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    Clean speech – No’ach

    Animals entering Noah’s Ark, by Jan Brueghel, 17th century

    The Talmud finds a universal ethical lesson in the story of the animals going into the ark.

    No’ach is to take two of each category with him – “those that are clean and those that are not clean” (Gen. 7:8). From this verse, say the sages, we learn to use “clean” speech.

    The Torah could have bluntly said, “unclean animals” – t’me’im – but it preferred a softer phrase, “those that are not clean” (Pes. 3a).

    This comment arouses a memory for me.

    A member of my first congregation was a company director. He was certain his board chairman had told his colleagues a deliberate untruth. Instead of remarking, “Mr Chairman, you are a liar!” he said, “Mr Chairman, I tend to think you have permitted yourself to be misinformed.”

    There was no uproar, no rancour, no trading of insults. My congregant was presumably unaware of the Talmudic teaching, but he instinctively lived it out.

    It often happens that people feel they have to throw the dirtiest of insults at each other.

    Some members of Parliament are experts at it; a certain politician told me that when a Jewish colleague hurled invective in the parliamentary chamber everyone thought he was going to have a heart attack.

    The advice of the Talmud is to find a more diplomatic way, a “cleaner” way, of saying something negative.

    Often the less direct phrase is even more effective, and it has the advantage of not causing riots or rancour.

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