Jon Taub

No, We SHOULD Hate Our Enemies

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is absolutely spot on about the ostensibly surprising historical tendency of those self-described enlightened to not only refuse to see evil, but to even declare the evil to be good; such has been and remains a progressive tenet.  But when Rabbi Boteach says “hate can be kosher, but only when it is exclusively directed at the truly wicked”, even if the “psak” as it were came from Elie Weisel (“We can’t hate our enemies. It seeps into our blood and poisons us”), the question is begged: who is one not supposed to hate, in these instances?

Rabbi Boteach doesn’t make the mistake that the Tree of Life congregant whose husband had survived that attack made: “The Pittsburgh shooter could have killed my husband. I still don’t want him to get the death penalty.”  That author and the broad media-driven discussion regarding the “true” Jewish view of the death penalty presented classical Judaism as invariably abolitionist, and from that rather tenuous premise the author asserts that “calling for the death penalty means there is no possibility for the shooter to repent, to change or to improve…I want to affirm that change is possible.”  Particularly in those cases where long-hardened attitudes translate into deadly incitement or even action—Robert Bowers being exhibit A—one might even say affording the opportunity to repent to such enemies of humanity is somewhere between severely misguided and grossly irresponsible.

However, even if one wants to make a distinction between loving one’s enemies and hating G-d’s enemies—irrespective of the source and its ostensible Judaic origin, or lack thereof—one can even make the argument that hating certain individual personalities and public figures that are indelibly linked with those ideologies is equally virtuous.   While Rabbi Boteach tries to thread the needle between one’s enemies and G-d’s enemies, the historical evidence he provides might indicate that that stance should, at best, be the exception, not the rule; and, if one delves into some key classic Judaic text that deal with subject of hating those who wish us harm, the evidence might even further indicate that one should more often than not hate our enemies who identify themselves as such.

Examining the historical figures, and leaving aside those who he clearly identifies as appeasers (i.e. Gandhi) and outright celebrants (i.e. George Bernard Shaw, who, in addition to declaring “The Nazi movement is in many respects one which has my warmest sympathy”; had also previously showered accolades on both Lenin and Stalin and was celebrated in the USSR for years after his 1931 visit) of evil, Rabbi Boteach mentions that Churchill “said openly that “I hate no man but Hitler”.  Yet, Churchill had to be talked out of bypassing trials for the Nazi High Command, whom he preferred be summarily executed upon capture, indicating that his (justified) hatred went somewhat beyond Hitler; this is even before one gets into questions vis a vis bombing of so-called civilian targets in Nazi Germany, and whether Churchill—or any of the Allies, for that matter—should have felt any pain about the devastation meted out to Axis populations.  One can also ask whether Lincoln’s hatred of slavery but not the prime movers of the Confederacy and secession turned out to be a sufficient hatred: even though he would not live to see the fruits of the Union victory, one wonders whether his attitude of  “charity towards all, malice towards none” left too wide an opening for the persistence of the mythology of the South’s Lost Cause and the resulting trajectory of American history.

When one examines classical Jewish literature, it becomes even more evident that the downfall of haters should be both prayed for and celebrated.  One persistent educational talking point that surrounds our Passovers involves the purported Heavenly (as it were) pain at the drowning of the Egyptians at the Red Sea—ostensibly, the reason we dip our finger in the wine at the Seder and recite only half-Hallel from Chol HaMoed on.  Yet it can be shown that these emphases are at best one sided.

In the case of the finger-dipping, the overwhelming majority of sources that explain the tradition lean a lot closer to “we should be saved from these plagues and they should befall our enemies” and “as a symbol of revenge” rather than an expression of sympathy pains for the drowned Pharaonic retinue.  In some Sephardic communities, “[w]hile the leader of the seder is spilling out the wine during the recitation of the Ten Plagues, all the participants mention after every plague the name of those who hate the Jews”.  In the case of half-Hallel, there are at least as many sources that give answers other than G-d silencing the angels, but a logical one might suffice: while G-d silence’s the angels’ Song at the Sea, he certainly does not silence the Jews’ song.  On the contrary: that Song continues to be recited on a daily basis.

In the Purim narrative as per TB Megillah 16b, when Haman is ordered to prepare Mordechai to receive royal honors, Mordechai steps on Haman to mount the horse, kicking him on his way up.  Haman complains: “Aren’t you commanded “Do not rejoice in the fall of your enemy” [Prov. 24:17]?” Mordechai retorts: “Regarding you it says “And you will step on their high places [Deut. 33:29].”  After Haman made the national personal and vice versa, Mordechai returned the favor, and the Talmud codifies it in the narrative.

One might even attempt to make a distinction between hating enemies on personal micro level and on a group macro level, but one might find that complicated by the ending to Psalms 137: “O daughter of Babylon, that art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that repayeth thee as thou hast served us.  Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the rock.”  Note here: there is little said about the actual perpetrator of that destruction, the Babylonian King Nebbuchadnezzar; rather this loathing seems to be directed at the ostensibly “innocent civilians” of Babylon.  Again, the attitude of fierce loathing is textually embedded.

Certainly in the case of a leader and/or pubic figure who uses notoriety to fuel hatred, the distinction between micro and macro should be all but erased.  The story told by the aforementioned Pittsburgh congregant about former white nationalist Derek Black’s repentance actually underscores this point, which in contradistinction to the one she—and maybe Rabbi Boteach, tangentially—try to make about not hating the haters on a personal micro level: with all respect due Mr. Black for his transformation, he wasn’t a public figure beyond being the scion of white nationalists, and he hadn’t killed anyone yet; repenting hateful beliefs is of a different order than repenting incitement to violence, let alone actual violence.  Even considering the assessment of the man who invited Black for Shabbat, Matthew Stevenson—“Derek’s example has convinced me that no matter how deeply involved somebody is in a negative pattern of behavior or mired in a negative ideology, they’re never in too deep”—becomes much more difficult to defend when the hater is a public figure; the behaviors in question are now

The “Tit for Tat” strategy developed for the Prisoner’s Dilemma by Anatol Rapoport–where you corporate first, than at least mimic your counterpart’s move–follows a course of action consistent with one’s opponent’s previous move: if provoked, a player subsequently responds with retaliation; if unprovoked, the player cooperates.  We are long past the point where those enemies of Jews AND humanity have expressed their hatred in word and deed; responding to such entrenched provocation with even the hint of cooperation is borderline suicidal.

We should always hate our enemies, and express this hatred, until they either: stop being our enemies; or: they disappear.  Hating them isn’t just kosher; it might be a mitzvah.  Even if it hurts.

About the Author
Jon Taub is an ex-Upper West Sider, now-married Riverdalean who has two MA's, plays three instruments, and consults for biostartups.