Misjudging People

By Rabbi Mordechai Levin
Published by the Omaha World Herald – January 22, 2011

In questionable situations, we would all like others to give us the benefit of the doubt; however, we sometimes find it difficult to do the same for them. If someone fails to show up for an appointment, we assume she just did not care. But perhaps her absence was caused by a serious situation that called for her immediate attention. In another example, a person may say something that turns out to be hurtful, and we assume he said it on purpose. But perhaps he wasn’t aware that his words were hurtful, or he simply — and unintentionally — had his facts wrong.

Because we can never be aware of all the circumstances in other people’s lives, our assumptions about their actions may sometimes be way off the mark.

Obviously, there are times when people are irresponsible, insensitive, hateful, or they intend to be hurtful with their words or actions. But those are not the situations which I’m referring to here; I’m talking about circumstances in which there are no ill intentions, and yet we misinterpret others’ words or actions. If somebody disappoints us, we would be wise to avoid automatically jumping to a negative conclusion regarding that person’s motivation. Maybe his words were quoted out of context, or maybe we do not know the whole story.

Judaism teaches us to avoid jumping to negative conclusions. For instance, we read in the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 19:15): “with justice you shall judge your neighbor.”  The  Mishna (beginning of the third century) advises us: “Do not judge your fellow human being till you stand in his situation”; and “Judge every person favorably.”  We all want others to give us the benefit of the doubt. Don’t you think we should do the same for them?


Posted in Articles, Newspaper Articles

Rabbi Levin is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Munster, IN. He received his rabbinic ordination from the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, and is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly. In 2010, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City for his years of dedicated service to the Conservative movement and the Jewish community...Full bio