“Appoint for yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge every person with a scale weighted in their favor.”

That’s the most famous teaching of Joshua, son of Perachiah, co-president of the ancient Jewish “supreme court” called the Sanhedrin. Joshua emphasized the importance of having both authorities we can trust and peers we can confide in. And to everyone — teachers, friends, and strangers — always give the benefit of the doubt. Assume their intentions are good and their reasons for not acting the way you think they should are legitimate.

I can’t think of a better lesson to help us navigate the local debate about schools “reopening” this fall. Discussions held in board rooms and living rooms and, particularly loudly, in social media spaces invoke a wide array of research, values, and emotions. Healthy debate reflects both curiosity and respect; but things turn sour when we forget to assume that our neighbors are wise, hardworking, and good.

Parents, teachers, and administrators all want what’s best. As priorities compete, reasonable people can disagree on how to balance them. Teacher safety, student health, childcare needs, public funds, and other factors influence these choices — and behind it all, a plague that has claimed untold lives and thrown the entire world into disarray.

We need not hold our tongues or stifle debate. But as we express ourselves and push for what we think is right, it is essential to remember to judge one another favorably, to extend the benefit of the doubt, and, ultimately, to seek partnership and collaboration in recovering from this crisis as a community.

Daniel Kirzane

Associate rabbi, Oak Park Temple

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