Courtrooms of the Mind

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The only surefire way to avoid lashon hara, our Rabbis teach us, is to learn how to give others the benefit of the doubt. Courtrooms of the Mind was the first book to ever address this topic, and remains a bestseller for the direction and inspiration that it provides. This riveting compendium of 20 real-life cases – in which the only defense witnesses are the heart and soul – is graced with a halachic compendium on this mitzvah by Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovitz.

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Excerpt

"My name is Officer Petersen. This is my partner, Officer O'Reilly. Somebody reported a theft?"

"I did, Your Honor!" said Max, obviously mistaking the cop for a judge. "We have reason to believe that this man," he announced, pointing to Pincus, "stole his," pointing to Jake, "expensive overcoat!"

"That's preposterous!" the Professor protested. "I have never engaged in larceny, grand or petty, in my life. Mr. Bernstein, I wish to retain you to represent me in this case, as well as in the libel suit I intend to file against this individual," he said, pointing to Max. "And while you're at it, prepare a notice of claim against the municipality for employing such manifestly incompetent officers of the law."

"What? Let me get this straight." Jake couldn't believe his ears. "You want me," he queried, pointing to himself, "to defend you against the charge of stealing my coat?"

"Of course, you believe that I am not only prima facie innocent but also res ipsa loquitur. Therefore either corpus delicti or," he turned to the police, "habeus corpus."

"I don't know what to believe," a frustrated Jake interjected.

"Please, please, everyone calm down," Rabbi Gellman pleaded. By now, loud accusations were being hurled to and fro between Max and Pincus.

Rabbi Gellman was eventually able to stop the shouting. He then turned to the two policemen, who were taking this all in with a mixture of confusion, amusement, and boredom. "Officers, I'm not sure we really need your services..."

"First let's see if we can find out what's going on here," said one of Scranton's finest.

Suddenly, Pincus made a break for the kitchen. He had never liked cops and feared that if it came down to their choosing between an employee of the Sheltering Society and him, he would end up behind bars for sure.

"Where are you going?" bellowed Officer Petersen. Pincus felt a strong hand clutching his arm. He managed to escape, leaving a greasy trench coat sleeve in Officer Petersen's hand.

Pincus tried his hardest to shuffle away with his duffel bag, but it weighed him down like an anchor. In seconds, both patrolmen had him spread-eagled against the wall. The two officers methodically frisked Pincus, searching for anything that might be used as a weapon.

"He's clean," said Petersen.

"What about the bag?" replied O'Reilly

"Open it!" Petersen ordered.

"Where's your search warrant?" Pincus demanded heatedly. "I am fully cognizant of my rights as protected under the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments. And my attorney," he continued, pointing to Jake, "is sworn to protect them. Counselor Bernstein, would you care to recite my rights for the benefit of these perpetrators of brutality who intend to further infringe upon my constitutionally protected privileges?"

Jake tried to hide a smile. "As your attorney, and as owner of the missing coat, I think you should do as they say – or you might find yourself in custody, charged with resisting arrest, obstruction of justice, loitering, vagrancy and a half-dozen other high crimes and misdemeanors I could think of."

Pincus looked at the men surrounding him. Slowly, he upended his bulging duffel bag and watched as his world poured out in a rush. In seconds, a jumbled pile two-and-a-half feet tall spewed onto the kitchen floor.

The assembled watched in utter awe as the officers began excavating the contents of the duffel bag: the remains of a stale tuna-fish sandwich; five maps of various cities: Passaic, Butte, Casablanca, Bakersfield and Sheboygan; a Michelin Guide; three empty potato sacks; half a dozen assorted keys; libretto from Cyrano de Bergerac; four cats-eye marbles ("A little girl gave them to me for good luck"); a wad of chewing tobacco; a small pocked Tehillim, sans cover; an assortment of vital literature including: The Edsel Owned Repair Manual, Do-it-Yourself Dry Cleaning, the Wonders of Afro Sheen, and Creative Bonsai Gardening; a slimy banana peel; a wallet containing a complimentary pass to "The Ed Sullivan Show," a snapshot of Elvis, a folded sheet of S&H Green Stamps, and a ticked stub from 101 Dalmatians; several pieces of string, of varying lengths, and two rubber bands, of varying elasticity; a bundle of cloth which turned out to be a long, dirt brown scarf; a dog-eared Roget's Thesaurus; a couple of soiled shirts; a pair of suspenders; two slogan-emblazoned sweatshirts (expletives deleted); three left shoes, unmatched; a copy of Grey's Anatomy; a rock collection culled from suburban America; a "Rock" collection culled from decadent America (LP s); two dozen (hopefully) hard-boiled eggs; and a crumpled article from the Times entitled, "Third World Debt Threatens U.S. Banks."

"Quite a spread!" Officer O'Reilly said wryly. "But no coat."

Review

Every human being, consciously or unwittingly, is continually engaged in the act of judging. Projecting our own personality onto the deeds and statements of others, we evaluate and review the actions we witness. “What right does he have to be so rough with his child?” “Why does she dress like that?” “Can’t they contribute as their neighbors?”

The Torah has enjoined us to judge our fellow man favorably. Has he indeed erred? Or have we, in evaluating the evidence?

