Friday, May 16, 2008

The Virtue of Hate

Meir Y. Soloveichik is Associate Rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City and an Associate Fellow at Shalem Center in Jerusalem. He published an essay entitled “The Virtue of Hate” in the February 2003 issue of the journal First Things. It is a fascinating, challenging, and, in some ways, disturbing piece that drives a nail in the coffin of the view that all religions basically boil down to the same shared set of moral values and beliefs.

Here are a few excerpts:

During my regular weekly coffees with my friend Fr. Jim White, an Episcopal priest, there was one issue to which our conversation would incessantly turn, and one on which we could never agree: Is an utterly evil man-Hitler, Stalin, Osama bin Laden-deserving of a theist’s love? I could never stomach such a notion, while Fr. Jim would argue passionately in favor of the proposition. Judaism, I would argue, does demand love for our fellow human beings, but only to an extent. “Hate” is not always synonymous with the terribly sinful. While Moses commanded us “not to hate our brother in our hearts,” a man’s immoral actions can serve to sever the bonds of brotherhood between himself and humanity. Regarding a rasha, a Hebrew term for the hopelessly wicked, the Talmud clearly states: mitzvah lisnoso-one is obligated to hate him. …

… a theological chasm remains between the Jewish and Christian viewpoints on the matter. As we can see from Samson’s rage, Judaism believes that while forgiveness is often a virtue, hate can be virtuous when one is dealing with the frightfully wicked. Rather than forgive, we can wish ill; rather than hope for repentance, we can instead hope that our enemies experience the wrath of God.

There is, in fact, no minimizing the difference between Judaism and Christianity on whether hate can be virtuous. Indeed, Christianity’s founder acknowledged his break with Jewish tradition on this matter from the very outset: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. . . . Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” God, Jesus argues, loves the wicked, and so must we. In disagreeing, Judaism does not deny the importance of imitating God; Jews hate the wicked because they believe that God despises the wicked as well. …

The notion that someone may be eternally damned, [C. S.] Lewis writes, is one that he “detests” with all his heart; yet anyone who refuses to submit to salvation cannot ultimately be saved. Despite this, Lewis adds that even these wretches must be in our prayers. “Christian charity,” he stresses, “counsels us to make every effort for the conversion of such a man: to prefer his conversion, at the peril of our own lives, perhaps of our own souls, to his punishment; to prefer it infinitely.”

Here Judaism strongly disagrees. For Jews deny that there ever was a “divine labor” to redeem the world; rather, God gave humanity the means for its own redemption, and its members will be judged by the choices they make. Christians may maintain that no human being is unloved by the God who died on his or her behalf, but Jews insist that while no human being is denied the chance to become worthy of God’s love, not every human being engages in actions so as to be worthy of that love, and those unworthy of divine love do not deserve our love either.

Read it all.

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