Is Freedom of Speech a Torah Value?

Living in the United States, we as Jewish people take advantage of the freedom that has been bestowed upon us since the country’s birth. Within the United States of America, we as Jewish people are able to practice our religion freely, whereas this may be impossible to do in other countries.

Another concept that exists within the United States that we also take advantage of is Freedom of Speech. Freedom of speech is an extremely important aspect of the United States and the way this truly free country is run, but have you ever stopped to wonder if free speech is truly a Torah-based concept?

Unlike many other countries throughout the world, we as American citizens are able to do and say what we want, when we want, with little to no consequence as long as we are not breaking any official law while doing so. Freedom is an important and extremely powerful gift we Jewish people have been given and we can accomplish great things with it. We have erected synagogues, Yeshivot, and many organizations that enable us to better our Jewish communities day by day with this freedom. Without this awesome freedom, we would suffer greatly as a Jewish nation as we have seen in the past when we lived in countries without the liberties we live with today.

The thing that is important to keep in mind when it comes to the gift of freedom, however, is that we must be very careful when employing it. Freedom can be extremely destructive when used improperly, especially when it comes to free speech. Although free speech plays an essential role in the country we live in today, according to our Torah, freedom of speech does not exist. 

This sounds like an extremely controversial statement, but it is true. It is specifically said in the Torah that one may not insult or talk negatively about another individual. We cannot exaggerate, humiliate, or lie. According to the laws of Lashon Hara, we may not say many things that may hurt another individual in any way.

Unfortunately, in today’s day and age every person has been given a loud and very public platform to speak from. From this platform, many Jewish people express their opinions, thoughts, and ideas freely to the public without thinking twice about who it may harm in the process.

Social media and technology today has given a megaphone to thousands upon thousands of people to shout out their thoughts to anyone who will listen and this is extremely harmful to our nation as a whole. 

We are all entitled to our feelings and opinions at all times , but  that doesn’t mean that one should share them with anyone who will listen. Freedom of speech is an extremely important freedom we all have because we are citizens of a truly free country, but that does not mean that we should utilize that freedom in excess.

Feelings, opinions, and thoughts are always allowed to be expressed. One just needs to make sure that they are being expressed in accordance with Halachah, in a proper way so that no one should be hurt in the process. 

So the next time you see something on Facebook, Instagram, or any other form of social media that makes you feel the need to leave a negative comment for everyone to see, think about who your negative comment may harm. Our words and comments have the power to ruin people’s lives. You can shut down a business or even stop someone from getting married, or worse. Our words are our biggest weapons and when they are posted online, they remain there forever, never to be forgotten.

As they say, the pen is mightier than the sword. So the next time you are about to wield your weapon, think about the Torah laws we must abide by and keep it to yourself.

Rabbi Yosef Churba is the founder of Sephardic.Org as well as Rosh Yeshiva of Magen Avraham Yeshiva in Brooklyn NY. It is with his guidance that this amazing website remains on the correct path in order to inspire Jewish people around the world.