It seems to be a consistent mantra for BTs, converts to the faith and others that we cannot, must not and should not judge others. That’s understandable: none of us can walk in another person’s shoes, or understand why they do – or don’t do – things. But if you are a committed jew, this approach raises not a few questions. For example, I believe that G-d appeared to all Jewish souls at Sinai, and charged us all with keeping his Torah.
Orthodox Judaism states very clearly that the obligation to try to keep the torah is on every Jew. If I try to play down or minimise that obligation for others, then I am running the risk of weakening one of the basic planks of my own belief and observance.
Why do I need to keep kosher? G-d told me to. Why does my Jewish friend / parents / sibling need to keep kosher. G-d also told them to. But they aren’t. This creates one heck of a problem for the ‘don’t judge’ paradigm, as the torah makes it clear time and time again that if the jews don’t respect G-d’s laws, they will be judged very harshly indeed.
Secondly, the Torah makes it very clear that we are responsible for one another, and will be judged collectively. We’ve all heard the parable about the jews being in one big, collective boat: it’s all very well for a few people to only drill under their own seats, but by so doing, they could sink the whole enterprise.
To come back to the kosher example: if my friend / brother-in-law / whoever is eating a prawn sandwich, why is it my problem? I shouldn’t judge him. But then, if his eating his prawn sandwich is in fact tipping the heavenly scales collectively against the jewish people, his actions could end up having a negative repercussion on me.
Not judging is a very modern, western thing, but in many ways it’s antithetical to Torah. And it’s completely unworkable in any genuine way. For all that we spout pious things about not judging others, we all do it. And if you have a go at someone else for being judgemental of others, you are doing exactly the same thing to them – why is your judgement value about their behaviour any more correct?
‘Not judging’ also blurs the line between what is objectively right, and what is objectively wrong. Is it right or wrong to mug an old lady? Right or wrong to have a one night stand? Right or wrong to marry out of the faith, or eat a prawn sandwich?
There are always mitigating circumstances for every individual, of course. But we have a clear manual, in the torah, about what actions are right and wrong in G-d’s eyes. And while we can’t and shouldn’t judge an individual (‘they are bad’), we have to judge their actions (‘that is bad’).
And the measurement we have to use is the Torah, as that is the only objective measure we have. And if we don’t judge other people’s action, then we end up blurring the lines even more between what G-d is asking of us, and what we expect from ourselves.
If my child comes to me and asks me why Mr So-and-So is eating a prawn sandwich, I will tell her that it – not him – is wrong. Because according to the Torah, it is. And because I want her to grow up understanding that the final arbiter of what is right and wrong is Hashem.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that I go up to Mr So-and-So and do a ‘fire and brimstone’ routine. Everyone is free to make their own choices in life, and be judged for it. But G-d is nowhere near as PC as our modern Western society, and we aren’t doing anyone – including ourselves – any favours by pretending otherwise.