What follows next in Jesus’ sermon is one of the most misunderstood teachings in the Gospel. Jesus instructs his students: "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." Matthew 7:1-2.
Many people take this teaching literally. Thus, we regularly hear from bad people, "Who are you to judge me?" or, worse, from another, even a juror (I am not making this up), "Who am I to judge another?" Did Jesus really intend jurors not judge a criminal defendant on trial for a ghastly crime? Are we never to judge another, even when our lives or the lives of our children are at risk? Should we not tell our daughters not to date a man with a history of violence and abuse? After all, that would be judging another! What, then, did Jesus mean?
Considering the barbed comments that Jesus threw out at his antagonists, calling some Pharisees and Sadducees "vipers" (Matthew 12:34) and "serpents" (Matthew 23:33), it would seem that Jesus had no trouble judging others. Are his disciples to be better than him? Of course, that cannot be. So, what, then, did Jesus mean when he spoke of not judging?
Hillel, the great Jewish teacher who preceded Jesus (and who, according to some scholars, actually taught Jesus), spoke similarly: "Do not judge your fellow man until you have been in his place." Did Hillel mean that we cannot judge an abuser unless we ourselves grew up under his same (probably bad) circumstances? Not at all. What Hillel meant, according to another rabbi, and what I suspect Jesus similarly meant, is this: "Do not judge your fellow human being until you know all the facts." Wow! This makes all the difference. Thus, Jesus was not talking about never judging—just about arbitrary or baseless judging.
Thus, if a juror hears a case and all of the evidence—and now knows the facts—the juror is not only capable of judging, but must judge. To not judge under such circumstances is an invitation for a breakdown of society.
Similarly, if a person with a history of abuse wants to date your son or daughter, by all means judge. Remember that Judaism is a religion of life: "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live." Deuteronomy 30:19. Judging a person for what he or she is based on fact is not only appropriate, but necessary to have a moral, ordered, and safe society.
On the other hand, we do not judge another when our judgment is based solely on that person’s immutable characteristics (race, heritage, etc.). Nor do we judge someone when we do not have the facts, but only rumor or innuendo. Consequently, if we would not want to be irrationally judged, on the basis of our skin color, nationality, or religion, we should not judge others this way. Measure for measure (another fundamental Jewish principle that Jesus taught) applies. 6 Jewish Encyclopedia 21-22 (Goden Rule, The).
Shalom and to life!
I welcome your comments.
Copyright 2010 by Ira L. Shafiroff. All rights reserved.