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Sinat Chinam: The Great Tisha B'Av Crime

What Is Baseless Hatred, Anyway?


Rabbi David Fohrman

Rabbi David Fohrman

Founder and Lead Scholar

When was the last time you hated someone for absolutely no reason? Sinat chinam, baseless hatred, is the reason the Talmud gives for the loss of the Second Temple. But, outside of comic book super villains, most of us don’t hate for the fun of it. Could it be we’ve been misunderstanding the true meaning of baseless hatred this whole time? 

Join Rabbi Fohrman for a look at the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, and discover what Tisha B’Av is really trying to teach us about the nature of hate and putting an end to sinat chinam.


Transcript

So, I confess, I have always had a real problem with Tisha B'Av. I know that sounds terrible to say but here's my issue, we all know the famous saying quoted from the Talmud: The temple was only destroyed because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred.

Sinat Chinam and the Temple's Destruction

So if there is a spiritual remedy be undertaken on Tisha B'Av, it is clearly banish baseless hatred from our hearts. We have to resolve never to feel baseless hatred.

We pray and ask God's assistance, we join Facebook campaigns, we engage in acts of ahavat chinam, baseless love, to just love people for no reason rather than hate people for no reason.

But here's the problem: Honestly, how often are you tempted to hate somebody baselessly?

Does Anyone Truly Feel Baseless Hatred?

When is the last time you were walking down the street, you saw somebody, 'Oh, there's Phil, I hate him.' Just no reason, baseless. We don't do that.

I mean, are you like that? Is there anyone you know like that? Are we creating some kind of scarecrow with baseless hatred that just doesn't exist and then, we congratulate ourselves that we don't have this terrible sin? Wow! Great, you are not a psychopath – you should be proud of that? I mean what if every year we congratulate ourselves about how we have purged sinat chinam from our heart, we no longer hate people baselessly, as if you did in the first place?

Sinat chinam. I mean, those are very strong words. In real life, you know, many of us are no strangers to hatred, to anger, sometimes even to rage but usually, when we get really mad at somebody, we get mad at them for a reason. Somebody bullies me and I hate them; is that baseless hatred? It's not baseless hatred, there is a reason I hate him. Who feels baseless hatred?

Have We Really Banished Sinat Chinam?

I think if we really want to experience Tisha B'Av like adults, we sort of owe it to ourselves to try to come to grips with the question of what baseless hatred is. What do we mean when we talk about sinat chinam, hatred for no reason?

Because there is an insidious possibility that every year we congratulate ourselves for getting rid of sinat chinam but we don't even know what it is. And maybe what it really is continues to lurk in our hearts, to poison our minds and our relationships.

It turns out that there's a fundamental piece of Talmud that exemplifies the idea of sinat chinam. Traditionally, we learn it on Tisha B'Av.

The Nature of Sinat Chinam

In the Gemara, masechet Gittin deals with the famous apocryphal story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. What I want to do with you in this video is to analyze that story, to read it through with you, and to try to figure out through looking at that story what sinat chinam really is. Because the strange thing is, that as you read the story it doesn't seem to be about baseless hatred at all.

 

I think that if we read that story with clear eyes, we will arrive at a surprising understanding of the nature of sinat chinam, of baseless hatred. It is not something that monsters feel, that psychopaths feel; hatred for no reason. Indeed, the kind of baseless hatred that the Gemara talks about, it's uncomfortably close to home.


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