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?"
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.
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.
Learn More with these Sefaria Sheets:
Giving the Benefit of the Doubt: Laws and Limits, by Noah Arnow
Summer Sources: Judgement, by Charlie Schwartz
How Do We Ever Get Along When We Disagree So Strongly About So Much? From Violent Acts To Soothing Words In Jewish Rabbinic Tradition, by James Gibson