From Unbridled Hate to Love and Beauty Within Judaism

My wife recently attended a baby shower, sitting at a table with a number of women, including her mother in law, when a woman started dominating the conversation. For almost the entirety of the meal, the woman bashed both Conservative and Reform Judaism. She said things like, “they are leading to the death of Judaism…Orthodox Judaism is the only true path.”   At one point, she went on a tirade about Conservative rabbis in particular. The woman was, as she described herself, ‘a proud Orthodox Jew’ who works as an administrator at an Orthodox synagogue. Finally, after the women at the table were silent through this hour-long tirade, she asked a question to my wife: “So…what does your husband do?”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that my family has encountered people from other stream lines of Judaism that have negative feelings about Conservative/Masorti Judaism. My father was recently at a family birthday party when one of the guests, who identifies himself as Orthodox, decided to give my father a lecture on how the Conservative movement is not only dying, but helping to lead to the death of Judaism. Nothing like spewing hatred toward your fellow Jew at a two year old’s birthday party to really liven everyone’s mood!

There is a fun game I like to play that you can play at home: go to any article that mentions Reform or Conservative Judaism in the Jewish press and read the comments – it’s a real heart warmer. Here just a few comments that I found on one article (I’ve corrected some of the spelling mistakes, but decided to leave the grammar as is):

“Why isn’t the stories of these Jews – who were born secular and then discovered the richness and beauty of Torah- news worthy? There appears to be a cynical agenda here that’s driven by the “Progressive” and “reform” movements and part of this agenda is to cynically exploit these young kids. They are afraid of the fact that the conservative and reform movements in the US is dying while the orthodox – both modern and Ultra – is rapidly growing and expanding.”

“No matter how much you try to legitimize Reform and Conservatism, they do not represent Judaism. A Jew practicing Reformism is akin to a Jew practicing Buddhism. Both are misguided.”

 “People have the right to do what they want BUT the CONservative movements leaders are not real rabbis, they use filthy curse filled language and their real goal is the destruction of the Jewish People from within.”

Let me also state emphatically that inter-movement bashing is not an Orthodox phenomena alone. I have heard terrible things about Ultra Orthodox from Jews in progressive Jewish movements.   Many have called Ultra Orthodox Jews lazy and ‘moochers’.   Let me also state that the views of a few individuals in these cases should not and does not represent any movement in all of these cases.

Sometimes, I think all of us fall into this trap of spewing hatred without even knowing it. It is why I hate translating the term Sinat Chinam as baseless or causeless hatred – there is a cause, there is a base to it, and yes, the cause and base might be absurd, but it is very real. It is time to start translating Sinat Chinam in a different way: unbridled hatred, or hatred gone wild.

This discussion might pale in comparison to the horror we saw this week, an Ultra-Orthodox man who stabbed six people at a gay pride parade in Jerusalem, or Jewish terrorists who killed a Palestinian infant, but I still find it relevant to the sickness that plagues us today.

I believe that hate is a virus; it begins small, but grows to consume everything. If hate is a virus, then what is the antidote? I believe that the Jewish summer, the journey from Tisha B’av, to Tu B’av gives us a possible solution:  a journey from hate to love.

There are a couple sources that are commonly referred to when we talk about the causes of the destruction of Tisha B’av. In the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 9b), we read: “why was the second Sanctuary destroyed, seeing that in its time they occupied themselves with Torah, the [observance of] mitzvoth, and the practice loving kindness? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause. That teaches you that Sinat Chinam is considered as grave as the three sins of idolatry, incest/adultery, and bloodshed together.” There is a famous story that is associated with Tisha B’av, the story of Kamza and Bar Kamza (Babylonian Talmud 55b). To summarize, there were once two men who hated each other. One of the men had a friend named Kamza, but the man he hated was name Bar Kamza. The man sent his servant to deliver invitations and he accidentally delivered it to Bar Kamza, the man whom the master had hated. When the host found his hated rival in his home, he asked him to leave. Bar Kamza pleaded with the man to let him stay, even offering to pay for the whole party, but the man refused. Bar Kamza noticed that the rabbis were watching silently, so they must agree with him. Bar Kamza then sets a series of events in motion, beginning with informing to the Roman government, which eventually leads to the destruction of the Temple. As we can see, there is a cause to this hatred, although it might be ridiculous. There are reasons why we might not like a person, but it is what happens next, when hatred goes wild, when destruction happens.

