Thursday, July 23, 2009

What Is "Sinat Chinam," Anyway?

Well, it's the "Nine Days" again, and again I am freaking confused about what I am supposed to be thinking and doing. I know that I am supposed to be feeling bad about the destructions of the First and Second Temples, as well as any number of other tragedies throughout Jewish history dated to 9 Av. Even though I am a total dorkmonger who actually finds some kinot (mournful hymns, recited on Tisha b'Av and other solemn occasions) meaningful, I find this really difficult. I do believe that the destructions of the Temples (the first, because it ended direct Divine revelation; the second, because it ended for good Judaism as it was originally practiced) were the greatest tragedies in Jewish history. But it's hard to hold onto that and make it meaningful in the twenty-first century. Even on Tisha b'Av itself, I have an easier time making myself feel depressed by reading first-person Holocaust accounts.

The community (read: Orthodox community, mainly) approach to the Nine Days is no help, really. It's all about things you are not supposed to do (eat meat, drink wine, bathe [don't worry, lukewarm showers are generally allowed, and I certainly take them], listen to live [some also add recorded] music, go to weddings, etc.). This is based on the principle "Mishenichnas Av, me'ma'atim b'simchah" (When Av begins, we diminish our joy), a deliberate parallel in the Gemara to "When Adar enters, we increase our joy." But, as often happens with me (I am SO Orthoprax, in addition to Conservadox and googleplex), I get caught up in the doing/not doing and the feeling guilty that I am not doing/refraining from doing enough. So I feel like crap a lot, but not for the right reasons.

What really pisses me off, though, is the traditional way of talking about "sinat chinam." According to the Gemara in somewhere, the Temple was destroyed because of "sinat chinam," which is usually translated as "baseless hatred." That we should all refrain from "baseless hatred" so that the third Temple can be rebuilt, or so that we can live in a redeemed world, or whatever, is held out as a goal for the Jewish people. Fights between and within different Jewish denominations are often given as examples of sinat chinam.

But what does that mean, exactly?

Don't the different denominations hate each other pretty much past the point of no return?
As someone who travels across the denominations, I have been surprised at the level of rancor between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox. It comes from both sides. And blogging has introduced me to the Modern Orthodox--Chareidi smackdown (see especially the comment thread). Very admirable, guys.

Is it sinat chinam to hate the rabbis (including at least one rosh yeshivah) who got arrested today for money laundering (and, in one case, selling kidneys)?

Is it sinat chinam to hate the Israeli Chareidim who set their own neighborhoods on fire last week because the police arrested a Chareidi woman for starving her son? And what is the order of remove? Can I hate the bloggers who explain that the Israeli secular police are to blame; the Chareidim only riot because oppressive state policies make them feel "backed into a corner"?

Is it sinat chinam to hate American Jewish "leaders" (Chareidi, most often, but not only them) who are apologists for abusers of children and spouses?

Refraining from sinah (hate) doesn't seem to be an option in our messed-up Jewish world today. There seems to be so much on which to base the hatred.

Baseless hatred is one thing, but what about hatred with a basis? What to do about that during the nine days?

For reactions to the kind of pathetic/criminal/chillul Hashem behavior that our brethren have been engaging in recently, I turn, instead, to a verse in the Torah: Leviticus 19:17. In the King James Version, the first part of the verse says, "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart." In interpreting that part, Chazal (our Sages) look to the second half of the verse: "thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. " Chazal say that if one man sees another sinning, it does neither of them any good if the first man keeps silent. Silence leads to the continuation of the sin by the second person, and results in sin for the first one, who did not intervene. Instead, the first man should admonish his neighbor (in private, so as to avoid public embarrassment) and urge him not to continue to sin.

So, my fellow Jews, if we want to make the world a better place, a place worthy of being redeemed, then, during these nine days until Tisha b'Av, I propose that, rather than feel ashamed of our hatred, we should use it constructively. We should make it clear to the Jewish community and to the rest of the world that sinning--not only sins bein Adam la'Makom (between man and God), but also those bein Adam l'chaveiro (between people) is unacceptable. It does not represent the Jewish ideal, no matter what the dress or reputation of the sinner. We should rebuke not out of joy or a feeling of superiority. Our concern should be our survival as a "light unto the nations."


frum single female said...

great post.

elf said...

Is it sinat chinam to hate the rabbis (including at least one rosh yeshivah) who got arrested today for money laundering (and, in one case, selling kidneys)?

It's obviously not "baseless" to hate people who do despicable things, and I agree with you that expressing outrage over actions like this is the right thing for Jews to do. It's also legitimate and valuable to criticize communities that allow such actions to take place and/or fail to condemn them. I also think, however, that we should try not to allow this type of criticism to turn into hatred for all charedim/Orthodox Jews/Sephardim/rabbis. A few bad individuals, or even deep systemic flaws, do not necessarily mean that a community is irredeemable. If it did, there wouldn't be much hope for any stream of Judaism.

katrina said...

I agree, Elf, and I wasn't saying that my hatred of the few extended to the many. I would be disappointed if the many backed their rabbis and yelled "conspiracy" in a crowded scandal, but I suppose that is a hazard in such top-down communities.

Modeh B'Miktzas said...

