During the course of his provocative essay The Virtue of Hate (February), Rabbi Meir Soloveichik refers to the Mishnaic tractate Ethics of the Fathers . It is a pity that he didnt heed an important exhortation from that tractate: O learned ones, do be careful with your words! In attempting to distinguish Judaism from Christianity”a worthy enterprise”he has succeeded in simultaneously distorting Judaism and misunderstanding Christianity. There are, of course, great differences between Judaism and Christianity. Unfortunately though, Rabbi Soloveichik has stipulated a difference where there is none in principle, thus bringing confusion in place of clarity. Rabbi Soloveichiks problem is that he employs bad means for a good end. Accordingly, his essay is counterproductive for his own aims, let alone for better, more truthful, understanding between Jews and Christians.
Christians are the only non-Jewish community who regard the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, in toto, as the word of God. Thus Christians are the only non-Jewish community with whom Jews could possibly discuss Scripture as Scripture. Yet, ironically, Rabbi Soloveichik has only discussed how Christianity radically reinterpreted some scriptural teachings. When it comes to Judaism, one would think, judging from his use of Scripture as proof texts, traditional Jews simply read Scripture verbatim without coming to it and drawing normative conclusions from it through the lens of the Talmud. But the Talmud in its own way is just as radical in its reinterpretation of Scripture as is the New Testament. That fact is surely recognized when those Jews who quote scriptural verses literally for normative purposes”thereby suppressing their traditional interpretations”are castigated in the Talmud.
Rabbi Soloveichiks first source for the virtue of hate is Samsons justification for his own suicide, through which he was able to kill many of the Philistines, who had been persecuting him and his people. Samson seems to have figured: Since I am going to be killed anyway, why not bring down my enemies with me? Nevertheless, despite the commonsense quality of his reasoning, the Talmud does not look upon it favorably. His plea”Let me die with the Philistines (Judges 16:30)”is used to designate the attitude of someone who wants his colleague to suffer because he is suffering. That attitude is taken to be morally odious. Indeed, it is the opposite of what the Talmud records the great first century teacher Hillel to have taught as the essence of Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not do to someone else. Samson seems to be saying: What is being done to me hatefully, I shall hatefully do to my enemy.
Not only is his motivation suspect, so is his action. Thus it is significant that when the Rabbis attempt to exonerate certain suicides recorded in Scripture (such as the three martyrs mentioned in Daniel 3:13-18), they do not mention Samson. They may have believed that his action was rash, and that he should have said and done what a great Rabbi said and did when confronted with the option of suicide as opposed to death at the hands of an enemy: Let Him who gave life take it, but let not any human destroy himself. At a time when Rabbi Soloveichik is so rightfully appalled by the actions of a man [obviously, Yasir Arafat] who . . . sent children [as suicide bombers] to kill children [and to kill themselves by so doing], he should be more careful in picking, of all people, Samson, to teach us anything. I cannot remember Samson ever being invoked by the Rabbis as any kind of role model. Surely, Rabbi Soloveichik knows that traditional Jewish commentators sometimes invoke scriptural characters as negative, not positive, role models. As the Talmud puts it: From the negative we can infer the positive.
The same problem arises when Rabbi Soloveichik invokes the scriptural commandment: Destroy the very memory of Amalek from under the heavens (Deuteronomy 25:19). Amalek, it will be recalled, was the first terrorist, killing Jews indiscriminately. In the Talmud there are three commandments regarding the Amalekites: 1) every adult Jew should call to mind what the Amalekites did when they did not fear God (Deuteronomy 25:18); 2) the narratives about the Amalekite crimes are to be read annually in the synagogue; 3) the Amalekites are actually to be destroyed. The first two commandments are easy to uphold: they involve scriptural texts that are to be publicly read and privately pondered. But, as for the third, who are the Amalekites now? Where are they to be found? What are we to do with them?
