To Not Hate Fellow Jews, In Secret and In Our Hearts

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

One of the two options She’iltot offered for mitzvot to study on Parshat Vayeshev is the ban on hating fellow Jews. That’s how he says it, but when we look at Sefer Ha-Mitzvot Prohibition 302, Rambam adds a significant caveat. While he agrees the Torah warned against hating other Jews, with the verse She’iltot did, Vayikra 19;17, Rambam then quotes Sifra, only a hatred held within, unrevealed to the target, transgresses this sin.

Should the Jew make clear what is going on, inform the other person, s/he will not have violated this prohibition. Rather, Rambam says s/he will commit the prohibitions of netirah and nekamah, holding a grudge or taking revenge, and fail to fulfill the obligation of ve-ahavta le-re’acha kamocha, you shall love your fellow as yourself.

Those, too, deserve discussion. Here, I will focus on hatred.

Hatred Itself Is a Problem, Hidden or Not

As we investigate, I step out of my practice [it’s good to shake things up from time to time], and look at sources other than our usual. Mishneh Torah stays consistent with Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, but adds useful information. Before we go there, let’s compare what we already know to Rabbenu Yonah’s Sha’arei Teshuvah 3;39. Remember, he lived after Rambam, and knew the Mishneh Torah well.

He discusses our prohibition as being about the character trait of hatred, thinks the Torah was training us to avoid the emotion as a whole, because it leads to many other sins, such as lashon ha-ra or motzi shem ra, sharing true or false negative news about a fellow Jew, seeking or causing the other’s injury, enjoying his/her misfortune, holding grudges, taking revenge, and more.

For Rabbenu Yonah, hatred is both an inherent problem and a cause of worse ones. He says he will elaborate on this in his Sha’ar Ha-Sin’ah, Gate of Hatred, which I mention for two reasons: first, it reminds us the four she’arim we know as Sha’arei Teshuvah were part of a ten-sha’ar work called Sha’arei Tzedek, Gates of Righteousness (which he either never completed or was lost very early). Second, he found hatred so problematic, it would merit an entire sha’ar in the tent.

He helps us see there could be other view of our prohibition than Rambam’s. It is plausible the Torah banned all hatred, spoke of it being in the heart because that is where emotions are (metaphorically) located. Because most hate is bad.

Just Tell the Other

Back to Rambam, who in Hilchot De’ot (Laws of Character) 6;5 repeats the limitation to hating in one’s heart, says there is no court punishment because there is no action, and stresses that physically or verbally abusing another Jew does not violate this mitzvah, because it is all out in the open (not that it’s allowed).

His focus on internal hatred links this mitzvah to another one I do not intend to discuss fully here, but seems worth remembering a bit. In paragraph six, Rambam writes that if a Jew mistreats another Jew, the injured party should not just hold it in, a characteristic of evildoers such as Avshalom, who pretended Amnon’s rape of his sister Tamar was not a continuing issue. The mitzvah is to let the other Jew know, and remonstrate with him/her: why did you do that? It hurt me, etc.

Ideally, the person in the wrong apologizes, rectifies the hurt, and the parties restore peace, a very great value. Even if not, the hater has at least avoided violating the Torah

Permitted Harshness

Rambam takes the next two paragraphs to describe when one Jew sees another sinning in general, without effect on the other Jew. The detail relevant to our discussion comes in paragraph eight, if a Jew has admonished a fellow Jew about sins bein adam la-Makom, against God, as it were, rejection of remonstration escalates the situation.

Rambam says we are to embarrass the person, in public, let everyone know his/her sins, speak harshly to, insult, and curse this sinner until s/he repents, as did all the prophets.

I find the last phrase particularly interesting, because today we handle determined sin very differently. Our practice, our conception of the right way to react to such sin, is significantly at odds with Rambam’s prescription. Even just that change deserves comment and consideration: we have decided, pretty much across the spectrum of Torah observance, that those who “leave” should be treated with respect and love, largely count as not fully aware of their sins and therefore not fully liable for them, and that only a loving approach has a chance of bringing them back.

I do not claim any better insight into what we should do. In our current context, it seems those who promote those strategies have greater success than others. I do think it’s valuable to consider that there are other ways to see the issue, and to be sure we do not lose sight of the better aspects of those other ways. For only one example, I think many Orthodox Jews today have lost the sense of how bad and/or tragic leaving observance is; some of us treat it as a disappointment, where it’s much worse. It might not change our strategy for how we can best and most effectively encourage return, but the attitude matters, too.

Last point, perhaps one way Rambam opened a door to gentler approaches to others: In paragraph nine, he says a Jew may choose not to discuss the matter with the other—knowing, perhaps, no apology or repair will be forthcoming—as long as the Jew knows s/he can put the matter away. In fact, that is allowed or even encouraged, a middat hasidut, a mark of supererogatory (above and beyond the call of duty) piety, but it depends on letting the matter go completely. The Torah only cared about the hatred, says Rambam.

Sefer Ha-Hinuch, Joining the Two

Sefer Ha-Hinuch 235 combines Rambam and Rabbenu Yonah’s views [I think those who study the matter assume the author of Sefer Ha-Hinuch is R. Pinhas Ha-Levi, the brother of Ra’ahRa’ah was thirty-five years younger than Rabbenu Yonah, so he or his brother could easily have known Sha’arei Teshuvah, although Sefer Ha-Hinuch never quotes it. Or, Rabbenu Yonah’s view was common in thirteenth century Spanish Jewry, hatred is itself a problem.]

