יום רביעי, 10 ביולי 2013


Pinchas Leiser

The causes of the destruction of the Second Temple cited by the Talmud (Yoma 9b) are fairly common knowledge:
“[During the existence of] The Second Temple, Jews were engaged in Torah study, in mitzvot, and in the doing of good deeds; why, then, was it destroyed? Because there existed groundless hatred.”

The Talmud, in  Bava Metsia 30b, cites a different reason for the destruction of the temple: Said Rabbi Yochanan: Yerushalayim was destroyed only because they judged according to Torah law . . . rather say: Because they ruled strictly according to [the letter of] the Torah law, they did not rule beyond the letter of the law.   The Tosafists (Bava Metsia 30b) point out the apparent contradiction between the two above sources: “[Here the reason given is] . . . they judged according etc”. Whereas in Yoma 9b it says “because of groundless hatred!”  The resolution offered by the Tosafists: “It might be said: Both this one and that one caused the destruction of the Temple.”

An in-depth examination of the two causes suggested by the Talmud,  establishing the connection between the two, may help us to comprehend the concept of “groundless hatred” - ‘sin’at chinam’ – which has become a kind of meaningless cliche.

Individuals who hate each other, groups which hate each other, or nations which hate each other, will generally come up with what they consider to be justified reasons for their hating the other. Sometimes the reason is personal, sometimes “ideological”, political or religious. They will never define their hatred as “groundless hatred”; if the other is a “heretic” or a “traitor”, or simply a rasha”, there is complete justification for hating him!

This phenomenon is adroitly described by S. Y. Agnon, in his delightful satiricial tale “Everlasting Peace” (from “Sefer Hamedina, in the volume “Samuch Vnir’eh, p. 261):

“The state had to conduct consultations in order to forestall the misfortune. But the citizens of the country were divided into two parties . . . those who covered their heads, and those who bared their heads, and whatever one party desired, the other blocked, and even each party was divided among itself, each sector hating each other, perhaps even more that the common enemy hates the covered heads and the uncovered heads as one.  How did one country come to be divided into two nations  which harass each other? The explanation can be determined from past aspects of the nation’s history, aspects which continue to influence, even though world realities changed and the conduct of the nation changed, and its sons abandoned all that was dear to their parents. That country had a tradition that its founding fathers were Jews, and the custom of the Jews was to cover their heads, and therefore some of  them covered their heads. And the others, why did they bare their heads? It is because they saw themselves as Jews prior to receiving the Torah, who had not yet been commanded to cover their heads, so therefore they bared their heads. And because these covered their heads and those did not cover their heads, they hated each other. And why did the covered-heads hate one another? After all, both these covered their heads and those covered their heads, but these wore yarmulkehs (kippot) and these wore turbans . . . these were bigger than envy and these were smaller than lice . . . and there was really no need for a head at all, as long as the covering was conspicuous. Why did the bare-headed hate each other – after all these wore no covering and those wore no covering? The answer is that these grew forelocks and those cut their hair short, these were partially bald and those were completely bald. There was really no need for a head at all, as long as it was bare . . .  They were similar in one thing only: each group contended that all the misfortunes which come upon the country came only becomes of its opponent . . . And were it not that the author of the Book of the State is wary about superflous entries, he would say that both these and those are words of truth.”

This satire - penned by Agnon many years ago but could well have been written today – describes what seems to be a fairly widespread human feature. Sartre, the French philosopher, defined it pithily: “Hell is -  the others.”

In the literature of Chazal, the controversy between Hillel and Shammai is characterized as ‘a controversy for the sake of Heaven’, which is destined to endure. Two Talmudic sources depict controversy between the two schools            conducted in a spirit of mutual respect:

“Said Rabbi Abba in the the name of Shmuel: Three years did the House of Shammai disagree with the House of Hillel. These say “the law is as we rule” and those say “the law is as we rule.” A divine voice declared: “Both these and these are the words of the living God – and the law is in accordance with the House of Hillel.”  Now, if the words of both houses are the words of the living God, why did the House of Hillel merit having it’s rulings accepted? Because they were easy-going, and not arrogant, and they taught their words along with those of the House of Shammai. And not only that – they also preceded their own words with those of the House of Shammai.” (Bavli, Eruvin 13b)
“Even though the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel  were divided on such issues as second wives and sisters, on an old writ of divorce, on questionable adultrous relationships, on one who divorces his wife and then spends the night in the same inn, on actual money and monetary equivalents, on the peruta coin and its equivalent [All issues which involve possible adultry and subsequent bastardry. – Translator], the House of Shammai did not refrain from marrying women from the House of Hillel nor the House of Hillel from the House of Shammai – teaching us that love and companionship are practiced by both, thus fulfilling (Zecharia 8) “Love truth and peace”. (Yevamot 14b)

