How Can We Be Non Judgmental Towards Non Observant Jews?

We all know the pain of being judged and treated as an inferior. Non observant Jews often feel that observant Jews are judging them because they don’t keep the mitzvos. In fact Aish HaTorah says this is one of the four most common reasons that people don’t seek to learn more about Torah Judaism. Aish suggests that we correct this perception by pointing out that only G-d can judge people, we can only judge specific actions like murder, stealing, etc..

But at the end of the day, doesn’t judging specific actions lead to feelings of being judged. It’s interesting to note that non observant people also judge us, but its seems we are less concerned about their judgment than the judgment they feel from us. Why is that?

So what attitudes and character traits can we strengthen to be less judgmental?

How can we get to the point where our acquaintances, friends and families don’t feel judged and thereby threaten by Torah Judaism?

29 comments on “How Can We Be Non Judgmental Towards Non Observant Jews?

  1. How to be more non-judgemental?

    Well, something I believe is key is realizing that there actually may be things that we frum Jews can learn from the non-religious. One tremendous problem in the religious world is we tend to think that we’re OK as we are, that Torah as we perceive it is the ultimate manifestation of Torah and that Judaism as we understand it the whole, complete picture. This is of course a fallacy.

    The truth is, there are kelipot (ie. unwholesome aspects) that have to be weeded out in every segment of klal Yisrael. The Zohar and speak a lot about the Erev Rav, the mixed multitude, and how prior to the full geulah the erev rav will have to be sifted out and rectified. Now, one thing which becomes clear if you seek to understand the sources honestly is that there are actually aspects of the Erev Rav in all sorts of places, and non only among the non-frum (see what the Zohar in Bereshit 34? says about the “giborim,” who put crowns on the Torah but are motivated by arrogance and a desire to make a name for themselves– “naase lanu shem”). The point is, the frum world itself has its share of things that need fixing.

    At any rate, one affect of the forces of galut is that we have become very out of touch with a basic, human, gut-level derech eretz. For example, it’s not uncommon to hear some rebbeim pondering upon things which, were you to speak to most people with a modicum of common sense, would be non-issues. Very often, the need to put a personal reaction “on hold” before checking the books or a rav means that our gut-level derech eretz sensitivity is dampened. The non-religious don’t have this problem. Of course, the flip side is that one shouldn’t let the latest societal fad dictate one’s derech eretz. But the point remains that many non-religious Jews have a level of derech eretz which could put many frum ones to shame. We tend to think that we’re “shalem” and the non-frum are “chaser”. Of course there is great truth to this, but this doesn’t mean we can’t realize that in certain respects a non-religious Jew many be more “shalem” than we are. It certainly short-circuits an attitude of arrogance and judgementalism when you start realizing that in some respects the non-religious are ahead of us.

  2. There are two aspects of humility before Hashem and before others. Even if a person is humble and recognizes his talents are G-d given and therefore nothing to be proud with, he can still fall into the comparison trap, in fact comparing is built into the human mind set.

    The Iggeres HaRamban teaches us that to truly become humble we have to search and find how the other person is really *better* than us in that their sins are unintentional, while our sins are often intentional.

    Here’s the relevant passage from the Iggeres HaRamban:

    Since everyone is equal before Hashem – who, when angry, cuts down the arrogant and with His will lifts up the downtrodden – therefore lower yourself, and Hashem will uplift you. I will therefore explain to you how to constantly act with humility; all your words should be said softly, your head should be bent, your eyes should look down to the ground and your heart should be up; do not stare at a person when talking to him; every person should, in your eyes, be greater than you. If he is wise or wealthy you must honor him; if he is lacking and you are wealthier and wiser than he, think in your heart that you are the guiltier, and he is the more innocent – since if he sins it is unintentional, while your sins are intentional.

    You can download the entire letter here.

  3. Before I pass judgement on anyone else, I have to remember the circumstances leading up to my becoming frum. Hashem gave me a particular past, emotional and spiritual composition, and ultimately a set of circumstances put in my path to bring me to a decision to become frum. That doesn’t make me superior, just in the right place at the right time (and Who set that up anyway?)

    Speaking of which, has there ever been a thread here about what made us become frum? That would be interesting (for me, anyway).

  4. I have mentioned this on previous posts but it seems worth reiterating.

    Two personal hanhagos that have been beneficial for helping with being judgmental:

    I do not read frum newspapers. They tend to be shrill and agenda driven.

    I have a regular seder in Sefer Chafetz Chaim.

    I’m no authority, but it is clear that I am much better than I would otherwise be, if not for these two things.

  5. On a more general level, I think that being judgemental is a hint that I do not know my subject well.

    Let’s take the example of a musician, who plays a wrong note while performing a difficult piece of music.

    If you never played it, you don’t understand how difficult is, and you’ll want to display “compentence” by saying “oh, that should be c sharp!”

    If you are a musician and tried it on your own, you will see how much more this musician achieves than you possibly could. And you will say “oh, shut up”.

    So if one thinks it’s possible to play it without errors
    a) either he does not know anything about it
    b) or he achieved it himself, but than he will smile and say “this kind of error also used to happen to me”.

