By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

 

The TikTok app has been the talk of the community lately. TikTok is an increasingly popular social media app, with hundreds of millions of users. This article will discuss the pros, the cons, and the halachah of allowing one’s children to use the app.

What are the pros of this app? Very few, other than the idea that it may be fun.

The Cons

There are numerous reasons to make sure that this app is deleted immediately and not just by Torah Jews, but by all Americans. We will list several very serious reasons.

Undermining The United States. The first issue is that there is a strong concern that we are handing over huge amounts of data to an enemy of the United States. The TikTok app was developed in China. Let’s not forget that last week it was announced that the Justice Department unveiled charges against four members of China’s People’s Liberation Army for hacking into the credit-reporting agency Equifax and stealing sensitive information on 147 million Americans.

That’s right. China stole our credit information and personal data.

The charges are the latest in a campaign of indictments against Chinese-government-linked hackers that dates to 2014 but has ramped up considerably since 2017.

According to the New York Times, “Lawmakers raised concerns about TikTok’s growing influence in the United States … the American government had evidence of the app sending data to China.”

The U.S. government has opened an investigation about it, the New York Times reported in November. The Times further writes, “The move is the latest in a back and forth between the United States and China, which are enmeshed in a global competition for technological dominance that has begun to cleave the high-tech world in two and start what some analysts refer to as a new Cold War.”

We live in a wonderful country and we should not be handing out data to a foreign government bent on undermining our economy and country.

Vile Words

The second reason to get rid of it is that this app has millions of young women and young men lip-syncing to songs that have the vilest words one can imagine. There is no escape from it. Not one person who was interviewed for this article who has been on TikTok has escaped exposure to these horrifying words.

The Gemara in Pesachim 3a cites Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: “A person should never allow an unseemly word to come out of his mouth, for the Torah went eight letters out of its way to avoid writing something unseemly (Bereishis 7:8). The Torah states ‘min ha’beheimah asher einenah tehorah — from the animal that is not pure’ instead of just saying, ‘Ha’beheimah ha’temei’ah — the animal that is impure.’”

The extra words are used by the Torah to teach us this important lesson — not to sully our neshamos by cursing.

The Midrash attests to this on the verse in Devarim (23:10), “When you go out to war, guard yourself from every evil matter.” How does the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 24:7) define evil matter? You guessed it — “unseemly words,” referred to in Hebrew as “nivul peh.”

The Midrash seems to indicate that it is a biblical prohibition whether or not one is in war; it is just that it is more common in wartime or in the soldiers’ barracks rather than in the typical social structure or setting to which the Torah generally speaks. The Machzor Vitri (424), one of the foremost students of Rashi, writes that the prohibition is biblical.

There may be a different source for a biblical prohibition, too. The Torah tells us (Devarim 23:17), “Lo yireh becha ervas davar — There shall not be seen within you an unseemly thing…” Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani in Vayikra Rabbah (24:7) rereads the words to say “ervas dibbur” instead of “ervas davar.” The verse now reads: “There shall not be seen within you an unseemly statement — namely, “improper speech.”

Aside from the Torah prohibitions mentioned, there are repercussions to nivul peh that we want to avoid. It seems that it is not just an innocuous, harmless little activity. The Gemara in Shabbos (33a) tells us that because of the sin of nivul peh, great problems come. Harsh decrees are promulgated, the youth die young, orphans and widows cry out and are not answered. The repercussions are serious. The Shlah (Osios Shin Shtika 24) writes that nivul peh is the “avi avos ha’tumah,” the ultimate source of impurity.

The human soul reflects the Divine aspects of mankind. In contrast, nivul peh reflects the nefesh ha’beheimis, the animalistic aspect of mankind.

Cursing emanates from and reflects the lowliest aspects of human behavior. The reason cursing is called “avi avos ha’tumah” by the Shlah HaKadosh is that such activity undermines holiness, both of oneself and of others. The Gemara in Kesuvos (5b) instructs others just how they should react. The Gemara states that fingers were created like straight tent pegs for a reason — so that someone who hears nivul peh can place his fingers in his ears to blot out the sound.

The Midrash tells us that the Jews in Egypt reached the 49th level of impurity, but even then, they did not succumb so low as to use nivul peh (Pesikta Zuta Sh’mos 6:10). “They did not change their language” implies, according to the Midrash, that they did not change their manner of speech either. We see how serious such activity truly is.

From a Torah perspective, the issue is impurity. Man was created in the Divine Image and possesses a cheilek Elokah mi’ma’al, a Divine section from Above. Cursing or uttering profane words darkens and sullies that Divine section from Above that we all possess.

It also reduces our designated lifespans. The Gemara in Niddah (16b) states that even if one had a lifespan of 70 years, nivul peh can turn it around in the wink of an eye.

Exposure to Dangerous Individuals

Another con is that this app exposes our children to predators. Also, the default setting to these accounts is public, which means that predators are clearly present. There are predators that are highly trained at luring the innocent into difficult challenges. Unfortunately, these predators exist outside our communities and sometimes, rachmana litzlan, in our own communities. Why place our children in what amounts to a holding cell for a level 1, level 2, and level 3 sex offenders?

There is also the issue of having unwholesome friends. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos 2:9 discusses the repercussions of this. Many of these “friends” or followers are anonymous. Is it not terribly scary that only the police have a chance at identifying who these people may actually be?

Addiction

The last reason is that kids who use TikTok more often than not suffer from an addiction to it. For many, the daily use is upwards of two or three hours a day. The Gemara in Yoma 86b explains that Rav Huna says in the name of Rav that when a person does an aveirah and repeats it, it becomes permitted to him. Rav Shalom Shwadron explained that Rav Elya Lopian understood this phraseology as an addiction. When one has an addiction, one pursues it without regard to morals and what is right or wrong. The evils of addiction are manifold.

Conclusion

For the reasons mentioned above, it is a no-brainer that the app should be deleted from all phones in the house immediately. Like everything in regard to parenting, it should be done firmly, but with love and respect for our children.

Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.

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