>But, as often happens with me (I am SO Orthoprax, in addition to Conservadox and googleplex), I get caught up in the doing/not doing and the feeling guilty that I am not doing/refraining from doing enough. So I feel like crap a lot, but not for the right reasons.

I'm not so sure that isn't the point.

Think about it. Let's say you're the most stringent observer of all these things you can't do. You can't bathe, eat meat, drink alcohol, listen to any kind of music, or even wear clean, new, or recently laundered clothes. If that's the case, you're already having a pretty depressing week.

If you're not as observant, and you only keep, say, half of these things, in addition to the misery induced from such abstention, you can also add the guilt that you feel for not doing everything. You can also add the guilt from feeling that you don't feel as sad on Tisha B'av as you feel you should be.

I think we can assume that the Rabbis foresaw that the destruction of the Temples and Jerusalem wouldn't resonate as strongly for their descendants centuries on as it did for them. Which is why they instituted these restrictions and instructed us to be sad. If you can't fully comprehend what this tragedy meant to them, at least you are sharing a little bit in their misery, vicariously.

Therefore, as long as during this part of the year, you find you cannot be completely happy - you feel that there is something holding you back, even just a little - for whatever reason, mind you - I think you're observing the custom as intended.

elf's DH said...

While researching the background of the kinah "Zechor Asher", I think I found the reason for the Talmudic statement (referenced to Yoma 9b). During the First Roman-Jewish War, the Judeans did about as much damage to their own cause as the Romans did. They killed their own commanders and burnt their own food stores.

Incidentally, few people think their own hatreds are baseless. There's always a good, convincing reason. Food for thought on a fast day,

%Shocked% said...

As was pointed out by Elf's DH, few people think their own hatred is baseless. First off, duh! Does anyone ever think that what they're doing is wrong? One would need an unbiased bystander to ascertain whether the hatred has some 'value' to it. Secondly, I saw a video that gave me insight on the concept of sinas chinam. It's not so much 'baseless hatred' as it, is the outcome worth it? For example, say you hated someone and s/he fell into the street. You see a car coming directly at him/her. Is your hatred towards this person strong enough that you'd let him/her die? One would hope that regardless of the hatred, you'd do the right thing. Now let's look at it on a larger level. Do you really hate the person that much that you'd be willing to delay Mashiach's arrival? The gemarah (or a midrash) says that every day we don't rebuid bais hamikdash (which comes with the arrival of mashiach), it's as if we're destroying it. In essence, by hating this person , you're destroying the bais hamikdash. Is it worth it? Did the person do something THAT terrible that you'd be willing to destroy the bais hamikdas in order for you to have the 'right' to hate him? I doubt that there's anything in the world that would warrant that, meaning technically one can never hate.

Mike P. said...

I stumbled across this blog looking for something else and felt I had to comment on your thoughts regarding "sinat chinam."

I have always expressed and felt that there is a great difference between hatred and anger that which stems from disappointment. Jews, regardless of denomination or labels, have always had an interconnectedness that is rarely found in any other group of society. We hold ourselves to such high principles and strive so hard to reach them in our every act that we do each day, for ourselves, for our families, for Hashem, for a multitude of reasons, that, when we see such a gross violation of these principles that casts a negative shadow on each and every one of us, we cannot help but feel a rise of anger towards that person. We do not necessarily HATE them, for hatred implies that we would let our anger control who we are and our actions in a negative way. Instead, as mentioned, the anger becomes a constructive and positive force to not remain silent, and not remain tolerant of these bad apples that reside in our community.

No matter what congregation you belong to or don't, no matter how observant or secular, no matter how radical or nebbish, the world makes no distinction between one Jew and another, and the negative acts of one reflect upon the many and the whole with a broad brush. Christians can always just say that the acts of anyone else do not reflect on him for he is from a different or wrong church, or he is not a good christian, or somehow distance and separate themselves from that element. We really don't have that luxury. All we can do is do our best each day to do the best we can, and never be silent about the actions of others that cannot be tolerated! For as long as there have been Jews on this planet the acts one Jew commits, all have and will hopefully reap the rewards of, or suffer the consequences of those acts. It has been many many years since I read the Torah, but that was the one lesson that stood out above all else about who we truly are and our interactions with the world around us.

ace36cbi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ace36cbi said...

Good post!
This from someone who is currently Conservadox & Single.

It is somewhat ironic that this post was originally published close to the past Tisha B'Av, and yet I am now reading this two short days before the minor Jewish fast of the Tenth of Tevet (see the Tenth of Tevet Wikipedia ). The lessons of sinat chinam even apply to the Fast of the Tenth of Tevet when the Destruction of the FIRST Temple is commemorated, whereas the more stringent Fast of Tisha B'Av commemorates the all-encompassing Destructions of BOTH Temples.

Another interesting written piece on sinat chinam is Keren Gottleib's of's Baseless Hatred
I think that the insights in both written pieces remain entirely appropriate regardless of whether or not one can manage to reflect on one's behavior during the upcoming Tenth of Tevet Fast itself [commemorating the Destruction of the First Temple].

Anonymous said...

Here's an idea - stop being jewish. It's a shit religion than worships a monkey god. No decent person should have to concern themselves with any of this nonsense. You're better off without it.