The term Fake News is so prevalent it has been dubbed the Word of the Year. It is commonplace to hear another dismiss an article as “fake news” or to refute a claim with “alternative facts.” This happens on both sides of the proverbial aisle as we have become inundated with conflicting information. In the end, it’s easiest to shut out the other side hearing only that with which we are comfortable.
In this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, we are commanded “You shall not hear a false report” (Leviticus 23:1). This is particularly challenging because we are rarely in a position that allows us to determine the veracity of a statement while it is being presented. Mechilta d’Rebbe Ishmael (an ancient rabbinic interpretation of the Torah) conveys that this is actually a prohibition against receiving testimony without both parties being present. From this we learn our tradition values the process of discernment that takes place when being confronted with contradictions. To be exposed to only one side of an argument is tantamount to being exposed to a lie.
We tend to live our lives in an echo chamber. Our social circles are comprised of like-minded individuals who agree with our values and ideologies. Chances are, others have created similar bubbles echoing back their thoughts and experiences. A student’s time at university is intended to confront challenging ideas and sift through conflicting information in an attempt to synthesize some greater truth. This is how we all continue to grow and mature as thinkers and as people.
Rabbi Jordan Gerson, Campus Rabbi, Hillel at Washington University in St. Louis