Tuesday, October 16, 2007

punishing the person or the tools of crime: the dor haflagah

It is popular in many cases to argue that the gavra who does wrong should be punished without casting blame on the cheftza used for the crime. Examples: Criminals shoot people, not guns; people misusing the internet is a problem, but the ‘net itself should not be banned. Yet, when it comes to the episode of the Dor Haflagah, it seems that language itself is blamed for the sin of the tower-builders, and language itself suffers the consequences by being transformed into a hodge-podge of different dialects. Why not leave language alone and punish the people involved?

I think the answer is that language is not just a tool, like a gun or a computer - language is part of a person’s essence. The Torah stresses during the Creation story that it is the soul which gives man the capacity to speak. I once wrote a piece on Mishmar arguing, based on the Sapir-Wharf hypothesis, that the jargon of lomdus opened the door to greater conceptual understanding – language is not just a means of expressing thought, but language is the vehicle of thought, influencing how we cognitively map out the world. Changing language is a way to directly transform the people who use it.


  1. A Hebrew Grammarian would be aghast - "Dor Haflagah"!

    It should be "Dor Hapalaga".

  2. Anonymous9:11 PM

    Would you please send me proof of this?
    Eti Cohen