We are constantly bombarded nowadays by the somber news that our planet is undergoing global warming and that unless it is checked and controlled, we face dire health and ecological consequences. Climate control has become the watchword of our generation. The environmentalists and "Greens" are definitely on the ascendancy, and air and water pollution are the hot issues of the day. The emissions of greenhouse gases are now subjects of control by legislation and administrative fiat. I am not an expert in this field, but even to the unlettered, it is obvious that climate control bears our attention and interest.
The Torah certainly bids us to be careful regarding our stewardship over this planet. We are to develop and exploit its bounties, but we are to be careful not to damage and destroy. Care for the world - both its animate and inanimate components - is one of the basic values of Judaism. The Talmud records that we are to plant and preserve the world's resources - trees and other natural blessings - for the use and benefit of unseen generations yet to come. Care for our physical environment is thus an item stressed in Jewish life - at least in theory, if not yet, unfortunately, completely in practice. Greater efforts in this regard should be made by our religious and temporal leaders.
As important as this type of climate control is, I nevertheless wish to discuss another type of climate control: the control of the contents of printed, broadcast and publicly discussed subject matter. The Talmud taught us that the Jewish state was commanded to place clear directional road signs to direct a killer convicted of accidental murder to the city of refuge where he was to remain until the death of the High Priest of Israel. The later rabbis asked why was there no commandment to place directional signs on the road to Jerusalem for the Jews going up to the Temple to celebrate the festivals. They answered that it was a matter of climate control. The Torah did not want the murderer to stop on the way and ask for directions to the city of refuge. People would then discuss murder and murderers over their breakfast. Eventually, we are taught, such conversations made murder a common everyday topic and ultimately transformed it from a horrific event into an almost acceptable occurrence in society. It became a part of Jewish life, when in reality it has no place there. Jerusalem, however, was a topic worthy of discussion and interest. Thus, the Torah desired that people stop and ask directions to Jerusalem, making the Holy City an everyday topic of thought and conversation. This would increase the sense of uniqueness, holiness and mission within the Jewish society. And that would, in turn, foster a climate of positive discussion and interest in a society from whom holiness of behavior and attitude is a Torah demand.
The recent sordid incidents and interviews that have dominated the Israeli press over the Katsav-Mazuz matter are to me an illustration of this lack of climate control in our society. Not every explicit detail belongs in the paper. People have told me they were not bringing the paper home because they did not want their children to be exposed to its contents. The public's "right to know" is the excuse for all sorts of unnecessary and prurient content. The secular press ridicules the haredi newspapers that do not report on such occurrences in any detail. But in my mind, those newspapers have a point. Murder, violence, sexual misconduct, corruption, crime - all are indirectly glorified and made acceptable by the unending publicity they receive. I am well aware that these things are part of life. But dwelling upon them in morbid fascination only serves to heighten interest and eventually acceptance of such norms in our society. "All the news that is fit to print" was a slogan that was once adhered to. Today the definition of "fit to print" has slipped noticeably. The Torah demands standards from all of us. What we say and discuss in everyday conversation is what creates the climate of the society we live in.
The writer is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator.