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Jewish World Review
Nov. 22, 2004
/ 9 Kislev, 5765
When hatred is necessary
Blessing the evildoer?
Is hatred of others always a sin? Are we obliged to love every human being, even those who do great evil or behave with unspeakable cruelty? Must we believe, as one reader wrote to me last week, that "G-d loves even the bad people" even the very worst people and that we must strive to do the same?
My correspondent was commenting on a recent column about the death of archterrorist and mass-murderer Yasser Arafat and specifically on my criticism of President Bush for having said, on first hearing of Arafat's death, "G-d bless his soul."
"G-d bless his soul? What a grotesque idea!" I wrote. "G-d, I am quite sure, will damn him for eternity."
But many readers defended Bush's reaction. One of them was Pat Buchanan, who replied to my column in one of his own.
He began with a jab at the presumption of "columnists who know the mind of G-d." Then he wrote: "In defense of President Bush, if that was his first reaction to Arafat's death, it bespeaks a Christian heart. As a boy in World War II, I was taught by Catholic nuns that while permissible to pray for the death of Hitler or Tojo, it was impermissible to pray for their damnation. That was hatred, and hatred is a sin."
Of course, if hatred even hatred of a Hitler or an Arafat is a sin, then love even love of such a monster must be a moral duty. And that is indeed what many Christians believe. "I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," Jesus is quoted in Matthew, "so that you may be children of your Father in heaven." Catholics who pray the rosary implore G-d to "lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy" especially, in other words, the most wicked. As another e-mailer assured me last week, "Any Christian would pray that the Lord would have mercy on someone's soul, even if he was a mass murderer. To do less would be contrary to Bush's faith."
I have great respect for that faith and a deep appreciation for the good that Christians and Christianity have accomplished in the world. But my faith, Judaism, teaches a fundamentally different lesson about evil and how to respond to it.
Jewish tradition holds, with Ecclesiastes, that there is a time to love and a time to hate. The Hebrew Bible enjoins us to love our neighbor (Leviticus 19:18) and to love the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19), but that love has its limits. We are not expected to love savage thugs or to ask G-d's mercy on them. On the contrary, we loathe the unrepentantly cruel because we believe G-d loathes them too.
It defies reason and upends morality to claim that G-d loves both Saddam Hussein and the innocent Kurds he gassed to death that He bestows His love on Osama bin Laden no less than on the 3,000 souls he butchered on 9/11. Of course we should pray that an evildoer will realize the awfulness of his ways and atone for his crimes. But to love him even if he doesn't? To bless him when he dies? G-d forbid! To bless the Hitlers and the Arafats of this world is to betray their victims. That we must never do.
That is what Elie Wiesel meant, when he visited Auschwitz on the 50th anniversary of its liberation and entreated, "G-d of forgiveness, do not forgive those who created this place." That is what the rabbis meant when they taught, many centuries ago, that he who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful. "Hate the sin but love the sinner" is a beautiful rule to follow in most of our dealings with others. But when it comes to those who torture and murder without qualm, who are pitiless in the pain they inflict on others when it comes to such people, hatred is no sin.
This theme has been explored in the journal First Things, in a brilliant essay by Meir Y. Soloveichik titled "The Virtue of Hate." Soloveichik, scion of a rabbinic family, writes that in his weekly get-togethers with a friend who is an Episcopal priest, "there was one issue . . . 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 it.
Hatred is dangerous even when justified, Soloveichik cautions, and must be directed only at the truly vicious and depraved. "We who hate must be wary," he writes, "lest we . . . become like those we are taught to despise."
But when hatred is called for, he notes, it serves a vital function. "Hate allows us to keep our guard up, to protect us. When we are facing those who seek nothing but our destruction, our hate reminds us who we are dealing with. When hate is appropriate, then it is not only virtuous, but essential."
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