Monday, August 15, 2011

I Don't Hate the Person - I Just Hate Their Actions

By Susan Esther Barnes

It’s a refrain I’ve often heard said about people in the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender and Queer (LBGTQ) community, and I’ve also heard it used in reference to non-Orthodox Jews by the Orthodox. Hate the person’s actions, but not the person. I’m not sure this is actually possible.

Judaism teaches that our thoughts and intentions are not as important as our actions. The person who sits at home and thinks about how much he loves everyone in the world is not doing a mitzvah, but the person who thinks homeless people are vermin but gives them money anyway is doing one.

On one hand, our actions help to shape our thoughts, and therefore can change who we are. The person sitting home alone is not interacting with others in the world, and is learning nothing new. The person out giving money to the homeless on the street is interacting with them, in some small way. Maybe, over time, these interactions will help them to see the other person as more human. Maybe they will start to look at the causes of homelessness and see it is often not the homeless person’s fault that they are now in this position.

Na’aseh v’nishma” the Torah says (Exodus 24:7), “we will do and we will see (or understand).” First we do, and in the act of doing we change how we see things; we change our understanding of how the world works, and therefore we change who we are inside. Our actions and our selves are bound up together in a way that they cannot be separated entirely.

So how can we say we hate the actions of someone, and claim that in no way do we hate the person him- or herself? Hate is a complete rejection of a thing or a person. It leaves no room for understanding or compassion. It is black and white, leaving no room for grey.

What if, instead, I merely disapprove of that person’s actions? What if I remind myself that no mentally stable person wakes up in the morning and says, “I’m going to do something hateful today”? If the person ends up doing something hateful, there must be a reason for it. Something that overcame their intentions.

Perhaps the best place to start, then, rather than hate for the action, is to try to understand what caused that person to take that action. What was their intention? Do they recognize that what they did was wrong? What are they willing to do to make t’shuvah, to try to return to the correct path? What are you doing to help them? These are questions that come from love and compassion, not from hate.

I suspect the notion of “I hate the action, but not the person” stems from the Ghandi quote, “Hate the sin, not the sinner.” Another problem I have with this sentiment, and how it’s being applied, is that we don’t all agree on what is or isn’t sinful.

It is quite clear to me, for instance, that loving another human being and expressing that love in a committed relationship is not a sin. It is equally clear to me that loving God and expressing that love in a way that honors Judaism’s tradition and thousands-of-years-old track record of changing with the times is also not a sin. Therefore, being a member of the LBGTQ community, and/or being a non-Orthodox Jew is not a sin, and acting in ways consistent with either or both of those identities is not a sin.

But when someone tells a person that living in a committed relationship with someone of the same gender is a sin, or when they tell them that failing to keep separate sets of dishes at home is a sin, they are doing more than rejecting a specific action. They are negating the way of life of that person. They are saying that who that person is, as a person, is unacceptable. They may claim that only the actions themselves are hated, and not the person, but the two are inseparable.

Elohai neshama shenatata bi t’hora hi – the soul that God has given me is pure.” To claim that another person must suppress their neshama and act in a way that is contrary to the pure soul that God gave them is to do violence to that soul. I do not see how you can hate the pure, loving expression of a person’s soul and truthfully claim you do not hate who that person is, as a person.

So if you hate the soul that God gave me, if you hate the only honest way I have of expressing that soul, then you hate me. My actions are the only way I have to express who I truly am. Don’t try to make yourself feel better by claiming it is only my actions you hate. When you hate the actions that express who I am, then you hate me.


  1. Hi, Susan, I'm glad you wrote this, as it continues the dialogue(?) we seem to have begun.

    In a nutshell, I think that you made some good points, and that you and I have mostly have a disagreement on semantics.

    I definitely disagree on how you applied your Torah sources, as they do not appear to be fleshed with the full understanding and clarification which HaZa"L provides us. But, of course,...I could be mistaken.

    When you say נעשה ונשמע, please remember that this refers to both the Written and the Oral Torah.

    It is interesting that I am highly critical of those who allow feelings to enter the determination of halakha. Yet, here I am, in a way, defending my feelings. Of course, I am not trying to use my feelings to support an halachic argument. I am simply stating what they are.

    In a similar light to what you stated above, feelings are something I experience, but do not necessarily have to act on them.

    Remember the silly cliche "Some of my best friends are...(fill in the blank)?"

