Consider and Converse: A Guide toTochecha
Rebuke: criticism with love
Sh’ma Now curates conversations on a single theme rooted in Jewish tradition and the contemporary moment. At the heart of this issue of Sh’ma Now is the theme of “Tochecha”“Rebuke: criticism with love.” The perspectives shared in these pages are meant to be expansive — to inspire reflections on Judaism and possibility in ways you may not have considered before. They aim to hold discord. We hope that the richness and diversity of these essays will show you new perspectives that are personally meaningful and edifying.
Sh’ma Now has never viewed learning or “meaning-making” as solely an individual activity. That’s why we have included this guide, which is specifically designed to help you consider the idea of going forth independently or with others, formally and informally.
How to Begin
This guide offers a variety of suggestions, including activities and conversation prompts for individual contemplation and informal or more structured conversations. We suggest that you use this guide to share reflections and thoughts over a Shabbat meal, or, for those who are more adventurous, to lead a planned, structured conversation, inviting a small group of friends and family to your home or to a coffee shop. If you would like more information about ways in which this journal might be used, please contact Susan Berrin, Sh’ma Now editor-in-chief, at SBerrin@shma.com. You can also print out a PDF of the entire issue at https://forward.com/shma-now/.
Guidelines for Discussion
If you wish to hold a structured conversation, the following guidelines may help you to create a space that allows for honest personal exploration through sharing:
- Create a sense of shared purpose that can foster the kind of internal reflection that happens through group conversation.
- Remind participants of simple ground rules for conversations. For example: Avoid commenting on and critiquing each other’s comments. Make room for everyone to speak. Step into or away from the conversation appropriately. No one participant should dominate the conversation. Let silence sit, allowing participants to gather their thoughts.
- For each of the questions below, we recommend that you print out the article in question, or provide the link to it, and we ask that you take a moment to read it in print or on screen, before the conversation begins.
- Allow people a few minutes to absorb the article, perhaps even to read it a second time, before moving into the discussion.
Interpretive Questionscanfocus the reader on the ideas in the articles.
Jhos Singer(page 1) introduces readers to the idea of tochecha, and examines what tochecha teaches us about living Jewishly. He writes about receiving_tochecha:_ Tochecha”_asks us to listen so that we may fully absorb what we hear and then get busy clearing away the muck.” Why is listening — having an open heart — so essential to taking in a rebuke? The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, teaches: “If you see another person doing something ugly, meditate on the presence of that same ugliness in yourself.” Are there stories about _tochecha that have given you a new glimpse into Jewish wisdom? Are there texts about rebuke that have sustained you?
Rabbi David Ingber(page 3) reflects on the sensitive issue of expressing tochecha to someone who seems impervious to being accountable and making necessary changes. While Ingber and many in the Jewish community see Mordechai Gafni as a manipulatively charismatic danger, it seems that he is immune to rebuke. What do we do when rebuke is not heeded, when it makes no difference? If a cultivated relationship is important for giving tochecha, how do we bring attention to wrongdoing when a relationship is impossible?
- Ari Ezra Waldman (page 4) writes about giving rebuke anonymously (on the Internet). He speaks about the advantages of anonymity (such as providing shelter to marginalized individuals and groups) and also about the dangers. Anonymity erodes certain essential norms of social interaction, dehumanizes victims, and erases context. Given the benefits as well as the dangers of anonymous platforms, how should the Internet handle these issues? What types of guidelines should be instituted to curb cyber-bullying? How should we monitor online anonymous behaviors so as to ensure safer interactions — especially for vulnerable people? Are certain freedoms to be curbed for the safety of all?
Reflective Questionscanhelp to integrate the ideas in these articles with one’s own sense of self.
- Estelle Frankel (page 3) writes about the art of giving tochecha. As a psychotherapist and spiritual director, she offers three essential aspects for giving a good rebuke: timing, tone, and intention. She also suggests that we cultivate certain personal virtues, such as humility, empathy, courage, and non-defensiveness, to allow us to give and receive tochecha more easily. In your own life — among friends and family — what have been the obstacles for giving tochecha? When have you had an experience of receiving tochecha that helped to change you? How do you understand this verse from Pirkei Avot — “Do not judge your neighbor until you have stood in his place”— as a fundamental concept of giving a rebuke?
- In NiSh’ma, (page 2) three writers explore the verse from Proverbs that teaches us about the importance of rebuke and the role it plays in building healthy communities:”One who rebukes an individual shall, in the end, find more favor than one who flatters with the tongue.” (28:23) Elana Hope Sztokman challenges us to take seriously the power of rebuke — especially toward wrongdoing in Jewish life. What is the relationship between the mitzvah of protecting the most vulnerable among us and the mitzvah of voicing a rebuke? How do we hold both of these mitzvot when they come into conflict? Where do we turn for the courage to rebuke one of our own leaders?
Additional Resources onTochecha
This year, the 9Adar Project: Jewish Week of Constructive Conflict ( org) has chosen as its theme, “tochecha.” The 9Adar Project seeks to cultivate a culture of constructive conflict across personal, political, religious and other divides. The 9th of the Hebrew month of Adar marks the day that approximately 2,000 years ago healthy disagreements “for the sake of Heaven” turned destructive and serves as a powerful reminder of what can happen when these values and skills are neglected. To learn more, see 9Adar.org/tochacha2017.
While there are few (if any) classical Jewish sources focusing on anonymous tochecha, please see (in Hebrew) the Responsa in a work by Rav Menachem Mendel Fuchs, titled, Meshiv Shalom (pp. 307-9, questions 6 and 7). He writes that in certain cases where the person would be very embarrassed and the tochecha would be counter-productive, one should first do it anonymously. He cites the Babylonian Talmud, Araching 16b as a proof: “Whence do we know that if a man sees something unseemly in his neighbor, he is obliged to reprove him? Because it is said: Thou shalt surely rebuke. If he rebuked him and he did not accept it, whence do we know that he must rebuke him again? The text states: ‘surely rebuke’ all ways. One might assume [this to be obligatory] even though his face blanched, therefore the text states: ‘Thou shalt not bear sin because of him.’”
- Tablet ( tabletmag.com)/) features an essay about Rav Yitzchok Hutner, who writes about “tochecha” and the “gravity of reprimand” in several letters (No. 130 and 132). See http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/215121/letters-rav-yitzchok-hutner?utm_source=tabletmagazinelist&utm_campaign=3ea08135a0-October_10_201610_10_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c308bf8edb-3ea08135a0-207071329 He writes: “Nonetheless, open rebuke comes from a hidden love (see Proverbs 27:5). But ultimately, such love is hidden only to be manifest through judgment. And certainly the heart does not desire that the judgment of rebuke should “remain for many days” (based on description of the lasting effect of writing in Jeremiah 34:14). And this is the unique difficulty that I feel when writing letters of rebuke. But ultimately, what am I to do? Is not the withholding of rebuke also a difficult judgment? Overcoming this apprehension required me to wait some time, hence the lack of promptness in my response. And it should be his will that the “open rebuke” should completely be substituted and consequently the light of my “hidden love” should be revealed.”