Western society today places great emphasis on our rights to live life as
we wish as long as it does not damage others. An outgrowth of this
attitude is the concept of moral relativism; proponents of this concept
argue that there is no objective right or wrong and consequently we do not
have the right to judge others because of their viewpoint or lifestyle.
The Torah strongly rejects this concept and argues that there is an
absolute morality and there is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to live one’s
life 1. Such an attitude can seem
antithetical to the command that we should not hate our fellow man; indeed
history has proven that ideological disagreements have been the cause of
great hatred. How does Judaism reconcile this apparent dichotomy?
There is a very important passage in the Talmud that can help us more
accurately understand the Torah’s attitude in these areas. The Talmud
states that the Second Temple was destroyed because of ‘Baseless Hatred’.
Amongst the Jewish people there were many different groups each espousing
a different ideology. Their differences of opinion led to great strife
and eventually a Civil War, which was a key stage in the destruction of
the Temple and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people. The Talmud
describes the disagreements as being ’baseless’, meaning that they had no
reason for them 2. This description is
difficult to understand - after all each group did have reasons to hate
each other - they believed that the ideology of their rivals was not only
wrong but positively dangerous. Accordingly, how can the Talmud describe
this hatred as baseless?!
The answer is that a person can disagree with someone else BUT such
disagreement is not a valid cause of hatred - the Jews in the time of the
Temple destruction did have reasons for disagreeing with each other BUT
they were not reasons that justified hatred - consequently the Talmud
describes the hatred as ’baseless’ because it did not have a legitimate
We can now understand how the Torah can preach absolute morality and
simultaneously forbid hatred. We believe that there is a right and wrong
and that we must strive to live our lives following the ’right’ path. And
if a person acts in a manner that does not fit with the Torah’s conception
of morality then his behavior can be described as inappropriate and even
immoral. However this does not mean that we have license to hate him - we
can disagree with his actions and at the same time love his essence. With
this understanding, the Torah’s exhortation to avoid hatred takes on a new
dimension - even if we have an ideological disagreement with our fellow we
need not turn it into a personal battle.
1 In truth few people are willing to follow the moral
relativist line to its logical endpoint - that one has no right to
criticize ANY ideology even if it ‘seems’ morally repugnant to us,
consequently, such acts as murder, thievery, and anti-Semitism become
subjective acts that cannot be judged as being evil simply because there
is no objective evil. 2 Yoma, 9b.