What does it look like to engage with those we disagree with and take their opinions seriously? At what point do we decide it's no longer appropriate to consider them? What lessons do to the rabbis of the Talmud teach us about judging others and the trend of "cancel culture?"

הָנְהוּ בִּרְיוֹנֵי דַּהֲווֹ בְּשִׁבָבוּתֵיהּ דְּרַבִּי מֵאִיר וַהֲווֹ קָא מְצַעֲרוּ לֵיהּ טוּבָא. הֲוָה קָא בָּעֵי רַבִּי מֵאִיר רַחֲמֵי עִלָּוַיְהוּ כִּי הֵיכִי דְּלֵימוּתוּ. אָמְרָה לֵיהּ בְּרוּרְיָא דְּבֵיתְהוּ: מַאי דַּעְתָּךְ — מִשּׁוּם דִּכְתִיב ״יִתַּמּוּ חַטָּאִים״, מִי כְּתִיב ״חוֹטְאִים״? ״חַטָּאִים״ כְּתִיב.
With regard to the statement of Rabbi Yehuda, son of Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi, that David did not say Halleluya until he saw the downfall of the wicked, the Gemara relates: There were these hooligans in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood who caused him a great deal of anguish. Rabbi Meir prayed for God to have mercy on them, that they should die. Rabbi Meir’s wife, Berurya, said to him: What is your thinking? On what basis do you pray for the death of these hooligans? Do you base yourself on the verse, as it is written: “Let sins cease from the land” (Psalms 104:35), which you interpret to mean that the world would be better if the wicked were destroyed? But is it written, let sinners cease?” Let sins cease, is written. One should pray for an end to their transgressions, not for the demise of the transgressors themselves.

Rabbi Meir, one of the leading sages of the Mishnah, learns an important lesson from his wife, Beruryah: We must not wish for those who are wicked or disturb us to be 'canceled.' Rather than wish that any ill fall on them, we should pray that they resist committing those actions in the future and do teshuvah. Rabbi Meir, despite his stature and expertise in Jewish learning, experienced a commonly felt inclination towards "cancel culture." Though this source advocates separating the sin from the sinner, as it were, it does not encourage us to actively engage with those we see as wicked.

כי אתא רב דימי אמר אמרי במערבא ר"מ אכל תחלא ושדא שיחלא לברא דרש רבא מאי דכתיב (שיר השירים ו, יא) אל גנת אגוז ירדתי לראות באבי הנחל וגו' למה נמשלו ת"ח לאגוז לומר לך מה אגוז זה אע"פ שמלוכלך בטיט ובצואה אין מה שבתוכו נמאס אף ת"ח אע"פ שסרח אין תורתו נמאסת
When Rav Dimi came from Eretz Yisrael to Babylonia, he said: In the West, Eretz Yisrael, they say: Rabbi Meir ate a half-ripe date and threw the peel away. In other words, he was able to extract the important content from the inedible shell. Rava taught: What is the meaning of that which is written: “I went down into the garden of nuts, to look at the green plants of the valley” (Song of Songs 6:11)? Why are Torah scholars compared to nuts? To tell you: Just as this nut, despite being soiled with mud and excrement, its content is not made repulsive, as only its shell is soiled; so too a Torah scholar, although he has sinned, his Torah is not made repulsive.

The Talmud's rejection of "cancel culture" is highlighted in another narrative about Rabbi Meir. He continued to learn Torah from his teacher, Elisha ben Avuyah, who was became known as "Acher," or "Other" because of what the rabbis considered to be his heretical views. Despite his teacher's pariah status in the community, Rabbi Meir was able to discern which teachings he would absorb and integrate, and which he would not. Perhaps it would have been easier for him to "cancel" his teacher as others in the rabbinic establishment might have expected. But Rabbi Meir, as he was taught by his wife Beruryah above, made a distinction between the messages he was receiving, and the messenger who sent them. It's not an easy task - maybe something only Rabbi Meir can do. And maybe it's not even appropriate under all circumstances. But it's up to us to first try judging favorably and engaging seriously, rather than jumping to canceling conclusions.