Off the Pulpit: A Sage on Freedom of Speech


One of the characteristics of great sages is that they rise above their times and express truths despite the prevailing climate of opposing opinion. The following was written in the 16th century:

“Even if his words are spoken and directed against faith and religion, do not tell a man not to speak and suppress his words. Otherwise there will be no clarification in religious matters. On the contrary, one should tell a person to express whatever he wants…and he should never claim that he would have said more, had he been given the opportunity…Thus my opinion is contrary to what some people think. They think that when it is forbidden to speak against religion, religion is strengthened; but it is not so. The elimination of the opinions of those who are opposed to religion undermines religion and weakens it.”

So wrote the famous Judah Loew, known as the Maharal, of Prague (also of Golem fame). He wrote in a time when suppression of dissent and persecution of heretics was rife. But the Maharal understood that deep faith could survive questioning and even thrive on it and need not be afraid.

(Rabbi David Wolpe is the senior rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.)

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