Criticizing – The Right Way to Do It

“You shall not hate your fellow man in your heart. Reprove your kinsman but incur no guilt because of him.” — Leviticus 19:17

Recently and in the past, I have witnessed the public humiliation and condemnation of victims of abuse within various groups on the net.  Those that cricitize, do so because of some percieved hurt that has been inflicted by another victim, or, perhaps, a perceived offense due to a post.  How does one know when to criticize and how to go about it so that everyone involved comes away with relationships intact?  Here’s a quick lesson I learned from the Jewish Wisdom that I believe will help people in handling criticism properly and with wisdom.

“For when one man sins toward another and the offended party reproves him in SECRET, the offender will apologize to him, and the other will accept his apology and make peace with him. But if the other will not rebuke him, he will hate him in his heart, and will cause him harm either then or at some other time”.

The final words of the commandment above, “but incur no guilt because of him,” can be understood in two ways:

1.  Don’t remain passive when when you see another about to act evilly, lest you share in the guilt. Rather reprove the person and, therefore, bear no responsibility for his actions.


2. Although you are permitted to reprove another, don’t commit a sin while doing so: Don’t HUMILIATE the person you are reproving, for to humiliate another, particularly in public, is itself a very serious offfense.

He who rebukes another, whether for offenses against the rebuker himself or for sins against God, should administer the rebuke in private, speak to the offender GENTLY and TENDERLY, and point out that he is only speaking for the wrongdoer’s own good. . . One is obligated to continue admonishing until the sinner assaults the admonisher and says to him, “I refuse to listen.” — Moses Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, “Laws Concerning Character Development and Ethical Conduct,” 6:7

Rabbi Tarfon said: “I wonder if there is anyone in this generation capable of accepting reproof . . .” Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya said: “I wonder whether there is anyone in this generation who knows how to reprove” [without humiliating the one being criticized]. — Babylonian Talmud, Arakhin 16b

If people fear to offer criticism because it leads to a rupture of the peace, then that itself proves that the peace is false. Peace, if it is to last, must be based on truth and lack of fear. — Jewish Wisdom, Pg 76

Not confronting an issue immediately that is offensive leaves room for the offended party to fly off the handle later when he or she is offended again by something else the offender does or says. Confronting an offense prevents escalation and heightened anger later that could be damaging not only to the offender, but to others that will be affected by the outburst from the offended party.

As groups enlarge and interaction takes place between varying belief systems, it is very important that one learns to handle offenses in a manner that allows everyone involved to “save face.” This is ethical and respectful.  Go to the offender privately and use the two rules listed above in letting the offender know how you feel. What many have witnessed time and agian, is the public humiliation of people due to a lack of understanding on how to communicate. Communication with each other is key to peace in any group of people.

Many of the churches we all have attended used public humiliation to attack those perceived to have committed offenses against God and man. We all know the trauma this caused each of us when this was done. Bare in mind the trauma inflicted when we duplicate that behavior against someone who is already broken, already hurting and already struggling with abuse issues in their lives. To do so against a broken person, is the weightier sin. Please use grace, humility, gentleness and love when administering criticism to another. “This keeps the unity in the bonds of peace”.

1 thought on “Criticizing – The Right Way to Do It

  1. joanna

    As always, this is practical knowledge that can help me in this area. I am a hold-back-keep-the-peace then Fly=off-the=handle type. I am now learnign this, and with knowledge comes wisdom and change.



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