristallnacht.

November 9, 1938. Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. The Storm Troopers attacked the Jews of Germany. 7500 businesses were destroyed. 177 synagogues were gutted. Torahs desecrated. 91 dead. There was no outrage. The world didn’t notice. The world didn’t take action.

There is no reason to burn the holy books of someone else’s religion. But, unless one of the TV cameramen bumps into a print reporter, no one will be hurt by this hateful protest.

So, maybe we have advanced as a society. If the mindless assault on ideas gets international attention, then maybe we can begin to eliminate the mindless assaults on people.