Kenneth Cohen

Proper Speech

When we discuss the illness known as צרעת, or leprosy, it is always connected with the subject of Lashon Hara, evil speech. This is explained as the number one cause of the biblical leprosy.

We must never underestimate the power of speech. A great deal has been written on the subject in the Torah and in Scriptures. The Rabbis also repeatedly warned about guarding our tongue.

The well known phrase, “sticks and stones may break my bones,” is not a Jewish belief. Judaism believes that words can be more harmful in the long term, than being physical harm. The damage from insults and slander can last a lifetime.

The Rambam identifies three categories of forbidden speech. The first is called, רכילות, or gossiping. This refers to things said about another person that are true, but could still be harmful.

The second type of forbidden speech is Lashon Hara. The Rambam defines this type of talk as also being true. But in this case the speech tells of negative things about another individual. This is obviously going to hurt that person.

The final category is known as מוציא שם רע, bringing a bad name. In this case, the things spoken are lies against that person. It becomes difficult to disprove such damaging falsehoods.

One must be careful not to listen to such negative speech. If the slanderer does not have an audience to listen to him, he will not speak so negatively.

If the Torah lets us know how such speech can cause the serious illness of leprosy, we should take greater care with how we speak.

The solution is to realize the value of silence, or not speaking at all. The sign of a wise man, is how carefully, he chooses his words. The sign of a fool, is one who just speaks on and on, and does not think about the consequences of his speech. Every now and then, we need to be reminded about our speech. It is too easy to forget how important this is. We cannot take back our words.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at