While it is not hard to find evidence of the value of words in Jewish literature and life, and Jews are often thought of as a talkative bunch (!), there is also much recognition in Jewish teachings about the value of silence. Silence, the absence of speaking, enables listening, which in turn enables learning. Thus, Ethics of the Fathers (3:14) says, "Silence is a protective fence around wisdom." In Ethics of the Fathers (1:17), Rabbi Shimon told that he has spent many years in the vicinity of scholars and gained most from silence, for by remaining silent he was able to listen to the wisdom of others.

However, silence is not only required when the other person is talking. Often it is best to remain silent, because talking would simply be inappropriate. For example, when a person is in extreme grief or anger, the rabbis taught (Ethics of the Fathers 4:23) that it would not be helpful to reason with the person. The Biblical book of Ecclesiastes (5:2) states, "Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few." In other words, unlike God we will often fail to know what the right thing to say is. On such occasions, better say nothing.

Careless words can hurt; thoughtless responses often lead to regret. In some situation you may find that suitable words evade you, in which case silence is golden. The Talmud says, "If words are worth one coin, silence is worth two." The ethicist Rabbi Yisrael Salanter noted: "Not everything that is thought should be said." R. David of Talna was renowned for preferring silence. Some of his followers, however, kept pestering him to talk. "Dont you get weary of their constant pressure?" his son asked. "The truth is, I do. But this is what I do: I keep silent until I get tired, and then I rest. Refreshed, I continue with my silence." Dont talk unless you can improve the silence.

There was once a man so miserly that even the plight of his own brother didnt move him. R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev visited the miser and sat before him for a full hour without saying a word. "Why do you just sit here without explaining the purpose of your visit?" asked the man. The rabbi of Berditchev responded: "Our sages teach (Talmud, Yevamot 65b): Much as it is a mitzvah to say that which will be listened to, so also it is a mitzvah to refrain from saying that which wont be listened to." The rabbi explained that much as he was obliged to tell a person to do something he thought he would act upon, it was similarly incumbent upon him not to tell a person something he knew the other wouldnt fulfill. "Now, I have always been able to fulfill the first part of this advice, because, thank God, people tend to listen to what I say. Today I have come to fulfill the second part, as I feel sure that you would not pay any attention to my request." Sometimes silence is the best policy.

The great Talmudist Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer (1870-1953) was once in middle of delivering a Talmud lecture to a packed audience, when a student asked a powerful question. To the surprise of the students, the esteemed scholar terminated his class thus: "Gentleman, the question is excellent and what I was about to say has been disproved. There is no point in me continuing. But I hope that here there is an important lesson: just as it is important to know how to give a lecture, it is also worthwhile that you know how not to give a lecture. This is how!" As important as it is to know how to respond, one also has to learn how sometimes it is best not to respond. Just as communication is about knowing what to say, it is also about knowing what not to say.

Sleep deprivation

Sleep is a necessity. It is what in modern parlance we call a 'basic human right'. If we are well rested, we have the energy to function properly; when we are sleep deprived we struggle to operate to an adequate level.

That is why depriving another of their sleep is considered in Judaism as a serious wrong. The Code of Jewish Law (Choshen Mishpat 156:2) rules that a person is legally entitled to demand that a neighbour desist from noisemaking activities that interfere with his or her sleep. The Mishna (Baba Batra 2:3) says that a person can object to a neighbour operating a shop from their home, as "He can protest and say, 'I cannot sleep due to the commotion of people going to and fro'."

The rabbis saw respecting another person's need for rest as a key expression of the cardinal Biblical obligation to 'love others as oneself'. So says Rabbi Aaron Halevi of Barcelona in his Sefer Hachinuch: (Mitzvah 338): "Just as no one wants others to disturb his own sleep, it is likewise forbidden for him to do so to his fellow."

Jewish ethicists taught that disturbing someone's sleep is a form of theft. Moreover, they point out that it is among the worst forms of theft, as it cannot be returned to the owner. Most people would think of theft as stealing an actual object from someone else, but from a Jewish Social Values perspective, stealing is far more subtle; it includes depriving a person of something that is rightfully theirs.

Moreover, we live in a culture in which material possessions are treated as the most valuable; such that unlawfully taking away someone's belongings is thought of as the more severe form of theft. Judaism comes from the perspective that physical things are not the most important, and that other, nonmaterial items are often of greater significance. Thus, 'stealing' someone's sleep, which affects their wellbeing, is no less an offence.

It is so common for us to show disregard for the sleep of others. Whether we are playing loud music when most people are in bed, or whether we are disrupting another person's rest because we can't find the TV remote control (<- don't understand this example), or whether we are brushing past someone who is trying to catch some sleep on a plane – our insensitivity needlessly hurts another.

Maimonides rules that for a person to stay healthy, he or she requires around eight hours of sleep per night. Denying a person their sleep is depriving them of their health. Teaching children how to respect the right of other family members to a peaceful rest helps to raise caring and decent children, who will respect the feelings of others. Teaching our children not to 'steal' the sleep of others may be a quite powerful way of contributing towards a civilised society.


For some, spirituality is something otherworldly, arcane, mysterious, removed from reality. In Judaism spirituality is a down-to-earth concept. It is the way a person infuses higher order thinking into his or her day-to-day choices. For many people, spirituality connotes deep, profound and complex and is a faculty requires for grappling with issues of ultimate meaning and purpose. By contrast, in Judaism spirituality refers to the non-physical (metaphysical) dimension of an issue. When you are deciding on what to say, you will have to consider a range of factors (whether it will have the effect you want it to, whether it will impact on you in ways that would cause you a problem, etc.) - these are physical concerns. The spiritual concern is whether saying what you have in mind is appropriate, whether it conform to a higher basis of judgement.

Spirituality is not about escaping to the hills, meditating on a mountain during sunset or reflecting on existentialist thoughts about the fragility of the human condition. From a Judaic perspective, spirituality is about introducing into ones everyday life a higher dimension. Everything one does has a spiritual dimension. The food we eat, the music to which we listen, the time that we spend - these are all choices that contain a spiritual dimension. Ethics of the Fathers (2:15) teaches that "all your actions should be for the sake of Heaven" and Proverbs (3:6) says, "Know Him (God) in all your ways." With every thought, word or action we are making a choice, and that choice is a spiritual one.

Jacob famously had a dream of a ladder (Genesis 28:12), which for Jewish spiritualists is an important metaphor of life. With everything that we do, we are either ascending or descending the ladder; we are either creating a good angel or a bad angel. The difference is the spiritual considerations that come into play when we make our choices. The Talmud (Kidushin 54a) taught that "the Torah was not giving to ministering angles," but were handed to mere mortals. We are not being asked to become superhuman, elevated beyond the concerns of ordinary people. Instead, we are being asked to be great human beings, for in being great human beings we are greater than any angel.

The Hebrew word for spiritual also means air. Air is light. By contrast the classical Hebrew for physical is the same word as cement. Spirituality puts wind beneath our wings, helping us to rise above the physical concerns in our life that can weigh us down. The purpose of spirituality is to enable us human beings to rise above purely material concerns and inspire us to infuse in our life concerns that go beyond immediate concerns of physical survival and pleasure. Spirituality enables us to view out life through a more refined lens, whereby we judge the success of our life by a higher calling.