In contrast to the above, the Yerushalmi Talmud offers a description of violent conflict between the two schools:

“These are laws which were discussed in the upper storey of Hannanya ben Hizkiya ben Garon when they came to visit him, and a count was taken, and the House of Shammai had a majority over the House of Hillel, and eighteen decrees were passed that day.” (Mishnah, Shabbat 1:4)

“That day was as difficult for Israel as the day they made the calf – Rabbi Eliezer said: On that day, they overfilled the measure [of laws].  Rabbi Yehoshua said: On that day they made the measure of laws just even. Said to him Rabbi Leiser: If it was lacking, and they filled it up – that is right and proper. To a barrel full of nuts, the more you put in sesame seeds, it becomes stronger.
Said to him Rabbi Yehoshua: If it was full, and they took out some – that is right and proper! To a barrel that was full of oil, the more you add water, it thins out the oil.
Rabbi Yehoshua Onia taught: The disciples of Bet Shammai stood above them, and they killed disciples of Bet Hillel.
It was taught: Six of them went up, and the rest stood against them with swords and daggers. (Yerushalmi, Shabbat, Chap. 1, Halacha 4)

Those same Batei Midrash, those same schools who could treat each other with such respect, who would even intermarry despite disagreement on the most basic principles, could also let the controversy decline onto violent, power-driven tracks.

What, then, differentiates between the tolerant positions of the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai as depicted in the Bavli, and the violent action by the disciples of the House of Shammai in the Yerushalmi?

It seems to me that the key may be found in understanding the concept “controversy for the sake of Heaven is destined to endure” – a controversy in which each side accepts the proposition that the intention of his adversary, is also “for the sake of Heaven”, and that it has no monopoly of the divine truth. Such a controversy can continue to endure in mutual respect.

In this kind of controversy, each side holds part of the truth, and does not claim to represent the entire truth.[1]  In such a case, the arguments can exist, and so can the opponents – one alongside the other. When a decision is required, it is reached according to accepted criteria and in mutual respect; the practical resolution reached does not affect the overall principle of “Both these and these are the words of the living God.”

On the other hand, a situation in which each side (or one of the sides) is determined to win at any price, and is convinced that its truth and the divine truth are one and the same, such a situation does not permit co-existence between the two rivals. In such cases, we see cases of social ostracism, isolation, and terms of abuse such as “traitor” and “heretic”, and the controversy becomes personal hatred which is liable to deteriorate into violent force.

Sometimes, the tendency to delegitimatize and ostracize derives from a feeling of being threatened. When a person or a group feel threatened by another person, another group, or a different viewpoint, the delegitimization may serve as a substitue for coping directly with the person, the group, or the viewpoint; in such cases, we are witnesses to “hatred distorts the measure”.

I don’t think there is a need to prove that this sad phenomenon, described in Chazalic literature and Agnon’s satire, exists today. It is essential to point out the destructive dangers hidden in this approach.

If we return to the two Talmudic statements quoted above, we can, in line with Tosafot’s commentary, describe the two phenomena – groundless hatred and ruling in strict accordance with the letter of law, without any spirit of generosity – as flowing from a single source; a society based only on “din Torah” – the law of Torah – is a society without human compassion, a society sans love. When there is no relating to - and respect for - the human dimension in all its complexity, hatred for all that is different must inevitably develop. “Lifnim meshurat ha-din” – ruling generously beyond the letter of the law is not a superhuman category. No society can continue to exist for a long time if there is no respect for a man because he is a man.

How pleasant and how important the words of Rav Kook (Orot HaKodesh 3, 324):

And if we were destroyed, and the world destroyed along with us, by baseless hatred, we shall return to be rebuilt, and the world rebuilt along with us, by gratuitious love.”

The term “Ahavat chinam” (gratuitious love) is not to found in Chazal sources, but perhaps the term “unconditional love” which – like “controversy for the sake of Heaven” is destined to endure – faithfully relects that which is desired in our midst, love of man as man, despite his dissimilarity, despite our disagreement with his positions. May it be His will that we live to experience the realization of:

The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth month and fast of the seventh month, and the fast of the tenth month shall become occasions for joy and gladness, happy festivals for the House of Yehudah; but you must love honesty and peace.”

[1] The root of ‘machloket” – controversy -  is “chelek”, which means ‘a part.’

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