By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
More than once I have come across Orthodox Jews who I felt looked down upon me for not being observant like them and don’t respect us as Jews. I got the impression I am not a good person in their eyes because I don’t keep the rituals like they do. Do you feel they have the right to be that judgmental?
— Morris P.
Unfortunately, I cannot deny that there are Jews who consider themselves Orthodox who are judgmental of others who live a less observant lifestyle. Their judgment, however, does not have a source in Judaism, and is, rather, reflective of their own personal shortcomings. Judaism teaches that only God has the right and the ability to judge others. (This is to the exclusion, of course, of the judgment conducted in a court of law).
There once was a very young man who became the Rebbe of a sect of Chassidim when his father died an untimely death. The elders approached him and asked how it is possible that such a young man could be the leader of those much older than himself?
He answered with a parable: Two men trained for many months to climb a very high mountain. After weeks of climbing, they got to the end of their strength and stopped to rest on a plateau. They were shocked to see a young boy playing and chasing butterflies. They asked him in amazement, how did you get here? We spent grueling weeks to arrive at this point, and you, a young boy, are playing here. The boy replied, “Gentlemen, I was born here.”
The point of the story is twofold: It is true that some were born into higher levels of scholarship and piety, and therefore may automatically be born into a position of leadership. However, it’s clear that the ones who climbed the mountain to get to where the others were born are much higher in the eyes of God. They achieved it through their own efforts and toil, rather than having it handed to them on a silver platter.
The truth is that there’s another aspect of that parable: The place where that boy was born is where he needs to begin his climb.
It is possible that one mitzvah performed by a Jew brought up in a secular home is worth 100 mitzvot performed by one who was born into observance.
This idea has profound ramifications in Jewish law: The Talmud says that one Jew cannot kill another, even to save his own life. This applies even if the first Jew is the most pious of Jews and the other Jew is a thief, a drug addict or even a murderer. The reason, says the Talmud, is that we can never know “whose blood is redder.”
There is no way for mortal man to judge another and to know who is considered more dear or valuable in the eyes of God, no matter what his or her actions seem to be to others.
The true Torah philosophy of life is to respect every Jew for who they are and to leave judgment to the Almighty.
Condescending attitudes, though they have no source in Torah, are certainly not unique to Jews or any particular sect of Jews. You can find the same attitudes, at times, with Conservative to Reform or Reform to secular Jews as well. It comes from a human desire to “be right.” Often you can find the same attitudes from Republicans to Democrats and vice versa.
Our job is to view every Jew as a family member, as one who was created in the “image of God,” and learn what we can from them and from all. This is the meaning of the sage’s statement, “ … there is no man who doesn’t have his time.”
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel, Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.