When I hear members of the Israeli government attacking progressive Jewish movements, saying things like, “Any Jew who observes the Torah and commandments is for us a Jew…A Reform Jew, from the moment he does not follow Jewish law I cannot allow myself to say that he is a Jew,” I see the beginnings of a virus attacking its host.

So what is the antidote? I heard a part of a wonderful dvar torah by Rabbi Chaya Baker when she spoke at a unity event at Israeli President Reuvan Rivlin’s residence. She said that perhaps Sinat Chinam means freely hating everyone whom we deem is on the outside of ‘us’. It was then that she played with the words – Sinat Chinam; when we hate the other person’s Chen, which means beauty and grace. If Sinat Chinam is hating the beauty within someone, than the antidote must be to appreciate the beauty of one another freely.

The holiday of Tu B’Av is an opportunity for all of us to engage in this type of love. There is also the famous passage from the Mishnah (Ta’anit 4:8) which states that Tu B’Av was the time when the daughters of Jerusalem would find their spouses, but a number of other events also happened on Tu B’Av. It is during this holiday that the rabbis said the ban of marriage between tribes was lifted, and, later on, when the tribe of Benjamin could re-enter the congregation of Israel (Bablyonian Talmud 30b-31a).   It is a day when we started looking at the chen, the beauty, of the other.

If Sinat Chinam is hating the beauty within someone, than the antidote must be to appreciate the beauty of one another freely. It it the next step to unity, but not uniformity. It is saying, I’m confident in my belief, but can’t I appreciate the good that others do? Can I not see that other people have beauty within them and this does not diminish the beauty that I bring to the world?

This past Shabbat, I asked my congregants to do something a little different. I asked them to share the beauty that they found in the other movements of Judaism. One congregant stated that she felt the open nature of Reform Judaism to those who have been on the outside of Judaism for so long was inspiring. Another talked about the perpetuation of the strictness of Jewish law that Orthodox Judaism espouses, and thanked them for creating the market for so many kosher restaurants that we all enjoy! Of course, there were many more insights that people offered, far too numerous for this blog posting, which was an amazing sign. Through our conversation, we saw that the movements in Judaism are complex, and there are variations within each one. But more than that, it was amazing to see how people’s faces lit up and how the mood changed when we were forced to look at the positives; the beauty of the other who, after all, is us.

Chai Life magazine

I am proud to be a member of the South Palm Beach Jewish community where rabbis from all streams gather together several times a year to discuss the issues that we face. We have shared the stage numerous times sharing our own unique take on Torah, and respecting one another’s unique view points while not always agreeing. Most of all, we are cordial and friendly with one another regardless of our movements.  I hope this inspires our congregants in all synagogues to follow our example, as well as rabbis in other cities.

Life is too short, Am Yisrael is too small, and, unfortunately, it looks like we have much adversity ahead of us.  As Rabbi Israel Meir Lau recently said standing in Auschwitz-Birkenau, “This place – Auschwitz-Birkenau – is the largest cemetery on this earth. It proves that we know how to die together. There are no divisions between Sephardi and Ashkenazi, between secular and religious, between enlightened and ignorant, rich and poor. They were all killed as Jews. The time has come for us to leave here with a message that we also have to know how to live together. The secret of dying together is not enough. We have to find the secret of living together.”

Why focus on hate when there is so much beauty out there within others? Let us learn to truly see the beauty within the other ‘tribes’ so we can then move on and see the beauty within others outside of our people. Let us fight hatred before it goes wild by espousing love toward our fellow Jew regardless of movement.

About the Author
David Baum serves as rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Kodesh, a small (but mighty) Conservative Kehillah (community) in Boca Raton, Florida, sits on the Rabbinical Assembly Social Justice Commission, former president of the Southeast Region of the Rabbinical Assembly and Palm Beach County Board of Rabbis.
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