We all know we are not supposed to hate other Jews for no reason. But what about when hatred is justified according to halacha? How are we supposed to hate “for a reason”.
The Torah clearly teaches that there are circumstances where we are allowed to hate another Jew. For example, a person is halachically allowed to hate a bona-fide Sabbath breaker, or a heretic, or a murderer, or rapist, or thief.
Now, first it must be stated clearly that whether a person is halachically allowed to hate another is a very, very challenging and complex subject area to understand and apply. A person just can’t go “hating” other Jews without clear evidence of wrongdoing, a deep and thorough analysis of the relevant halachot, and giving the subject of the hatred an opportunity to justify/defend their actions. The danger of invoking “halachic hatred” is that the person being hated may, in fact, be innocent of the allegations; if so, permissible hatred is baseless hatred. For example, “hating” most secular Jews for not keeping the Sabbath would not be permissible “hatred for a reason” because they have the din of tinok sh’nishbod (captured children).
But there are circumstances where there is, plain and simple, reason to hate another Jew. For example, Reuven steals $50,000 from Shimon, causing Shimon and his family extreme financial distress. Or Reuven physically or verbally abuses Shimon’s children, causing them extreme emotional distress. Sadly, many of us have experienced situations where “hatred for a reason” is justified.
How to Hate for A Reason
We can learn how to hate another Jew for a reason by learning how not to hate a Jew for a reason. The best example of this is the story in Midrash Eichah which explains why Beitar was destroyed. And no, its not because they played ball on Shabbat.
The Midrash explains, astonishingly, that the community of Beitar was destroyed because every Tish b’Av they would light candles and celebrate the destruction of Jerusalem! The people of Beitar were guilty of “rejoicing at the fall of their enemy.”
The commentators explain that Beitar hated Jerusalem for a reason. The reason was that the elites of Jerusalem would bribe corrupt officials to steal the vineyards surrounding Beitar – the best in all of the Yehuda region. Beitar landowners were forced to go to Jerusalem and pay off these corrupt officials to regain legitimate title to their lands. But of course, the grapes by this time were already harvested and sold by the criminals. This cycle of theft and hopeless restoration would happen time and again. The people of Beitar hated the people of Jerusalem for this corruption and theft.
For 65 years after the fall of Jerusalem, Beitar stayed intact. The commentators state that, within Beitar itself, there was no sinat hinam. But they hated Jerusalem – for a justifiable reason – and thus, Beitar was not destroyed alongside Jerusalem.
But Beitar took that hatred too far. Rather than simply hate, when Jerusalem fell, they rejoiced. And for that, Beitar was destroyed.
The lesson for us is that there are two sides of the hatred coin:
- Do not hate another Jew for no reason; and
- If you have a halachically valid reason to hate another Jew, do not rejoice in the downfall of your enemy.
Personally, over the past few years I’ve had encounters with a few Jews who have done terrible, abusive things to me and my family. They did the deeds, there is proof, and innocent people got hurt. At times, I deeply hated them, and justifiably so. But I kept and still keep the lesson of Beitar in mind, and apply it regularly whenever I feel the hate. For example, if I hear people in my community talk negatively about the people who did me wrong, or I hear that something happened to them which is clearly measure-for-measure for their bad deeds, I censure myself and work hard to repress any feeling of joy or even the slightest pleasure in hearing those words. (Over time, I note the hatred is transforming into sadness and pity for these people, and the Jewish people overall.)
Perhaps this what the Torah is trying to teach us when it says we must help our enemy lift up his donkey if it falls. By actively helping our enemy we avoid any pleasure in watching them suffer.
True, divine justice and revenge is sweet. But we must eat that sugar without enjoying it.