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What a shame

04/04/2019 09:35:16 AM


Rabbi Daniel Dorsch

I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable with how ubiquitous the public shaming of people has become in our society: So much so, that I’m afraid we are growing desensitized to it.

People who act inappropriately should absolutely be held accountable for their behavior. Certainly, egregious cases may make their way into the public discourse. Remaining silent when another truly deserves shame can also be dangerous. But why do we think that every case of inappropriate behavior must be tried in the court of public opinion? According to Jewish tradition, public shaming is supposed to be infrequent. In the Talmud of Bava Metzia Mar Zutra teaches us that “it should be more comfortable to be cast into a fiery furnace than to shame another person in public” (59b).

However, in our era of social media, widely shaming another person has become the norm. It’s more comfortable than a fiery furnace. We forget that God created the world with one word; one reckless word out of our mouths on Facebook can destroy it. In this context, the more we use shaming, its effect becomes less meaningful and not more.

Sefer Kohelet famously warns us that “there is a time for speaking, and a time for silence.” As such, as a society, I think we need to start doing a better job of figuring out when use of shame is appropriate, and when it’s not. Used appropriately, shame may be an useful tool for bringing about social change. However, the more frequent this shaming becomes it can feel like we, as a society, are being thrown into the depths of a fiery furnace of absurdity.

Mon, June 1 2020 9 Sivan 5780