Hanoch Teller, “King of the Story-Tellers,” has collected 20 actual “cases” judged in the courtrooms of the mind, the venue of so many mistrials. In a most convincing and inspiring way, Teller informs the reader that his or her psyche is a potentially lethal weapon. By misconstruing information, taking statements out of their context, or simply not understanding someone else’s motives, one can thoughtlessly condemn another “to life” or a similarly harsh sentence in the “courtrooms of the mind.”

This book, appropriately enough, illustrates that people’s fates are often not determined in the court of law, but in the courtrooms of the mind. Negative impressions cannot easily be erased from the mind. Only through a conscious act of will can man possibly “disregard” alleged testimony, an act of will that opposes the natural tendency to recall the scene exactly as it was witnessed.

Hanoch Teller poignantly demonstrates how to master the courage and the will to give others the benefit of the doubt. Through the use of short, non-fiction stories, Courtrooms of the Mind veritably proves that one who judges others favorably is ultimately vindicated, and that details one might dismiss as inconsequential or absurd, aren’t inconsequential at all.

Like each of Hanoch Teller’s earlier volumes, the short stories found in Courtrooms of the Mind are a veritable celebration of Jewish survival. Be they contemporary or yarns of yore, each provides inspiration and instruction.

The disparate personalities portrayed in Teller’s tales synthesize to create “Every Jew” – the ultimate representation of the multi-faceted Jewish character. The convergence of so many different protagonists to teach a singular lesson has a powerful impact. There is, the author asserts, no justification for being judgmental; it is an attribute which would be best described as a malaise. Invariably, Courtrooms of the Mind highlights that which the Talmud expounds, “He who condemns others, condemns himself.”

Courtrooms of the Mind alerts the reader to a thorny problem and awakens moral sensitivity. How many arguments and disputes, marital problems, neighborhood quarrels and crises of faith could be avoided by heeding the Torah injunction to judge favorably! How many fights and battles could be averted if we would only give others the benefit of the doubt! And whereas judging favorably may not be a panacea for strife, it is certainly one of the most powerful preventatives.

Reviewed in The Jewish Press

 

Courtrooms of the Mind by Hanoch Teller defies standard classification. Should it be reviewed with the children’s books or with books for grown ups? This new book by an established master story teller (no pun intended) has two parts, one for adults and one for children. Both sections have the same theme: the importance of the Torah command to “judge your neighbor favorably.” The stories presented all highlight this point, and each group of stories has a relevant quote from Rabbinic literature; and a foreword by Rabbi Y. Berkowitz clarifies the halachic dimensions of this mitzvah. The stories chosen to illustrate the importance of the mitzvah range from the Middle Ages to the present, and from Eastern Europe to Eretz Yisroel and the U.S.A., and they are told with the verve and the skill that we have come to expect from Rabbi Teller. In each case the author listed from whom he had heard the story. (The fact that some of the stories came to him in very indirect ways accounts for one of the stories, about the bris milah in the concentration camp, to appear in a rather different form found in other works on the Holocaust.) The story about the origin of the Rothschild dynasty is told by him in accordance with the popularly known version, which sets its beginnings into Czortkov. The division between Part One and Part Two is based on the nature of the stories, and is well-justified. Both children and grown-ups will find exciting reading as well as important moral lessons in this volume.

Reviewed in The Jewish Observer

Words of Praise

“The very idea of writing a book of inspiring stories regarding judging favorably, taken from real-life situations, and written in Rabbi Teller’s inimitably engaging style is a cause for joy for every English reader. There is no question that this book will ignite passion on the subject and prevent dispute and contention among our People. Every one of Rabbi Teller’s books benefits the masses and arouses the reader to have faith in the Almighty, improve his character and commit to better behavior. Therefore, I warmly endorse Courtrooms of the Mind like all of his other masterful works.”

Rabbi Simcha Schustal
Rosh Yeshiva, Bais Binyomin, Stamford, CT

“An urgent need of our time is a library of wholesome reading in English. We must have books that uplift and teach Torah outlook for a generation which is exposed to so much reading. Hanoch Teller has made and continues to make significant contributions to meeting this need. No doubt this latest addition to his collection of inspiring works will help young and old to “realize” the meaning of dan l’kaf zechus (avoid being judgmental).”

Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg
Rosh Hayeshiva, Ner Israel Rabbinical College

“The King of the storytellers remains true to his name: a superb, sensitive teller of stories that teach (hanoch) important lessons. Hanoch Teller concentrates this time on an important ethical principle: “Judge each man in his merit.” In the process, he weaves rich strands of language and sentiment, as he recounts tales of yore and adds new exciting experiences. His vivid imagination and creative spirit abound as he keeps his reader in suspense and brings his story to its most inspiring and meaningful denouement.” 

Dr. Joseph Kaminetsky
National Director Emeritus
Torah Umesorah

“The only way to fulfill our obligation to love our fellow man is by judging them favorably. The greater our awareness of the fact that the reality of a situation is often different from the way we originally perceived it, the easier it will be to find positive interpretations for events and situations we witness. Hanoch Teller’s absorbing and emotion-filled stories are precious eye-opening tools that will make a lasting impression, provide endless inspiration and instruction, and help us all to automatically judge others favorably.”

 

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Author of Guard Your Tongue,
Love Your Neighbor,
Gateway to Happiness and others

 

Additional information

ISBN

Pages

288

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