Rabbinic Reflections: Hatred’s cost

Hatred. Unbounded, chargeless, gratuitous is not costless. This kind of hatred has a name. In Hebrew, it is sinat chinam, literally “hatred that belongs to grace,” a hatred without rational basis, baseless hatred. Today offers a triple lesson in the need to fight against baseless hatred.

We face significant issues today. Our social, political, and economic challenges breed real anger on both sides. Real anger, rooted in experience or in the steady accumulation of evidence of injustice, can and ought to become righteous anger. Hatred born of righteous anger is not baseless, it has a place. Jewishly, though, we have to work to keep hatred from becoming unbound; we have to focus hatred away from people and onto evil actions.

Hatred that is directed at people denigrates the unique, divine value of each person hated. It diminishes the divine in those whose hatred is baseless. Hatred born of self-righteousness or inflammatory speech is boundless, not only without grounding but without reason. As more emotion than intention, baseless hatred is dangerous.

Today, Aug. 14, is Tisha B’Av on the Jewish calendar, the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av. In Jewish history, moments of our greatest loss — the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE and the expulsion from Spain in 1492, to give just two examples — occurred on Tisha BRAVO. The rabbis in the Talmud (Yoma 9b) make explicit that baseless hatred was, is, and can again be the cause. There is a high cost to pay for anger turned on people rather than systems and behaviors. There is a high cost to pay for hatred of people, one's own or an other. That's the first lesson: the cost is too high.

The second lesson comes from the fallout of the Movement for Black Lives platform’s language about Israel in its policy demand to divest from foreign military aid and invest in education, health, and safety of Black people. The platform as a whole is a remarkable call to justice and action in so many areas on so many levels. It is important. Many Jews and Jewish communities, myself included, have heard the call. Inasmuch as the Jewish tradition, especially around Tisha B’Av, begs us to listen, we did. We were also hurt by the platform calling Israel “complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people” and “an apartheid state.”

When asked about the term genocide, co-author of the section Ndugga-Kabuye said the term could be deserved even if state actions are not on the level of the Holocaust. To take genocide away from the Holocaust is to take away the history of Jewish persecution that lends itself to alliances with other persecuted people. The dust is not settled, but I worry that both sides will lose out on defeating baseless hatred by rejecting each other entirely. This policy demand language can and should change, and so much remains to do together. Today is a reminder why.

The third lesson for today comes from the rabbis’ charge against bystanders and speaks to Donald Trump’s implied call to assassinate Hillary Clinton. In 1995, we saw such invitations lead to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin; it is hard to hear Trump’s words any other way in light of history less than a generation old. Today, though, the issue is about more than Trump or his words; it is about us. In the Talmud (Gittin 55b), the rabbis tell a tale that led to the destruction of the Second Temple. A host sends a messenger to invite his friend (Kamtza); the messenger invites the host’s enemy (Bar Kamtza). When the host refuses to let Bar Kamtza avoid shame, the rabbis blame themselves, not the unnamed host for Bar Kamtza going to denounce his fellow Jews to the Romans.

It is on all of us to fight to contain gratuitous hatred. It is on all of us to focus on the person, with divine value, not on our anger to change behavior, personal or systemic. It is on all of us, if not to love boundlessly, then to remember hatred’s cost and to listen.

* The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to: editor@chaddsfordlive.com

About Rabbi Jeremy Winaker

Rabbi Jeremy Winaker is the executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hillel Network, responsible for West Chester University, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and other area colleges. He is the former head of school at the Albert Einstein Academy in Wilmington and was the senior Jewish educator at the Kristol Hillel Center at the University of Delaware for four years. Rabbi Winaker lives in Delaware with his wife and three children.

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