    Well, I actually do have friends who are not Torah observant. Either never have been, or were, and have some issue with God they need to work out. I love these friends. But I do hate their Shabbath desecration and their enjoyment of shell fish.

    Perhaps that other cliche applies here, too:

    The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.

    If I didn't care, then I wouldn't have such strong feelings (ie. hatred) about it.

    I do care.

    When I have non-Torah observant friends over for shabbath dinner, without any expectation of "forced observance" on them, is that not compassion for my friends? My only requirement is that they let me know in advance what they do not like or cannot eat

    I do not allow any "live" electronics in the house, unless they belong to a soldier, security officer, paramedic, or on call medical professional. not do I allow smoking in the house,...not even during the week.

    Is that not showing compassion?

    Some might say it is a condescending and secret plot to brainwash other Jews into my way of thinking.

    Well, it is!

    Not exactly. It is not a secret plot. All of my friends know that I would love to see all Jews keep Torah and misswoth. But, they also know that I recognize that is not our current reality.

    Building connections with Jews is important to me, but I do not have to like, nor tolerate Shabbath desecration or the eating of non-kosher food, etc., just as I do not have to like nor tolerate the despising of the Holy Land by some of those Jews who do keep Shabbath and kashruth.

    Perhaps, hate is not the precise word to apply here, just the best choice I could think of at the time. I'm not sure. The word "frustrated" does not cut it for me.

    Maybe it is not rational, but as one Human said to a Vulcan, who was complaining about the irrationality of human emotions, "Since when are human emotions supposed to be rational?"

    Food for thought.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I agree that the opposite of love is indifference. And I absolutely believe that you care, and care deeply.

    As for what you ask of your friends when they come to your house on Shabbat: Your house, your rules.

    We have much in common, including the not-so-secret "secret" plots. When I deliver meals to members of my congregation who have had a baby, are ill, etc., even if I know for a fact they don't keep kosher, and whether I cook the food myself or buy it in a restaurant or grocery store, I don't bring them shellfish, or pork, or dairy with meat. Do I think it will make them change their ways? No. But I still refuse to help them eat treyf.

  3. This is the most beautiful thing that I have ever read.

  4. your title goes against judaism. david teaches us in tehillim to hate the sin. kohelet tells us there is a "time to love and a time to hate". if we do not despise and hate what distorts the truth..we are allowing what will harm people. do you not hate food that is full of poisonous additives? do you not hate what the nazis did?

    we are always to hate the sin. and sometimes even hate the sinner. it depends on what the person is doing. do we hope that a human will return to the truth? of course. but that person cannot be clear on what is right or wrong unless they experience the distortion and unhealthy affects of doing bad things.

    you are supposed to be jewish, yet, sadly, you have not yet seen the amount of assimilated ideas you express here. this is tragically typical of "reform" jews.

    please, try to get a torah education and learn from observant jews what is our real mesorah, tradition. then, hopefully,you will be able to better understand what is really true...and what is assimilated from non-jewish sources.

    kosher...applies not only to food..but to the ideas we hold.

    "reform" and "conservative" jews tragically, mistakenly think they can make it up as they go along. their children and grandchildren won't be jewish, will probably marry out and that's the end. we have survived for 4,000 years because we have a mesorah and we honor it. 80% of us were lost in the plague of darkness... what do you think reform/conservative judaism is?

    sadly, reform/conservative jews come with pride and arrogance thinking that their "way" is actually better, more "modern" etc. well, we have heard all that before, for example from the hellenized jews who fought the religious jews at chanukah. it was more 'modern' and 'better' to be greek in their eyes. but who won? who still exists?

    the bottom line is what is healthiest for a jewish soul? the more real torah education you have (meaning: from observant jews)..the closer you are to the emes, the truth of our tradition.

    tragically, many reform jews would rather feel "comfortable" in the goyishe world...little do they realize how their jewish souls feel about this...and how the distortion of that world is not healthy for them at all.

    but, unfortunately, you will probably read this and either delete it or dismiss it.

    i will guarantee you this: if you engage in a sincere full attempt to learn torah true judaism..from observant men and will begin to see the real light of the torah. you will need patient, kind and informed teachers as well as patience.

    but you will have to be willing to let go
    of ideas that are not true to the torah...or see the true torah concept and how it has been distorted by the non-jewish world.

    best wishes