Joseph Telushkin is renowned for his warmth, his erudition, and his richly anecdotal insights, and in Words That Hurt, Words That Heal he focuses these gifts on the words we use in public and in private, revealing their tremendous power to shape relationships. With wit and wide-ranging intelligence, Rabbi Telushkin explains the harm in spreading gossip, rumors, or others’ secrets, and how unfair anger, excessive criticism, or lying undermines true communication. By sensitizing us to subtleties of speech we may never have considered before, he shows us how to turn every exchange into an opportunity. Remarkable for its clarity and practicality, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal illuminates the powerful effects we create by what we say and how we say it.
Joseph Telushkin (born 1948) is an American rabbi, lecturer, and best selling author. His more than 15 books include several volumes about Jewish ethics, Jewish Literacy, as well as "Rebbe", a New York Times best seller released in June 2014
Telushkin was raised in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Solomon and Hellen Telushkin. He attended Yeshiva of Flatbush where met his future co-author Dennis Prager. While at Columbia University, they authored Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism and Why the Jews?: The Reason for Antisemitism.
While at University, Telushkin was an active leader of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry. As part of his position, Telushkin visited the Soviet Union where he met with dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov. He was eventually listed by the KGB as an anti-Russian agent.
An Orthodox rabbi by training, Telushkin serves as a spiritual leader of Los Angeles’ Synagogue for the Performing Arts, founded in 1972 by Rabbi Jerome Cutler. He is an associate of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership and a former director of education at the non-denominational Brandeis-Bardin Institute. Telushkin is also a Senior Associate with CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and is a member of the board of directors of the Jewish Book Council. He has been on the Newsweek's list of the 50 most influential Rabbis in America since 1997.
Telushkin is the author of sixteen books on Judaism. His book, Words that Hurt, Words that Heal, inspired Senators Joseph Lieberman’s and Connie Mack’s Senate Resolution #151 to establish a National Speak No Evil Day in the United States, a day in which Americans would go for twenty-four hours without saying anything unkind or unfair about, or to, anyone. His book, Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People and Its History, is one of the best-selling books on Judaism of the past two decades. More than two decades after its publication, the book remains a foundation text for Jews, non-Jews, and prospective converts alike. The first volume of A Code of Jewish Ethics, entitled A Code of Jewish Ethics: You Shall be Holy, which Telushkin regards as his major life's work, was published in 2006. The second volume, entitled, A Code of Jewish Ethics: Love Your Neighbor, was released in 2009.
In 2013, Telushkin was invited by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres to speak before the commission in Geneva.
In 2014, Telushkin released "Rebbe: The life and teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the most influential Rabbi in Modern History" which appeared on all the major best seller lists including New York Times Best Seller list, Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly.
Telushkin tours the United States as a lecturer on Jewish topics, and has been named by Talk Magazine as one of the fifty best speakers in the United States. He wrote the episode 'Bar Mitzvah' on Touched by an Angel guest starring Kirk Douglas.
Several years ago I joined a group of women who committed themselves to closely observing the Jewish laws of careful, sensitive speech. We were each responsible for a two hour "watch" during which we would avoid gossip, unkind words, and negative thought and speech patterns. My "watch" was from 8 AM to 10 AM when I used to get caught up on the financial and world news at the start of the Wall Street trading day.
What a revelation! I began to see even the most venerable newspapers as minefields filled with negativity, innuendo, verbal incivility, outright cruelty--not to mention untruths and half-truths. I began to realize why I almost invariably felt depressed and enervated by mid-morning. Slowly, I changed what I read. I realized how much useless pseudo-information was filling my morning--how often the 'news' distracted or derailed me rather than informing me. And I learned how easily I could do without it all. My mood, my work habits (and my investment portfolio) are all the better for it.
Teluskin draws on Biblical and Rabbinic sources as well as modern psychology and literature, with lots of entertaining, illuminating,and sometimes heart-breaking everyday examples. It woke me up to the true power of the words we all use, read and hear. Even better, this book proved to be a practical common-sense guide that helped me change the way I speak to and about my family, my friends, the clerk in the grocery store--and even my world.
You don't have to be Jewish, or even religious, to appreciate this wise, challenging and inspiring guide. Highly recommended.
This book took me almost three months and a monumental effort to finish, and truthfully, I'm sad about it because many passages resonated in me and made me reflect about my actions, so it has changed me, in some ways, for the better; however, I can't give it a higher rating because it was hard work reading it. It was very scholarly, very dense and many of the stories or anecdotes made me lose focus.
