The Jewish Ethics of Language

Sunday, 24 August, 2008 - 7:39 pm

The Jewish Ethics of Language

Genesis 23: 6-7

6. You shall not pervert the judgment of your poor man in his lawsuit.

7. Distance yourself from a false matter; and do not kill a truly innocent person or one who has been declared innocent, for I will not vindicate a guilty person.


Talmud Shebu’oth 31a.

Our Rabbis taught: How do we know that a judge should not appoint an advocate for his words? Because it is said: From a false matter keep far. And how do we know that a judge who knows his colleague to be a robber, or a witness who knows his colleague to be a robber, should not join with him? Because it is said: From a false matter keep far. And how do we know that a judge who knows that a plea is false should not say, Since the witnesses give evidence, I will decide it and the chain [of guilt] will hang round the neck of the witnesses? - Because it is said: From a false matter keep far.


Ibn Ezra Exodus 23: 7

From a false matter keep far. Regarding a Judge the verse is speaking, that he should not judge falsely.


If you see a false case, and false witnesses and you can’t contradict them, distance yourself from the case, and don’t judge it at all.


From anything that can lead to falsehood, as stated in Ethics of Our Fathers 1: 8. Be careful with your words, maybe from them they will learn to lie.

Genesis 2: 17

17. But of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it, for on the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die.


Genesis 3: 1-16

1. Now the serpent was cunning, more than all the beasts of the field that the Lord God had made, and it said to the woman, "Did God indeed say, 'You shall not eat of any of the trees of the garden?'"

2. And the woman said to the serpent, "Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat.

3. But of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, God said, "You shall not eat of it, and you shall not touch it, lest you die.'"

4. And the serpent said to the woman, "You will surely not die.

5. For God knows that on the day that you eat thereof, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like angels, knowing good and evil."

6. And the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes, and the tree was desirable to make one wise; so she took of its fruit, and she ate, and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.

7. And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves and made themselves girdles.

8. And they heard the voice of the Lord God going in the garden to the direction of the sun, and the man and his wife hid from before the Lord God in the midst of the trees of the garden.

9. And the Lord God called to man, and He said to him, "Where are you?"

10. And he said, "I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I am naked; so I hid."

11. And He said, "Who told you that you are naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?"

12. And the man said, "The woman whom You gave [to be] with me she gave me of the tree; so I ate."

13. And the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" And the woman said, "The serpent enticed me, and I ate."

14. And the Lord God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed be you more than all the cattle and more than all the beasts of the field; you shall walk on your belly, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.

15. And I shall place hatred between you and between the woman, and between your seed and between her seed. He will crush your head, and you will bite his heel."

16. To the woman He said, "I shall surely increase your sorrow and your pregnancy; in pain you shall bear children. And to your husband will be your desire, and he will rule over you."


Genesis 4: 2-12

2. And she continued to bear his brother Abel, and Abel was a shepherd of flocks, and Cain was a tiller of the soil.

3. Now it came to pass at the end of days, that Cain brought of the fruit of the soil an offering to the Lord.

4. And Abel he too brought of the firstborn of his flocks and of their fattest, and the Lord turned to Abel and to his offering.

5. But to Cain and to his offering He did not turn, and it annoyed Cain exceedingly, and his countenance fell.

6. And the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you annoyed, and why has your countenance fallen?

7. Is it not so that if you improve, it will be forgiven you? If you do not improve, however, at the entrance, sin is lying, and to you is its longing, but you can rule over it."

8. And Cain spoke to Abel his brother, and it came to pass when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him.

9. And the Lord said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" And he said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?"

10. And He said, "What have you done? Hark! Your brother's blood cries out to Me from the earth.

11. And now, you are cursed even more than the ground, which opened its mouth to take your brother's blood from your hand.

12. When you till the soil, it will not continue to give its strength to you; you shall be a wanderer and an exile in the land."


Talmud Sanhedrin, 92a.

R. Eleazar also said: Whoever dissembles in his speech is as though he had engaged in idolatry: here it is written, And I shall seem to him as a deceiver; and elsewhere it is said, They are vanity, and the work of deceivers.


Genesis 27: 1-33

1. It came to pass when Isaac was old, and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called Esau his elder son, and he said to him, "My son," and he said to him, "Here I am."

2. And he said, "Behold now, I have grown old; I do not know the day of my death.

3. So, now, sharpen your implements, your sword [and take] your bow, and go forth to the field, and hunt game for me.

4. And make for me tasty foods as I like, and bring them to me, and I will eat, in order that my soul will bless you before I die."

5. But Rebecca overheard when Isaac spoke to Esau his son, and Esau went to the field to hunt game, to bring [it].

6. And Rebecca said to Jacob her son, saying, "Behold I have heard your father speaking to Esau your brother, saying,

7. 'Bring me game and make me tasty foods, and I will eat, and I will bless you before the Lord before my death.'

8. And now my son, hearken to my voice, to what I am commanding you.

9. Go now to the flock, and take for me from there two choice kids, and I will make them tasty foods for your father, as he likes.

10. And you shall bring [them] to your father that he may eat, in order that he bless you before his death."

11. And Jacob said to Rebecca his mother, "Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, whereas I am a smooth man.

