The Torah (Leviticus 24:10-12) records the story of a nameless youth whose mother was an Israelite and whose father was Egyptian. The Torah later identifies the boy’s mother as Shelomith the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.

One day, the young man got into a fight with another man and blasphemed “the Name [of the Lord]” and cursed. The fateful words, once uttered, could not be withdrawn. The blasphemer was brought before Moses and his fate was communicated directly by God–death by stoning.

Living in an age when people can, and do, say whatever they wish, sometimes using the most offensive language, it is difficult to understand why, exactly, blasphemy is regarded in the Torah as a capital offense.

First, the term blasphemy should be clarified. According to, the general definition of blasphemy is “an impious utterance or action concerning God or sacred things.” However, the definition of blasphemy according to Jewish law includes only the act of cursing using the unutterable name of God. (One violates other prohibitions when cursing without articulating God’s sacred name.)

One can look at the story of the blasphemer and imagine that the child of an Egyptian father would have a difficult childhood among the Israelite slaves. Egyptian father or not, the boy was part of the Children of Israel. Along with all the Jews, he was protected from the plagues, traveled safely through the Sea of Reeds, received the Torah at Sinai and survived by eating the miraculous manna in the Wilderness. All of these were Divine acts that kept him safe and sound, and yet, he dared to curse God, an act of absolute ingratitude.

Today, the chances of actually perpetrating true blasphemy are rather slim. Nevertheless, one must be constantly cautious about one’s language, especially with the proliferation of certain common, modern phrases of swearing.

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