There are not too many cultures where people laugh when they are told to “shut up, please!” Yet, there are many Jews who, in that situation, do exactly that- laugh! In fact, anyone who went to a Jewish camp or Hebrew school may now be feeling a desire to yell “Hey!” after reading the words sheket bevakasha…(go ahead, yell ‘hey!’).

While sheket means quiet, religious texts more often use the word shtika to refer to silence. The famous Rabbi Akiva is noted for saying, “a safety fence for wisdom is silence” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 3:13). Elsewhere in the Talmud it is written, “the best medicine of all is silence. When Rabbi Dimi came, he said: ‘In the west they say a word is worth a sela, silence two selas” (Talmud Megillah 18a).

By extolling the merits of silence, the sages were not trying to hush a gathering of noisy, rambunctious youth. Rather they were discussing a character trait.  Jews may joke, Jews may debate, and Jews may even argue, but Judaism places tremendous importance on peace. Knowing when to refrain from speaking is often the best way to maintain peace. Whether this means refraining from gossip, holding back a sharp retort or not trying to prove that one person knows better than another, shtika is the silence of self-discipline. That is why the recommended remedy to employ when one finds oneself about to say something one shouldn’t, is to tell oneself Sheket…Bevakasha.