10 August 2016

Do Not Let Baseless Hatred Destroy Our Society

Because most synagogues have less activity (including no religious school) in the summer, the holiday of Tisha b’Av (the Ninth of the Hebrew month of Av) often passes by unremarked.  While most Jewish holidays celebrate a massive deliverance, Tisha b’Av* marks not just one national tragedy, but several.  It is believed that the first Temple in Jerusalem, built by King Solomon, was destroyed on this date in 586 BCE by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar.  The second Temple, built by Ezra and Nehemiah after the return from the Babylonian Exile (and rebuilt by Herod), was also destroyed on this date by the Romans under Titus.  The Arch of Titus in Rome is a commemoration of this Roman victory.  Jews, however, mark this moment as the beginning of the Diaspora, when the Jewish community, previously centered in the land of Israel (the Roman province of Judea) is spread out all over the known world.  Since that time, Jewish traditions of mourning have included not using musical instruments in worship, lessening the celebration and joyous occasions, and fasting for twenty-four hours on this date.

The Biblical books of the Prophets, especially Jeremiah, explain that the reason for the destruction of the first Temple was that the Israelites were not worshipping correctly.  However, the Rabbis of the 1st century knew that the rituals of the Temple were being properly followed, and determined that the destruction of the second Temple was a result of a different sin - sinat chinam - or baseless hatred.  Hatred of others without cause is what the founders of rabbinic Judaism considered to be the reason that the Jewish polity was destroyed.  Sadly, we see the signs of modern polity being destroyed by the same cause.

Baseless hatred, in our time, is not hating others without a justification.  Sadly, we can often find justification for any hatred - of those who have more money, or those who have less; of those who speak differently, look differently, or worship differently; of those who came to this country a generation or two before or after our ancestors; of those who have strongly held opinions different from our own.  Rather, baseless hatred is hatred without need.  There are things which we need to hate - injustice, poverty, hunger, disease  - things which sap our strength and we can combat.  People, we do not need to hate.  Other people, we need to understand.  Baseless hatred destroys our society by moving us apart.  We do not listen to those we hate.  We do not see the pain in their hearts.  We do not acknowledge that though we disagree with them, they come to their beliefs with their own passion and logic.

The subtle wickedness - the perfidy - of baseless hatred, is that it allows us to justify ourselves and those whom we believe are with us, while we can ignore those who we think are not.  But, this realization gives us the key that we need to fight baseless hatred.  If we decide not to assume that everyone with a different opinion is a moron; if we stop de-friending those whose posts rankle us; if we take even a moment to listen to the deeply-held feelings of others, we break through that hatred.  Importantly, even if we disagree, we need to listen with an attitude of empathy.  

Do not be the one who shuts the other out; who denies another person their voice.  That is the true hatred - the walling of those we disagree with - and we should be building bridges, not walls.  Open up a conversation, and close the door on hate.

*Tisha b’Av will be marked this year beginning the evening of Saturday,August 13th - actually the 10th of Av, because the 9th is the Sabbath, when fasting is generally prohibited.

Rabbi Joel N. Abraham is the spiritual leader of Temple Sholom of Scotch Plains/Fanwood, a Reform congregation.  He is a past-President of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Ministerium, and co-founder and current Vice President of Social Justice Matters, Inc..  He is also part of the leadership of Rabbis Organizing Rabbis - a national group of Reform Rabbis working together for racial and economic equity.

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