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Op-eds

Tisha B’Av and baseless hatred

  • LebensLimmud
On August 1, the Jewish world will observe the fast of Tisha B’Av.
by SAMUEL LEBENS | Jul 13, 2017

Refraining from wearing comfortable footwear, sitting on hard surfaces, reading the searing words of Lamentations, we will remember the destruction of two Temples in Jerusalem; we will remember our exile; but, more broadly speaking, we will remember, despite the relative opulence and the comfort that may define our daily lives, that the world we live in is still host to grave pain and suffering.

To be Jewish is, in part, to recognise that the world we live in is not yet saved. The world we live in is not yet redeemed. There is work to do.

Famously, the rabbis taught that it was because of the baseless hatred that Jews had toward one another that G-d allowed the Temple to be destroyed (Tractate Yoma 9b). More recently, it has become popular to say that if the Temple was destroyed by baseless hatred - by people hating one another without cause - then it is time to love people without cause. 

Baseless love is what will bring us into the Messianic age, and heal all of the scars of this wounded world.

Once upon a time, I was moved by that message. But now, I'm not so sure. Perhaps there are times during which it is appropriate to hate. I remember a lecture by my teacher, Rabbi Shmuel Nacham.

He presented an argument between Nachmanides and Ibn Ezra. According to his reading of the argument, Nachmanides held that hatred is always bad. Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, held that hatred is only bad when it is baseless.

But, if you investigate, and find that you have been wronged, and if you give the offender an opportunity to make amends and he spurns you, then your hatred is no longer baseless. You can hate away. After all, the Bible teaches us that there is “A time to love and a time to hate” (Ecclesiastes 3:8).

But there's another reason to reject the mantra of “baseless love”. The reason is this: You shouldn't love people for no reason. You should love them for a good reason, and there are plenty of reasons!

Rabbi Yehuda Amital, of blessed memory, opposed the mantra of baseless love toward the irreligious - because it implied that the irreligious don't really and inherently deserve our love. The mantra implies that we'll love them even though they're not worthy of it.

In Rabbi Amital's words: "There are many dedicated members of our society… [who are non-religious and yet overwhelmingly worthy of our love]: members of the security services who vigilantly protect us, boys who give three years to the army, doctors who work for meagre wages rather than seek their fortunes overseas, and many others.

“If someone does not share our religious commitment, it does not mean he has no values, and it does not mean that he has no just claim to our love." 

If the world remains unredeemed because of baseless hatred, perhaps the real cure is twofold. We need to make sure that we reserve our hatred only for things that are truly worthy of it: evil, suffering, poverty, disease, and their like.

Secondly, we need to open our hearts to all those around us (including ourselves), until we find in them (and in ourselves) those unique characteristics that make them (and us) loveable. 

Samuel Lebens is Senior Research Fellow, in the Philosophy Department, at the University of Haifa. He is founding-chairman of the Association for the Philosophy of Judaism, and is also an Orthodox rabbi. Lebens will be speaking at Limmud in Johannesburg (August 4-6), Cape Town (August 11-13) and Durban (August 9). 

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