Ethical will: Impartiality

Judgmentalism has always come easily to me.

-Me, ‘The Skeptic’s Kaddish 45’, May 30, 2019

During my kaddish journey following Papa’s death, I struggled with being judgmental of myself. In fact, this was one of the primary impetuses behind that yearlong writing project… Frankly, I had been feeling FAKE by going through the motions of communal mourning rituals with my religious community, while lacking faith in a personal Higher Power. I knew that that Papa would never have wanted that, nor respected it, and I couldn’t stand it either… so I began to share my truth.

It has been my experience that those of us who are most judgmental of ourselves also tend to be judgmental of others. A particular acquaintance of mine struggles with this more than anyone else I’ve known, and while many of the sentiments that he articulates are off-putting to me, my own inclination towards stinging judgmentalism permits me to empathize with and pity him. In his brutal judgments of others, I hear his impossible expectations of himself. His harsh judgmentalism puts my own into perspective.

The funny thing about [my] judgmentalism is that there’s always somebody for me to judge.

When I was more committed to Jewish tradition as an expression of God’s will, when I was praying three times daily and very careful never to eat any food that wasn’t certified kosher, when I felt more certain of my faith… I found myself having to withhold many a comment about those who were less observant.

On the other hand, now that my personal commitment to daily religious observance has slipped, now that I have strongly embraced my skepticism and doubts, now that I see tradition as almost entirely an expression of human needs and experiences… I find myself judging those who believe in Something that they cannot prove.

This reminds me of a popular adage I’ve oft heard in Jewish educational circles:

Anyone to my right is a zealot; anyone to my left is a heretic.

Now, the Torah, as I’ve written elsewhere, is a legal tradition at its core. The ancient Israelites lived their lives according to what they believed to be God’s Word, and they established judicial courts accordingly to adjudicate the inevitable disputes.

Somewhat as an aside, it was Moses‘ father-in-law Jethro, a non-Israelite, who first suggested the establishment of a hierarchical court system, rather than leaving Moses to shoulder the burden of adjudication on his own. Notably, according to Jewish doctrine, only Jews are obligated to live their lives according to God’s Torah, but gentiles are still considered obligated to abide by the seven Noahide laws, one of which is: the establishment of courts of justice.

It’s clear that judgment has an important place in Judaism. Indeed, Deuteronomy 16:19-20 is written as follows:

לֹא־תַטֶּ֣ה מִשְׁפָּ֔ט לֹ֥א תַכִּ֖יר פָּנִ֑ים וְלֹא־תִקַּ֣ח שֹׁ֔חַד כִּ֣י הַשֹּׁ֗חַד יְעַוֵּר֙ עֵינֵ֣י חֲכָמִ֔ים וִֽיסַלֵּ֖ף דִּבְרֵ֥י צַדִּיקִֽם׃ You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.
צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ׃ Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

These two verses, I find, are very instructive for us. For me, they are something to aspire to.

On the one hand, verse 20 makes it clear that we Jews ought to pursue justice. This is part and parcel of Torah. Through this lens, I am able to recognize and appreciate that judgmentalism isn’t inherently bad, although it certainly may be painful for me.

Verse 19 serves to clarify the ideal of judgment for me. Yes, we must pursue justice, but how does one do so? The answer: ‘you shall show no partiality’.

In other words, yes, we are creatures of judgment, and, yes, this may be not only natural but correct. However, we must always recognize and acknowledge our biases, and these biases are more than likely to shift over time, further highlighting their subjectiveness. So we must, of necessity, ask ourselves, “How would I describe my perspective? Who do I perceive to be different than myself and in what ways? And- how am I intuitively inclined to regard them?”

On a personal note, I am finding that the struggle of being judgmental has not gotten any easier for me emotionally over the years. However, the more I have been able to recognize and acknowledge my own mistakes and failures, the more I find myself capable of understanding the human failings of others.

34 thoughts on “Ethical will: Impartiality”

  1. Can confirm correlation between judgmental of self and judgmental of others. And by and large, most judgment passed on self and others has nothing to do with pursuit of Torah justice.
    -Judgmental Young Professional (But I’m trying to do better!)

  2. Great post. There are many things that get in the way of fair judgement and justice, hatred being the most common. But what people don’t realize that hatred only hurts them- it numbs the conscience and dulls their ability to reason. It also causes people to give a pass to the most brutal atrocities. In this fallen world, real justice and fair judgement is such a rare thing and it’s sad that things are like that. Thank you so much for posting and opening a few eyes.

