On Sin’at Chinam and the Salvation of Israel
Because of sin’at chinam the Second Temple was destroyed. Sin’at Chinam means gratuitous hatred. It is the hatred doled to those undeserving of it, the hatred borne of lack of discernment between friend and foe, of thinking of friends as foes because of minor difference, and taking foes as friends because of blindness.
Our sages use the term sin’at chinam in tandem with the phrase kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, which means, “All of Israel are mixed in each other”, mixed in fate. It is not possible for Jews to be in isolation; even when they think they have achieved such an island status, the Jewish fate always follows them.
We are commanded not to hate our brother even in our heart (Leviticus 19:17). A Jew is a Jew for life; the obligation of brotherhood toward a fellow Jew lasts for as long as the Jew does not act against our salvation. Here it is necessary to clarify what the word “salvation” means in a Jewish context, for it is different from the Christian concept.
Sins, accountability for them and the requirement of atonement are all there in Judaism, but they are not an integral part of a hopeless human condition. Rashi comments upon G-d’s words to Cain, “but thou mayest rule over it”, thus: “If you wish, you will master it”. None of the doctrine of incapacity in the face of temptation to sin. Salvation in the Jewish context is collective: the salvation of the Jewish people. There is, in the Jewish view, no state in which some Jews receive a different fate than others. Physically there may seem to happen so, but that is an illusion: physical burning and spiritual assimilation are intertwined, different facets of the same stone.
I have called the Naturei Karta “traitors” not because of their anti-Zionism per se, but because of their siding with those who want to exterminate the Jewish people (G-d forbid). They have praised Arafat (shr"y) in his terrorist efforts to dismantle the Zionist state and encouraged Ahmadinejad’s (shr"y) nuclear efforts to do the same. And Chomsky too, it is not just anti-Zionism that warrants the verdict of having cut himself from the Jewish people, but his aiding and abetting of those who want a repeat of the Holocaust (G-d forbid), such as Hassan Nasrallah (shr"y). If there is a Jew, or even non-Jew, who can separate his being against the existence of the Jewish state from advocacy, direct or indirect, of extermination of the Jews there (G-d forbid), then he would be in the clear. But I have yet to meet such an individual, perhaps because it is an impossibility.
But the Naturei Karta traitors and the Chomskyites are clear cases. In contradistinction to them, Orthodox Jewish leaders often issue similar condemnation and shunning toward Jews who cannot be compared to those castaways. The most common case is that of secular Jews, for example in the state of Israel itself.
It is not open to negotiation that all Jews are to observe Torah and Mitzvot. The leaders should, however, realize that non-observance cannot be cured by disparagement and angry preaching and hateful tirades. Hatred toward most secular Jews is indeed sin’at chinam, for modern non-observance of Torah and Mitzvot is, more often than not, caused by inheritance, habit or plain lack of interest and knowledge. Most non-observant Jews are so because they were raised thus by parents who had left the religion themselves (to carry the nation of Israel out of the frozen and hopeless existence of the Diaspora); some would want to observe, but it requires such a radical change of their way of life that they are daunted by it all; and yet others do not think the question of religion to be interesting, their lives occupied by other things.
To all these is a cure, yes, but it is HaShem’s cure. There are Orthodox Jewish outreach activists who fancy themselves to have converted secular Jews to Orthodox observation by the force of their speeches and presentations, but that is indulgence in the thought of kochi ve’otzem yadi (“My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth”, Deuteronomy 8:17). The awakening of Jews toward the Torah life is by HaShem’s power alone, and He does this not with speeches and presentations but by throwing hard facts in the faces of His people.
Rabbi Kook zt"l was ostracized by his Ultra-Orthodox contemporaries for suggesting the secular movement of Zionism to be the beginning of the salvation (of Israel; atchalta dig’ulah). He replied that G-d can use any means He desires of bringing it, and added that it would not be long before the secular Jews were brought to the light of the Torah by virtue of the land. The reply has usually been taken to mean that the holiness of the land would effect an awakening, which it did (recall the soldiers, mostly secular Jews, crying in front of the Western Wall after its retaking in 1967), but it is clear that it is also the events of the land, whether historical or current, that play a part in that. The first Zionists, those who had left religious homes in the Diaspora for their secular dream, were imbued with inherited Jewish identity. The secular Jews of today are cosmopolitan, even to the point of wishing Israel to transform into “a state of all its citizens” (that is, to have its Jewish peculiarities, such as even the anthem, excised), but HaShem constantly pounds them with the reality of being His people and not just another nation among many.
