Pirkei Avos (2:5) tells us 'Don't judge your friend until you are in his situation'.

I was wondering about the term 'judge'

Merriam-Webster online defines:-

'judgement' as 'the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing' and

'discernment' as 'the ability to see and understand people, things, or situations clearly and intelligently'.

So when one judges another person one is not only using discernment but is also comparing.

Would the Mishna therefore allow one to use discernment regarding others as opposed to judgement?

The Hebrew for discern is להבחין and to judge is לדון.

Or is the Mishna teaching us that any form of evaluation of another (whether judging or discerning) is unacceptable and one should just totally accept each person as they are?

Is there maybe a different Torah source that may show a difference between discernment and judgement?

  • 1
    I doubt you should analyze a translation of Avos that carefully. Probably the translator just chose whatever he thought was the closest approximation to the original.
    – msh210
    Jul 7, 2015 at 1:08
  • 1
    While one may not Judge a person, one still has to rebuke him, so there seems to be a requirement of discernment. Jul 7, 2015 at 4:11

1 Answer 1


Bartenura on Pirkei Avot 2:4:5:

ואל תדין את חברך עד שתגיע למקומו

אם ראית חברך שבא לידי נסיון ונכשל, אל תדינהו לחובה עד שתגיע לידי נסיון כמותו ותנצל:

My loose translation:

If you see your friend in a trial (difficult test / dilemma, etc.) and he stumbles, don't judge him negatively until you have encountered the same trial as he and you have succeeded.

You are correct that judgment forms an opinion. In this quote, though, it seems to be specifically, a negative opinion. Discernment is forming contrasts between different facts or viewpoints without forming any opinion.

In my opinion (no pun intended), I think discerning is not only fine but that's what you should do, when you see your friend in a tough situation. In other words, if you haven't been in the same position / situation as your friend, you should analyze as well as contrast how your friend acted in view of the difficulty of the situation, and, perhaps, how others may have succeeded or failed in the similar situation. There's no problem analyzing the generalities of the situation.

However, you cannot rightfully form a judgment or an opinion such as, "He failed, and I would have succeeded" unless you have been in the same situation with identical circumstances. That's forming an opinion with insufficient facts.

The best that you can do is analyze the generalities.

  • Thank you DanF for bringing my attention to the Bartenura and for your subsequent explanation.
    – user9722
    Jul 10, 2015 at 14:25

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