In Judaism we evaluate ideas and behaviors. We don’t judge other people.
The world recognizes that Judaism has brought morality and values to the world: the 10 commandments, brotherhood of man, education, the desire for peace, love your neighbor.
Another value we have introduced is “tolerance.” Not judging another human being — the equality of man.
The interesting paradox is that if you ask many non-religious Jews, they will say that they feel religious Jews look down at them, and feel very uncomfortable as a result…. Yet Judaism has taught “tolerance” to the world!
The Talmud says the following thing. Let’s say someone would point a gun to your head (G-d forbid) and ask you to kill another person or else he would kill you. What do you think Judaism says?
You have to die rather than kill him or her.
The Talmud answers that you don’t know whose blood is redder. This means that you don’t know who is a better person in G-d’s eyes.
The Greatest Rabbi
OK. Now what if someone held the greatest Rabbi in the generation at gunpoint and said to him: you kill this bum on the street, this good for nothing atheist, this parasite of society that never did a good day’s work in his life, or else we’ll kill you. What should he do? That’s right – he has to give up his life. Why? Because we don’t know whose blood is redder. But why? He’s the greatest rabbi – doing all those mitzvos. This guy is just a bum on the street. How can we say that we don’t know who the better person is in G-d’s eyes?
Judaism teaches that we human beings don’t judge people – only G-d does. We don’t know what the person’s background is – maybe he was raised by Jack the Ripper… and his mother was even worse! We also don’t know his genetic / chemical make-up. Maybe he did some act of kindness that you and I just don’t know about. Perhaps that benevolent act would have been simple for you or I, but presented an enormous moral challenge to our friend. We simply don’t know that if we, whoever we are, were in the same position as him, we wouldn’t be doing the same or even worse.
This is the Jewish definition of tolerance. Everyone is made in the image of G-d. I don’t judge you as a person. You could really be a better person in G-d’s eyes than me.
Walking into McDonalds
So imagine the following scenario. You see a religious Jew, all dressed the part – black coat, hat, the works, walking into a McDonalds. He sits down and eats a Big Mac – no qualms. He’s just having a grand old time! Now, let’s say you really knew that he was a bona fide transgressor. He is indulging his appetite for Big Macs just because he loves Big Macs! We would all agree that there is something incongruent about this fellow’s behavior.
Now imagine the same guy, all dressed up. He meets non-religious people and looks down on them. It’s the same thing. His behavior is completely incongruent. It is a religious principle not to look down on people – just like you can’t eat pork.
At the same time, it works both ways. Religious Jews are not perfect either. So when we see them making a mistake, we shouldn’t judge them either. They’re human too.
Being able to withhold our judgment of people and walk around painting them black, especially if they’re not doing what I’m doing, is what tolerance is all about, and what Judaism has taught the world.