The fact is that the Talmud teaches that of all the ancient Near Eastern peoples, only the Jews survived the mass deportations conducted by the Assyrians before the destruction of the First Temple in 586 b.c.e. Hence, there are no real Amalekites to be found any more, just as there are no real Moabites or Ammonites to be found any more. So, the most we can do with the narratives about the Amalekites is what the Talmud states about some other practically inoperative commandments: Speculate about their meaning and be rewarded. This commandment is now theoretical, rather than literally applicable.
Thus it seems that the author of the book of Esther did not mean that Haman was a real Amalekite, but only Amalek-like when looked at in retrospect for what he did , not who he was . For this reason, his execution was a just penalty for his deeds, not a genocidal act related to his birth. Indeed, speculating about Amalek, Agag, and Haman might involve consideration of the spiritual dangers of any racially motivated hate (like that of Baruch Goldstein, the man who killed twenty-nine Arabs on Purim 1994, a man of whom Rabbi Soloveichik rightly”if too tepidly”disapproves).
Based on earlier talmudic sources, Maimonides ruled that if there are any Amalekites to be found, even they may eschew their evil heritage and adopt the Noahide laws (which can be interpreted as the talmudic version of natural law). If so, even they can be accepted as peace partners of the Jews, and even they can be accepted as permanent dwellers in the land of Israel. If the Amalekites are to be given the benefit of a doubt, then all the more so should the same benefit of a doubt be given to other enemies of the Jewish people who no longer seem, as the Talmud puts it, to be still holding on to their ancestral practice. However, if these enemies prove themselves to not want to live in peace with their Jewish neighbors, and they engage in criminal acts against Jews (or others), then justice requires that they be fought and no further relations be sought with them. Here justice requires no forgiveness since there is no change of heart. But calling this pursuit of justice the virtue of hate simply confuses the issue, making a rational choice into an emotional reaction.
Here we get to the nub of Rabbi Soloveichiks essay. He despises Yasir Arafat. Some Christians have suggested to him”and to all Jews”that we should forgive Arafat for his crimes, even his latest crime of allowing suicide bombers to kill Jews and wreak havoc in Israel. On this point I agree with Rabbi Soloveichik. Arafat is despicable and never to be trusted again. I think the Israelis were wise, both politically and morally, to give Arafat the benefit of the doubt in their involvement in the peace process. One is to offer peace (Deuteronomy 20:10) to everyone”initially, that is. But since Arafat chose to still hold on to his ancestral practice, Israel will have to find other Palestinian leaders to begin a new chapter in Israeli-Palestinian relations.
As for Christian love versus Jewish hate, there isnt as much of either as Rabbi Soloveichik seems to think. Yes, Christians are supposed to love their enemies, but that hasnt prevented Christians from rightfully engaging in just wars against their enemies. Yes, Jews do seek justice”even just revenge, which might look like hate. But that has not prevented Jews from hoping that our persecutors, indeed all evildoers, will repent and turn from their evil ways. Forgiveness can only be sought from ones victims and from God; hence living Jews should not forgive the murderers of dead Jews. We do not have the right to do so. Nevertheless, even murderers, if they repent before their just punishment in this world, are to be given the opportunity to become reconciled with God in the world-to-come, according to the Talmud. That is not to deny their just desert in this world, but that just desert is surely not the product of hatred.
As for the so-called virtue of hate, there is a well-known story in the Talmud that is told about another Rabbi Meir, a major figure in the Talmud, who lived at a time of great strife, both among Jews themselves and between Jews and gentiles. It seems that criminals living in this Rabbi Meirs neighborhood were making his life miserable. But instead of invoking the scriptural words, Let the sinners perish (Psalm 104:35), in his prayer for deliverance from them, he slightly revocalized the text, making it read: Let sins be ended. In other words, he hated the sin, not the sinner. It is never too late for anyone to turn back to God and His law of justice and peace. Hating sin, then, is the only virtuous hatred. Any other hatred seems to be what the Talmud calls baseless hatred. To presume otherwise is to defame Judaism by making it appear hating and hateful. That plays right into the hands of those Christian anti-Semites”who, thank God, have become fewer and fewer of late”who make insidious comparisons between a loving Christianity and a cruel Judaism.
