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Rabbi Joshua Hess Headshot

What the Talmud Says About Kobe Bryant's Foul Language

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Kobe Bryant's slur against the gay and lesbian community was wrong. Although his sole intention was to belittle the referee, that doesn't make his actions acceptable. NBA commissioner David Stern fined him appropriately and showed that the NBA does have standards. But throughout this ordeal, after reading editorials and listening to radio personalities offer their perspectives on this issue, I have come to the realization that everyone has ignored the larger picture.

Does anyone recall that Kobe Bryant's slur was laced with an obscenity? Yeah, don't laugh, he said the other "F" word. Sure, GLAAD didn't waste any time in condemning Kobe for his homophobic slur; and you can be sure that the ADL, along with other groups, would have been outspoken in their anger and disappointment if he made derogatory anti-Semitic or racial comments. But where were the organizations that condemn the "curse words?" I know, they don't exist! That's because no one cares.

Our moral compass as Americans, in general, is declining at a rapid pace, and the blasé approach the we have toward profanity is proof of how far we have fallen. All of the "four letter words" have become part of our jargon. Sure, it's still not permitted to cuss on many television and radio stations, but everywhere else, it's become part of normal daily life. What has happened to us? Where are our values?

Perhaps we can gain a greater appreciation for the seriousness of proper speech, by reading two statements the rabbis of the Talmud made regarding those who use inappropriate language: If the heavenly court had sealed a favorable decree for an individual, foul language will cause this decree to be reversed. And anyone who speaks obscene language, Gehinom [Hell] is deepened for him.

The Talmudic sages had little tolerance for demeaning and vulgar speech; not only for the use of words that are pejoratives, but even for words which have become inherently crude. Our society, however, is numb to the thought of controlling our words and our mouths.

As the world and our country continue to evolve and progress, let us remember that the ability to speak is a God given miracle, and we need not abuse it with obscenities or negative speech. Instead, our words should be those of comfort, assistance, joy, friendship and fellowship.

I know that I am asking a lot. I understand the difficulties of changing our culture. I just hope that we can recognize the power of speech and not allow out moral compass to slip even further.

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