I wish I would have read this book before I had read his book on ethics. One of the things that writers often do, especially very prolific writers, is to tackle smaller subjects of great interest before moving on to larger topics. It was only after decades of writing books like this one that dealt with parts of Jewish ethics that the author felt competent to take on ethics in a larger sphere, and as the author's views on speech did not appear to change dramatically between this book, written more than twenty years ago, and his more recent work, it was not a difficult matter for him to repurpose a lot of this book as part of a larger work on ethics. I wish I would have read this first, though, because it would have seemed more striking and new and less a reminder of something I read literally only a couple of days before. After all, it was this book (and others like it) as well as a career of giving conservative Jewish advice concerning ethics and behavior that led the author to feel up to writing larger works on ethics, and this book deserves an honorable place for talking about a matter of great importance in our lives.
This book is a short one at less than 200 pages and an easy one to read, but it is no less worthwhile for all of that. The author opens with a chapter that makes up part one on the unrecognized power of words (I, 1). After that the author talks about how we speak about others (II), with short chapters on the damage of gossip (2), the lure of gossip (3), when it is appropriate to share information about others (4), and privacy and public figures (5). Then the author moves on to discuss how we speak to others (III) with chapters on controlling rage and anger (6), fighting fair (7), how to criticize and accept rebuke (8), communication between parents and children (9), the cost of public humiliation (10), and whether lying is always wrong (11). After this the author speaks briefly about words that heal (IV, 12) in a single chapter. And concluding in a fashion that moves to application the author asks what we are to do now (V) in talking about incorporating the principles of ethical speech into daily life (13), and speaking about a national "speak no evil day" (14), closing the book with an appendix that shows the text of a (likely unsuccessful) resolution in favor of such a day being proclaimed from Congress in 1996 (i).
My feelings about this book and its subject matter are complicated. There are a lot of matters in which I agree with this book, at least on a theoretical manner. I believe that the Bible justifies lying to evildoers and in some cases (see, for example, the midwives of Exodus 1 and Rahab) views it as an act of faith in defending the righteous from wicked rulers. Likewise, I believe that one should be able to accept rebuke and take care to avoid humiliating other people and embarrassing them in public, something I tend to feel rather strongly about personally given the circumstances of my own life . Even so, it was striking to see the author speak so strongly about our manner of speaking. Yet I do not consider myself to be particularly good when it comes to what the author is talking about. By the standards of the author I would certainly qualify as a gossipy sort of person, and I am certain that my book reviews often come across as rather critical to readers when they are not always meant to be so negative as a writer. Whether or not the author's views are accurate, there is certainly a great deal of importance to the matter of speech and the way it strongly affects others, and we could all stand to be more encouraging and less harsh in our speech to others. Whether or not we ever have a national "Speak No Evil Day," we should at least speak less evil and work very hard to speak none at all, even when it is necessary to rebuke and correct as it often is.
Anybody interested in a self-improvement project that will keep you busy for the rest of your life? This book convicted me about the power of my words, both in the big things and the seemingly little ones. The section on the power of parents' words to their children has stuck with me since I read it.
Take a look around your world and see if applying, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" wouldn't be an improvement. The author is encouraging and realistic, acknowledging that we all say hurtful things at times. The power in his message lies in the hope that we are not helpless to choose a different path.
This book is a newer edition of a book he wrote in the late 1990s. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin wrote about how words can harm when harsh words, gossip, rumors etc are spoken. He gives many good examples of how much damage cruel words, the spread of gossip can affect other people. He also offers chapters how different words can help be healing instead of hurtful. I liked the advice the Rabbi Telushkin gives to the readers. It can be helpful in this sometimes cruel world.
Words have power, and using "right speech" is so important. Rabbi Telushkin explains the harm in spreading gossip, rumors, or others' secrets, and how unfair anger, excessive criticism, or lying undermines true communication. I've read this book more than once, and it's great to have a refresher course on right speech, because we all fall into bad patterns occasionally.
Beyond the obvious, of particular use is Rabbi Telushkin's advice on knowing when to share negative information about another person to protect someone. This is a tough call to make in any situation. When do we have a "duty to warn"? If my spidey sense is screaming that a friend's new romantic partner is abusive, but I have no proof, do I speak up? If I know an investment advisor is dishonest or incompetent because a friend told me, is that close enough knowledge to risk hurting that advisor's reputation?
Telushkin's work raises these questions more than it answers them. Still, this is a useful read for those ever mindful of Lashon Hara.