In our public pronouncements, we Jews should seek to find favor in the eyes of God and humans (Proverbs 3:4), which means being faithful to our theology and teaching Judaism in a way that is ethically attractive. We should neither eschew justice in this world nor indulge hatred. About Judaism one can say”indeed, one should say”that justice is a virtue and, as the Talmud says, one is not to be lenient in justice. Justice is the virtue of which Rabbi Soloveichik should have spoken, not hate”which is no virtue for anyone. Even when pursuing justice against murderers, we pray that they may cease doing evil. Between doing justice and praying justice be done, we have no time for hate.
University of Toronto
Meir Soloveichik says that to my knowledge not a single Jewish source asserts that God deeply desires to save all humanity, nor that He loves every member of the human race. Such a claim is patently absurd. In the Yom Kippur liturgy (from which Rabbi Soloveichik quotes) Jews throughout the world pray:
And may you, with your abundant mercy, have mercy on us because you do not desire the worlds destruction; as it is said, for I desire not the death of him that dies”the words of my Lord”repent and live.
This seminal prayer, one of many such prayers, clearly states that while it is true that all individuals are responsible for their own sins, nevertheless God desires each sinners ultimate salvation.
Furthermore, Rabbi Soloveichiks claim that no Jewish text asserts that God loves all of humanity is contradicted by numerous Jewish thinkers. Rabbi Moshe Cordevero in his classical work of mystical piety, the Tomer Devorah , contends that in the act of imitatio dei
there should be no anger in man whatsoever. But there should be at all times vitality, good will, and great patience even to the unworthy. He should not be angry with those who offend him but he should be constantly willing to be appeased and desire to do kindness so as to please all.
In imitating God and His virtues, Rabbi Cordevero believes that humanity should desire to sustain love and turn the other cheek even to those who do not deserve it at all.
These oversights on the part of Rabbi Soloveichik are indicative of a greater fallacy at work in his essay: the oversimplification and dumbing down of Jewish faith by essentializing it to fit one specific pattern. Rabbinic Judaism, by its very nature, is polyphonic. The give and take of the Talmud demonstrates that with rare exceptions it is impossible to assert that rabbinic Judaism essentially says anything. Rabbi Soloveichik does a competent job at presenting a specific read of selected Jewish sources. (Ironically, he seems to be following the tradition of Martin Luther, who saw Judaism as a hate-mongering religion, and Rabbi Meir Kahane, who saw hate as the basis for his theological and political outlook towards Palestinians.) Nevertheless, his inability to account for other voices leads to a potentially very dangerous view of what Judaism believes.
Far be it from us to contend that certain Jewish sources do not celebrate revenge, order murder, and command hate. However, in spite of this, Jewish sources from the Book of Jonah to the Rabbis of the Mishna, through the Maharal of Prague to Rabbi Moshe Cordevero, along with numerous modern Jewish thinkers, all place love of humanity and hate of hatred as the ultimate religious value. For these thinkers, the permissibility to hate someone is at most an exception to Judaisms general virtue of love. If hate is necessary, it is not a necessary virtue.
It seems that Rabbi Soloveichik decided to pick and choose his favorite Jewish texts. The question we pose to him is, Why are these your favorite Jewish texts? Why do you create such a monolithic voice of rabbinic Judaism, and why do you attempt to create an unbridgeable gap between the faith communities of Judaism and Christianity? Why do you look to separate these two Abrahamic faiths?
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
New York, New YorkEliyahu Stern
Park East Synagogue
New York, New York
Meir Soloveichiks provocative article The Virtue of Hate succeeded in one way at least: it provoked this response.
However, it did not succeed in demonstrating a contradiction between Judaism and Christianity, because it did not present the Christian position adequately. I hope it also did not present the Jewish position adequately, because I hope many Jews would agree with the Christian position ethically even though they do not agree with it theologically.
Obviously, Jews who do not believe Jesus was the messiah do not believe what Christians believe about him: that Jesus became the scapegoat and the Passover lamb of God to atone for our sins, thus separating sins from sinners and enabling God and us to love sinners while hating sins. But they can still embrace the maxim to love sinners while hating sins, and to justify hating sins precisely by loving sinners, as doctors hate cancers because they love patients. (Love here, of course, is goodwill, not necessarily good feelings.)
