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Forgiveness, Justice, and Hate

| 9 Comments | 2 TrackBacks
bq. "In his classic Holocaust text, The Sunflower, Simon Wiesenthal recounts the following experience. As a concentration camp prisoner, the monotony of his work detail is suddenly broken when he is brought to the bedside of a dying Nazi. The German delineates the gruesome details of his career, describing how he participated in the murder and torture of hundreds of Jews. Exhibiting, or perhaps feigning, regret and remorse, he explains that he sought a Jew - any Jew - to whom to confess, and from whom to beseech forgiveness. Wiesenthal silently contemplates the wretched creature lying before him, and then, unable to comply but unable to condemn, walks out of the room." So begins Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik's "The Virtue of Hate", one of the most thought-provoking articles I've read in a long while. I've been wrestling with it for months now following Pejman's April 5 referral, waiting perhaps for the time to be right. That time has now come. Soloveichik offers a sharp and incisive article that recounts the differences between Jewish and Christian theological approaches to questions like the universailty of forgiveness, conduct toward enemies who have put themselves beyond the pale of humanity, and the question of whether hate is always wrong.
Explorations of different faiths' viewpoints can easily degenerate into caricuature, but Rabbi Soloveichik lets noted theological figures of different faiths speak for themselves on these subjects. The juxtapositions are fascinating. In Judaism, for instance, hatred can indeed be justified: bq. "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.' God, Jesus argues, loves the wicked, and so must we. In disagreeing, Judaism does not deny the importance of imitating God; Jews hate the wicked because they believe that God despises the wicked as well.... 'Father, do not forgive them, for they know well what they do'." The questions he raises in this section of his article are worth the effort of every person to address. Especially in light of recent events and debates. How you see these questions will strongly affect your views on right and wrong, and how you judge others. That's something worth examining closely, especially here in the blogosphere. You may not even follow these religions, but they've been pondering these questions for thousands of years. It's worth your while to at least listen to their accumulated conclusions. Their answers aren't always simple, either. Rabbi Soloveichik, after affirming the justice of deserved hate, also has things this to say: bq. "The danger inherent in hatred is that it must be very limited, directed only at the most evil and unrepentant. According to the Talmud, the angels began singing a song of triumph upon the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt until God interrupted them: 'My creatures are drowning, and you wish to sing a song?' Yet the rabbis also state that God wreaked further vengeance upon Pharoah himself, ordering the sea to spit him out, so that he could return to Egypt alone, without his army. Apparently one must cross some terrible moral boundary in order to be a justified target of God�s hatred - and of ours. An Israeli mother is right to raise her child to hate Saddam Hussein, but she would fail as a parent if she taught him to despise every Arab. We who hate must be wary lest we, like Goldstein, become like those we are taught to despise." As I say, a complex and thought-provoking article. It may not resolve your own questions; then again, it might. Either way, you'll be a better person for considering the issues it raises. A better blogger, as well. UPDATE: My colleague Rev. Donald Sensing weighs in on this issue.

2 TrackBacks

Tracked: August 28, 2003 11:56 AM
Excerpt: Joe Katzman over at Winds of Change has a link to an article called the "The Virtue of Hate." Here's a sample of Katzman's comments about the article: Soloveichik offers a sharp and incisive article that recounts the differences between...
Tracked: August 28, 2003 12:04 PM
Excerpt: Joe Katzman over at Winds of Change has a link to an article called the "The Virtue of Hate." Here's a sample of Katzman's comments about the article: Soloveichik offers a sharp and incisive article that recounts the differences between...


Thanks for the link. It is definitely a thought provoking article. Do you know of similar ones that may give us more of a handle on the 'collective' guilt facet? All of these discussions about the UN bombing incident have really bummed me out and I feel like I need to contemplate this aspect further.


Thank you for bringing this article to our attention.


I want to add my thanks for pointing out this article. Extremely thought-provoking. I was raised Methodist and married a Catholic, but I guess I fall into the "Christmas/Easter Christians" that are compared to "Yom Kippur Jews" in the article.

So with that limited background, it seems to me that the difference is between the role that repentance plays in spiritual deserts. Christians are supposed to believe that if you truly repent and accept Christ into your life (which by definition you cannot do without truly repenting your sins) then you should be (will be) forgiven. It's not that you will then manage to escape "getting what you deserve", i.e. punishment in the afterlife -- it's that you will no longer deserve it.

Most of the Jewish stories of vengeance involved unrepentant evil-doers, and are thus not completely analogous to the story from The Sunflower.

Now whether the Nazi mass murderer truly repented or just wanted to feel better on his death bed is where this all gets tricky. The difficulty that we (not being omniscient) have in judging someone else's inner motivations makes it difficult to know whether someone really "deserves" forgiveness. Christianity, I think, ends up with the proposition that we, as mortals, must accept their repentance and offer our forgiveness because we cannot know. And further we should hope for, expect, and desire all to truly repent and be forgiven (and hence saved).

Anyway, just my poorly-informed thoughts on the issue. Thanks for making me think about something substantive on a Sunday.

Compassion, without wisdom, leads to disaster, both personal and collective.

I believe that wisdom, without compassion, also leads to disaster.

If you always pursue hate when the feeling arises, you risk losing your heart. If you always suppress hate when the feeling arises, you risk losing your mind. My own practice is neither to suppress nor pursue hate. It's tough and I often fail but personally I see no other path.

However, Soloveichik's article makes a case, and a good one, for a necessary kind of hate, a hate which prevents compassion from blundering into a path of self destruction. I wouldn't call that "hate". I'd call it wisdom.

ugh. cut and paste error exposed my editing. strike the first "also" in the post above. Yes, I had it the other way 'round to begin with. [JK: done.]

I've been struggling with that same problem since Sept 11, 2001. I never understood hate before then. I'd rather I didn't understand it now.
"May their names be erased."

Two items:
With regard to forgiveness; we can forgive, if we will, but it wins the forgiven no extra points here or hereafter. The forgiven might feel better, and we might, or might not, but it has no other benefit. Thus, our withholding forgiveness does the perp no serious harm. In fact, many people say forgiveness has more benefits for the victim than the perp. Helps one to move on, I suppose.
But I see no duty
The other item regards hate. In a practical sense, hate can be like vengeance. Anticipating either vengeance or the hate that will lead to vengeance, or inconvenience, anyway, at the hands of a potential victim or his people deters a certain proportion of contemplated crimes.
Hating those whom one can in no way affect seems to be reasonable until it becomes a burden. It doesn't seem to be any kind of an offense since one cannot act on it. Besides, acting on it might not be a bad thing, anyway

I arrived at this article by another Winds of Change post that linked to Alan E. Brain's "Hate Is Not the Answer." I posted a brief comment (well, a link, really) at the end of that article which I'll repeat here, with an addition.

Two posts on my own blog:

A Buddhist Critique of Islam?


Right and Wrong: A Nondualist's Perspective

I don't know whether these add to the discussion or sidetrack it or derail it, but they're there for the curious.


Kevin Kim

Fascinating article and perspective. Thanks.

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