Anonymous: A few Shabbosim [Ed: Shabbats] ago I was thrown off when I passed a lady doing gardening work and wished her a "good morning" and she responded with an enthusiastic "Good Shabbos!"And I promised a post dedicated to just that.
[I thought, God,]...here is a woman who is gardening on Shabbos because she doesn't know any better and yet she is obviously so very proud to be Jewish and to let me know she is Jewish! How great are Your people!
Miriambyk: As an O Jew with non-observant friends and family, I would like to suggest a modest reframe to Anonymous above. Can we learn to respect the possibility that the Jewish neighbor is gardening on Shabbat not because she "doesn't know better" but perhaps because to her tending to a garden is part of celebrating Gd's universe, changing her routine, or relaxing, and therefore a CHOICE of how to spend Shabbat? No, it is not halachic, but does it really diminish my halachic observance if I acknowledge someone else's right to choose to observe differently?
Me: Miriam, while I think that the percentage of Jewish gardeners/joggers on Shabbat who have made that calculation is quite tiny, I think you hit on something extraordinarily important that I think about all the time:
Does it really diminish my halachic observance if I acknowledge someone else's right to choose to observe differently?
This is the crux of this whole blog. Me acknowledging that everyone has free will to act and believe as they choose, even if I privately "believe" or "know" or whatever you want to call it (I choose to say believe because it's less confrontational) that it's not halachically correct, is not problematic. That's because God gave us all free will in the first place. It's built in to Torah philosophy.
Some people are scared that this smacks of pluralism. I disagree. Pluralism means there are many correct ways (or even all ways have validity). Free will means everyone has a right to do what I think is incorrect.
Anonymous [I believe the same original Anonymous]: Ruchi, how do you consider someone's actions to be "incorrect" and still not judge them? When I see someone whose actions are often incorrect, according to my assessment, I will either judge them or pity them. I'm thinking of people who parent poorly, are unethical, irresponsible, etc. So why would we not judge or pity someone who we thought was constantly doing wrong things on shabbos?
Recently, a friend of mine posted the following question on Facebook:
"Poll: Can you/should you separate a person from his actions/beliefs? For example, can you like and/or respect someone whose beliefs and/or actions you find abhorrent? Not ILLEGAL, like a murderer, but, say, [someone] whose religious beliefs or lifestyle are radically different from yours?"I was astonished at the question. I do that all the time! It's my breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I couldn't possibly interact with the world if I didn't, regularly, judge behaviors without judging humans. One of the very clear values I was raised with was "knowing right from wrong." I knew how to say that before I even understood what the words meant.
I feel, strongly, that every person, and especially parents (and aren't we our own parents?) must regularly, consciously, and purposefully engage in judgment. Before your tear your hair out and delete me from your feed, read on.
Judge values. Judge ideologies. Judge actions. Judge character traits. Judge behaviors. Judge systems.
They're either admirable, deplorable, or somewhere on the spectrum.
But never, ever judge people. Because they're either: making a mistake; never learned that value; have chosen something else, erroneously thinking it valid; are right and you're wrong; have come a long way unbeknownst to you; already regret it and are planning a redo; have an equally valid but foreign method of achieving an admirable goal; or you totally read the interaction wrong to begin with.
In Judaism, there is a mitzvah to do all this mental gymnastic gyration: "Give each person the benefit of the doubt."
Observation: the less intensely a person is invested in their Judaism, the easier they find it not to judge those that are less observant. But the harder they find it to judge right from wrong. I say this not as a judgment (heh) but as a personal experience. Very often, people ask me for advice on matters of right and wrong. When I supply what I know from Torah wisdom, they are so grateful, and amazed that such clear demarcations exist.
And the more intensely a person is invested in their Judaism, the harder they find it not to judge those that are less observant, but the easier they find it to judge right from wrong.
(Other observation: the injunction to not judge humans applies equally to those more religious, and to those less religious. But I speak here not solely of judgment in religious living, but in parenting, eating, health, emotional savviness, and interpersonal intelligence.)
Note: it doesn't say you must give every IDEOLOGY the benefit of the doubt.
And that has made all the difference.
So how do you know who's really right? If there is, indeed, a right and wrong? Fortunately, I don't worry about that. Because I feel that in my life I have done my due diligence in examining the world to the best of my knowledge and trying to make the most educated and objective decisions as far as living my values. If I'm wrong, I believe that God will understand and love me anyway, since I'm doing my personal best. If I'm right and others are wrong, I believe God understands what their personal best is, in a way that they themselves aren't even aware of. And where we're both right... we'll party together in the shared joy that we haven't lost our humanity in the struggle of figuring it out.
Agree? Disagree? Impossible tightrope?
Judgmental is Not a Religion, It's a Personality Defect
Meet Me in Chapter Three
The Danger of Being Orthodox