Aryeh Klapper

Viral ethics

Dear Friends,

The coronavirus epidemic is making social media more and more central to Jewish community. There will be fresh voices and fresh ears in all our online spaces. We should take this opportunity to develop a more robust Torah infrastructure for our virtual interactions.

Here is one suggestion: The rules of lashon hora hold us accountable not only for our own words, but also for the reactions they foreseeably provoke in others. My mother a”h loved to teach non-Jewish college students about the prohibition against saying something good about somebody in contexts where that will provoke others to speak ill of them.

Social media fosters precisely that kind of rekhilut – sharing hot takes or other material that stimulates people to write heated and often nasty responses and counter-responses. These are often distortions or hoaxes, but even when the OP is true, the Torah mandates that we consider whether sharing it serves a constructive purpose.

As with all aspects of lashon hara, it is extremely difficult to create a community that supports this norm. And as with all norms of lashon hora, it can be twisted to suppress dissent and discussion. But I think we need to try.

Test case: Should you share this post? Doing so risks provoking some people to make comments that are cynical or harmful with no constructive purpose. Yet allowing such people to control our communal discourse creates a vicious spiral.

I encourage you to share it. I ask everyone who reads it to consider carefully how you express your response, whether you agree or disagree. I ask everyone who reads the responses to consider carefully how you respond to them. Please also consider how best to curate others’ responses on your own timelines.

Best case scenario is that this conversation develops into a useful model for communal discourse going forward.

Thank you very much for your consideration and cooperation.

Aryeh Klapper

Dean, Center for Modern Torah Leadership

About the Author
Rabbi Aryeh Klapper is Dean of the Center for Modern Torah Leadership, which brings rigorous traditional scholarship, interdisciplinary openness, and a deeply humanist understanding of halakhah to every aspect of Jewish and public life. CMTL develops present and future Modern Orthodox leaders, male and female, through unique programs of intense Talmud Torah that catalyze intellectual creativity and educational innovation. Rabbi Klapper is a popular lecturer whose work is published and cited in both university and yeshiva contexts.
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