  6. I think the key is: Al tadun et havercha ad she tagia limkomo.

    To me, this seems a very basic tenet of Judaism.

    We tend to judge out of context, and h’, with his very particular sense of humor, tends to bring us into situations where we do exactly what we condemned beforehand. Because when we condemned, we did not take into account this particular situation. That’s what Mida keneged Mida is all about.

    So the receipe against being judgemental would be to think out of the box, try to remember situations where I had/could have similar reactions.
    But it’s damn hard to achieve…

  7. Perhaps, before we engage in any such conduct that alienate a fellow Jew, we should think of all of the comments in Chazal, Rishonim and especially the Aruch LaNer and the CI that view such a POV negatively.

  8. I’m confused enough about my own current level; I have no business thinking I really know someone else’s. Still, I sometimes need to respond appropriately to actions others do or thoughts others express.

  9. On another note regardless of whether one is a BT or not, I think that it helps to always remember that G-d is the ultimate judge and:

    1) We would like Him to judge us favorably so we should judge others as we would want to be judged.

    2) Generally, we only see a few frames of the multi-million frame movie that makes up a person’s life and that only G-d can view the whole thing. (G-d watches movies, a shanda! :)

    3) Though for specific things like Edus (testimony) being outwardly orthodox carries some weight, except for a couple of mitzvot we really don’t know G-d’s ranking/weighting system. And it’s gotta be pretty darn complicated as we see throughout the Torah that the weighting seems to be pretty much tailored to the individual’s environment, potential, and current status. (I’m glad I didn’t have to write that program.)

    Being here in Israel has made me acutely sensitive to the third item. For example, How much merit accrues to someone, with little or no religious background, who spends three years or more of his/her being moser nefesh in defending us? How about their parents? What about all those secular Jews who risked and sacrificed life and limb to come here and fulfill the mitzvah of settling the Land?

    I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been sitting on a bus next an outwardly non-religious person only to see them pull out a siddur or tehilim and pray with an intensity I can only dream of approaching.

    Bottom line, IMHO, it’s about humility, and I think the items above can help keep one’s feeling of religious superiority in check.

  10. Unfortunately, I think “a” is much more common than “b”. And that is actually a good siman for when a BT has grown up, when he is no longer judgmental.

  11. I wonder if BT’s are a) More judgemental because they operate under the ex-smoker syndrome, i.e. I did it so there’s something wrong with you if you haven’t. or b) Less judgemental because they’ve been there and can empathize more with their way of life.

  12. I think that folks tend to give off an air of being judgmental when they are not really focusing on their own growth.

  13. I think there is a difference between judging a person’s overall value system and making them feel inferior because of that judgment.

    Of course we should judge the Torah’s value system as superior. But perhaps we should find as many opportunities as possible in which the person shares our Torah values. I think there are a lot more than we think, but unfortunately, we often focus on the negative.

    We ran a piece a while ago about the Permanent Preciousness of the Secular Jew and how they might actually do some mitzvos better than us, perhaps without the proper kavanna. Many people in the comments did not want to cede any superiority in any way to secular people. Perhaps this is where we can start.

  14. “But at the end of the day, doesn’t judging specific actions lead to feelings of being judged.”

    Some people manage to judge actions without making the person feel like a jerk. Clearly, rabbis are often great at this. Some teachers are too.

    To add to this, if someone isn’t ready to hear a critique or an opinion should it really be offered? Maybe setting a good example is the best idea. Or perhaps asking the non-observant person for feedback or advice on some issues will make them feel less vulnerable and less like they are around a holier-than-thou sort. Do religious people really have all the answers? I think that might be arrogant. The Torah and Hashem have all the answers, but that doesn’t mean religious people do because we can make mistakes.

    “It’s interesting to note that non-observant people also judge us, but its seems we are less concerned about their judgment than the judgment they feel from us. Why is that?”

    Maybe because a religious person should be surrounded by people and resources that help to guide their behavior in a moral manner. A non-observant person probably doesn’t have that advantage. And even if this is the non-observant person’s own doing, a sensitive religious person understands how blessed they are to have such great resources- and above all a terrific relationship with his/her Creator.

    Thank you for the thought-provoking post.

  15. in category 2 it seems to me the question is not “how” but “if”.

    I mean..why should we and how can we possibly do so while maintaining our own value system??

  16. There are at least two kinds of judgments at play here:

    1) I’m better than you because you are non observant.
    That judgment has no place and we need to work on our humility as suggested above.

    2) You’re values are somewhat deficient since you don’t follow Torah.
    How can we prevent judgmentalism in this sphere?

    I don’t think we can assign equivalency to all values and lifestyles. Should we try to hide how we truly feel? Is that proper and/or workable?

  17. Bob

    IMO the incarceration lasts a lifetime. You are not factoring in Yetzer Hara, self-interest and inertia that arrest growth and makes MOST people, frei and frum alike, hang on to their cherished preconceived notions that allow them to glide through their lives over the path of least resistance.

    Also remember that the dominant cultures brainwashing does not end when childhood and adolescence do. The badgering and reinforcement is incessant and both overt and subliminal.

