People like to talk. That is a fact of life. People like to talk about the weather, about the news, about politics, and about other people. People they know, people they don’t know, people they know who know other people. People they don’t know who don’t know other people. People make things up if they don’t even know who or what they are talking about. That is just a fact of life.
For centuries, rabbis have been writing about the laws of not speaking about other people. The nuances that define what you can and cannot say; about what you can and cannot talk about. Son #2 and I try to learn for approximately six minutes (between learning and praying) every night about these laws. I always give him a hard time because the examples are given by rabbis who have no or little experience with real-life examples of “speaking ill will” about others. For example, Yeruchum and Shmueli learn together. Shmueli told Yeruchum that he couldn’t learn because he had an appointment. Two days later, Yeruchum was talking to Yerachmiel and Yerachmiel told him that when he saw Shmueli at the beach, he gave him some bad real estate advice. What is wrong with this picture? Shmueli would never go to the beach!!!!!! OK, perhaps that isn’t the best example, but hopefully you know where I was going with that.
And then there are the laws regarding who you can talk about freely. It’s the old “if it’s in the news, it’s ok.” Is it ok? For the most part, it is. Perhaps that is why People magazine still is so popular. We were talking about Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck 20 years ago, and now we are talking about them again. When I say “we,” I don’t actually mean “we,” I mean whoever it is who is talking about them. I have more important things to talk about. Like why CVS never carries newborn-size diapers. Do they just sell out? Why do they never have them no matter what time I go? Is it a conspiracy?
Anyway, I love when there is no major crisis going on in the world and the chatter on social media has to concentrate on the same one or two topics. It seems that for the past few weeks, all anyone is commenting on is the Ben & Jerry’s boycott and the show on Netflix about the woman who used to be religious but now isn’t religious because she says she was trapped in the religion even though people who know her from before say she was perfectly happy. I have never seen so many comments on one show before. I kept thinking if there was a scene where this woman was eating Ben & Jerry’s, the Jewish internet would come to a crashing halt. And if you have even seen this woman, you would know that she never eats ice cream. Or much of anything at all.
So here is my question (to be read with a Yiddish gemarah-learning intonation): if you know the woman from before are you allowed to speak of her without it being considered loshon hara? If I speak about her, I don’t know her, and she is on television, which apparently is fair game, so apparently that is ok (even though it probably isn’t ok) but for all of those who grew up with her or know someone who knows her or knows someone who knows someone who appeared on the show in some cameo appearance can they talk about her — yes, the possibilities are endless, and I cannot imagine that any rabbi who reads this will actually weigh in on answering my initial question, but that is ok too, and this was a really, really long-run on sentence and I apologize to any English majors or teachers who are reading this. Phew!
So, yes, people like to talk. “Did you hear about that amazing boy who got engaged after six weeks?” Fodder for gossip is part of all cultures. It makes the world go round. Whether you want to participate in it or not is a whole other story. As long as you wish people well and have only good thoughts and intentions it is all okay.
And if it isn’t okay, that will just have to be okay too.
Banji Ganchrow of Teaneck cannot believe that it is almost August. She also cannot believe how adept she is becoming at changing her little strudel’s diaper…