Rumors

When looking at stories on social media, one can see how damaging fake news can be to those the stories are about,  The   only purpose of a rumor is to do another damage or harm.  It is a non physical form of violence.  Once out there, it can not be taken back.  I wondered what the laws of Judaism said about rumors and false information.  I did some research into the subject and found some interesting information.

One of the 613 Mitzvot or laws in the Torah states not to carry tales, Lev 19:16.  It has been said that disparaging speech kills three; the person who speaks it, the person who hears it, and the person about whom it is told, as found on the website Judaism 101.  This includes gossip and slander.  Judaism forbids causing any deception or embarrassment through speech.  It is forbidden even if  the statement is true.  In order to understand this law from the Torah I wondered what the defiinition of speech is and if non-verbal forms of communication are considered speech.  According to the website businessdictionary.com, the definition of non-verbal communication is:  1. Behavior and elements of speech aside from the words themselves that transmit meaning. Non-verbal communication includes pitch, speed, tone and volume of voice, gestures and facial expressions, body posture, stance, and proximity to the listener, eye movements and contact, and dress and appearance.  Just because one is communicating in a non verbal way does not mean it is not speech.

If we are to put this definition into context with what is going on in the world around us today, it would imply that using appearance, gestures, facial expressions, body posture stance and proximity to the listener, if used to demean or cause a person personal or financial harm,  is forbidden in Judaism, even if the statement is true.  That would make cyberbullying, fake stories on social media, using ones clothing or appearance to demean another are serious sins.

There are circumstances however when tale-bearing is allowed.  It is not commiting a sin if one is using speech to tell a story of another when it is a form of testimony.  This can be interpreted as meaning if one is telling a story to defend oneself or another regarding legal matters or other instances when such speech is necessary.

Today almost everyone has access of some sort to the internet.  Many people have social media accounts.  Unfortunately some use these sights as a means of harming some in their community by spreading false rumors and tales.  Our society has become dog eat dog, or in other words I need to be ahead of everyone else.  This has become so consuming to the young generation that they are willing to through people sunder the bus so to speak in order to get ahead.

If this trend continues our society will be in serious trouble.  Rumors affect the stock market, can ruin relationships, cause people to lose or not be able to obtain jobs.  Rumors have a negative rippling effect and can cause an increase in poverty, homelessness and an unstable society and economy.

Before you follow the trend and post a rumor on Facebook or where clothing intented to annoy or embarass another, think about what that says about the kind of person you are, how you are affecting others and the look at the big picture about how that is affecting our society at large.

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Abraham Joshua Heschel

In his book The Prophets, Abraham Joshua Heschel stated, “The things that horrified the prophets are even now daily occurrences all over the world.¬† There is no society to which Amos’ words would not apply.

Hear this you who trample upon the needy, and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying:  when will the new moon be over that we may sell grain?  And the Sabbath that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great, and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and sell the refuse of the wheat.  Amos 8:4-6.

Abraham Joshua Heschel was a spiritual leader who cared not only for his own people, but for all people the world over.  After surviving the horrors of the Holocaust he went on to become a rabbinical leader, professor, activist and author,  He believed in social action and fought for civil rights with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and protested against the Viet Nam war.  He saw many changes in his lifetime and was responsible for bringing about positive societal changes himself.

Early Life

Abraham Joshua Heschel was born in 1907 in Warsaw Poland.  He descended from preeminent European rabbis on both sides of his family.  Through the Holocaust he lost most of his family while still a young man.  His father died when he was 9.  His sister Esther was killed in a German bombing.  His mother was murdered by the Nazis and his other 2 sisters died in a concentration camp.

Heschel attended school where he studied Talmud and Kabbalah.  he then moved to Berlin and attended a university where he also taught Talmud.  In 1937 Martin Buber appointed him his succesor at the Central Organiation for Jewish Adult Education.

In 1938 while renting a room in Frankfurt, Germany he was arrested by the Gestapo and deported to Poland.  Ten months later He left Warsaw for London with the help of HUC president Julian Morgenstern.  He never returned to Poland, Germany or Austria.  He wrote,

“If I should go to Poland or Germany, every stone, every tree would remind me of contempt, hatred, murder, of children killed, mothers burned alive, of human beings asphyxiated.”

