Everyone, it seems, has a basis for hatred.

Just listen to the loathing for other Jews, or observe the violence, disrespect, legal maneuvering and self-righteous judgments surrounding prayer rights at the Kotel. Skip the articles: read the comments. In them you’ll find the true meaning of sinat chinam, what’s poorly translated as “baseless hatred.”

The rabbis tell us (Yoma 9b) that sinat chinam, Jew against Jew, is the reason the Second Temple was destroyed, the reason we lost Jerusalem and the reason we lost our homeland.

But don’t I have basis to hate the ultra-Orthodox man who stomped on my stomach at the Kotel? Or the men and women who spit at other Jews there? Isn’t that reason enough to hate them?

From the perspective of liberal Jews, it’s understandable that being harassed and brutalized at the Kotel is a source of fear, anger and hatred. From the perspective of the ultra-Orthodox, isn’t just as understandable that those who violate their version of Halacha at the Kotel are a source of fear, anger and even hatred?

Everyone has a basis for hatred. We must be getting something wrong.

A friend recently shared a teaching of Rabbi Daniel Hershkowitz on sinat chinam. Hershkowitz explained the concept through the word chinam. Chinam means ‘free;’ better yet, ‘without charge’ or ‘without cost.’

Sinat chinam is hatred without understanding the underlying price, without understanding that it blackens our own hearts.We’re not destroyed by our disagreements on how to serve God; it’s turning those disagreements into a justification for hatred that ruins our people.

Sinat chinam is the belief that you can hate and get away scot-free.

No such thing exists, the rabbis tell us. Disagree with each other; arguing builds Torah. Exploring yields insight. Hatred has a cost. It’s existential, to our individual souls and our claim to the land.

Look at the comments on two Times of Israel essays on fasting for Tisha b’Av, one by Rabbi Yosief Bloch on why he’s fasting and one by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein on why she’s not. For most of the article he attempts to dismantle Rabbi Goldstein’s views. It’s a dismissal. Legitimate concerns and observations are discarded, the person dismissed along with her insights.

I have questions about Rabbi Goldstein’s essay, as well. She seems too quick to set aside efforts to redefine the meaning of the fast.

Be clear: the essays are tangential to the point; the comments on both make the point. One comment after the next attacks Rabbi Goldstein.

Unbridled hatred of liberal Jews yet again shows its ugly face. Yes, there’s anger among some liberal Jews directed at the Orthodox. I oppose it. The dramatic imbalance says it all. Witness a stunning and overwhelming vehemence from those who claim a more righteous path.

We have a choice: to look for the truth in each other’s words or to look for the falseness in them. To look for what we can learn from each other or to look for what we can reject. To look for what we can accept or to look for what we can dismiss.

“If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love, ahavat chinam,” wrote Rav Kook in Orot HaKodesh.

“Baseless love” is just as imprecise as “baseless hatred.”

Ahavat chinam – love without extracting a price – is the practice of giving love when none is earned, none deserved. Where is the ahavat chinam, Jew for Jew, in the nasty comments and ugly behavior?

Hatred has a price.

You who hate so freely, is this the fast that God requires?

Perhaps we’re mourning for our two-thousand-year failure to practice ahavat chinam.

Jew against Jew
Oh my people,
What has happened to your heart?
What has happened to your vision?
And what has happened to your wisdom?
And what has happened to your love for one another?
The seeds of disrespect and misunderstanding have taken root,
Yielding fear and anger,
Condemnation and recrimination,
A rising hatred of Jew against Jew
That threatens to consume us.
Sinat chinam has attacked the soul of our people.

Ancient One,
G-d of our fathers and mothers,
Grant us a new wisdom and a new vision
To see beauty and holiness
In all of the tents of Israel.
Guide us back to each other
With reverence and understanding.
Renew our days with love.
Then, G-d of Old, we will build
A temple of song to your Holy Name,
Resounding from heart to heart,
From soul to soul,
From generation to generation,
The whole House of Israel.

Blessed are You, Adonai our G-d,
You delight in Your people’s love.

Jew against Jew” is © 2015 Alden Solovy and tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.