Benefit Of The Doubt

would like to speak in favor of the most endangered resource in our public lives: the assumption of good intentions.

Throughout my rabbinate, I have found myself in disputes, sometimes as a moderator and sometimes as a party to the dispute. They have ranged from public issues to family fights to events in the synagogue. I have always been tempted — and seen others tempted — to assume that the person who disagrees with me must have less than pure motives. It is as if we are programmed to assume disagreement about sensitive matters as an insult, rather than an argument.

In public life we are deluged with anger at one another. Whenever I say this I will invariably evoke comments from people who will write me and say, “Yes, but rabbi, what they do is intolerable.” Might I gently suggest that if you feel this way you have missed the point? Listening begins with the assumption that the other is worth listening to, and that is possible by assuming they are not purely malign and base. Dan l’kaf z’chut — try to give someone the benefit of the doubt before you scream. If you do, they might listen to you, too.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.