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Issues in Jewish Ethics: Hatred

HATRED (Heb. שִׂנְאָה), overt or covert ill will. The Torah explicitly prohibits hatred of one's fellow in the verse "Thou shall not hate thy brother in thine heart" (Lev. 19:17). Hatred is understood by the rabbis as essentially a matter of mental disposition, as implied in the phrase "in thine heart." One who expresses hostility to his fellow through word or deed, although he violates the commandment "love thy neighbor" and injunctions against injury, insult, vengeance, etc., is not, according to most rabbinic authorities, guilty of the specific sin of hatred referred to in Lev. 19:17 (Sifra, Kedoshim; Ar. 16b; Maim. Yad, De'ot 4:5, Sefer ha-Mitzvot, prohib. 302; Ḥinnukh 238). The reasons are, apparently, that covert hatred is the more vicious form (ibid.) and that a person can defend himself against open hostility (I.M. Kagan, Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim (Vilna, 1873), 13, n. 7). The Talmud is emphatic in its denunciation of hatred. Hillel taught that the essence of the entire Torah is, "What is hateful to you, do not do to others," all else being "commentary" (Shab. 31a). Hatred of one's fellow creatures "drives a man out of this world" (Avot 2:16). One who hates his fellow is considered a murderer (DER, 11).

Gratuitous Hatred

(Heb. שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם). According to the Talmud gratuitous hatred is the most vicious form of hatred, and the rabbis denounce it in the most extreme terms. In their view the Second Temple was destroyed as punishment for this sin (Yoma 9b; cf. Story of Kamẓa and Bar Kamẓa, Git. 95b). It is equal to the three paramount sins of idolatry, fornication, and murder (Yoma 9b).

Halakhic Implications of Hatred

According to all rabbinic authorities one who hates (that is, one who, out of enmity, has not spoken to his fellow for three days) is ineligible to serve as a judge in cases involving his enemy; according to some he may not even be a witness (Sanh. 27b). Certain relatives of a woman (e.g., mother-in-law, stepdaughter) may not testify concerning the death of her husband, for fear they may harbor hidden enmity (Yev. 117a).

Permissible Hatred

It is proper to hate the wicked. "Do not I hate them, O Lord that hate Thee?" (Ps. 139:21); "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil" (Prov. 8:13). The same thought is expressed in the Talmud (Pes. 113b). Exhortations to hate all manner of evil abound in the Bible (e.g, Ex. 18:21; Ps. 26:4). God Himself hates every form of immorality (e.g., Deut. 12:31; Isa. 1:14; Ps. 5:6) because of its harm to mankind, since God Himself cannot be affected (Saadiah Gaon, Beliefs and Opinions, 4:4). The enjoinder to hate evildoers applies, however, only to impenitent and inveterate sinners, those who pay no heed to correction (Maim. Yad, Roẓe'aḥ 13:14; Ḥinnukh, 238).

The Bible, nevertheless, distinguishes between the person as such and the sinner in him, "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Ezek. 33:11). One must assist even one's enemy in transporting his burden (Ex. 13:5) for otherwise "he may tarry [by the wayside]" and endanger his life (BM 32b; Pes. 113b). Furthermore, in order to learn to subdue one's baser inclinations, one must give priority to aiding the wicked over the good (BM 32b; Maim. Yad, Roẓe'aḥ 13:13). Thus, the true object of proper hatred is the sin, not the sinner, whose life must be respected and whose repentance effected. Beruryah, wife of Rabbi Meir, offered her interpretation of Psalm 104:35, "Let sins [in loco – sinners] cease out of the earth," and thereby admonished her husband to pray not for the destruction of sinners but for their regeneration (Ber. 10a). It is forbidden to rejoice at the downfall of even those sinners whom it is proper to hate: "Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth" (Prop. 24:17). Thus, since one can never be certain of one's motives, of the absolute wickedness of the sinner, and of whether one has discharged or is indeed even capable of completely discharging his obligation to reform the sinner, the rabbis stress the obligation of loving all men: "Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and drawing them near to the Torah" (Avot 1:12).


Sources:J.D. Kranz, Sefer ha-Middot (1967), 202–27; G.F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, 2 (1946), 89ff.; M. Lazarus, Ethics of Judaism, 2 vols. (1900), passim; A. Cohen, Everyman's Talmud (1949), 210ff.; E. Bar-Shaul, Mitzvah ve-Lev (1966), 167–77.

[Joshua H. Shmidman]

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