Parshat Mishpatim: Exodus 21:1-24:18, 30:11-6; II Kings 12:1-17.

Calling something a conspiracy theory gives it too much credence and credibility. A theory is a serious idea that is tested against other serious ideas and evidence in order to come up with an objective truth. What we label as a conspiracy theory today is usually a paranoid delusion validated by a person’s prejudice and hate and one which they hope to share with other likeminded people against others with whom they violently disagree.

Rabbi Aaron Bergman
Rabbi Aaron Bergman

It is not just individuals who spread these terrible lies. It is often politicians and other communal leaders. The worst accusations a government can make is over the loyalty of constituents, treating them as not just outsiders, but people who are trying to undermine the fundamental values of the society; this puts them at great risk of violence and hatred from the rest of the population.

All too often, these ideas turn into antisemitism. Social media does not help, and this kind of antisemitism is nothing new. From the Black Plague to the Illuminati to the Elders of Zion to space lasers and COVID, Jews have been blamed for so many of the world’s problems by those who are unwilling to take responsibility for their own actions or problems. I have even heard other Jews parroting the worst of these allegations to justify their own political positions. This is doing the work of the antisemites for them.

This is why the Torah insists that people not share these rumors or conspiracy theories. Even though they might just be words, they have the capacity to destroy those who share them, and those who listen.

Exodus 23:1:1: “You must not carry false rumors; you shall not join hands with the guilty to act as a malicious witness.” Rashi says, “Take it as the Targum renders it: thou shalt not accept (listen to) a false report.”

There is a term in Hebrew law for spreading these kinds of rumors. Professor Hershey H. Friedman writes, Genivat Da’at is the term is used in Jewish law to indicate deception, cheating, creating a false impression and acquiring undeserved goodwill. Genivat da’at goes beyond lying. Any words or actions that cause others to form incorrect conclusions about one’s motives might be a violation of this prohibition. One does not have the right to diminish the ability of another person to make a fair and honest evaluation, whether in business or interpersonal relations.”

Let us bring peace to the world by speaking only words of truth and demanding our leaders do the same.

Aaron Bergman is a rabbi at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills.

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