The Talmud (Yoma 9b) contrasts the reasons for the destruction of the First and Second Temples respectively. The First Temple was destroyed because of the sin of idolatry. The Second temple was destroyed because of the sin of baseless hatred (sinat hinam). The gravity of baseless hatred is now the featured rationale for continued mourning over the destruction of the Temples on Tish’a B’Av despite the return from exile and the building of the modern State of Israel. Many rabbis – myself included – have written and preached that fasting is still warranted as long as baseless hatred among Jews persists. This rationale has been repeated to the point of making it pedestrian, if not trite. Yet a more nuanced analysis of baseless hatred yields a richer understanding of the term and a better reason for fasting on Tish’a B’Av.
What the Talmud teaches is not that all hatred is wrong but only that baseless hatred is. The very idea of baseless or unjustifiable hatred implies that there is a complementary concept of justifiable hatred. The concept of justifiable hatred is rooted in the Torah. For instance, a marital relationship collapses when a man’s love for his wife degenerates into revulsion (Deuteronomy 22:13). In describing this situation the Torah does not condemn a man for “hating” his wife. It merely recognizes that such hate is possible when a relationship is ruined by irreconcilable differences. Neither partner is condemned by the text. In fact, the text concedes that when a marital relationship collapses hate, is understandable. This would be the case particularly when one partner was abusive. Again, the Torah tells us that abominations are hateful to God (Deuteronomy 12:31). And it is reasonable to deduce that if God so hates these abominations that those who commit them are condemned to death by a human court, then we are justified in hating these sinners as well. While the Torah (Leviticus 19:17) prohibits hating a fellow Jew in one’s heart, Rabbi Dr. J. H. Hertz (Pentateuch and Haftorahs, p. 501) begins his commentary with the observation that “Most of hating in the world is quite unjustified,” leaving room to infer that some hating is justified.
The fact is that in today’s world, Jews are not guilty of baseless hatred of other Jews. Sadly, some Jews have good reason to hate other Jews. Some Jews have caused so much pain and harm to other Jews that justifies the hatred of the victims for the perpetrators. It would be unreasonable and even offensive to suggest that victims of physical or sexual or emotional abuse not hate their tormentors. Observant Jews who judge the behavior of other Jews to be abominable, would feel completely justified in hating those they identify as responsible for the subversion of Judaism. But while there may be good reason for some Jews hating other Jews, the occasions that warrant hatred can and should be minimized. Differences in legal interpretation alone are insufficient justification. Ideological differences must be allowed to become a source of animosity. We persist in fasting because we have blurred the difference between justifiable hatred and unjustifiable hatred. Our sin lies in confusing good reasons for hating other Jews with poor ones. And for that sin we mourn on Tish’a B’Av.