When Hatred Is A Mitzvah

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Hatred is poisonous but tolerance of evil is suicidal. How do we educate ourselves and our children to be intolerant of evil without teaching them to hate? R. Norman Lamm sees the mitzvah to hate Amalek as the solution.

R. Norman Lamm, Megillah: Majesty & Mystery on Esther 3:1, pp. 76-79:

Underneath all the obvious fun of wielding the groggers and the stamping are expressions of vindictiveness. Doesn’t this open the floodgates to hatred against real people here and now? And is not hatred unreservedly evil and morally corrupting?

But just as there is a mitzvah to love God, our neighbor, or the stranger, so there is a mitzvah to hate. For instance, we must hate Amalek. And yet, Halakhah provides immediate correctives and restraints so that the practice is far different from the theory. Thus, some authorities maintain that the commandments to destroy Amalek is operative only when the Amalekites refuse first to accept the seven commandments of the sons of Noah, the basic foundations of civilized life. Hence, it is not a genocidal commandment, but it means that we must do battle with those who are so uncivilized as to corrupt and destroy others.

We reserve our actual, living hatred for the unusually hateful individuals who commit historic crimes and whose malice is monstrous and premeditated. Anti-Semites who wish to destroy all the Jewish people; monsters who seek sadistically to wipe out whole populations–such people remain deserving, on purely moral grounds, of actual contempt and hatred. And, of course, we are always bidden to release our hatred against the symbols of evil.

This is the basic motif of the commandment to read the Biblical portion of Amalek, and to observe the festival of Purim. I want to teach my children to hate as well as to love. I want them to know that there is a moral law which requires that those who have placed themselves outside morality deserve not our love but our contempt. I want my children to have available for themselves the psychological relief in hating those who deserve it, so that they can relate to all others constructively and lovingly. I want them to be halakhic Jews, and thus to handle hatred with extreme circumspection and caution and great care; and so, in effect, they will hate without hurt, and express their innate hostility toward evil by stamping and stomping and groggering Haman. By restricting our hatred to evil and those who personify it and symbolize by chanting the commandment to obliterate Amalek and by hissing and booing at the mention of Haman’s name, we shall learn to act lovingly to all God’s creatures.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

39 comments

  1. We are the love-hate religion. Never forget. The love religion is somebody else.

  2. The idea sounds beautiful, but I am afraid that it is only semantics. Modern psychology as I understand it doesn’t support singling out one group for hate, to ease hate towards others. Hate of people is a bad trait that is never to be encouraged. Hate directed at a specific group, even if it can be justified, will end up overflowing to others we dislike. Hate and contempt need to be directed at the evil. Perpetrators of evil shall not be tolerated and they may even be hated for their actions. The difference between hating the perpetrator of evil and branding the person as an evil person is what we need to stress to our children.

  3. Elliot: The hate religion is someone else too. 🙂

    I see R’ Meir Soloveichik will be speaking on the topic at YU in two weeks- indeed, the whole Yom Iyun is “Love and Hate in Tanach.” As I recall, he wrote a famous piece on it in First Things once.

  4. Hate of people is a bad trait that is never to be encouraged. Hate directed at a specific group, even if it can be justified, will end up overflowing to others we dislike.

    Sounds like Chazal’s attitude towards anger.

    Perhaps “hate” can be divided up into “disapproval” and “anger”, with the former necessary, the latter harmful.

  5. Where does it say that “We must hate amalek”?

  6. Yes there was an excellent article on this subject in First Things by R’ Meir Soloveichik a while back.

    Todd

  7. I get the point Lamm is making, but….

    “Do not regard anyone with contempt, and do not reject anything, for there is no man who does not have his hour and no thing which does not have its place.” Avot 4:3.

    “lov[e] all creatures and bring them closer to Torah.” Avot 1:12.

    One’s “mercy should extend to all creatures, neither destroying nor
    despising any of them.” Tomer Devorah, ch. 3.

    “Anger and unkindness arise when people’s understanding is limited. The deeper their understanding the more their anger disappears, and kindness, love and peace spread. This is why the study of Torah, which deepens the understanding, brings love and peace into the world and banishes anger.” Likutei Eitzot, Anger 3.