This distinction between sinners and sins enables us to align our wills with Gods in hating sins more than we are wont to do (How lukewarm and soft we are toward sin! How unlike God!) and loving sinners more than we are wont to do (How hard-hearted and impersonal we are toward each other! How unlike God!).
God does not forgive sins, He forgives sinners. He necessarily hates sins. Every sin meets its due reward: eternal condemnation, destruction, hellfire. Final refusal to repent of sin sends us to hell because it sticks us to sin like glue. We ride our sins to hell like the cowboy bombardier in Dr. Strangelove riding his bomb like a horse to nuclear Armageddon. Repentance is like a surfer bailing out on an unrideable wave, releasing his surfboard before he is wiped out with it.
Surely Jews understand that? If we hope for justice rather than mercy at the Last Judgment, we must have a horribly shallow view of Gods holiness and of our unholiness. Thus it turns out to be Rabbi Soloveichik who is the sentimentalist, and the Christian who is the hard-headed realist.
We rightly give and receive justice, not love, in the workplace and in the public square, but not in the family. Surely this does not depend on whether Jesus is the messiah or not. The issue here is not whether Jesus is God but who God is. Is He our workplace boss, or our President? Or is He our Father? Surely Jews know the answer to that one. We Christians learned it from them. Have they forgotten it
Department of Philosophy
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
Meir Soloveichiks defense of The Virtue of Hate is a welcome discussion of important differences between Christians and Jews. But he misses some of the subtle paradoxes connected with Christian forgiveness and love of enemies. Forgiveness is a two-way street and can be received only by someone who is repentant; the example given of Simon Wiesenthals encounter with the dying SS Nazi might be a case in point. And St. Paul in Romans 12:20 brings out the paradox of loving your enemies: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him to drink. For in doing this you will heap coals of fire on his head. Nothing is so disturbing to the evil as to see transparent goodness in those they hate. One can imagine the entrance into the afterlife of a thoroughly evil person who cant stand the sight of the just souls, and who thrusts himself into the outer darkness (something like the case of the psychopathic murderer who if given a choice might refuse life imprisonment and prefer execution as less painful).
Howard P. Kainz
Department of Philosophy
Meir Soloveichik notes that there is no minimizing the difference between Judaism and Christianity on whether hate can be virtuous. Indeed, Christianitys founder acknowledged his break with Jewish tradition on this matter from the very outset: You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . . .
The question here is simple: Was Jesus in fact breaking away from Jewish tradition on this point? Yes. From the Jewish Scriptures? No. Jesus never used phrases such as you have heard or it was said in a way that implied the scriptural authority of the phrase it is written. Neither in Leviticus 19 nor, to my knowledge, anywhere else in the Scriptures did God command His people to hate anyone.
Having studied biblical theology in graduate school (part of the time under a conservative Rabbi) and currently studying theology at the Pontificia Universita Gregorian in Rome as a seminarian, I regard Meir Soloveichiks biblical theology as unrepresentative of what the Hebrew Scriptures teach. For example, he rightly points out that Jesus says, You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy (Matthew 5:38), but what he doesnt say is that there is a reason Jesus uses the expression, that it was said instead of his usual expression, have you not read or as it is written when he references scriptural passages. The answer is that nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does the expression hate your enemy appear. The whole point of Jesus was to show the Jewish people that what the Pharisees were teaching about hating your enemy (the Romans and Samaritans at that time) was scripturally unsound. It seems nothing has changed in two thousand years. All the Scripture examples given by Rabbi Soloveichik have nothing to do with hating your enemy but rather with zeal for fulfilling Gods commands, as well as the preservation of Gods people.
What does appear in the Hebrew Scriptures repeatedly in different forms is the command to seek good, and not evil, that you may live . . . . Hate evil, and love good (Amos 5:14,15; cf. also Leviticus 19:17; Psalm 26:5; Psalm 45:7; Psalm 97:10). In other words, the Jewish people are called to hate the evil their enemies might do but not the enemy himself. Why? Because no matter how evil a person may be, he is made in the image of God and only God has the right to erase this image.
