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  • Gossip, the Anti-Torah

    Posted on November 4th, 2009 Ruth Abusch-Magder 1 comment


    This week Rabbi Judith Abrams PhD. takes a new look at a familiar text. A Talmudic scholar, Dr. Abrams is the founder of Maqom a program for spiritual searching and serious Talmud study. She teaches Torah in a variety of settings and is currently delving into the Yerushalmi. We are glad that she will be sharing her wisdom with our community.

    abrams One of the things I love about studying Talmud is that it’s like a kaleidoscope:  take a look, shake it up, turn it around, take another look and you see a whole new picture.

    We all know that there are 4 things that benefit you here and in the world to come:
    1. honoring father and mother
    2. doing deeds of kindness
    3. bringing peace between people and
    4. the study of Torah is equal to them all. (Mishnah Peah 1:1)

    The Yerushalmi, in its gemara to this mishnah, shakes the kaleidoscope and show us the other side of this teaching, i.e., the four things that hurt you here and in the world to come:
    1. idolatry

    2. murder

    3. inappropriate sexual relations

    4. lashon hara is equal to them all. (Yerushalmi Peah 1:1, 8a1 in the Artscroll Elucidation)


    Each of the four good things is paired with its photo-negative.  The links are easy to see:  Honoring ones parents includes honoring one’s divine parent, i.e., God.  So idolatry is the anti-honoring parent deed. Deeds of kindness show we treasure life. Murder, of course, is the farthest from that that we can get.  Peace between people depends on appropriate boundaries and inappropriate sexuality dismisses such boundaries as meaningfless. What I especially love is that gossip turns out to be the photo-negative of Torah study.  It’s words that can do so much good or so much harm.

    But here’s the real catch-22: according to the Bavli (Baba Batra 164b-165a), everyone gossips to some extent every single day.  Unless you’re going to stay in a cave somewhere and never speak again, your going to at least do the “dust of lashon hara” everyday.  Since you couldn’t live anywhere near a complete Jewish life in such isolation, there’s only one thing to do:  add more Torah words to your life.  In that context, Torah study isn’t just a good thing…it’s the one thing that tips the balance back into your favor, shoring up the imbalance that inevitably follows gossip.

    So Torah study isn’t just good for you lishmah…it compensates for lashon hara.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Practical:  if you had to teach this concept to kids, how would you do it?  If lashon hara are the feathers, would Torah be the vacuum or the leaf blower?
    1. Spiritual:  How could you get yourself/your children/your community to think about this balance as they go through their day.  I know some people use rubber bracelets to remind themselves of different causes.  What are some other ways we could really put this into practice?

    One response to “Gossip, the Anti-Torah”

    1. Great piece of Talmud. I will be cross posting it on my blog, Or Am I? since it teaches a wonderful group of lessons. Thanks.

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