  8. “We reserve our actual, living hatred for the unusually hateful individuals who commit historic crimes and whose malice is monstrous and premeditated.”

    Amalekite babies commited historic crimes and exhibit monstrous and premeditated malice?

    Apologetics fail.

  9. SQ, whether you like it or not, the mitzvoh was kill the babies not because of what they did, but who their parents are and who they would grow up to be. Not very politically correct, I know.

  10. Which makes Lamm’s point inane. Lamm would almost make sense if the commandments was to “hate those people who did a bad thing.” But in reality the commandment is “kill all the descendants–men, women, and children–of the people who did a bad thing.” Never mind political correctness; Lamm’s point makes no darn sense.

  11. I think R Lamm’s point is that there is a genuine place for hatred within Judaism. Howe it’s manifested Lemaysah is a different story. No one that I know of today is dying to find out who Amalek is so they can start liquidating babies- least of R Lamm.

    As an analogy, even the CI points out that moridin velo maalin doesn’t apply today- the question is what it ever meant in the first place.

  12. The Rambam says that the mitzvah is to hate Amalek:

    היא שציוונו לזכור מה שעשה לנו עמלק מהקדימו להרע לנו, ושנאמר זה בכל עת ועת, ונעורר הנפשות במאמרים להלחם בו, ונזרז העם לשנוא אותו, עד שלא תישכח המצווה ולא תחלש שנאתו מהנפשות באורך הזמן (ספר המצוות, מ”ע קפ”ט).

  13. SQ: Hopefully a lesson to speak less harshly about scholars who know more than you.

  14. This just in: The Rambam is not the Torah.

  15. Apparently Rabbi Lamm was assuming the Rambam’s interpretation. Hardly inane.

    Note also the Chinukh:
    ספר החינוך, תרג

    טעם זכירת מה שעשה עמלק אינו רק שלא תשכח שנאתו מלבנו

  16. Can’t you break out of ahistorical thinking, even just for a minute?

  17. It’s instructive to look up occurances of words with the root שנא in the Tanach: pp. 1126-7 in Mandelkorn for anyone who wants to do it the old-fashioned way.

  18. “Lamm’s point makes no darn sense.”
    “This just in: The Rambam is not the Torah.”
    “Can’t you break out of ahistorical thinking, even just for a minute?”

    We get it that no else gets it. Why not just fill us in on the eternal truth already?

  19. “Yes there was an excellent article on this subject in First Things by R’ Meir Soloveichik a while back.”

    Yes, there was an article on this subject by RMS a while back.

    “SQ, whether you like it or not, the mitzvoh was kill the babies not because of what they did, but who their parents are and who they would grow up to be. Not very politically correct, I know.”

    Nor very moral which is why, I suspect, the rabbis effectively wrote it out of halacha, the way they did ben sorer umoreh and ir hanidachat.

  20. There is nothing special about the Amalek halacha, in the sense that every halacha that mentions specific Near Eastern nations has been “written out” by Chazal.

  21. Exactly.

  22. “whether you like it or not, the mitzvoh was kill the babies not because of what they did, but who their parents are and who they would grow up to be. Not very politically correct,”

    It is not a “moral” position but as believers in the Torah we accept that halacha like all others from the Torah.

  23. There is nothing special about the Amalek halacha, in the sense that every halacha that mentions specific Near Eastern nations has been “written out” by Chazal.

    Sancherev had something to do with it, too.

  24. According to Chazal.

  25. There is another particular point here: if hatred can be a mitzvah, it is volitional and, not being specified in those mitzvot with no shiur, presumably has a shiur.

    To hate, or not to hate is entirely under our control in time, place and manner.

  26. P’shat in Tanach is that Amalek was killed out by Shaul. He left Agag, and Shmuel took care of him. End of story.

    Yes, Chazal says Agag impregnated women that night. But p’shat is p’shat.

    On the other hand, at least one Amaleki appears later on- the kid who claims he killed Shaul to David. So who knows.

