Thursday, July 27, 2017

Sinas Chinam

Rabbi Zweig 

The Talmud identifies the episode of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza as the incident which precipitated the destruction of Jerusalem. An individual who made a banquet sent an attendant to invite his friend Kamtza. However, the attendant erred, inviting Bar Kamtza instead. When the host saw Bar Kamtza sitting amongst the guests at his banquet, he proclaimed “Lets see that man is the enemy of that man. What are you doing here?” He subsequently proceeded to evict Bar Kamtza. The Talmud relates that to avenge his public humiliation, Bar Kamtza went to the Roman authorities and slandered the Jews, which ultimately resulted in the tragic destruction of Jerusalem{1}. The aforementioned narrative is an illustration of the fact that the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed as a result of “sinas chinam” – “baseless hatred{2}.” What is baseless hatred? Unless a person has psychopathic tendencies, why would he hate for no reason?

The host’s reaction, “Lets see that man is the enemy of that man” requires further elaboration. The general interpretation of this passage is that Bar Kamtza is the host’s enemy. Why would the host refer to himself in the third person, as “that man”? Furthermore, if this is an example of baseless hatred, the host’s reaction should be visceral; why does he speak in an analytical tone, “Let see”? Finally, why is it Kamtza and Bar Kamtza who are denoted as being responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem? Should not the host be held accountable rather than Kamtza?

A person usually does not harbor feelings of hatred for another human being unless he perceives that that individual has either harmed him or possesses something which he deserves. However, there is an exception to this norm which has unfortunately divided Jewish communities throughout the world from the time of their inception; that is, the perception that a person’s friends may not associate with his enemies, and for them to do so would be considered betrayal. A person with such a perception expects his friends to feel the same disdain for his enemies as he does, to hate his enemies simply because he does; this is “sinas chinam” – “baseless hatred”.

The original dispute in the Talmud was between Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, as indicated by the host’s reaction “Lets see that man (Bar Kamtza) is an enemy of that man (Kamtza)”; the host is not referring to himself in the third person, rather he is referring to his friend Kamtza. Therefore, the host does not react emotionally, but with the intellectual understanding of a person who maintains the perception that since Bar Kamtza is an enemy of his friend Kamtza, he too should hate Bar Kamtza. It is for this reason that the Talmud states that Jerusalem was destroyed because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza; it was their dispute coupled with Kamtza’s insistence that his friends not associate with Bar Kamtza which precipitated the host’s sinas chinam.

1.Gittin 55b 
2.Yoma 9b