Tolerance is a Double-Edged Sword

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Tolerance is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the Torah encourages us not to judge people, not to be critical of them and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We are to be welcoming, warm and accept people for who they are without being dismissive.

While these attitudes are certainly virtuous and are to be encouraged, they are extremely nuanced and complicated to apply. When we are overly tolerant and accepting, we compromise our own values, principles and ultimately our integrity. If we accept everyone and their choices, we dull the boundaries of what is acceptable. Aren’t there behaviors and conduct that we must distance ourselves from? Shouldn’t some choices cause us to reject those who make them?

I am not suggesting that we become intolerant of those who think differently or observe differently. Nor am I suggesting that we not keep a relationship with those who have strayed with the hope that they will return. However, if a person has acted in a unambiguously immoral or unethical way, when we maintain a friendship, a closeness and an accepting stand, aren’t we impugning our own character and integrity?

We read every Friday night, “ohavei Hashem sin’u rah,” those that truly love Hashem, hate and reject evil and wrongdoing. Dovid Ha’Melech does not encourage us to hate the individual, but rather his choices. However, there are times when we can’t separate the person from the choices they make and if we truly love Hashem, love justice and honesty then we cannot and must not tolerate or accept the perpetration of that wrongdoing.

To be blunt – if a man refuses to give his wife a get (divorce document), if a woman has had an affair and continues to hurt her family, if a person cheats in business, or if an individual perpetually and consistently speaks negatively about others, how can we remain friends with them? What does it say about us if we are buddy-buddy with them, invite them to our affairs or have them over for a barbecue? What message do we send our children by accepting the unacceptable and tolerating the intolerable?

When confronted by this question, many respond, “I am not getting involved,” or, “I am not taking a position.” What they don’t understand is not taking a position is also taking a position, and it is one that is deeply offensive and hurtful to the victim of that friend’s behavior. We cannot afford to take the path of least resistance or maintain relationships because it would be too complicated to raise our voices in objection of their choices.

The Rambam writes – a person is a product of whom they surround themselves with. We are defined by our friends. Let’s choose wisely.

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS), a rapidly-growing congregation of over 650 families and over 1,000 children in Boca Raton, Florida. In 2010 he was recognized as one of South Florida’s Most Influential Jewish Leaders. He serves as Co-Chair of the Orthodox Rabbinical Board’s Va’ad Ha’Kashrus, as Director of the Rabbinical Council of America’s South Florida Regional Beis Din for Conversion, and as Posek of the Boca Raton Mikvah. 

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.