I continue to be moved as I study the teachings of Talmudic tradition and what it has to say about the use of our speech. I knew that I had a minor struggle with the way that I spoke about others, but this was another book written by another Rabbi that proved to be an incredible eye-opener. As I read about the depth and complexity of the rabbinic tradition — as well as the reasoning behind the rulings — I was stunned by the impact that my words have on other people.
Telushkin is a very easy-to-read communicator and does not dwell in the details of rabbinic debate. Instead, he shares teachings and stories, explains the teachings in easy-to-understand and down-to-earth conversation and even explains the many "exceptions" that one might find in their application.
This was another book that was flashy and amazing, but was packed full of incredibly challenging and useful dialogue that I hope to apply to my own walk.
A powerful way to show the importance of "negative truths" and the power of what we say to each other or about others. I would recommend this book to others for sure - I sort of wish everyone that is an educator had to read this book, it would truly change what is said in the teacher lunch area that is for sure.
To any practicing Jew, this is not a new topic; however, for those who have never been introduced to the Jewish concepts of La Horah, Rechilut, and related topics, it is definitely an excellent introduction. For those who have a basic knowledge of the halachot (laws) and general haskafot (philosophy) of the topic, this is not the book for you.
The book is written as a genre of a self-help book with sage advice and suggestions on how to improve one's speech and behavior. It is not a treatise on the complexities of the law. In truth, it does cover some conflicting aspects; for example, when you can tell "white lies." However, this is a very intricate topic with many challenging scenarios that are not presented or discussed.
For a neophyte, I think the subject matter is presented in clear language; yet, there are some very glaring contradictions that a reader might be puzzled about in the approach the subject matter is presented. At the beginning of the book Rabb Telushkin defines gossip as:
"1. Information and comments about others that are nondefamatory and true 2. Negative, though true stories (lashon ha-ra) - information which lowers the esteem in which people hold the person about whom it is told. A subdivision of this is tattling (rechilut)... 3. Lies and rumors (motzi shem rah)"
Later on, in the book Rabbi Telushkin goes on to tell stories as examples giving names of the people involved. Some of the examples are not flattering, thus, is this not lashon ha-ra? And there is no consistency. One time an unflattering story was told of a very famous politician using his name, and a few pages later another similar story is told omitting his name. Why omit the name the second time? And if the person and story are so famous, why tell it at all because many will know who said it? Is this not violating the very rules we the Rabbi is trying to teach us?
These are examples of discussions that I was hoping for in this text. The Rabbi was very critical of newspaper coverage, and yet, he did not comment on what is permissible and what is not when looking at the news. In an attempt to criticize news outlets, he seems to believe that the industry is about truth and fairness. Anyone who watches the news today knows it is a business and the object is to get more eyes on their media. Thus the old adage, "If it leads, it bleeds." I would love a world where our information outlets were more responsible, but this, unfortunately, is not the world we live in.
And it is not always about the media outlets. The Rabbi covered the Gary Hart, Donna Rice scandal criticizing both those who reported on it and those who read the coverage; however, he omitted the very crux of the story which Gary Hart challenged the reporters to uncover something on him. In short, if you are going to use an example, use one that is much simpler and clear cut.
Another issue I had with this book is I have now read many of Rabbi Telushkin's books and I am finding that he reuses the exact text from one book to the next. I find this rather short sited. The Rabbi is a very prolific writer and if he wants people to read more than one of his books, he should offer something new and different in them.
The final challenge I had with the book, and in several of Rabbi Telushkin's books are some of the people he holds up as examples. Quoting a Gadol (a great Rabbi or person) as an example is never an issue. As a matter of fact, when talking about Rabbi Israel Salanter, who was the head of the Mussar movement, went around Europe lecturing on moral conduct and Jewish ethics was quoted as saying he is talking to the audience about his own shortcomings and not necessarily talking about the audience's behavior. This shows the tremendous humility these great leaders had when talking about these very sensitive topics because as Rabbi Telushkin does point out there is nobody alive who does not violate these laws; even once a day.
However, some of the people the Rabbi holds up and quotes as examples are not the people I would look to nor respect. Some of them are very public people who have said tremendously good things; however, they are also publicly recorded at the same time of transgressing many of the principles. And even though one of them recognizes the change in the person over time, there are still times when I would not look up to their behavior with any respect.
