Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Judge Who Favorably?

Pirqey Avot. Ancestors' Chapters. chapter 1.
(i'm not giving a mishna number because they vary in different editions)

Yehoshua‘ ben Perahhya says:
"Make a sensei for yourself
 And acquire a comrade for yourself
 And judge
kol ha’adam favorably."

In the spirit of inobvious readings, we are going to ignore the fact that the most probable proper understanding of the phrase kol ha’adam here is "every human being" and take a little drashic conceptual leap.

אדם doesn't just mean "human being" or "person" — it's the name of our species. Homo sapiens sapiens. Interestingly enough, just as adam "human" is associated (whether justifiably or not) with adama "earth", the English word human stems ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root dhghem-, also meaning "earth"!

So anyway, כל can mean "every" "each" or "all".
An initial, basic reading of the text would lead us to understand כל האדם as "every human being". Judge every person favorably. If someone cuts you off on the highway, don't assume "what an ass!" — instead, assume "maybe they need to get to the hospital quickly!"

Let's reread it now.
Judge kol ha’adam favorably.
כל האדם
The whole species. The entire human race.

Judge all of humanity favorably.

Don't be a misanthrope.
Don't be a self-hating human.
Don't go around saying "people are by nature evil".
Don't think that the world would get along better without us.

Sure, we've made some mistakes. But we're learning. We didn't eat that fruit in the Garden for nothing. Save the whales. Save the planet. Save ourselves. We can do it.

( reduce » reuse » recycle )

The Hunger Site and friends.

Some Negative Reinforcement:
(in case you didn't get the idea)
Ribbi Yeshoshua‘ says:
"Jealousy, Selfishness,
 And being a Self-Hating Human
 Can cause Early Death."

— Pirqey Avot chapter 2


Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Nice. How about "judge the כֹּל of a human favorably", in other words, judge the ENTIRETY of a human favorably, even if (his)[her] indivdual parts may be faulty.

7/28/2005 8:02 AM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Along those lines, if I am not mistaken the Shach writes that a person is permitted to exaggerate a little bit about a person when giving their eulogy--because people are generally a little bit better than you think they are.

7/28/2005 8:30 AM  
Blogger ADDeRabbi said...

Can one it as an allusion to the end of (let's see if i can spell this correctly) Qoheleth which states "The end of the matter; all has been heard: Revere God and observe his commands, for this is 'kol ha'adam'.

The phrase appears elsewhere in 'wisodm literature', i believe, and also elsewhere in Pirqe Avoth (e.g., Shammai's dictum).

7/28/2005 9:28 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Mar & Fred:

Also a good read, but not the one i'm pushing ;-) .


That's how you would spell it if you were commenting on Mr. Gavriel's blog, but on mine it's Qohelet :-P . But that brings up a whole nother (sic) twist on it! If kol ha’adam = human purpose, i.e. "revere God and observe his commands", then "Judge kol ha’adam favorably" isn't really speaking about human beings (whether individual or collective) at all!

7/28/2005 10:38 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Adderabbi's read, as explained by Steg, could be a nice chasidishe vort. (Or maybe not such a "nice" one, as far as interpersonal relations go....)

And what's this use of who for an accusative? I know, you're going to tell me that language is defined by what people say, not by "arbitrary" rules. Silly linguist. Philologists rule! (All puns intended.)

7/28/2005 11:29 AM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

7/28/2005 11:40 AM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

you know what they say
an early death gets caught by worms

7/28/2005 11:42 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Well, you said it for me, so i've got nothing to add. Oh wait, i do ;-) . How canst thou jump on me for the who(m) but ignore the whole other problem of whole nother?

Anyway, Mr. Philomalologist, go do some research on living language phenomena! I suggest the joculative infix -ma-.

7/28/2005 11:55 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


They also say:
The early bird may get the worm,
but the
second mouse gets the cheese.

7/28/2005 11:58 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Cool. And I do do research on living languages. Why do you think I read

(My favorite thing on Urban Dictionary is the definition of the word "teh". Apparently, this word started its life as a typing error for the English definite article, then came into its own when the Hacker language Leet [in the 1980s] glorified typos. Now, it can act as an ordinary definite article, or, like the Greek articular infinitive, it can turn other parts of speech into nouns. [As Calvin would say, "nouning".] Example: This is teh sucks.)

In terms of who(m) vs. whole nother. This is totally subjective; the first one merely annoys me more.
Actually, there is some objectivity to it; the first disrupts the structure of our Indo-European language, whereas the second merely creates a neologism based on a false etymology. (I would have little to no problem adding to noun "nother" to the dictionary, with the sense "amount" or "lot".

7/28/2005 12:43 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Nice. I like Mar and Fred's interpretation too. I actualy blogged about a while back:

7/31/2005 11:01 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

And I see now, upon looking back, that you liked your interpretation better back then as well! :)

7/31/2005 7:47 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Well, i'm a universal kind of guy ;-) .
And being a SciFi/Fantasy fan, i was exposed early on to the point of view that claims that "humans are a blight on Mother Earth that She (sic) would be better off without".

7/31/2005 9:24 PM  

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