Monday, March 17, 2008

What's Normal?

I few weeks ago I read something on a blog comment which really bugged me. Basically, a young woman named Chana wrote a rather effusive paean to a friend of hers in honor of his birthday. A reader commented that he hoped no lashon harah results from this post, and further explained:
Just to clarify, when I said that I hope no lashon hara results from this wonderful post, I meant the following: In his laws of Avak Lashon Hara, The Chafetz Chaim states that not only is praising someone in front of people who dislike him prohibited, but it's possible that doing so in front of normal and neutral listeners can be forbidden as well. He says that one must not praise anyone excessively, as this will inevitably lead to lashon hara by causing one of the listeners (in this case readers) to mention some of his shortcomings.

To me, this whole idea sounds insane - you cannot say something nice about a person, without mentioning some of his shortcomings? Because someone may get jealous and start speaking lashon harah about him? Yet, this guy that says it is really just an innocent pawn in the game - he is quoting the Chofeitz Chaim, the "foremost authority" on Lashon Harah. And I am sure the venerable rabbi is himself basing his ideas on the "foremost authorities" that came before him.

And really this is my whole issue with rabbinic judaism, at least what it has evolved into - it is this idea of a fence around a fence around a fence. That instead of letting people make decisions and deal with consequences, we must protect them from every infinitesimal chance of doing something which may result in an infraction.

We all know what happens when you have overprotective parents - they smother the child, they take away his potential to spread his wings. It is not healthy. This is why God gave us free will, so we can make mistakes and learn from them, and correct them and do teshuvah. And if it is true in families, and it is true for God, why can the rabbis not see? I have an answer.


Blogger Leora said...

I have mixed feelings about the laws of loshon hara. On the one hand, sometimes it feels oppressive/repressive not to say something about someone. On the other hand, I have described loshon hara to several non-Jews, and they can't even imagine that such laws exist. Sometimes the idea that maybe one can watch what one says can be quite welcoming.

Something I've wanted to blog about. You have a good start here.

March 17, 2008 12:40 PM  
Blogger -suitepotato- said...

It's because rabbinic Judaism was never designed to be around this long. At the time of the second temple, the kohanim and levi'im were doing their thing, the wise and learned men did theirs, and something was slowly forming... a Jewish church.

Every religious movement due to human tendencies tries to form an official set of dogmas, a hierarchy of official responsible people, etc. I think that within a few hundred years had the Romans gone away and left them alone, the Jews would have created an official hierarchical Judaism.

Instead, the temple was destroyed and the religion relegated to the care of the rabbis down through the centuries but without a solid central organization to tie them together, movements devolved and there was schism, which is also in keeping with human nature.

Israel has been re-established, but the Sanhedrin has not, well not solidly, and there are now entrenched interests and power at stake in the various movements.

You know what the sad truth is? NO ONE TRULY HONESTLY IN THEIR HEARTS, AT LEAST THOSE IN POWER IN JUDAISM'S VARIOUS MOVEMENTS, WANTS MOSHIACH. It would mean having to submit to G-d once and for all.

They have doubts, moshiach could already have come, could be coming tomorrow, doesn't matter. They fear him saying something that contradicts them. They would have to admit being wrong. They'd fight tooth and nail against the recognition of him.

It sounds sad and dark, but I think that it is true given human nature and that G-d is smarter than all this, knows all this, and will not act the way we classically believe and do it in some other transcendental manner under our noses.

So, it's not just the rabbis, it is all of us and what we fear. Hence, fences around fences. We want an answer, but we also fear the answer, so we struggle with how G-d wants us to live while blindfolded.

March 17, 2008 12:49 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


Very true. Funnily enough, the blog I referenced in this post had a post on this topic just a few days before.

March 17, 2008 12:56 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Leora, I am not necessarily disparaging the spirit of the laws of lashon harah; I think that the intent is very noble. But at some point, this level of legislation of human behavior becomes absurd. You lose the forest for the tree.

March 17, 2008 12:58 PM  
Blogger -suitepotato- said...

Yes, thank you. That is an interesting post.

It all seems to be summed up by the old saying, "if the truth were known, no one would want to hear it."

I like to think of it as one of those Zen/eastern mysticism things where the goal is the path. We will not merit salvation by doing XYZ, we will ACHIEVE salvation by doing XYZ where XYZ are some quantity in Pandora's Box being played with by Schroedinger's Cat.

That being the case, why worry about when? Just do right and be good and that by itself if everyone did it, would be the as close to heavenly perfection as you can get world we're looking for.

Tikkun Olam indeed.

March 17, 2008 2:08 PM  
Blogger Leora said...

Suitepotato, interesting approach...that Judaism was never meant to be without a temple for so long and rabbinic Judaism is supposed to be temporary.

E-kvetcher, I still find I could even possibly learn something from avak lashon hara. True, one could get discouraged from all the nitpicking. Or one can use it as an opportunity to ask questions and try to pull something useful out of it all.

March 17, 2008 2:47 PM  
Blogger Tobie said...

Avak Lashon Hara does seem a bit extreme. But Lashon Hara is, in general, an interesting field of law, since it's one of those things that everybody says they're always going to work harder at obeying and never really achieve perfection at. One of the few fields left in which we can all feel like sinners. Like so many of the more societal commandments, it never was really a focus of extensive legislation and so forth, until the Chafetz Chaim came around and did his thing. The point being.... actually, I'm not quite sure. Just that it's an interesting mitzva, as mitzvot go.

Avak Lashon Hara, actually, makes a good bit of sense to me in a lot of contexts. I think we all know situations where if you go on and on about how wonderful somebody is, somebody else is going to pop up and say something snide. It depends, of course, of the group and the person and the setting, but people are people and Jews are only more so, so there are plenty of cases in which the injunction makes a decent level of sense. Of course, it might have been more effective for the law to have forbidden the results- mean things being said- and left people to devise their own means of preventing said results from occuring. But laws, in general, work that way all too rarely and I can't get too bent out of shape at a prohibition that has no level of legal enforcability and is, practically speaking, ignored except when it actually makes sense.

March 18, 2008 4:34 AM  
Blogger Leora said...

Tobie, nice points about loshon hara and avak loshon hara in particular.

What I would like to blog about (someday, if I get brave enough to tackle this topic) is what the Chafetz Haim did not discuss, perhaps because he did not know: the dangers of NOT saying something. If someone feels hurt, the instinctual thing is to lash out and say loshon hara. But if that instinct is repressed, one can get depressed, sometimes dangerously so, and not even know why.

E-kvetcher, thanks for allowing me to blab on about this on your blog!

March 18, 2008 6:04 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Leora, welcome and feel free to blab away.

March 18, 2008 7:47 AM  

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