By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

By Yair Hoffman

Personality tests have become so ubiquitous that it is now a two billion dollar industry in the United States alone, and some estimate that it is actually a four billion dollar industry. Some people swear by them, while others say that they are totally inaccurate. Regardless, some 40% of American businesses use these tests for hiring and beyond.

There is the Color Code Test, perhaps the most commercially successful personality test, which even some shadchanim use to make shidduchim. There is Gretchen Rubin’s “The Four Tendencies Quiz,” which helps identify the tendencies of test-takers and helps others understand them better. There is the growingly popular “16 Personalities Assessment,” there is the “Enneagram Test” which looks like it is straight out of an avodah zara cult, and then there is the Hexaco test that has, by and large, replaced the Five Factor tests, which traditionally have been the tests that scientists like most. There was also the famous Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) psychometric test that was given to people in the 1980s to help them determine career choices and more. All of these tests are still a matter of great debate and controversy in the scientific community.

But what does halachah say on the topic? May employers and people in management positions use information obtained from such a test to impact a person in one’s employ negatively? Should a person be glossed over for a new position or project because of the results of a personality test?

Following The Science

Chazal tell us (Eichah Rabbasi 2:13) that if someone says that there is wisdom in secular sources, believe him. This does not mean, however, that pseudo-sciences should be used. We see from the words of the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 618:4) that we generally follow the majority consensus view in most matters and that would be the same here. That would make the case for Hexaco and would dismiss the Enneagram.

Not For The Negative

It is obvious that one may never use general tests to harm someone. For example, it would be absolutely forbidden to fire someone, even in a work-at-will state such as New York, based upon his or her personality type that indicates that they are more likely to be dishonest than others.

This can be seen from the words of the Tur in Choshen Mishpat 36 regarding his explanation of the rabbinic enactment of bar metzra—that the parameters are to be guided by “v’asisa ha’tov v’ha’yashar” not to harm the seller for the benefit of the would-be buyer.

A View From The Midrash

Even going beyond the exact halachah, however, there may be another fascinating concept. As we know, Chazal teach us (Shabbos 133b) that we should constantly strive to imitate the middos of Hashem. The Gemara tells us, “Mah Hu rachum af attah rachum, mah Hu chanun af attah chanun—just as He is merciful so should you be merciful, just as He is kind so should you be kind.” Rav Yisrael Salanter stated that this should be done in whatever matters come up in life.

In Sefer Devarim 2:3, we find the pasuk, “You have circled this mountain long enough” directly before the admonition not to attack the descendants of Eisav. The Midrash Rabbah (Devarim 1:17) explains that the word “enough” that is used here correlates to the words “I have enough” that Eisav employed when Yaakov tried to give a gift to Eisav. Hashem said, “Since Eisav honored Yaakov with this word, I shall use this word to turn away from [attacking] Eisav. The Maharzav explains that Eisav wished to prevent Yaakov from suffering the anguish of losing money. Since Eisav wished to prevent tza’ar, anguish, from Yaakov, Hashem commanded the children of Yaakov not to cause tza’ar to the children of Eisav. But we may ask: Why should Eisav receive reward for this prevention of tza’ar? He was the one who caused the entire episode by bringing 400 men to kill Yaakov in the first place!

We must say that Hashem judges and rewards people by each act separately. The previous act was separate. Now, a new situation had arisen and Eisav acted properly. Hashem rewarded him for it. If this is true in regard to actual acts that were done, how much more so should we not act negatively based on personality tests.

This is not to say, however, that we should not use information from such tests to give greater opportunity to those who perform well. There is a difference between a negative action and a lack of a positive one. We should be aware of this distinction.

Using Tests To Fulfill V’ahavta L’rei’acha Kamocha

This author would like to suggest, however, that some of these tests can be implemented positively. There is, of course, a mitzvah of helping others, known as v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha—love your neighbor as yourself. Rabbi Akiva stated that this is one of the primary rules of Torah—zeh klal gadol baTorah. As parents, rebbeim, and morahs, for example, we should be looking out for the spiritual growth of our children and students. There are so many stories of how people have been inadvertently turned off to Torah precisely by those who so much want to bring people toward Torah.

One wonders if perhaps extra insights into people could be effective in ensuring their total growth. Gretchen Rubin’s “The Four Tendencies Quiz” might be enormously instructive here. The quiz deals with how people respond to outlooks or hopes and expectations—of themselves and of others. She separates the results into four groups: (a) upholders, (b) obligers, (c) questioners, and (d) rebels. Although it may seem a bit out of the box, should mechanchim, perhaps on a lark, administer this test to gain better insight into their students? If done humorously it could possibly be a very effective means of reaching out to others.

The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com. Read more of Rabbi Hoffman’s articles at 5TJT.com.

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