Hate Reading

You shall not hate your fellow in your heart. Reprove your fellow and incur no guilt because of him.
— Leviticus 19:17

An all too common photo appeared in many newspapers this week. A spit of sidewalk was littered with flowers and placards, photos and small gifts in honor of the newly dead to crime and injustice. This time it showed a photo of a young woman, Heath Heyer, killed in a hate crime in Charlottesville, VA. While the circumstances are not insignificant, the photo is one to which we’ve almost become immune. Drawn in marker and stuck with masking tape to the asphalt was a sign “No Place for Hate!” Don’t be fooled. This slogan is only emotional wallpaper covering up layers and layers of hate.

When I was a kid, I remember my father would often say, “Never say hate.” We could dislike someone or something, but we were advised not to have such strong negative emotions that we weren’t able to redeem our bad feelings. “I have decided to stick with love,” said Martin Luther King Jr., “Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

The Talmud makes a fascinating assumption about hate. We can control it. A judge is not allowed to judge a case if he is too emotionally invested in a litigant: “One who loves or one who hates” cannot judge fairly, concludes the Talmud [BT Sanhedrin 27b]. But it’s unclear what constitutes hate until the passage continues: “One who hates is referring to anyone who, out of enmity, did not speak to the litigant for three days.” Hate is temporary. At most it lasts three days and then subsides. It would seem that perhaps a judge in an ancient Jewish court could technically preside over a case of someone he hated if three days had passed from the time he was most resentful and angry.

This is rather astonishing and is based on an assumption about the way Jews are supposed to interact as a community. “The Jewish people are not suspected” of hate. They will not bear false witness out of love or hate.  Therefore, in legal terms, we are allowed to be witnesses even in cases of high emotion since we are assumed to be emotionally neutral when it comes to judgment. The Maharshal, Rabbi Solomon Luria (1510-1573), says that if a person is really and truly an enemy, there is a concern that he will testify falsely out of revenge or vindictiveness so we prevent him from doing so. He defies the working assumption of fairness. This view is also held by Maimonides [Book of Judges, “Laws of Testimony,” 13:15].

Later the Talmud digs deeper and asks the reason that an enemy is disqualified from being a witness and concludes, “because he feels a sense of aversion” [BT Sanhedrin 29a]. He or she cannot be emotionally neutral. The same is true with love - “he feels a sense of affinity” - say the sages of old. Love also biases good judgment. Check your emotions at the courtroom door.

This concern about heated emotions extends to the judges themselves and not only the witnesses. Two scholars who hate each other, according to Rabbi Yossi, cannot sit in judgment as one. Their judgment is impaired. Perhaps they will care more about besting each other than doing what is fair and just for the litigant before them.

All of these laws are extensions of a biblical principle that ties hate and love together. “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsmen. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord your God,” we read in Leviticus. Take the hate out of your heart so that you can love fully and authentically. Hillel distilled it into one principle: “What is hateful to you do not do to your brother.” Rabbi Akiva distilled it into another: “Loving one’s fellow is a central principle in the Torah.”

When you feel the tentacles of hate, do what is right and noble. Discuss your issue with the person who is the subject of your strong negative feelings: “Confront a kinsman and admonish him fiercely, in this way avoiding grudges and vengeance that breeds hatred...a proper attitude promotes love for one’s neighbor,” says scholar Baruch Levine in his commentary on this verse.

We are living in hate-saturated times. The Jewish assumption of character is that hate, if we experience it at all, is something that does not last long because we do not let it last long, not longer than three days. Let it go. Festering hatred is fragmenting this country and the world around us. It’s time to stand up to hate with love.

Shabbat Shalom