Sometimes Silence is a Mitzvah

Image:  A woman sits silently, arms folded. (ivanovgood/pixabay)

And Rabbi Ile’a said in the name of Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon: Just as it is a mitzvah for a person to say that which will be heeded, so is it a mitzvah for a person not to say that which will not be heeded. Rabbi Abba says: It is obligatory for him to refrain from speaking, as it is stated: “Do not reprove a scorner lest he hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8). — Yevamot 65b

In the midst of a discussion of the command to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” (Genesis 1:28) the Talmud goes on a little side trip. The wording is a bit awkward in this translation (from the excellent website).  I shall rephrase:

Rabbi Ile’a said, according to Rabbi Elazar ben Rabbi Shimon, “It is a mitzvah to rebuke another person when the rebuke will be heeded. It is similarly a mitzvah for a person to refrain from rebuking another when they know their words will not be heeded.” Rabbi Abba agreed: “That one is obliged to refrain from speaking, as Proverbs 9:8 says, ‘Do not reprove a scorner lest he hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you.'”

This passage reminds me of times when I have engaged in arguments with online trolls – people who enjoy starting quarrels and upsetting people for the fun of it. A fictional example:


COFFEESHOPRABBI: Please don’t use words that stigmatize people with disabilities.

TRUEBELIEVER: Stupid libtard! Stupid libtard! #StupidLibtard!

COFFEESHOPRABBI: I’m not calling you names. Why are you calling me names?


As Maureen points out in the comments, the “Block” function on most online systems is the best option at such times. When I’m thinking clearly, I answer the first line – namecalling – with a block. No conversation, no second chances, just silence.

My time is better spent encouraging voters to get to the polls, or calling my representatives. So is yours.

Rabbi Ile’a was right.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

7 thoughts on “Sometimes Silence is a Mitzvah”

  1. “Do not reprove a scorner lest he hate you… .”

    It’s true, or @ least best, Rabbi Ruth, not to reprove that scorner. But here’s a few thoughts:
    1. Bet your example was more real than fictional.
    2. Unless the scorner can do additional damage, who cares if s/he hates you?
    3. Instead of “reproving”, you can block that person from online access to you & your valuable blog. Pro-active stance, as they say.

    I’m sorry that you’re receiving such junk messages. My reply would be, “Yes. You’re right.” And then I’d block him/her.

    1. I need to reword that post! Because that’s exactly what I do – I block anyone who doesn’t seem interested in having a real conversation. The most potent way to deal with them is to deny them my attention.

  2. I am so sorry to hear that I am not the only one who gets called these names. This made me stop and realize that I have been feeling very singled out when in fact I am in really good company. And, I am of a mind to never answer back. When they go low, I go high and hold my tongue.

  3. I just fell into that trap on YouTube recently. I guess as a Jew I often get very defensive of fellow Jews and other minority groups. I should have read this blog post before. Can it be a good thing that my foot fits into my mouth perfectly?

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