The Hebrew term is שנאת חנם. Hatred out of spite, groundless, with no reason, generated by the darkness that all too often lies hidden in the human heart. It is understood in the rabbinic tradition as particularly applying to Jew on Jew hostility. There is a well known passage in the Talmud (Gittin 55b) which blames the destruction of the Temple on this kind of baseless hatred. When it appears it is ugly and irrational, and a desecration to God’s name.
And so I was saddened to hear from a congregant the following anecdote: The family held the unveiling for their beloved father and grandfather this past Sunday. It happened to be Tisha B’Av, the day that commemorates the destruction of the Temples and which also is a fast day in traditional Jewish circles. It is not a day that is high on the radar screen for most Jews in the liberal Jewish community, and very few Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist Jews observe the fast. A few days before the unveiling the family called a local kosher bagel shop to reserve a dozen and a half bagels for a post unveiling brunch. That morning a family member went to pick up the order, and found the shop closed.
Returning home with bagels from another shop, a call was placed about the original order. Someone happened to answer the phone in the kosher shop. ‘What happened, we placed an order and no one was there when we came to pick it up?’ The response from the worker: ‘Are you Jewish?’ ‘Yes I am,’ my congregant responded. ‘Shame on you,’ said the worker, and hung up the phone.
Really? Forget about the fact that no person has the right to impose his or her religious views on another person. We have the right to make our own choices, and to ‘do Jewish’ in the best and most meaningful way we can for ourselves and our families. It is not the worker’s business, or anyone else’s for that matter, whether a fellow Jew chooses to fast or not to fast on Tisha B’Av.
But what about the idea of keiruv, of finding ways to bring Jews into the community, to help Jews deeepen their connection to the tradition and God, of opening doors and making the community a welcoming place for all Jews, regardless of level of observance? Imagine the difference had the worker said ‘Ma’am I am so sorry, the person who took your order must have forgotten that today is traditionally a fast day and we are closed. We’ll make it up to you by filling the order for free another time. Meanwhile try down the street, they’ll be open today.’ Instead of raising a wall, opening a door. Instead of spite and hostility, helping a fellow Jew on a difficult day.
I don’t presume to know what God ‘thinks’ but I wonder this. Would God be more concerned about someone observing a ritual fast, or about one Jew treating another with respect, decency, and dignity? The High Holy Days are seven weeks away. Remember these stinging words from the prophet Isaiah, read on Yom Kippur morning: “No, this is the fast I desire: to unlock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the chords of the yoke to let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched into your home; when you see the naked, to cloth him, and not to ignore your own kin.”
I am guessing the worker at that shop was in shul last Yom Kippur. Perhaps he fell asleep during the chanting of that great haftara. Or perhaps he was awake and heard the words, but for some reason chooses to ignore them. That, it seems to me, is where the true shame lies.