Question: I sometimes sit among friends that unfortunately engage in vulgar conversation, however, I myself do not participate in the conversation. What should I do?
Answer: The Gemara (Shabbat 33a) states that as a result of vulgar chatter, many great tragedies and harsh decrees are renewed, the youth of Israel die, and widows and orphans call out and are not answered, as the verse states, “That is why Hashem will not spare their youths, nor show compassion to their orphans and widows; for all are flattering and wicked and every mouth speaks vulgarity.” The Gemara expounds further: “Rabbi Hanan bar Rava said: Everyone knows why a bride enters the Chuppah; however, one who speaks crudely (and elaborates on this point explicitly) will have even sealed good decrees of seventy years switched to evil for him. Rabba bar Shila said in the name of Rav Chasda: Whoever speaks vulgar language shall have Gehinnom deepened for him, as the verse states, ‘The mouth of a forbidden one is a deep pit.’ Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak said: This applies even to one who listens to vulgarity being spoken and is silent, as the verse states (in continuation of the above verse), ‘He who is doomed by Hashem falls into it.”
The great and saintly Shelah (Sha’ar Ha’Otiyot, Ot Shin) writes that the father of all sinful speech is vulgar language and chatter. He adds that one who defiles one’s mouth and tongue causes all of one’s Torah study and prayer to be defiled as well and one shall be punished for these previously holy words as well, for this is similar to one who brings a special gift to a king but presents it to the king in a vessel full of vomit in which case the king will be doubly angry. So too, prayer is a gift to Hashem but when it is presented from a mouth that speaks vulgarity which Hashem despises, this angers Hashem. The great Mekubalim elaborate on this point further.
The great Maharal of Prague (in his Netivot Olam, Netiv Ha’Tzeniut, 4) questions why it is that as the result of such a relatively light sin which only consists of speech such terrible and bizarre punishments befall a person, such as seventy years of good decrees turning bad, the youth of Israel dying and even some seemingly cruel punishments like widows and orphans calling out and not being answered?
The Maharal explains that man’s greatest asset is speech since the ability to speak was only given to mankind. Speech brings man to completion. Thus, when one sins through speech, one is sinning in the most severe manner, i.e. through the highest level man manifests himself, and measure for measure for sinning with man’s highest level, the highest levels of punishment are appropriate as well. Since one can institute good decrees with one’s speech when one speaks in a beneficial manner, the opposite is true as well in that when one speaks in a vulgar manner, one causes bad decrees to befall the Jewish nation. The sin of vulgar speech is worse than that of evil speech (Lashon Hara), for Lashon Hara is a sin that only involves speech while vulgar speech involves the worst character traits and smatterings of promiscuity and immoral thoughts which the Torah refers to a “abominations.” It is for this reason that this sin causes evil decrees to be renewed upon the Jewish nation, the youth of Israel die, and widows and orphans call out but are not answered, for these are the cruel results of decrees which come about as a result of vulgar speech. The youth of the Jewish nation are strong and are meant to live, however, as a result of vulgar speech, the opposite happens and they die. Similarly, widows and orphans, who should be the most natural recipients of mercy, receive the opposite treatment and they are met with cruelty.
Based on the above, if one finds himself in the company of lowly individuals who speak in a vulgar manner about immoral and promiscuous subjects, one must leave their company and find better friends who are G-d-fearing, as our Sages taught, “Woe unto the wicked one, woe unto his neighbor.” Indeed, our Sages taught that even one who hears vulgar speech and remains silent is punished severely, especially regarding an issue as grave as severe as vulgar speech which wreaks havoc and tragedy upon the speakers and all those around them.
Once, in the year 5762 (2002), someone close to Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l felt the need to describe an immoral incident that occurred in one of the Israeli government agencies in order to explain why it was not a good idea for a certain one of Maran zt”l’s granddaughters to begin working there. When Maran zt”l heard the gist of the story from the first few words, he put his fingers in his ears and exclaimed, “Enough! I understand!” Maran zt”l, who was exceedingly holy, was so careful not to defile his ears with such things even when they were said for a necessary purpose.