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Love/Hate the Sinner

John Hobbins has written a thoughtful post in response to a Shmuely Boteach op-ed which said,

As for my Christian brethren who regularly quote to me Jesus’ famous saying, “Love your enemies,” my response is that our enemies and God’s enemies are different parties altogether. Jesus meant to love those who steal your girlfriend, cut you off on the road or swindle you in a business deal. But to love those who indiscriminately murder God’s children is an abomination against all that is sacred. Is there a man who is human whose heart is not filled with moral revulsion against terrorists who target a rabbi who feeds the hungry? Would God or Jesus ask me to extend even one morsel of my limited capacity for compassion to fiends rather than saving every last particle for their victims instead?

While op-ed pieces are not known for theological nuance, the attitude of Judaism towards sin and sinners is, as with many things, multi-vocal. Here is one example which calls for a Jew to hate the sin, but not the sinner.

הנהו בריוני דהוו בשבבותיה דרבי מאיר והוו קא מצערו ליה טובא, הוה קא בעי רבי מאיר רחמי עלויהו כי היכי דלימותו. אמרה ליה ברוריא דביתהו: מאי דעתך? – משום דכתיב: יתמו חטאים (תהלים ק”ד), מי כתיב חוטאים? חטאים כתיב! ועוד, שפיל לסיפיה דקרא: ורשעים עוד אינם, כיון דיתמו חטאים – ורשעים עוד אינם? אלא, בעי רחמי עלויהו דלהדרו בתשובה – ורשעים עוד אינם. בעא רחמי עלויהו והדרו בתשובה.
(ברכות י ע”א)

Certain criminals lived in the vicinity of R. Meir and they subjected him to much harassment, and he prayed that they might die. His wife Beruria said to him: How do you justify such a prayer? Is it because it is written: “Let sinners cease from the earth (Ps 104:35)? But the word as written means literally “sin,” not “sinners.” Moreover, consider the last part of the verse: “and let the wicked be no more.” When sins will cease, the wicked will be no more. You should rather pray that they repent, and then the wicked will be no more. He prayed that they repent, and they repented.
B. Berachot 10a (trans. Ben Zion Bokser)

A number of years ago R. Meir Soloveitchik wrote an article in First Things, The Virtue of Hate, which touched upon many of these questions and was discussed quite a bit. See here for some responses to it. Here is a sermon by R. Haskel Lookstein on the Soloveitchik article and here an editorial by the Reverend Christopher M. Leighton.

2 Responses to “Love/Hate the Sinner”

  1. 1
    John Hobbins:

    Michael,

    Thanks for this. You are always able to reference things I wish I could, but seldom have at my mental fingertips.

  2. 2
    avakesh:

    Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?
    Psalm 139:21

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