“Do not go about as a gossip monger among your people.” (Leviticus 19:16)
“Careless talk costs lives” (1940s British government campaign).
Do humans have short memories? Whether in Biblical times or during the Second World War, there is an understanding fake news and gossip can have a devastating physical impact on people and communities.
In recent days, there have been dangerous anti-lockdown rallies and the ripping down of 5G masts in the UK, 500 people dying from drinking methanol in Iran and daily bogus miracle cures for Covid-19 from the American president. But such fake news predates Donald Trump…
indeed, it can be found in our Torah.
One of the most problematic
moments for all who otherwise look up to Miriam as a female role model
is how she, alongside Aaron, seem
to have slandered their brother Moses’ wife. Criticising Zipporah for being a Cushite, Miriam is struck with leprosy in punishment. The rabbis understand she spoke first – therefore leading the tirade against Zipporah.
What the Torah tells us is that just like skin disease, and indeed the coronavirus, such gossip can spread and play havoc with people’s physical and mental health. It’s why there is an explicit prohibition against it in Leviticus and why stopping “careless talk” was such a big part of Britain’s Second World War campaign.
Today, we must remember to act with caution when we talk about information on social media and between our friends. Half truths and assumed facts can too quickly be held as wholly true. Turning to the Torah can remind us our words have the potential to do physical harm, that we must beware of careless talk and consider the impact not only of how we act, but how we speak.
- Rabbi Charley Baginsky is Liberal Judaism’s director of strategy and partnerships