As said in the beginning, this is more of a self-help type book, not a serious discussion in the Jewish laws (halachot) and intricacies of every day speech. If one is truly interested in a serious discussion on the topic I would suggest "Sefer Chofetz Chaim" by the Chofetz Chaim or "Guard Your Tongue," based on "Sefer Choftez Chaim" by Zelig Pliskin.
"...remember this two-century-old challenge offered by the great Hasidic rebbe Nachman of Bratslav: 'If you are not going to be any better tomorrow than you were today, then what need have you for tomorrow?'"
Words That Hurt, Words That Heal: How to Choose Words Wisely and Well is a Judaica book that belongs in the Self-Help genre so a wider- range of people pick it up. It's that good. This book is not only an instruction manual on how to speak, but also a guide on how to control one's emotions and thoughts. The author begins by addressing that each one of us has a speech problem. Our tongues have been contaminated by our egos, leading us to contribute to a more destructive world. Rabbi Telushkin brings numerous stories of situations where people's lives have been ruined and provides insights for the reader to reflect on before opening his mouth.
The book is then divided into four additional parts: HOW WE SPEAK ABOUT OTHERS, HOW WE SPEAK TO OTHERS, WORDS THAT HEAL, and WHAT DO WE DO NOW? From Glass's poem "But I didn't" to the story of Oliver Sipple's demise, Telushkin's parables, quotes, examples, and stories made my muscles tense up only to soften again right after. He does a phenomenal job of highlighting the weight of our words and deliberately instills in each and every reader a new degree of caution before parting open one's lips.
Telushkin's Words That Hurt, Words That Heal: How to Choose Words Wisely and Well is a book where every single page is filled with a piece of wisdom. I could not turn the page without underlining something first. He touches on ego, anger, privacy, relationships, parenting, philosophy, and of course, journalism. He also provides tips for controlling anger (imagining someone you highly respect walking into the room as you open your mouth), choosing dialogue (ask yourself before you speak "if this person was saying this about me, how would I want him/her to say it?"), and delivering criticism (ask yourself, "where is this coming from? does rebuking this person bring me pleasure or pain?').
I am way too obsessed with this book not to leave a few of my favorite lines: - "Why do human fingers resemble pegs? So that if one hears something unseemly, one can plug one's fingers into one's ears. -Babylonian Talmud, ketubot 5b" p.14 - "We don't confront someone we are angry with because we don't wish to hear an explanation for their behavior, lest it deprives us of the self-righteous pleasure of our rage" p.42 -"you rehearse your anger rather than ridding yourself of it." p.80 - "Never tell evil of a man if you do not know it for a certainty, and if you do know it for a certainty, then ask yourself, 'Why should I tell it?'"- Jonathan K Lavater p.22 -"Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be. -Thomas a Kempis " p.90
This book belongs on the shelf next to Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People and is a must-read for any individual who wants to be better.
There is a great scene in Adam Sandler's movie, Billy Madison (are Sandler's movies getting worse, or am I finally maturing?). Billy is apologizing for his "words that hurt". He calls Steven Bushemi. Says sorry that he was mean when they were in high school. Bushemi forgives him, and then crosses his name off a hit list!
I've been thinking about my own hurtful words. I've said some pretty awful things in my time, and it haunts me. I try to be funny but more often succeed in being a jerk. I also talk big about gossip, but then I'll catch myself doing it. If I could just put the reins on this tongue. God help me.
Joseph Telushkin has a lot of wisdom. This was a helpful book.
(1) Personal note: Scathing section on gossip. May I never speak another ill word about another person. (22)
(2) Gossip: information that lowers the esteem of the person in those who hear it. (23)
(3) "Negative truths" (27)
(4) "Lashon ha-ra" (28)
(5) Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it fair? (37)
(6) We gossip in order to raise our status at the expense of another's (38)
(7) "The very intimacy of the relationship provided the adversaries with destructive information that they could use against each other, and also ensured that their harsh words would have an impact" (77)
(8) You're never justified in shaming (82)
(9) How do I feel about offering this criticism? Does it give me pleasure or pain? (83)
(10) If you are not going to be any better tomorrow than today then what need have you of tomorrow? (91)
(11) Who is wise? One who can see the future consequences of his actions. (100)
(12) "Whoever shames his neighbor in public, it is as if he has shed his blood" (102)
(13) The day of Atonement required the worshiper to ask forgiven from his fellow man before he could be forgiven (136)
(14) Who is a hero? One who suppresses a wisecrack (145)
This book by renowned Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is a primer on the Jewish perspective on language in human relations. In a moment of terrible divisiveness and hateful speech in America I sought out this book (which I read many years ago) to ground myself again in the moral arguments for kindness in speech and how language can be used not only to hurt, but to heal.
