Friday, October 4, 2013

Rabbi Sonsino: "Can You Trust Anyone?"

Rabbi Sonsino
Many people read consumer reports before buying an article, such as a car or a TV, and even about a restaurant. I often do. However, recently I was shocked to read that some individuals are getting paid to write favorable reviews for products in respectable periodicals. That is outrageous. Can you trust anyone today?

Our religious literature cautions us not to put our faith in someone else. The model is set by the patriarch Abraham: “Because he put his trust in the Eternal, He reckoned it to his merit” (Gen. 15: 6). The prophet Jeremiah says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in God and who makes God his refuge” (17: 7), and, conversely, “Cursed is he who trusts in man” (17: 5). Similarly, the psalmists states, “Happy is the man who makes the Lord his trust” (40: 5), and “Do not put your trust…in mortal man who cannot save” (146:3). In the early rabbinic period, Hillel is reported to have warned people against overconfidence: “Do not trust yourself until the day of your death” (Pirke Avot, 2: 5; the Talmud gives a few examples in Ber.29a). In medieval times, the Jewish philosopher, Bahya ibn Pakuda (11th cent., Spain) spent an entire chapter on the idea of trust (see, his chapter 7, in The Duties of the Heart), and, even though he thought that it was possible to trust human beings who have compassion, empathy and love, he added that these qualities are often wanting in everyone except God. He then concluded by saying that “whoever trusts in what is other than God, God removes His providence from him and leaves him in the hands of whatever he trusted in.”

Non-Jewish literature on this subject is not more comforting either. The Roman philosopher Seneca (I cent CE) put forward a balanced viewpoint: “It is a vice to trust all, and equally a vice to trust none.” Most writers were more cautious. Thus, for instance, Shakespeare stated, “Love all, trust a few” (All’s Well That Ends Well). Ronald Reagan insisted, “Trust but verify.” Some thinkers even said that we need to put our faith only in ourselves, not on others. And Joseph Stalin went to the other extreme allegedly saying, “I do not trust anyone, not even myself.”

I maintain otherwise. I am not naïve but I do tend to be a trusting individual. I often take people at their word. Before a purchase, I do read one or two reviews and then proceed. How can you live in a society where no one relies on another? A student trusts his/her teacher. Children trust their parents, and vice-versa. We rely on a variety of experts. Personal friendship or a good marriage is possible only when there is mutual trust. When we read a book, a research paper, a magazine article etc., unless the claim is preposterous, we all tend to accept the facts cited in them as reliable and true.

Yes, some people do lie; some people cheat. And it is getting more difficult to trust others. One needs to be skeptical of unusual, strange and outrageous claims. But I don’t think the dishonest are in the majority. I will continue to rely on my guts and depend on others. That is what we need to work on, and make individuals responsible for what they say and do. Society cannot survive on falsehood and suspicion.

As for me, I will start to read many more reviews than before buying anything, and then decide. What a shame!

Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, PhD
October, 2013

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