Avelino A. Gonzalez
North American College
Vatican City State
Meir Soloveichiks insightful and intriguing article The Virtue of Hate highlights those scriptural heroes who rejoice in the Lords vengeance upon their enemies, such as Samson, Deborah, and Esther. However, I would like to know how Rabbi Soloveichik would interpret certain passages that have a contrasting emphasis.
Chief among them is Ezekiel: But if the wicked man renounces all the sins he has committed, respects my laws, and is law-abiding and honest, he will certainly live; he will not die. All the sins he has committed will be forgotten from then on; he shall live because of the integrity he has practiced. What! Am I likely to take pleasure in the death of a wicked man”it is the Lord who speaks”and not prefer to see him renounce his wickedness and live? (Ezekiel 18:21-23) Equally bold is the promise made through Isaiah: Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool (Isaiah 1:18). The clear sense of these passages is that, as long as one is in this life, it is never too late to turn from the path of wickedness, no matter how evil ones deeds.
Lawrence D. Goodall
Miami Springs, Florida
Meir Soloveichik suggests that Christians and Jews differ about the moral imperative to love the enemy because they have different assessments of forgiveness. Perhaps, or perhaps Rabbi Soloveichiks rejection of enemy-love stems from a failure to think through the implications of his own position on virtuous hatred.
We hate the wicked, says Rabbi Soloveichik, because of the evil things they do, things which sever the bonds of brotherhood between themselves and humanity. One wonders, then, why the objects of virtuous hatred Mr. Soloveichik lists are almost all also enemies of the Jewish people. If we hate only our enemies then certainly we do not hate disinterestedly, but for self-centered and illegitimate reasons. Does the mother mentioned in Rabbi Soloveichiks essay teach her son to hate Saddam Hussein for Saddam Husseins own sake, because of the evil things he has done, or because Saddam Hussein as an Iraqi represents national interests in conflict with Israels national interests?
Admittedly, reading the heart is difficult, but we need some test to distinguish virtuous hatred of evil from vicious hatred of our enemies. After all, if you hate those who hate you, what reward have you? Even terrorists do the same. The test of virtuous hatred, then, is the ability to hate our friends. If that mother wishes to inculcate virtuous hatred in her son, perhaps she should teach him to hate those who were responsible for the morally reprehensible act of intentionally bombing innocent German civilians in the city of Dresden during World War II. Virtuous hatred, like Christian neighbor-love, is impartial. That means the Jewish child taught to hate virtuously will learn to hate even his friends. And knowing to hate his friends, he will know also to love his enemies.
H. David Baer
Texas Lutheran University
In The Virtue of Hate Meir Soloveichik makes a commendable effort to understand Christian as well as Jewish perspectives on how we should consider those whom we are tempted to regard as despicable and possibly beyond the pale of Gods love. His descriptions of the talmudic passages wherein certain people are explicitly condemned to hell are certainly consistent with what C. S. Lewis calls the maledictory Psalms that, for example, bless those who dash out the brains of Babylonian babies (Psalm 9). But in trying to trace the roots of Christianitys opposite tendency to forgive even the most dastardly, Rabbi Soloveichik makes an error that is admittedly made even by many Christians.
He correctly identifies the crux of the matter as the question of who Jesus is. But then he entirely misses the point that Christians maintain, which is that Jesus the Christ came to impart his righteousness upon us, who cannot achieve it on our own. The closest Rabbi Soloveichik comes to getting it is when he says that [t]he crucifixion is a story of a loving God seeking humanitys salvation, though it [humanity] never requested it, though it scarcely deserved it. The point is that humanity (meaning every one of us) does not deserve salvation at all. As Psalm 14 says, There is no one who does good, not even one, and Paul quotes this Old Testament verse in his explanation in Romans 3 of why Jesus had to impart his righteousness to those who believe in him, because we have no righteousness of our own that is good enough to merit salvation.
