Hate Speech

I’m currently on sabbatical, enjoying some quiet and restorative time. I wanted to share a pre-Shabbat thought with you inspired by the week’s news.

In the early nineties hateful and dehumanizing speech fostered an environment in which an unbalanced individual reacted by assassinating Yitzhak Rabin. People called him an enemy of the state and a murderer. This week we are again seeing how overwrought angry language can motivate unbalanced people towards real acts of violence. When an unbalanced individual wants to strike back at Republicans through violence, something has gone wrong in our culture.

Nancy Pelosi responded initially with a call for unity and then shortly thereafter with an accusation that Trump had started the hateful and violent language. I suspect we could go back a bit further, but her assessment illustrates the depth of the problem. It doesn’t matter who started it: it matters who will stop it.

I’m calling on everyone I know to use thoughtful rhetoric and discussion. It’s time to stop using profanity or hate speech towards anyone. It’s time to stop the invective and the unhelpful historical analogies. It’s time to stop posting fantasies of violence, even though you yourself know they are only an expression of an honestly felt frustration at a particular moment.

By contrast, it’s time to engage in real discourse. To seek to understand as well as to vent. To call to task political and other figures when they fail or violate your values with argument and facts. It’s time to ask questions as Shai Held and Yehuda Kurtzer have done.

As Jews, we have always felt words matter. The story of Korach, whose beginning we read tomorrow, warns us what happens when the language and egos get out of control. We need to be a model of how words can be used and refuse to be infected by the hateful and overwrought language that all too easily spins out of control.

May Shabbat, with its invitation to rest from media culture, offer a rest of speech that can inspire wise words and helpful teachings going forward.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi David Booth

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