We Jews love words. We love words so much that we even have a book of the Bible named “Words.” The Hebrew for Deuteronomy is devareem, which means “words.” The last book of our Torah consists of Moses’ great sermons, his words to the people he had led to freedom.
Americans also love words. They are actually protected by the Bill of Rights, a document which guarantees each of us the freedom to publicly proclaim what we think, short of inciting a riot, yelling fire in a crowded theatre, or inflammatory hate speech.
However, too many Americans have come to believe that freedom of speech has no limits.
Our Torah teaches that spreading malicious gossip, demeaning others, and telling blatant untruths is unacceptable. It is abusing others with our words. We ignore these Torah lessons at our own peril.
Where is it written that “anything goes” when it comes to debating public policy?
Who says that an audience should be allowed to shout down a featured speaker, be it a politician, a professor or a physician?
Is this what American manners have come to … that we haven’t the decency to hear the other person out? That we must dominate the conversation so that there can be no opinions save our own?
I, for one, will not tolerate that kind of discussion anywhere, including in the media.
If commentators insist on being rude, trying to speak over one another, I turn the program off.
If I have come to a public assembly to listen to a guest lecturer, and someone in the audience persists in shouting out his or her opinion, I walk out.
I’ll not remain, thereby sanctioning that sort of behavior with my presence.
What we have created in this country is verbal violence, a la Congressman Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” And while that may be acceptable in the British or Japanese Parliament and even in the Israeli Knesset, and while it may make for interesting entertainment, it does not advance our freedoms, but rather threatens them with storms of verbal rage.
We as decent people cannot stand to watch our society devolve into verbal mud fighting. We can no more abide these assaults than we can stand idly by watching a car run down a pedestrian.
The first is as hurtful spiritually as the latter is physically; neither must be tolerated for they are both immoral and offensive.
There is a link between verbal violence and physical violence.
Think Columbine. Think Virginia Tech. Think Tucson.
Rabbi Harold F. Caminker, is rabbi of Temple Beth El, 4200 32nd Street West, Bradenton. Shabbat services are held 7:30 p.m. Fridays. For more information, call (941) 755-4900 or visit www.templebethelbradenton.com.