5762 - #40


Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (Ntziv) in his HaEmek Davar, Introduction to Bereishit makes his famous declaration that the sinat chinum, the purposeless hatred,1 that eventually led to the destruction of the Second Temple began with otherwise righteous individuals who suspected others, they saw acting not according to their understanding of the Fear of God, to be Sadduccees and heretics. On the surface, the Ntzivs call would seem to be for greater tolerance within Orthodoxy. The buds of hatred begin when someone labels another, with a different halachic perspective, a heretic. Tolerance within Halacha, expressed in the classic Talmudic statement eilu veilu divrei Elokim chayim,2 is more than an kind ideal -- it is a fundamental principle of Torah.3 The call of Tisha BAv is to be stringent in this principle for the alternative is the path of sinat chinum. On the surface, the demand of the Ntziv is that one be very careful before challenging anothers halachic perspective and labeling another a heretic.

The words of the Ntziv, however, go far beyond this point. He defines the proper treatment of another as the derech hayashar, the straight path. The demand of Torah is this derech hayashar, not only in our relationships with those who abide by Torah but also with all inhabitants of the world. This is why Sefer Bereishit is called Sefer HaYashar for the stories of our forefathers presented therein are examples of this principle of uprightness. And our

forefathers are exemplary specifically because of the positive way they treated all people, even the idolaters that they encountered. Concern for sinat chinum demands proper behaviour within Orthodoxy and beyond.

Yet one must wonder how tolerance within Orthodoxy, and allegiance to the principle of eilu veiluextends to the promotion of the derech hayashar and proper positive behaviour towards all people. Even the Ntzivs statement would imply the opposite. The Ntziv criticizes those who define as heretics anyone who approaches Torah differently. The implication is that one should not label another a heretic...unless the other really is a heretic. There are those that truly are heretics and, it is possible to argue, that they should not only be treated differently but harshly. One could argue that sinat chinum only occurs when we hate one we should not hate, i.e. the one we falsely label a heretic. But maybe it is correct to hate the one that clearly is a heretic.4 The Ntziv, however, argues that we should not mislabel one a heretic -- that is the path of sinat chinum -- and this concern for sinat chinum means we must also treat the heretic himself/herself in a positive way. How does the action of mislabeling reflect a general weakness in the principle of yashar that then extends to all people?

Prof. B. Barry Levy, Text and Context: Torah and Historical Truth, Edah Journal 2:1 writes: It is relatively easy to call people heretics. It is much harder, for some reason, for believers to acknowledge that others, particularly those outside their own religious community, are also believers. As Prof. Levy describes, the process of labeling often is an outgrowth of an attempt to see the world in black and white definitions. There are the good guys, i.e. the believers. And there are the bad guys, i.e. the heretics. Such labeling allows us to ignore the complexity of the human condition and the multi-dimensional nature of the human being. Recognizing that the other we call the heretic is, from this other position, a believer -- one attempting to define reality and life -- must be basic to our human relationships.

The one who is able to easily declare a heretic anyone who thinks differently -- even if this difference is acceptable within the parameters of Torah -- is to be feared as the essence of sinat chinum. This is one who defines the world in rigid formulations of good and evil -- with him/her being the manifestation of good and everyone who disagrees the manifestation of evil. With the label heretic, a figure of evil is seen where a person should stand. The derech hayashar demands that we perceive a person. The defeat of sinat chinum begins by seeing the other as human, as one with similar strengths, weaknesses and challenges as oneself. Others, as Prof. Levy states -- even the idolaters with whom our forefathers interconnected -- are believers. Perhaps we passionately disagree with their conclusions, but we must recognize that they, as all of us, are attempting to understand the human condition.5

To achieve this goal, we must recognize the complexity of life. Simplicity -- the desire to colour the world in absolutes of black and white -- is attractive and, often, secure but ultimately yields tragedy.6 To recognize the human in all of us demands that we recognize the powerful intellectual challenge that life presents. It demands that we see beyond rigid absolutes and understand the human dilemma. The search for truth is a difficult undertaking. The more we recognize this, the more we can empathize with all humans in their struggle to gain some understanding. It is thereby that we defeat sinat chinum.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail


1 See, further, Rabbi Benjamin Hecht, Sinat Chinum Parts 1 and 2, Nishma Insight 5757-#8,9 in which I develop the argument that sinat chinum is most appropriately translated as purposeless hatred.

2 T.B. Eruvin 13b. This phrase has been translated as these and those are both the words of the Living God, or, alternatively, as these and those are both the living words of God.

3 Once, another rabbi privately criticized me for discussing the concept of eilu veilu with one who recently became observant. The rabbis argument was that the concept of eilu veilu was simply too difficult for this individual to grasp. Indeed, the possibility for two opposite conclusions to have equal halachic validity demands complex insight. The rabbi thus felt that it was inappropriate for me to discuss this issue with this individual as this complexity could weaken his allegiance to Orthodoxy. My response was that I had no choice. This individual made a disparaging remark about a group within Orthodoxy that had a conflicting viewpoint than the one this individual was taught.To not discuss the matter would be an encouragement of sinat chinum. You cannot promote Orthodoxy by not teaching Orthodoxy -- and to me preventing sinat chinum must be fundamental to Orthodoxy.

4 See, actually, T.B. Pesachim 112b.

5 Of course, there is still the possibility of the rasha, the intentional evil-doer, who must be shunned. But such determinations should be made hesitantly, sensitively and after much scholarly contemplation.

6 Interestingly, Prof. Levy further asserts that Our greatest challenge Mindless Orthodoxy.

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