So the rants and hatred of those Orthodox Jewish leaders who castigate secular Jews are the fruit of impatience, and they are sin’at chinam in most cases. The hatred may not be gratuitous in the case of a doctrinaire secularist who wants all Jews to abandon Torah and Mitzvot (G-d forbid), loathing his heritage up to the point that he even refuses to circumcise his male children, but those secular Jews are a definite minority. Most Sabbath-breakers do so not out of spite, but out of some faulty reasoning (“I got scientific education that means the world wasn’t created in six days, so how can I keep the Sabbath?”) or the difficulty of breaking habits (suddenly those drives to the beach have to go…). All this does not excuse Sabbath-breaking, but it does mean that howling at the Sabbath-breakers won’t help. More than that: not only will it not help, it’ll actually harm. The hateful preaching will make the prohibitions attractive to the secular Jews, a case of mayim gnuvim yimtaku (“Stolen water is sweet”, that is, excessive prohibition attracts people to transgression). There is no permission for human beings to coerce others except as HaShem allows. And His way of coercion is the firm yet gentle one of simply laying hard, indisputable realities before His people.
A turning of secular Jews toward a life of observance is certainly to be encouraged, and leaving (G-d forbid) to be discouraged. But humans, even the greatest rabbis of the generation, can only encourage, while only HaShem can actually convert. He brings upon us war after war initiated by our Muslim neighbors despite our yearning for peace and normalcy; He just recently brought upon us a purely defensive war complete with condemnation from nearly all the world for us daring to defend ourselves; He brings before Jews in France and Britain and Venezuela the fact of the hatred of the surrounding Gentiles, so that the Jews may not fall once more under the delusion that those are their permanent homes. Fact by fact does HaShem lay before His people, forcing them, slowly but surely, to realize that nothing here is natural, that the Jewish people is outside the nature that governs all other nations, and that the only one who can lift the placeless, timeless threat of Jew-hatred is HaShem Himself. All but the willfully intransigent secular Jews can see the facts and be astonished. For any secular Jew who is so not out of self-conscious doctrine but out of mere circumstance (upbringing, habit, lack of interest and similar things), the facts end up, sooner or later, prompting doubt and soul-searching, the end of which is the realization of our eternal covenant. HaShem is the only converter.
Observe, therefore, that HaShem operates patiently and succeeds in bringing back His people, while many Orthodox Jewish leaders act impatiently and bungle, turning Jews away from Him. HaShem can do as He pleases, but Jews do as His Torah says, and of His Torah the wisest man of all time said, “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). That means disparagement of secular Jews and attempts to force religious observance by law are out. They lead to sin’at chinam and turn Jews away from HaShem; there’s no way around it, such actions constitute profanation of His name.
So long as a Jew is alive, there is hope that he will turn to observance. The only warranted hatred, therefore, is toward those who shorten the lives of Jews, by consorting with the heirs of Haman. The Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Yehudah Meshi-Zahav, head of Zaka, came to the inevitable conclusion, after years of collecting body parts from the scenes of suicide bombings, that there was no logic in making a distinction between Zionist and non-Zionist Jews when the enemy wasn’t making any such. When all Jews realize we are in the same boat, when all Jews take kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh to heart, HaShem will save us all from the modern Hamans. The Ultra-Orthodox Jews will stand with the IDF, and the secular Jews will pray to HaShem for defense from weapons an army cannot be expected to stop. The absence of sin’at chinam will build the Temple again, amen.
If I have been preachy myself in this post, I apologize, but my zeal for sanegorya (defense in a court of law) for Israel has overcome me, and for that I don’t apologize one tiny bit!