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Kosher Speech

May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi Moshe Schapiro

What comes out of one's mouth is as important as what goes in.

"Kosher" is a term traditionally applied to food prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary laws, but it can just as easily be applied to speech. Because what comes out of one's mouth is as important as what goes into it.

There are Jewish laws that apply even to one's speech, and one who endeavors to abide by these laws will notice a tremendous difference in not just how he speaks, but also in how he acts and feels toward others.

There are many different kinds of speech that are "non-kosher" and best to avoid.


The most common, and perhaps the most serious speech problem is lashon hara, literally, "evil talk." It refers to any statement that is derogatory or potentially harmful to others -- even if it is true.Although there are other distinctions in Jewish law, the term lashon hara is also popularly used to include tale bearing (rechilus) and slander (motzei shem ra) or spreading lies.

The prohibition against "evil talk" means that one may not disclose that someone else did something wrong.

In simple terms, this means that one may not tell his friend that someone else did something wrong. Nor may one make a statement about someone that will bring physical, psychological or financial harm to that person. Any statement that will lower the subject in the eyes of the listener is to be avoided.

The above rules, however, do not apply in all situations.

There are situations where one is required to speak up, such as in warning about a prospective marriage or business partner. To know when to remain silent and when to speak up is the subject of an extensive body of law. By turning to the Torah for guidance, one can learn what should and should not be said in all situations.

Why is watching what one says so important? If you take a look at just about every broken marriage, shattered friendship, or ruined career, you'll see that the damage was often caused by hatred. And where did that hatred come from? Often, it starts with a few hurtful words.

HURTFUL WORDS (Ona'as Devorim)

"The pen is mightier than the sword..." and words can cause more pain than any weapon.

The Torah says that the greatest pain in this world is embarrassment. One who embarrasses another so the person blushes is judged as if he spilled blood.

One who embarrasses another is likened to a murderer.

And one who embarrasses another so the person's face becomes ashen and drained of blood is likened to a murderer.

Consider all the little comments we make all the time to our parents, spouses, co-workers, or children. One poorly chosen word spoken in anger can cause major damage in a relationship. This is why the Talmud suggests this formula for a good, long life:

There is no greater advice than silence.


Fooling people with words is also problematic. Asking a salesman "How much is this item?" is deceptive if one has no intention of actually buying the item.

If you really need to know, be straight and say initially that you have no intention of buying.

In many other ways we mislead others through our speech, including flattery and boasting.


Another kind of "non-kosher" speech is disgusting language. Included in this category are such things as curse words, off-color jokes, or negative innuendo.

What's wrong with saying an occasional curse word?

The Torah teaches that the way one acts on the outside affects who one is on the inside. So even if a person is basically good, once he begins to speak in a crude way, his character will become negatively affected.

The more crude a person's speech, the more crude he becomes.

The more crude a person's speech, the more crude he becomes.

Idle chatter also falls into this category of impure speech. A Jew shouldn't talk just for the sake of talking. First, this often leads to gossiping about others, simply because a person has nothing better to say. Second, in Judaism there is a concept that each person is allotted a certain number of words in their lifetime. Who wants to waste them on idle chatter?


Speech becomes "kosher" when a person chooses to point out the good in others rather than the bad, when his words uplift others and to encourage and advise them.

"Kosher" speech is also categorized as speech that is free of expressions that are beneath a Jew's dignity. He instead uses words that reflect the traits of humility, modesty, and loving kindness that are a manifestation of his soul.


By giving the Jewish people guidelines to "kosher" speech, God has also given us a tremendous gift -- the key to living peacefully together.

"Kosher" speech is the tool for preventing and neutralizing the anger, bitterness and jealousy that commonly exist between people. It brings in its place love, kindness and harmony, which unite the Jewish people with each other and, ultimately, with God.

Learning to use "kosher" speech is a very worthwhile investment. The benefits for oneself and for others make"kosher" speech a win-win choice.

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