    After that lengthy preface to answer this question:

    If the “captivity” is to a thought pattern, how responsible are they and we to fix it?

    I’d say that “they” bear little responsibility and “we” much or all of it. As our sages say: אין חבוש מתיר עצמו מבית האסורים=”the captive cannot spring himself from jail”. If contemporary secular/unaffiliated/un-Torah-educated Jews are Tinokos Shenishbah then Kiruv is the contemporary expression of פדיון שבוי-ים= “redeeming the captives”. As such not only is a high Torah-educational priority but the highest form of Tzedakah.

  18. Bob Miller:

    i don’t think it ever really ends; we’re all products of our influences and contexts. God understands all of the variables that affect everyone, including all mitigating factors. Even though we can’t know all the mitigating factors, we should strive to imitate God in that way, and judge people favorably.

  19. Maybe BT’s have an important responsibility. Do not bash the former life and do not add fuel to the fires of resentment by lashing out with disgust for secular Jews and secular life in front of new-found frum friends. Stress the positives of that former life that led you to adopt the new lifestyle. Certain aspects of former life enabled this embrace of Judaism and Jewish values.

    See in the still-secular/still-nonobservant those positives that most certainly existed in you, despite your initial non observance and/or ignorance of Judaism. We all have the Jewish spark. Well, except for “peace now” traitors.

  20. I think much progress can be gained by working on our own humility. Instead of focusing on editing the judgments (a worthwhile practice), it’s more effective to battle arrogance within ourselves.

    More favorable judgments of others will then follow.

  21. An ordinary tinok learns things and matures, helped by exposure to older people and peers. We don’t expect him to stay a baby forever.

    This is another kind of tinok, so I wanted to pose some questions:

    When do we say that a tinok shenishba is no longer in captivity and now has greater responsibility?

    Is it when we have made the necessary Jewish information available? Nowadays, everything is available. Unfortunately, misinformation is also available.

    Is it when he has seen examples of Jews living Jewishly? In many areas where the “captives” now live, such examples are plentiful and may be their own friends, neighbors, or relatives. Unfortunately, some other friends, etc., are Jews who don’t live Jewishly.

    If the “captivity” is to a thought pattern, how responsible are they and we to fix it?

  22. CHaim Grossferstant:

    I think your distinction makes sense — “tinoq shenishba” (or its equivalent, “omeir mutar”) assume that people have good reasons [such as cultural influence] to do what they do. Being a jerk can’t be explained away that easily.

    However, the principle of dan lekhaf zekhut always applies — if someone for instance cuts us off in traffic, our first assumption in ‘judging favorably’ should be that they didn’t notice, or are in a justified rush — not that they’re just being a jerk.

  23. Last I checked the Torah commands us:
    בצדק, תשפוט עמיתך i.e. to judge others favorably and give them the benefit of the doubt, NOT to suspend judgement entirely.

    I find it ironic that those who accuse Ortho Jews of “suspending their critical faculties” when approaching science and history would require this of them in their approach to interpersonal relationships.

    Question: Does the concept of “Tinok shenishbeh” apply only to chukim=the non-rational laws of the Torah, or even to the Mishpatim= the rational laws of the Torah?

    IOW while it’s clear to me that I should not judge my co-worker negatively for his/her lack of kashrus or Shabbos must I suspend judgement about their laziness or greed?

  24. regardless of where anybody falls on the “jew-scale”, keep in mind that they also take up residence on the “person-scale”

  25. Ben-David:

    I wouldn’t say that a stable moral code is “Judeo-Christian” — after all, according to many forms of Christianity, if you don’t ‘keep up with the times’, what used to be good (keeping the Jewish covenant with God) will now just get you tortured for eternity.

    Of course, i object to pretty much all uses of the term ‘Judeo-Christian’. I get the impression that it was invented by Christian politicians in order to get Jewish votes. «/cynicism»

  26. I don’t think Orthodox Jews will ever be “non-judgemental” enough for many modern secular people.

    “Being non-judgemental” has been promoted as a virtue precisely by those people attacking the Judeo-Christian notion that there is a stable, unchanging moral code for humanity. “Who am I to judge” is the basis of much politically correct and multicultural posturing.

    I think Torah Judaism has much to lose by trying to play this politicized version of the “tolerance” game. I think Orthodoxy has won more adherents and returnees by sticking to its core principles – including a binding moral code given by G-d at Sinai.

    On the other hand, Abraham’s teaching of monotheism leads directly to a sense of brotherhood and obligation to respect all humans. I think we can do more on the level of middos than we are doing.

    In my experience, many people are willing to hear and accept a statement based on the Torah’s moral code if that statement is made politely, in a conversational context where mutual respect has been established.

  27. It’s interesting to note that non observant people also judge us, but its seems we are less concerned about their judgment than the judgment they feel from us. Why is that?

    The more certain you are of your own rightness/righteousness, the less you care what other people think. Which could mean that intellectual humility is the cure for judgmentalism, but that would mean believing that you could be wrong about the most important and basic facts about Reality.

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