Judging Favorably

A few words of clarification about the concept “Havei dan et kol ha’adam lechaf zechut:” judge every person favorably. There is a misconception that we are required to look at clearly wrong actions and make up any kind of unlikely scenario to justify the action of the person we observe. The law is applied in relation to situations that are ambiguous, where you are required to give the person the benefit of the doubt, assuming the favorable side of the ambiguity rather than the negative side. In other words, Mishna is teaching us about behavior that has multiple interpretations, with the positive interpretation being equal to the negative one. But one does not have to invent unreasonable explanations to justify behavior that is clearly wrong. You can say that the person didn’t realize how seriously wrong his behavior was, but behavior which is clearly wrong has to be viewed that way.

Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky

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