He follows Rambam in description of the mitzvah, the issur de-oraita, the Torah prohibition, applies only to hidden hatred, revealed hatred violates grudge-holding or revenge-taking, and failure to love a fellow Jew. He adds “nonetheless, hatred in the heart is worse than open hatred,” still fully in Rambam’s camp.

His reason for the mitzvah takes us closer to Rabbenu Yonah. Heart-hatred causes people to try to hurt each other, to turn fellow Jews over to the authorities (or to predators seeking to rob them), and is the lowest and most reviled character trait among well-thinking people [an interesting comment, since Rambam certainly thought anger and arrogance were worse; Sefer Ha-Hinuch might have countered that heart hatred has elements of one or both].

If we wanted to keep Sefer Ha-Hinuch in Rambam’s fold, we could argue he (and Rambam) held that once a person has told the other of his/her hatred, the matter will end. To me, it seems unlikely. [I have been involved in more than one situation where one side tells the other of the issue, the other side attempts to respond soothingly, and the matter continues to fester.] I think Sefer Ha-Hinuch reflects the Rabbenu Yonah tradition, hatred was a problem, hidden or not.

Hating Evildoers

Significantly, Sefer Ha-Hinuch allows hating evildoers, where Rambam spoke only of treating them harshly, even in public [I had to go back and check, because I was sure Rambam said to hate them]. Minhat Hinuch sends us to Laws of Murderers 13;14, where Rambam does indeed codify the permissibility of hating unrepentant sinners (the context is helping a Jew whose animal is struggling under a load, that we must help even a Jew we are permitted to hate because of the other Jew’s determined continued sin).

[I do not think it coincidental Rambam waited until there to mention it. Though the hatred follows proper remonstration, the sinner resolute in his path, someone Rambam did allow us to embarrass and insult, he waits to bring up the propriety of hatred until an incident where the Torah requires us to overcome it. My guess is that Rambam was leery even of this kind of hatred, since it so easily tips over into improper versions, so he left it for where he could immediately counterbalance it.]

Minhat Hinuch makes valuable points about the verse Sefer Ha-Hinuch cited to allow hating evildoers, Tehillim 139;21. First, Pesahim 113b, where the Gemara explains when a Jew may hate another, cited Mishlei 8;13, the hatred of evil is the fear of God [itself an important idea many of us forget: part of proper awe/fear of God is to hate evil, more than just not commit evil or even decide to stand against evil].

Minhat Hinuch a) wonders why Sefer Ha-Hinuch adduced a different verse, and b) thinks the verse Sefer Ha-Hinuch did quote does not do the job. It does promise to hate those who hate God, but adds u-vitkomemecha etkotat, with those who rise up against you I will contend. It could mean we are only allowed hate in the form of contending, fighting with them. From that verse, maybe not heart-hatred.

More, the verse refers to me-san’echa, those who hate God, and Minhat Hinuch points out Shulhan Aruch Hoshen Mishpat 272;10-11 limits the category of haters of God to those who reject the fundamental principles of faith. Pesahim allows hating Jews who committed any sin unrepentantly, the reason it needs that other verse, hatred of evil is itself fear of God. [I wonder whether Sefer Ha-Hinuch would have said the Mishlei verse tells us to hate the evil, not the evildoer.]

Holding Out Hope?

Sinners we hate for particular sins, however, we must help load or unload their animals, a way to train ourselves not to let the hatred expand [surprisingly, Rema thinks we are not required to help such a sinner, a different way of reading the Gemara in Pesahim]. Should the Jew have abandoned the religion to the extent of denying or rejecting a fundamental principle of faith, there is no more loading/unloading obligation.

[This is a forgotten element of Principles of Faith; many today treat them as a way to exclude, where Rambam explicitly meant it as a way to include, to say that as long as a Jew didn’t do this, s/he was still fundamentally “in.” I worry more people in our times observe mitzvot than accept the faith propositions crucial to those observances.]

Shulhan Aruch also implies what I had not thought true. In the course of his explanation of the obligation to help a sinning Jew, he says the Torah cared about the lives and possessions of such Jews, because of verses in Yehezkel 32 (a few times there), God does not want the death of the evildoer, prefers the sinner change and live. I don’t know that he meant this, but since he had just said the rules of loading and unloading do not apply to someone who no longer accepts the Principles of Faith, it sounds like he means the verse in Yehezkel also does not apply to such a person, God does not wait for a heretic’s repentance. I hope I am overreading; certainly our Yom Kippur liturgy assumes God waits and wants all sinners’ repentance.

For all our modern-day certainty of the negativity of hatred, our mitzvah nuances the picture. Hatred openly admitted seems less directly prohibited, hatred of sinners seems to be allowed, and if those sinners God forbid abandon principles of faith, we (and, God forbid, God) might lose hope for them.

Making it harder, although never impossible, for them to return.

In case it’s not clear: we never want to hate. Sometimes it’s not specifically prohibited, sometimes it’s allowed, and sometimes, to our distress, it might be required.

About Gidon Rothstein

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