The days of judgement

By Craig Nudelman

As we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a key word that comes up is judgement — Rosh Hashanah is called Yom Ha’Din, the Day of Judgement. 

That day is associated with being inscribed in the Book of Life for the year to come. However, G-d, or whatever other higher spiritual manifestation you believe in, is the only judge on that day. What about all the other days of the year? What judgements are carried out by the mere mortals around us?

We all make judgements daily, and it can be positive or negative. A person’s haircut, choice of food, clothes they wear, place of residence, among others, are there to be looked at and interrogated. We can also notice someone’s behaviour; how they act in public, their leadership styles, and parenting skills can be evaluated. Interestingly though, all of these judgements are completely subjective and never an actual reflection on the person who we see. 

Reading about judging others online, it seems as though it is detrimental in almost every way to our psychological health. In Dana Harron’s piece in Psychology Today on why we judge others, she posits that we do so because we want to avoid looking inwardly at our own potential feelings of shame and inadequacy. She states, “Judging other people has nothing to do with the people who you are judging.” Being judgemental, in other words, gives you the opportunity to ignore your negative qualities and focus on those who you deem to be ‘lesser’. You don’t look at the positive attributes of the individual in question; rather you focus on a social hierarchy and how you and others fit into a type of social order. 

This kind of toxic judgementalism has taken on a new form in today’s digital world. It has never been so easy to cast judgment on others and criticise almost anything that they do. Allie Volpe, writing for, states that we can now judge from a digital platform and don’t get the same feedback we would in a physical situation. Instead of looking at someone’s body language to gauge how our judgementalism could be affecting them (or ourselves), we can get away with not getting that response. She states, “When you silently cast judgment on someone from afar based on an Instagram story, you don’t get feedback from other people… and you don’t learn how to make comments or critiques in a constructive way.”

It seems, however, that we have been hardwired to be judgemental. Volpe’s article goes on to explain that judgement kept humans safe. Their judgements allowed people to differentiate between foods which were safe or dangerous to eat, who could and could not be trusted in their tribe, and who was hard-working or lazy. These character traits that our ancestors looked at are still in use today. These can enable us to see who can be entrusted with difficult tasks, and who should be handled with a bit more care and kindness. 

But the fact remains that we must be aware of being judgemental and whether we are judging in a positive or negative manner. Sometimes we judge others positively and see how we can act like them in order to improve ourselves. For example, if I see someone speaking incredibly well in public, I can try to emulate their confidence and ability to make the crowd listen to their every word. Similarly, this is true when it comes to someone’s singing technique, work ethic, or other value which I admire. 

There is a flipside to this though. The very same feeling of admiration for that individual’s technique or skill could make you irrationally dislike the other, due to you feeling envious and threatened by their being ‘better’ than you. Dr Juliana Breins, in Psychology Today, explains that we can start resenting that person. She states, “if your co-worker wins an award that you had your eye on, you might find that you’re suddenly more aware of — and annoyed by — their negative qualities.” Our propensity to be threatened by those who could be deemed better than us is something of which we should be aware. 

Being aware and mindful is something that is extremely important in Judaism, and throughout the month of Elul we have the power to grow and change our worldviews on how we perceive individuals. A good friend of mine gave me a book a few years ago called 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays by Rabbi Simon Jacobson. It provides practical steps to take, to account and prepare yourself for the High Holidays. What I really appreciate about the book is that it doesn’t always impose religious practices. Rather, it provides exercises for self-reflection that are so important for us to take into consideration. Throughout the month of Elul, right up to the end of Tishrei, there are daily exercises which take you on a journey towards identifying and acknowledging your prejudices and negative behaviours, and try to challenge you to grow. 

The first exer-cise is to identify and describe one damaging pattern that you want to break in the coming year, and to list one thing you have to do to break that pattern. If your damaging pattern is being judgemental, then perhaps it’s time to recognise that. One way to mitigate being judgemental is to become aware of how you feel, not only when you judge others, but how you feel when you are judged. This may lead to you becoming more empathetic and understanding of others.

The days leading up to Rosh  Hashanah and Yom Kippur are times for acknowledging what we have done during the past year and how we can develop in the coming year. I hope that you give yourself the opportunity to see where you can develop and grow to become a better you in 5783. And don’t worry, whatever happens, I won’t judge you!

Shana Tova U’Metuka!

• Published in the September 2022 Rosh Hashanah Digital Edition – Click here to read it.

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