Telushkin reminds us that we often use harmful language in our everyday speech without even being aware of it and sites powerful examples of situations in which language can cause great harm or great good. One might think that truth is the ultimate moral requirement, but Telushkin notes that Judaism explicitly allows untruth where truth will harm and serve no useful purpose. Interestingly, the requirement not to cause harm to another human being, mandates untruth in certain circumstances. The most obvious example is when we are angry at our spouse, sibling or other family member for something they have done or said to us and lash out at them. Telushkin notes that seeking to harm them in our anger we often attack the most vulnerable spot of our loved one. More than one family has been torn apart by this use of harmful words.
While I found it very preachy at times, the book was filled with lessons on how to speak in ways that can avoid harm and reminders of situations in which all of us casually use language that hurts others.
Much of this is common sense, but given all that I see on social media now, everyone would benefit from reading this text - whether you are Jewish or not.
I enjoyed this brief book about the power of words to hurt, to heal, to help, and to hinder. As a person who is fairly infamous for saying the exact wrong thing, I found much to think about in the Rabbi's exhortations to thoughtful speech. I once watched Jeff Bezos give a speech where he told a story about his grandparents. Jeff said something (inadvertently) cruel, and was told by his grandfather, 'It is better to be kind that to be clever.' That's a lesson I am still trying to put into practice in my own life. I have always used cutting, sarcastic, depreciative humor to get a laugh, but as I have gotten older, I have found that it's simply not that funny anymore. It hurts people. Not on purpose, but still.
As a husband, as a father, as a teacher, as a friend, as a son, I have ample opportunity to use my words for good. May it be so.
So, less snark, more kindness. Less blurting, more thinking. Less clever, more kind (as it turns out, that advice originated from the famous Rabbi Maimonides).
This book is about how our relationships are affected by our words. This is not just our close relationships, but work relationships and others as well. The author draws from Jewish law, scenarios in fiction (like Shakespeare's Othello) and other sources and anecdotes to illustrate how important it is to watch what we say, especially out of anger. It illustrates how one phrase can impact one's life (negative phrases which stay with you forever, as well as the classic one-line from an adult which inspires a child to believe in themselves for the rest of their life). I'm not Jewish, but I found the sections about Jewish law quite fascinating.
The book "Words That Hurt, Words That Heal" kept my interest at all times. I also believe that I learned a lot. Author, Joseph Telushkin ,shows that words can be beneficial and can also be like knives. Think before you speak, or choose your words wisely is a theme through out this book. Gossip is another topic that is mentioned. Another thought that comes to mind is, "Silence Is Golden". In addition, Rabbi Telushkin talks about how to speak to a young child. I believe everyone can benefit from the author's wisdom.
Much wisdom can be learned from this book. It's divided into five sections: the unrecognized power of words, how we speak about others, how we speak to others, words that heal, and a final section of review and a promotion for a national "Speak No Evil Day." There's also an index and notes section. There's no need to be religious to enjoy what this book has to offer. It made me think of words in a way I had not before.
Excellent! Telushkin avoids the trap of most "self-help" authors - to endlessly repeat the same thought over many pages. He gets to the point, wonderfully illustrated with anecdotes, observations, and research. I do wonder why he often repeats the opening subtitle of a chapter in the text, an inherently pithy piece, often at the end, dulling its impact, but it's a minor quibble. Highly recommended reading.
A must read for ever young adult to adult. This is the way people should treat each other. It is Mussar, it is Devine, it is TORAH. It is for anyone of any religion (or non-religion) to communicate effectively & humanely with everyone.
Rabbi Telushkin has written a marvelous book on the power of words. It reminds me of the verse in Proverbs 18:21 "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." If even one person is able to put into practice the principles presented in this volume, the world will be a better place.
Inspirational book for the most part, marked down for the vague sexism and the constant references to Dennis Prager as a positive model (lol). Also near the end the author claims that the violence committed against Palestinians by Israel is an lie’ ?!?!
Rabbi Telushkin is a writer who shares wisdom in a variety of ways; through anecdote, humor, philosophy, experience, and history, he guides us on this exploration of what constitutes real caring for others.
An excellent book and one that I plan to reread on a yearly basis. Provides guidance as to why we should be mindful of the words we speak not only to and about others, but how we speak about ourselves. Valuable information indeed.