Shabbat Talmud Study: The Confessional’s Biggest Problem is Among Our Hardest Problems


“We have sinned against You by the way we talk.”

Tuesday night, and yesterday, we recited this line over and over again. By far the biggest cluster of sin and transgression in the confessional concerns how we talk to one another.

Getting this question right is exceptionally complicated.

Suppose somebody says something to you, or about you, that is untrue, unkind, unfair. What, if anything, are you supposed to say, and how are you supposed to say it?

If you engage their baseless claim, does that give it credence?

If you are silent in the face of their baseless claim, is that acquiescence?

While this issue feels particularly urgent given our riven politics, it is also ancient. On Shabbat we are going to examine the sources from a fabulous lecture at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem this past summer delivered by Elana Stein Hain entitled: “In a Manner of Speaking: How to Answer a Fool.” We will see that the Bible and the Talmud both face this issue, and both sources evince profound ambivalence.

You will leave class not with an answer, but with a set of questions and considerations to take with you in this new year.

Acknowledging the challenge of speech in the confessional is easy. Getting it right in life is hard. With Yom Kippur over, now the real work begins.

See you on Shabbat!
G’mar tov,

Wes