Why Does the Torah Prohibit Cursing the Deaf?

April 29 2015

Is it not self-evident that such behavior is wrong? And why not prohibit cursing anyone? Yet, in this week’s Torah reading, the book of Leviticus states specifically, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” Shai Held searches for an answer:

Maimonides interprets the prohibition on cursing the deaf as a signature example of the Torah’s concern with human character and virtue. “We might have thought,” he writes, “that . . . since a deaf person does not hear [the curse] and is not pained by it, there is no sin involved in that case.” [But] our verse works to undercut that line of thought. . . Why? Because the Torah “is concerned not only with the one who is cursed, but also with the one who curses.” The potential character flaw the Torah worries about in this instance, according to Maimonides, is “gearing oneself up for revenge and growing accustomed to being angry.”

[Y]et I am not sure that the character failing the Torah works against here is a proclivity to anger and vengeance. . . . [I]t seems more likely that the Torah’s focus is on the temptation to see people with disabilities (and, perhaps, the vulnerable more generally) as less human than ourselves, and therefore as less deserving of dignity and protection.

In this context, it is important to pay careful attention to the Hebrew word for insult, killel. The root k-l-l also means to be light [in weight]. In its prohibition of verbally abusing the deaf, the Torah is also . . . warning us not to treat the deaf person “lightly,” as if he or she has no importance. The opposite of k-l-l is k-v-d, to treat as weighty, or, more conventionally, to treat with respect. What the Torah seeks to instill, in other words, is kavod, respect, for the deaf, the blind, and those with any one or more of countless other disabilities.

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More about: Jewish ethics, Leviticus, Maimonides, Religion & Holidays, Torah

 

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