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The Proper Way to Criticize

The Proper Way to Criticize

Rabbi Yehoshua and his hostess


Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananyah is known throughout the Talmud as a foremost defender of Judaism, debating against heretics and government officials who tried to oppress the Jewish nation. Indeed, the famous Talmudic debate with the elders of Athens was led by Rabbi Yehoshua.1 With Rabbi Yehoshua’s passing, the rabbis proclaimed that there was no longer anyone capable of defending them.2

Yet Rabbi Yehoshua proclaimed, “In all my days no one ever bested me in a debate, except for a woman, a little boy and a little girl.”

What was the incident with the woman?

Rabbi Yehoshua related the following:

Once, when I stayed at a certain inn, the hostess served me a dish, and I didn’t leave anything over on my plate. The same thing transpired the second day. On the third day, she (intentionally) over-salted the dish, and I couldn’t eat it. I pushed it aside, stating that I had already eaten earlier.

The hostess then asked me, “If you ate earlier, why did you eat the bread? You should have refrained from eating altogether! Perhaps you are trying to amend for not leaving anything over on the first two days. For the sages stated, ‘A person should leave something over on their plate, and not finish their entire plate.’"3 (At the time, people customarily left food on their plates for the waiter, similar to today’s tips.)

Not only did the woman best Rabbi Yehoshua, but she taught us an important lesson about the proper way to criticize. Instead of directly accusing him that his actions were wrong, she let it pass the first time, and even overlooked it the second time. Finally, when she felt it was necessary to inform him about the custom of leaving over food on his plate, she only suggested it in an indirect manner.4

Talmud, Bechorot 8b–9a.
Ibid., Sotah 49a.
Ibid., Eruvin 53b.
Maharsha, ibid.
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Lucell Guisse February 11, 2014

Nasty correction leads to destruction! As a mother in a home, empty plates are a blessing , but here we have to consider that it is a waitress, who is blessed by the left over in the plate(being equivalent to today's tips in a restaurant) pouring out too much salt into the man's plate, not only did she destroy his meal BUT she also destroyed her tip.........both were punished and both have a lesson to learn. Reply

AG CA December 17, 2013

The Proper Way to Criticize I never heard the suggestion to leave a little food on the plate...
I was taught that eating what was served on the plate was polite...
This story did not ring true for me... Also, when I cook, I hope the guest eats everything on his/her plate...that also tells me that the food was enjoyable and it makes me happy to know that the guest is satisfied.... Reply

Rivka Melbourne Australia December 4, 2013

Giving feedback/criticism This is fine, but some people need messages to be clear rather than subtle.The trick is to try these suggestions, then give a clear message without putting the other person down.
Any ideas how best to do this?
e.g give a positive comment on what they do well, followed by the critism and encouragement to improve. Reply

Rose Mercer Island December 4, 2013

Passive Aggressive? Today I think the woman would be called passive aggressive. Why over salt the food? Why not wait to see if the person changes-or simply does not know- and if they do not-tell them the their error directly?
To me, this anecdote does not describe healthy criticism. Reply