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The Torah on Dirty Words

The Torah on Dirty Words

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Question:

Just curious, what is the Jewish stance on cursing and curse words? I’ve heard the line that our bodies are a temple, and that defaming G‑d’s name is very bad, but what about a little curse here or there when you are really mad? Thanks. :)

Response:

Think of someone wise, kind and caring. The type of man or woman you deeply respect and look up to as a role model.

Could you imagine such a person spewing out filthy language in a sudden moment of rage? Probably not. And for good reason. It just isn’t a holy thing to do.

In the beginning of the Torah portion of Kedoshim,1 we read an enigmatic instruction: Kedoshim tihyu, “Be holy.” This is different from the many other commandments that follow, which pertain to specific matters such as marital and ritual purity or holiness. The sages2 explain that the Hebrew word kadosh, which is normally translated as “holy,” actually means to be “distinct” or “separate.” Thus, these words are actually a commandment to separate ourselves.

Separate from what? From vulgar language, for one.

To paraphrase Nachmanides,3 while the Torah forbids various behaviors and foods, at the same time it does permit intimacy between husband and wife, and the consumption of kosher meat and wine. Thus, there can be a glutton who eats only kosher food; a drunkard who drinks only kosher wine; and a married man whose behavior with his wife is lewd, even though she is permissible to him. Or there may be a person who speaks in a disgusting manner, something that is not specifically prohibited in the Torah. Thus, it is possible for a person to actually be—in the classic words of Nachmanides—“disgusting with the permission of Torah.”

In other words, Torah itself demands that you go beyond the parameters it sets for you, and live a life that is truly distinguished and uplifted. The Torah tells you that to be holy; it’s not enough to “do this and don’t do this.” There’s something you have to do on your own to get up there: to go beyond just following instructions, at least a small step.

The truth is that using bad language does more than keep you from being one step above. It actually shleps you down.

The Talmud4 speaks very harshly about one who speaks in a vulgar way. Although we generally think of speech as just a superficial act, in truth it has a strong impact on your inner self. The words that leave your mouth make an imprint on your mind and heart. No matter how high up you are the rope of fine, noble character, a few rotten words can throw you back down to the ground.

And the flip side is also true. A crude person can become more refined if he improves the way he speaks. This is why shemirat halashon, “guarding one’s tongue,” is considered one of the first steps that need to be taken before correcting more serious character flaws.

So is a choice word after stubbing a toe a horrible sin? Perhaps not. But being careful that all words that leave your mouth are holy is an important part of a living the “holy” life of a Jew.

Footnotes
2.

Sifra ad loc.

3.

Ad loc.

4.

Talmud, Ketubot 8b.

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar is a Chabad rabbi in Cary, North Carolina. He is also a member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
Artwork by Sefira Ross, a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Discussion (28)
March 20, 2017
The power of speech differentiates us from the animals. It is connected to the divine image in us. By using bad language a person sullies his soul.
Avi Keslinger
Ofra, Israel
May 14, 2016
Something I need to start practicing myself.
PAUL DUBOIS
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
May 11, 2016
give me a break... focus on not talking during Kaddish
I feel that cursing is just not that big a deal. as a matter of fact, I genuinely adore when I have a senior / manager / shareholder who casually curses (not like getting angry cursing, just casual cursing. Anger cursing is a problem about anger, which is a totally separate subject). Casual cursing brings down the tension and makes everything more relaxed, more at ease, like saying, "hey guys, we're amongst friends here."

Overall, I seriously struggle with the commandment "kedoshim tihyu", and much more emphasize with the interestingly debatably contrary quote that the Gemara says regarding making extra vows to distance ourselves from permitted things, "is it not enough for you what the Torah forbade?"

I feel that the commandment to "be holy", which go beyonds all other mitzvos, was worth striving for in generations bygone and ages long departed. Today? I can think of extremely base aveiros that we transgress daily. Why would we focus on not cursing? Cursing is the least of our probl
realist
Houston
May 11, 2016
curses
we spoke Yiddish and loved the language so much that even curses took on the quality of that which rises upwards. one might say that in this context the medium is the message. in our own minds we sometimes think that we elevate the mundane.
arthur yanoff
April 30, 2015
I couldn't agree more
I believe bad words are ineffective. Once somebody says something that sounds gross but true, it's difficult not to want to repeat it. Thanks for the reminder to put a fence on the words we use. If we are not careful, it could become a habit, an ugly one.
Anonymous
October 10, 2014
what words evoke
Isn't there a difference between using a word as a curse versus using a word as an exclamation of joy. As in, "that cake was ___ gorgeous."

Because words, especially in English, can take often opposite meaning depending on the attitude/person using them. And I truly believe that even if a word that some find offensive is used in a positive way, people do not become any less holy. Rather, I think it's upon the offended to look within.
Brian
Arizona
January 30, 2014
People who are too easilly offended
Dare I stand out?

It behooves me to extrapolate that there is a LARGE degree of haughtiness and condescension amongst those of us who feel their hearing is indeed too sensitive. Such people should they be offended by by words as benign as one that describes flatulence, or 'h' -double hockey sticks -really need to lighten up.

To imply that a person such as myself that can sling big vocabulary words with the best of 'em, is reduced by throwing in some slang every so often -not even in reference to any immoral acts is just plain silly!

I fell the larger problem is the amount of GAIVAH some self impressed stodgy types some of us are forced to suffer, those who seem to be born without a sense of humor, really need to drop the " OH MY G-D did HE just say that?" act and lighten up.

on the other hand,
IMO people who can't lift the subject matter of their discussions beyond discussions of part of the human anatomy, bodily functions, need to go away.
Evan Loiterman
April 18, 2013
in the beginning
B'reshit

I am following a Language Based Story so IF G_d is providing these connects they are not trivial. I am crossing Babel in putting down a story, and I won't be put down for doing this, because G_d is talking to me, in sign, in symbol, in metaphor, and through the experiential connectivity that is bringing for me Heaven to Earth.

We are all approaching Union Street and merger, as in the signs on the streets we take, is the Sign for a greater story too, that is found in mirroring connectivity. It's ALL G_D, and this apperception is going to sweep the world.

In totality, This Story Is About Love. The sacred and the profane do merge, and we cannot have the one, without the other. On this plane we can never condone acts of hate, brutality, cruelty, denigration of others, and must work always for tikkun. That's a given and the gift. Because meaning, true meaning, resides in this deep truth, for us all.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
April 18, 2013
The Torah on Dirty Words,
Wonderful article sometimes I know it's hard,to control your tongue! But when you realize that G-d is listening to what comes out of your mouth, that puts a different outlook on things. What if you're not using the improper words but other people in the family are and there are young children who pick this language up? If you could please respond I would appreciate it.
Jaclyn Barnes
April 17, 2013
What?
Come on...sometimes a swear word is so definitive that one can't help but go for it!
I've met so many very intelligent people who are successful in their endeavors but will use salty language on numerous occasions, so what? That in no way takes away from their character or intelligence!
Shlolmo
Florida