  3. Okay so this is way oversimplifying but years passed in which I was committed to not faking it. Then my sons who were developing as normal chatty children each regressed into nonverbal autism at the 18 month mark. It was devastating but life went on. I had to learn to understand what they were communicating without words because they had not gone brain dead they had only ceased communicating in a way that was intelligible to me. It’s very hard to explain but because I put in the time day in and day out with them and learned to humbly listen with my eyes and to accept any crumb or sign of communication I began in a limited way to learn how to understand them. It’s like they taught me a different language. It was a long gruelling process. Unfortunately others did not even try and in a sense decided they just did not exist or quickly assumed “obviously this is what he is saying” and began to talk for them. So infuriating. At the same time as I was honing this skill of hearing what my children were communicating I started to have the capacity to hear another subtle communication in my dreams, in the patterns of the circumstances of my life etc. This communication did not lead me back to church or to religious observation but it did lead me back to certain religious texts and caused me to see them in a totally different light. When someone comes over to my house and encounters my children for the first time they often have one of two reactions. They are either so uncomfortable with the perceived silence that they quickly leave and never come back or they fake being comfortable and chat away at my children in a steady stream until my kids flee the room, lol. This to me is how most people approach God. A guest might see me communicating with my child. The fact that they don’t understand and can’t join in doesn’t make it less real. Anyone can learn my kids but they have to slow down and put in a lot of time and quiet observation as well as small attempts to interact while being okay with making a thousand mistakes. I have met very few willing to invest what it takes. I hope that when I talk about God on my blog that people don’t feel forced to fake a similar conversation. It’s the same as if they start talking at my kids. I can tell when it’s not real. At the same time I want the freedom to relate what my children or God communicate to me without being accused that it is a fabrication of my imagination. Everyone in my life kept trying to work out an arranged marriage between me and God. The best thing I ever did was to tell them to get the hell out and let me find my own way to love. I have to admit I was scared that if I was too honest I would find nothing but instead I found everything. I can’t force or arrange for anyone to know what I know but I do know that a healthy skepticism and the refusal to play games is vital. I have a lot more to say but I’ll stop there. Oh and Alexander Solzhenitsyn is someone who taught me a lot about what a life committed to telling the truth looks like so I consider myself in some ways a daughter of Alexander. What’s the Hebrew way of saying that? I know it’s ‘bint” in Arabic.

    1. Wow.

      I started to have the capacity to hear another subtle communication in my dreams, in the patterns of the circumstances of my life etc.

      That is amazing.

      It’s hard to know where to start with a response to you, Melanie. You’re so real.

      In Hebrew, it’s bat, and in Arabic (depending upon dialect) it’s either bint or binit (as it’s pronounced by Jerusalem Arabs, for example).

      I love the analogy between God and your sons in terms of communicating. I love everything about your response. I feel lucky to have found you on WordPress. Thank you.

      1. Okay, bat Alexander :). I assure you brother the feeling is mutual. Your post caused me to think “here is a true Israelite in whom there is no guile.”

  4. This is such a great post. I will try to keep my response from turning into another blog. I am also someone who struggles with being hard on myself and others. I started to realize that for myself this was usually when I didn’t have all the facts to judge rightly and fairly. Also I was just taking one standard and slapping it on everyone and I myself was just going through the robotic motions of religious ritual and observance. When it came to the religious dance I seemed to be able to perform better then the average person. However being a person who is probably Aspergers I also have a problem faking and acting. It’s annoying to most people because I am frequently saying “Um the Emperor has no clothes. He is totally naked.” I could track with the whole morality thing but eventually I felt like an imposter because all these people were acting like God was a real person and that He spoke to them and they in turn spoke to Him. When I had the courage to start asking around in my community and asking real hard questions I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t the only one faking this two way communication with the Divine thing. In fact it seemed like everyone was. I quit pretending and it really made every one else extremely uncomfortable. In fact I’d say it even garnered persecution. There was no religious freedom or the right to not believe. No one had answers for me. I was just supposed to fake it till I felt it like my children in ABA therapy for autism. “Here, do this! Great. Now here’s your candy.” Even 40 hours a week of that is like torture and child labour. No amount of candy can put someone at peace with that reality. And I had been faking it like they said and the feeling never came. The only way I could remain an honest person was to quit. The other issue was that I started to see that a lot of the religious acts that I could accomplish as in lifestyle choices and abstaining from certain things were too much and super oppressive to other people. This is the first part. I will be back with part two in a bit.

  5. Ben, we are finally all human and prone to making mistakes. So I embrace my discrepancy and I feel I should do the same with others. So don’t worry so much. Bravo .. thank you for doing such a piece in such depth. Wowo

  6. Great post! Later a Jewish man came along and taught something along the lines of “Judge not” — always a great message.
    When we judge others we ultimately judge ourselves. Best to drop judgement and instead approach others with unconditional love, grace and forgiveness that we ourselves so desperately need. Such a difficult thing to do…

  7. Great post. There’s a plethora of avenues one could reply with but I’ll opt out with merely concurring with your thoughts. My current amateurish premise is all human judgment is flawless prior our dirtiness (biases) that distorts our individual completed product of what we define as our just conclusions. If our biases are not intentional, then as a diverse group sharing our personal pov, we can reach as consensus that can result in a more fair outcome for all concerned.

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