12. Perhaps my father will touch me, and I will appear to him as a deceiver, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing."

13. And his mother said to him, "On me is your curse, my son. Only hearken to my voice and go, take [them] for me."

14. So he went, and he took, and he brought [them] to his mother, and his mother made tasty foods, as his father liked.

15. And Rebecca took the costly garments of Esau, her elder son, which were with her in the house, and she dressed Jacob, her younger son.

16. And the hides of the kids she put on his hands and on the smoothness of his neck.

17. And she gave the tasty foods and the bread that she had made, into the hand of Jacob her son.

18. And he came to his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am. Who are you, my son?"

19. And Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you have spoken to me. Please rise, sit down and eat of my game, so that your soul will bless me."

20. And Isaac said to his son, "How is it that you have found [it] so quickly, my son?" And he said, "Because the Lord your God prepared it before me."

21. And Isaac said to Jacob, "Please come closer, so that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not."

22. So Jacob drew near to Isaac his father, and he felt him, and he said, "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau."

23. And he did not recognize him because his hands were hairy like the hands of his brother Esau, and he blessed him.

24. And he said, "Are you [indeed] my son Esau?" And he said, "I am."

25. And he said, "Serve [it] to me that I may eat of the game of my son, so that my soul will bless you." And he served him, and he ate, and he brought him wine, and he drank.

26. And his father Isaac said to him, "Please come closer and kiss me, my son."

27. And he came closer, and he kissed him, and he smelled the fragrance of his garments, and he blessed him, and he said, "Behold, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field, which the Lord has blessed!

28. And may the Lord give you of the dew of the heavens and [of] the fatness of the earth and an abundance of corn and wine.

29. Nations shall serve you and kingdoms shall bow down to you; you shall be a master over your brothers, and your mother's sons shall bow down to you. Those who curse you shall be cursed, and those who bless you shall be blessed."

30. And it came to pass, when Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and it came to pass Jacob had just left his father Isaac's presence, that his brother Esau came from his hunt.

31. And he too had made tasty foods, and he brought [them] to his father, and he said to his father, "Let my father arise and eat of the game of his son, so that your soul will bless me. "

32. And his father Isaac said to him, "Who are you?" And he said, "I am your son, your firstborn, Esau."

33. And Isaac shuddered a great shudder, and he said, "Who then is the one who hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate of everything while you had not yet come, and I blessed him? He, too, shall be blessed."


Rashi Genesis 27: 24

And he said, “I am.” He did not say, “I am Esau,” but “I am.” [From Num. Rabbah 10:6]


Genesis 12: 12-13

12. And it will come to pass when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, 'This is his wife,' and they will slay me and let you live.

13. Please say [that] you are my sister, in order that it go well with me because of you, and that my soul may live because of you."


Talmud Sotah, 42a

R. Jeremiah b. Abba said: Four classes will not receive the presence of the Shechinah: the class of scoffers, the class of flatterers, the class of liars, and the class of slanderers. The class of scoffers, as it is written, He stretched out His hand against scorners. The class of flatterers, as it is written, For a flatterer shall not come before Him. The class of liars, as it is written, He that speaketh falsehood shall not be established before Mine eyes. The class of slanderers, as it is written, For Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness, evil shall not sojourn with thee - I.e., Thou are righteous, O Lord, evil may not sojourn in Thy habitation.

Talmud Berakoth 4a

R. Zera says: Moses certainly knew and David, too, knew [the exact time of midnight]. Since David knew, why did he need the harp? That he might wake from his sleep. Since Moses knew, why did he say ‘about midnight’? - Moses thought that the astrologers of Pharaoh might make a mistake, and then they would say that Moses was a liar. For so Master said: Let thy tongue acquire the habit of saying, ‘I know not’, lest thou be let to falsehoods [lying]. R. Ashi says: It was at midnight of the night of the thirteenth passing into the fourteenth [of Nisan], and thus said Moses to Israel: The Holy One, blessed be He, said: Tomorrow [at the hour] like the midnight of to-night, I will go out into the midst of Egypt.


Talmud Sanhedrin 97a

Raba said: I used to think at first that there is no truth in the world. Whereupon one of the Rabbis, by name of R. Tabuth - others say, by name of R. Tabyomi - who, even if he were given all the treasures of the world, would not lie, told me that he once came to a place called Kushta, in which no one ever told lies, and where no man ever died before his time. Now, he married one of their women , by whom he had two sons, One day his wife was sitting and washing her hair, when a neighbour came and knocked at the door. Thinking to himself that it would not be etiquette [to tell her that his wife was washing herself], he called out, ‘she is not here,’ [As a punishment for this] his two sons died. Then people of that town came to him and questioned him, ’What is the cause of this?’ so he related to them what hat happened, ‘We pay thee,’ they answered, ‘quit this town, and do not incite Death against us.’


Talmud Bava Metzia 23b

For Rav Yehudah said in the name of Shmuel: in only these three matters is it the practice of rabbis to deviate in their speech from the truth: in regard to knowledge of a tractate, in regard to matters of the bed, and in regard to hospitality.

Rashi ibid

One who was asked whether he engaged in conjugal relations is permitted to reply untruthfully. As a matter of decency, intimate matters should not be publicized.

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