As Judgment Day nears, let’s try being less judgmental

By Joel H Cohen

Joel H. Cohen

NEW YORK — A popular old story tells of a Jewish woman on a New York City subway sitting next to a bearded man who’s wearing a black hat and long black clothing.

After minutes of staring at the man, the woman can’t contain herself. “I don’t understand you people,” she says. “You all dress alike, you stay among yourselves, you speak your own language, you don’t watch TV, and some of you don’t even listen to the radio. I don’t understand you Orthodox Jews .”

The man patiently responds, “Madam, I’m not Jewish, I happen to be Amish.”

“Amish!” the woman e_claims.”I have so much respect for you people. “You all dress alike, you stay among yourselves, you speak the same, language, you don’t watch TV, and some of you don’t even listen to the radio. Wonderful.”

So nice to see an example of respect for someone of another culture and religion, but what about respect for our own?

Years ago, I attended Shabbos services in a shul in Pikesville, Maryland, where the rabbi opened his sermon along these lines of “This week marked a milestone event in Jewish history.”

What was the event?

“The 50th anniversary of the ordination of New York’s Cardinal O’Connor.”

The rabbi explained that his brother, a rabbi in New York, had received an invitation to a program celebrating the cardinal’s ordination anniversary, with the additional note, to the effect: “We are aware that our Jewish friends could not attend a program on Friday night, so we’re also scheduling a Sunday afternoon program that they can.”

The Maryland rabbi’s point, he explained, was that here was an institution that only in recent years had described Jews with uncomplimentary labels, and now it was respecting Jewish religious observance.

“While some of our own people are not,” the rabbi ruefully added, citing as an example newspaper ads taken by a group of ultra-observant Jews who in effect were saying, “If you don’t observe as we do, then you’re not really Jewish.”

Extreme approaches like this seem rarer today, but we’ve probably all observed members of Jewish denominations making snide comments about other denominations  And occasionally those underlying judgments have resulted  in such antisocial acts as rock throwing.

Attitudes can beget policy, as in recent rulings concerning  services at the Temple’s West Wall in Jerusalem.

Admittedly, it’s not easy to respect and give others credit for their different beliefs and customs, but worth working toward, especially as we approach Rosh Hashanah, when we’re all being judged.

So let’s try hard not to be judgmental about others, including our own co-religionists, and maybe hasten the day when that mythical woman on the train will learn that the bearded, black-hatted man next to her is Jewish, not Amish. And she can say with all sincerity, “Though I don’t personally subscribe to your beliefs and observances, I have so much respect for you people and yours.”

It’s our judgment call.

Shana tova.

Cohen is a freelance writer based in New York City.

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One Response to “As Judgment Day nears, let’s try being less judgmental”

  1. Ari'el says:

    Thank you for your nice article. Let me add my own hearty Amen.
    But let me ask you a question: Does your tolerance and refrain from judgment extend to Messianic Jews, or are you comfortable with duplicity?


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