Move to the United States

Heschel moved to the United States in 1940, relocating to New York City.  He then served on the faculty of the Hebrew Union College (HUC) for 5 years.  He married Sylvia Straus, a concert pianist in Los Angeles, California.  In that same year he took a position at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the main seminary of Conservative Judaism.  He was professor of Jewish ethics and mysticism until his eath in 1972.

A Call to Social Action

Believing the teachings of the Hebrew prophets were a call for social action, Heschel worked for African American civil rights and met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr while at a conference on race and religion in Chicago.  He marched with Dr. King in Selma.  He also spoke out against the war in Viet Nam, stating in an interview on The External Light on NBC in 1972,

“How can I pray when I have on my conscience the awareness that I am co-responsible for the death of innocent peope in Vietnam?¬† In a free society, some are guilty, all are responsible.”

The presence of God

Abraham Joshua Heschel rose above the tragedy of the Holocaust to live a life dedicated to teaching the wisdom of the Judaism and participating in social action.  He once said,

“We are called upon to be an image of God.¬† You see God is absent, invisible, and the task of a human being is to represent the Divine, to be a reminder of the presence of God.”

 

 

 

 

Who is Responsible for Homelessness?

Homelessness has become a huge problem all across the United States. Wages have not kept up with the economy, rents have skyrocketed and politicians have largely looked the other way.  Each year in our major cities the number of homeless continue to increase. It is the responsibility of each community to make changes to tackle this problem.

The number of homeless in major US cities continues to rise as rents become increasingly higher.  The cities with the most homeless, both outdoor and in shelters are New York with 76,501, Los Angeles with 55,188 and Seattle with 11,643.  Once known for its prosperity, the United States is beginning to look more like a third world country with the large number of its population without housing.  Many Americans are one paycheck away from living on the street with many major employers paying just above minimum wage, which is not a livable wage.

One of the misconceptions of homelessness is the actual definition.  One can have a roof over their head and still be considered homeless.  This can be a barrier to living in a permanent space. Communities often look to shelters as a solution.  In reality they are temporary and are often not a fix. Time in a shelter is limited and if one can not find permanent housing shelters put people back out on the street.  What shelters do is provide a place to sleep other than the street, but they are not a solution to homelessness. Communities would fare better if they came up with solutions for permanent housing.

There are many reasons people become homeless.  Many people live paycheck to paycheck and the loss of a job can result in losing ones home.  Major employers such as Amazon, Walmart and others pay low wages requiring their employees to seek public assistance.  Mental illness and drug addiction to cope with mental illness are also large factors in people becoming homeless. A major problem currently are increased rents, tenants not having rights which make it easy for landlords to evict for tenants who will pay higher rents.

Once one is homeless everything becomes more difficult in large part because of the stigma surrounding homelessness.  Employers do not want to hire people down on their luck choosing instead people who have not had this problem. Society tends to lump the homeless into one category regardless of the reasons people ended up in that situation.  The homeless are constantly on the move as police, business owners and the public force them to leave. It does not matter if you do not use drugs or alcohol, if you have employment or are genuinely trying to get back on your feet.  Being constantly forced to leave makes it nearly impossible to re establish oneself. Society complains that they do not want to see the homeless and are also the ones keeping people in that situation. Making it a lose, lose situation for everyone.

Politicians often use tackling homelessness at election time, making their constituents envision a city without the awful eyesore.  Once in office they realize the enormity of the problem and choose to focus on other things. They will enforce sweeps to clean the city up, but do little to help those in need.  Resulting in the homeless being moved from one place to another, but remaining homeless.

It is currently a crime to be homeless.  If you do not have a type of shelter in some areas the police issue tickets for being homeless.  This only raises money for the city and does nothing to curb homelessness. It results in the person not being able to afford to pay for the ticket and then spending jail time for not paying the ticket, making it harder to obtain housing as one now has a police record.

There is no easy solution to homelessness.  Communities would fare better by increasing tenant rights, making it harder to evict tenants, a huge cause of homelessness.  Large employers should be held accountable if they do not pay livable wages and constituents need to hold their politicians accountable for their promises to tackle the problem of unaffordable housing.