Say Little, Do Much: The Sounds of Silence
By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
Silence is not always golden. The Talmud observes, Shtikah K’Hoda’ah: “Silence is tantamount to assent” (Bava Metzia 37B). We are taught this principle as young children. If a classmate is being bullied, if a friend is being excluded, and we do not object, we are at fault. We become complicit in the hurtful behavior.
The stakes grow as we do. When we are included in a conversation that partakes of casual intolerance, racism, misogyny, religious bigotry, ethnic slurs, or ad hominem attacks, and we do not protest, Shtikah K’Hoda’ah: our silence is fairly interpreted as approval for those hateful words. We are understood to agree with the ugly manner of expression as well as the sentiments being expressed. If we do not take a principled stand when confronted with corruption in business associates or malfeasance by public leaders, Shtikah K’Hoda’ah: our silence bespeaks our acceptance.
No one has done more to teach this principle to Americans than Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we observe this week. “In the end,” he said, “we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Jews marched with Dr. King. We walked the walk. We have the continuing, increasingly urgent, and broad moral duty to talk the talk.
(Rabbi Joseph Prouser is the rabbi at Conservative Temple Emanuel of North Jersey. He also serves as the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)