Some Modern, and Biblical, Reflections on Gossip and Leprosy

April 8 2022

Most of this Sabbath’s Torah reading (Leviticus 14 and 15), like the one that preceded it, is devoted to the complex laws governing the dermatological affliction usually rendered as “leprosy.” While there are no Jews who observe these rules today, traditional interpretation—based on Numbers 12—understands the ailment as a punishment for gossip. Rabbi David Wolpe offers three “truths” that stem from the strict talmudic injunction against speaking ill of one’s fellow:

The first thing to remember is that, strangely, we gossip about those we love more than about those whom we dislike. When we gossip about those we dislike, it is clear what we are doing. We come off as a little spiteful and vindictive. When we say: “This guy doesn’t leave a tip for the waiter—he’s so cheap!” if the listener knows you already dislike him, the exchange takes on an unsavory cast.

But when you like someone, you immunize yourself to gossip. “Listen, I love this guy—we are best friends. But I must admit, I can’t get the guy to leave a tip.” Now you have effectively gossiped without looking like a jerk. Beware the Teflon gossip. If you come out of it looking good, that makes it worse, not better.

Second, we gossip for status. That is why employees gossip about their bosses, but bosses almost never gossip about their employees. We gossip about those with the same status as us or higher status—famous people, rich people. It’s about taking others down and elevating ourselves thereby. They aren’t so great, and moreover, we are in the know, in the magic circle of those aware that this guy is cheating on his wife. Knowledge is status and sharing it improves one’s stature.

Finally, gossip requires two. . . . It is socially uncomfortable to say to someone you don’t wish to hear this or that. But such everyday acts of emotional courage are gymnastics of the soul. It is how we build the muscles of bravery in the face of a world that would always compromise us.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Hebrew Bible, Jewish ethics, Judaism, Leprosy, Leviticus

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter