No opinion

Much of life really is governed by the concept of "it all depends". Circumstances change overnight, ideas come and go, Op-ed.

Rabbi Berel Wein ,

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In my younger days, I had great certainty about life, people, events, and the future. Because of this, I had an opinion regarding almost every issue and every human being known to me. However, my years of being a student of great teachers in the yeshiva tempered me in this, as in well many other life matters as they arose. I began to observe that my teachers oftentimes would not express any opinion regarding certain issues that were occurring in the community or make any judgments regarding certain individuals or ideas that were creating controversy.

I noticed that these great teachers of mine practiced restraint in expressing their views and making pronouncements regarding controversies and contentious issues. From speaking with them privately, I realize that sometimes they had strong opinions, but simply did not want to make them public, while at other times, they simply had no opinion, and chose to be silent regarding the matter.


One of the great sages of Israel wrote long ago in one of his rabbinic responsa that the entire purpose of knowledge is to make a person realize that one really does not know.
It began to dawn upon me, though it would take many decades of life experience to solidify this concept in my mind and behavior, that oftentimes having no opinion was certainly a valid response to a complicated issue, just as having an opinion would have been.

There are many decisions in life that eventually sort themselves out in one fashion or another, and oftentimes people who issued and publicized strong opinions regarding certain matters, later appear to have been foolish and misguided. This was particularly true regarding media pundits, politicians and even community leaders who oftentimes issued immediate opinions and reactions to events and statements by others, without really giving careful consideration to the effect that their words and opinion would have.

One of the favorite phrases that I learned to utter in my yeshiva years was “well, it all depends.” At first this seemed to be to me pretty much of a copout statement, avoiding the necessity for decisive behavior. However, once again, as I grew older I realize that much of life really is governed by the concept of "it all depends". Circumstances change, ideas come and go, political correctness is always fleeting and temporary, and certainties in life become increasingly rare.

It soon becomes quite evident that in many circumstances, having no opinion is not only the safer path in life, but in most cases, it is also the wiser one. I have many hard and fast beliefs regarding many social issues, especially regarding lifestyle and behavior in the religious Jewish world. I find it increasingly difficult to apply those strong beliefs to practical situations that never quite fit into a neat and clear matrix of black-and-white, right, and wrong, beneficial, or harmful. So, now, in my old age, when people ask me for my opinion on certain issues, I usually demur in answering. It is not only that I am now being more cautious, but, more importantly, I am being honest to myself and to others.

There is no shame in saying “I do not know.” One of the great sages of Israel wrote long ago in one of his rabbinic responsa that the entire purpose of knowledge is to make a person realize that one really does not know.

In our current society of frenzied nonstop 24 hours per day news cycles, not only is a person asked for immediate opinions regarding any occurrence, but he or she must also be willing to be interviewed and explicitly state what that opinion is. Our political leaders certainly fall into this trap on a regular basis. And when the taped response is replayed weeks, months and sometimes even years later, they must scurry to change or erase the opinion that they stated so forcefully at the time of the event, reacting to an occurrence to which they were responding.

They apparently feel that having no immediate response will be taken by the public as being an indication of either ignorance or irresolute thoughts and behavior. The fact that opinions must be expressed and publicized on the spot without any real time to reflect on issues or matters, from the coronavirus to Afghanistan, seems to carry very little weight. We are treated to a regular series of misstatements, wronged predictions, and even ignorant opinions, all to satisfy the microphone that is being thrust in the face of the person who has undoubtably wise and cogent views.

Wise is the individual who has no instant opinion to express but waits until facts are known, and policies can later be formulated. The rabbis said that a good word is worth one valuable coin, but that silence is worth two valuable coins.



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