Conservative Judaism/profanity


Does Conservative Judaism have a position on the use of foul language in private conversations about non-spiritual matters?

Dear Thomas,

Thank you for writing, and somehow the "send" button failed to send and I just was notified that you were not answered. Forgive me please for the delay.

Judaism and Jewish law and custom has emphasized the value and potential harm of the spoken word. For that reason I would suggest without exhaustive research that in general one would expect that even in private conversation and certainly for public speaking, one would expect that each of us "guards" against the use of profanity, obscenity and the like.

In addition, of course, because we are so strictly regulated against gossip, slander, lying, insulting even the deaf, repeating the words of one person to another and certainly when even if true could cause harm, etc. that I would not hesitate to reaffirm my first statement: ideally each of us must speak without using profanity. Indecent expressions are not only inappropriate if not forbidden by observant Jews, but also expressions that today we would catalog as "gross speech."

Furthermore, "profanity" changes - between cultures and even across time in the same language and culture. Rarely do these words or expression decline in their "profane" qualities; in my experience they remain profanity, BUT sadly people become accepting of such speech because it is so commonplace.

The following comes from the new Encyclopedia Judaica and are good examples of Jewish teaching about the care which should be used in watching our words.

"According to the Talmud the Torah uses eight additional letters rather than utter a graceless expression in order to illustrate this principle, for it is written "and of the beasts that are not clean" (Gen. 7:2), instead of "unclean" (Pes. 3a). Likewise, the single word "unclean" would have saved nine letters in the Hebrew text in the verse, "If there be among you any man that is not clean by reason of that which chanceth by night" (Deut. 23:11; Pes. 3a). The Talmud relates that two disciples sat before Rav. One said: "This discussion has made us as tired as an exhausted swine"; the other said: "This discussion had made us as tired as an exhausted kid." Rav would not speak to the former. Similarly, there were three priests; one said, I received as much as a bean of the shewbread: the second said, I received as much as an olive; while the third said, I received as much as a lizard's tail. They investigated the third priest and found that his genealogy was impure and that he was unfit to serve in the Temple (Pes. 3b)."

Similarly: "The Rabbis explained that fingers are jointed like pegs so that if a man hears an unworthy statement he should be able to plug them into his ears. The whole ear is hard and the earlobe soft so that if a man hears an unworthy thought he should be able to bend the earlobe into the ear (Ket. 5ab). Proper language at times of warfare was particularly stressed; the interdiction that "thy camp be holy; that He see no unseemly thing in thee, and turn away from thee" (Deut. 23:15)is interpreted to mean that God shall hear no improper language in the military camp (Lev. R. 24:7)."

Best wishes and sorry for the delay

Rabbi Dov

Conservative Judaism

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Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner


Write to me with questions about Jewish customs and law, history, philosophy and tradition for answers from a Conservative perspective or conversion. I am a graduate of The Jewish Theological Seminary and a member of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly. Having served in congregational pulpits since 1970, I now am President of the Foundation For Family Education, Inc. a non-profit educational endeavor. I established it to create new formats of hands-on programs and provide free educational downloads at In addition to general informational questions I welcome your questions about programs for social action, outreach to dual-faith families, inter-faith clergy projects, healing services, education for conversion, adult education for the congregation and the community. If you have questions about Informal and Formal Education I am ready to share my extensive experience with Youth Activities, Camping and Religious School/Hebrew High School on a congregational, community and national/international level.


I have served on the National Youth Commission for more than 25 years and serve on the Boards of the Conservative Zionist movement MERCAZ and the World Council of Synagogues. I have always dual-families and taught candidates for conversion with a great sense of fulfillment. I am very proud of 25 years on the Jewish camping staff of Camps Ramah. My greatest source of pride is my family! Ask me about them, please!:-)

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