by Rabbi Rene Pfertzel
Tyson Fury is someone who loves controversy.
The 27-year-old professional boxer, who fights at heavyweight, distinguished himself in 2013 by stating that he would “hang” his own sister if she were promiscuous.
More recently, he used homophobic language, adding in the same interview comments about gays, paedophiles, and abortion.
His career is rather impressive; he recently won the title of WBA Super Champion, as well as IBO, IBF and WBO titles.
To be honest, I am not sure if I understand the subtlety of these titles, but it seems clear to me that he is a top boxer.
Therefore, he is someone who is listened to, particularly by young people looking for rolemodels.
His various offensive statements raise questions about celebrities who take a stand on societal issues.
Fury has the right to express his own views; it is the bedrock of the rule of law.
However, one ought to be very careful when speaking in public.
Words are carried away on the web and do not belong to the sender immediately after being uttered.
We live in a world of fast, easy, high volume communication, and yet, we do not seem to know how to communicate in a sensitive manner.
Sports heroes and celebrities are role models.
When they speak, they are listened to.
They must exert caution when they use the fundamental right of free speech.
Their words do not remain unnoticed.
Words are very powerful.
They can hurt, they can soothe, they can bring hope or despair, joy, or anxiety.
Looking at it from the point of view of Jewish tradition, his words break several ethical principles.
In Pirkei Avot 2:5, Hillel says: “Do not judge someone without first being in his or her own place”.
This should be the basic principle of all communication, all relationships. It is also clear that Fury’s statement is a case of motzi shem ra, “putting out a bad name”.
It is a defamatory statement about a group of people singled out for just a part of their identity. It is prejudice, and does not bring anything good or interesting to the conversation. Our tradition has always emphasised the correct use of language, such as the famous work written by the Hafetz Hayyim (Israel Meir ha-Cohen, 1838-1933), Shmirat ha-Lashon (Keeping the Language).
He explains in his book that one should report something about someone under three strict conditions:
Are you absolutely certain is it true? Have you witnessed it? Does it bring something good to the world? Unless these three criteria are met, it is better to remain silent.
A good Jewish teaching for celebrities who often talk without thinking.