  27. As Kohelet says “there is a time to love and a time to hate” And who must we hate? To be honest there are times when we must even hate some of our fellow Jews. Three times a day in birkat haminim in the amidah we ask Hashem to “uproot, crush and humiliate” the minim. This is pretty hateful language. Even though every Jew has an inner soul which is divine, we must hate those who are considered minim. But who are the minim today? Jews for Jesus? All Jews who do not believe in Torah meSinai? This is a difficult question. Since there is a safek it is better to love all Jews mesafek and not be machmmir and hate them.

  28. nahum
    see I Sam 27- it seems there were a lot of amalekim running around at the time. pshat here is not clear at all

  29. Moshe- one wonders what Shaul’s sin was, then. Or, perhaps, exactly what the commandment is if he “fulfilled” it (apart from animals and Agag) and yet left so many alive.

  30. On the other hand, at least one Amaleki appears later on- the kid who claims he killed Shaul to David. So who knows.

    see I Sam 27- it seems there were a lot of amalekim running around at the time.

    Amaleki is like kenaani, a term used for people who behave a certain way, in addition to the ethnic group which was originally known for behaving that way.

  31. Regarding Amalek, check out R’ Yaakov Shapiro’s comments here:

    http://www.jewswithquestions.com/index.php?/topic/18-amalek-halachah-and-morality/

  32. I checked it out. Yuck.

  33. Yaakov Shapiro is the Frumteens moderator. ‘Nuff said.

  34. Thank God, Nachum, we can agree on something.

  35. Anonymous on February 21, 2012 at 7:43 pm
    Regarding Amalek, check out R’ Yaakov Shapiro’s comments here:

    “http://www.jewswithquestions.com/index.php?/topic/18-amalek-halachah-and-morality/

    Joseph Kaplan on February 22, 2012 at 12:02 am
    I checked it out. Yuck.”

    It is immoral theology. Yuck is too generous a term.

  36. Joseph, we may disagree, but we’re both sane, no? (Well, you are. I can’t speak for myself. 🙂 )

  37. I would not view the Frumteens’ moderator as serving a worthwhile function, let alone a Mareh Makom for a link here. I seem to recall that I wrote a letter to JA a while back to that effect.

    That being the case, there is a lot of difference between what RYBS called living with Teiku with respect to halachic or hashkafic issues that are beyond our comprehension or similarly what RD N Lamm calls living with doubt, as opposed to many manifestations of Amalek that render Mchiyas Amalek a Mitzvah that has not been written out of existence, but rather the application of which depends on the generation and the existential threats to the Jewish People posed therein.

    I doubt that Joseph Kaplan would deny that the Nazis , their state, and all who aided and abetted their endeavors in Germany, and elsewhere,from the Hitler Youth to the SS, and their collaborators,Yimach Sham VZicram, a phrase that we customarily use for those who perpretrate evil, personified Amalek. Communism also IMO deserves that phrase due to its campaign against Judaism, Israel, and the maintenance of the Gulag Archipelago. While Larry Kaplan and others may disagree , RYBS also viewed Nasser as an Amalekite.

    It takes no graduate degree in Middle East studies or from a military academy to be aware that Iran is not developing nuclear energy for the means of augmenting the providing of electrical resources to its people and that Iran may very well pose an existential threat to Israel’s exsistence in the very near future.

    While there is a Baal HaTurim that notes that the Gematriya of Amalek is Safek, I saw a comment of the Sfas Emes on Parshas Tzaveh in the Shaar Blatt of the volume published by Torah Shelemah on Megilas Esther that Shemos 17:8 can be understood that Amalek’s transgression was in separating TSBP from Torah Sbebicsav as the verse implies “Ksov Zos Zicron Basefer” meaning Torah Shebicsav and “Vsim Baznei Yehoshua” , as referring to TSBP, thus leading the Sfas Emes ( as do the Malbim, Meshech Chachmah, Netziv and Torah Temimah Kdarcham Bakodesh) to argue that TSBP always has to be connected to Torah Shebicsav.

  38. It should also be noted that in Out of The Whirlwind, RYBS at page 185,seemingly based on Koheles 3:2-8, rejects the idea that”love is an abaolutley noble feeling, while anager is always a base emotion”, and noted that with respect to Nazism and Communism, “the absence of a hatred that dictates action is just as mean and despicable as an unwarranted hatred. The fight against evil must be suffused with disjunctive emotions.”

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