Saturday, October 13, 2007

speak no evil

i have a new friend. she is young enough to be my daughter and i adore her. she is funny and bright and has three, young, adorable children, just like my grandchildren would be, if my own children weren't so selfish and actually had some grandchildren for me, but that's another story. my new friend is also an orthodox jew. wig and all.

her orthodoxy (or for that matter my non-orthodoxy) does not get in the way of our friendship. while i don't pretend to understand the life choice she has made (she was not born into an orthodox family) especially on a boiling hot, los angeles day when, seeing her in stockings, ankle length skirts, long sleeve blouses and a wig, i certainly respect her right to make that choice and while we can't go out to lunch at any old restaurant and she can't have dinner at my house, we still manage to have a lot of fun.

there are a lot of rules to being orthodox and the rules seem to cover every aspect of life. you can not be orthodox and a rebel. everything is spelled out for you as far as what to eat, what to wear, when to have or not have sex, and how to behave in every situation. in some ways that way of life seems very peaceful and safe. while i could never imagine living the way my new friend does, i could almost understand the appeal - until she bought me a present.

my gift was a book entitled "guard your tongue". it is a practical guide to the laws of "loshon hora". "loshon hora" can be translated as damaging speech. the note with the book said "i am not trying to change you, i am just giving you some food for thought, and a subject for us both to argue about".

there are 189 pages of rules about not speaking or even thinking ill of another. it is spelled out quite clearly with rules for spouses, business partners and neighbors. one of my favorite rules is "avak loshon hora" or "a tinge of "lohson hora". it is not actually "loshon hora" but it causes "loshon hora" to be spoken. for example, you could say "what a shame about mary" ( then again, probably not mary - how about rivka) that would allow the listener to become curious and "loshon hora" would be spoken. my all time favorite rule, however, is not to praise someone in the presence of his enemies. if you praise someone in the presence of someone who does not like him, your praise can provoke the listener to committ "loshon hora". according to this particular rule, you should not even mention a person's name in front of one who dislikes him. now, here is my question. if you follow all of the other 280 rules, how could you possibly know who doesn't like whom? if no one is allowed to talk ill of another, how are you supposed to know there is a problem?

after reading the book, my new friend challenged me to go two days without speaking ill of another. i made it to lunch on the first day. i was really pissed because i blew it on britany spears. i mean it wasn't like i even got to spew about a friend of mine (she calls herself a friend) who stole my housekeeper. i have new respect for my orthodox friend. actually new respect for all fundamentalists who live their lives by such strict rules of goodness. probably, if we all practiced a little "loshon hora" the world would be a better place. just like my mother used to tell me -"if you can't say anything nice, say nothing". a nice sentiment. come to think of it it must have been based on "loshon hora". it probably would be a nicer way to live - if we were all saints - but, then, what would happen to people magazine?

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