At the end of the day, Rabbi Soloveichiks rationale for what he calls the virtue of hate is at least consistent with his description of Jewish theology. But I think the roots of the different ways that Christians and Jews approach this matter are not what he thinks they are. These roots lead to the question of whether man can truly obey and please God on his own, without the help and intervention of Jesus Christ. Being a Christian, I will not speculate on the fate of those who believe they can be righteous enough to please God without the help of Jesus. But speaking only for myself, I believe that without his death, resurrection, grace, and help, I would be lost.
Karl D. Stephan
San Marcos, Texas
I found Meir Soloveichiks discussion of the Jewish and Christian understanding of forgiveness both interesting and well informed. I think, however, that Rabbi Soloveichiks understanding of Christian forgiveness, while revealing familiarity with the New Testament, is still somewhat lacking. He rightly speaks of the Christian concept of grace, unmerited favor and forgiveness, which is based upon our faith in Jesus as Redeemer, as motivating and even commanding our forgiveness of our unworthy neighbors. It seems, though, that he sees this forgiveness as being divorced from justice, or the just punishment of the wicked.
In his discussion of prayer for an evil person, Rabbi Soloveichik misunderstands what I would consider to be the Christian view. When one prays for a Stalin, or Saddam Hussein (if one does; I can very rarely manage to), it is not to further or excuse their wickedness, but to plead for their repentance and for the will of God to triumph within and through them. It says in Romans 12:19-21, Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord. To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. This may reflect the Christian emphasis on the justice of God being found in the new heavens and earth, rather than in this one.
Clare Richards Johns
If hate is a virtue, it is like no other. Meir Soloveichik contends that hatred is appropriate only when applied selectively in very limited fashion. Kindness and justice, on the other hand, retain their value whether administered in small amounts or with abandon. Although both Old and New Testaments encourage us to hate what is evil, nowhere in the Bible to my knowledge are we explicitly commanded to direct our hate towards individuals. The writer of Proverbs asserts that hatred stirs up dissension; the Israeli mother who raises her child to hate Saddam Hussein (as opposed to his heinous acts) is playing with fire.
University of Detroit Mercy
Meir Soloveichik replies:
Let me begin with the Bible. Many of my Christian critics assert that I distort Jewish Scripture by arguing for the virtue of hate. John Harutunian insists that Jesus may have been breaking away from Jewish tradition on this point, but not from the Jewish Scriptures. Professor Peter Kreeft wonders whether we Jews have forgotten that God is our Father. Avelino Gonzalez, using language that I had hoped had gone out of fashion among Catholic seminarians, opines that nothing has changed in two thousand years, and attempts to enlighten this Jewish author that what the Pharisees were teaching about hating your enemy . . . was scripturally unsound. Mark Schumack finds in the Old Testament only an obligation to hate what is evil, and not to hate an individual who is evil.
Yet in the Hebrew Bible we find both righteous men and Almighty God hating terribly wicked individuals. Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee? sings David in Psalm 139. And am not I grieved with those that rise up against Thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies. A Christian may respond that David was only voicing his own wicked emotions, yet God Himself speaks thusly:
I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacobs brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob. And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. (Malachi 1:1-3)
Note Gods choice of words. It is not only Esaus immoral actions that He hates: it is Esau himself. In 2 Chronicles, the Almighty adds that those who love the very wicked will be punished. God sent Jehu the seer to Jehoshaphat with the following admonition when Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, allied himself with King Ahab: Shouldst thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? Therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord. In insisting that we ought to love our enemies, it was Jesus, and not the Pharisees, who contradicted the Hebrew prophets.
And yet, asks Lawrence Goodall, do not Ezekiel and other prophets insist that God desires the repentance of the sinful? Of course; Gods hatred, as I argued in my article, is very limited, directed only at the most evil and unrepentant. This limited group is at times referred to by the Bible as those that hate the Lord. God Himself informs us, in Exodus, that He is a merciful and loving God; but He will also wreak destruction, according to Deuteronomy, upon those that hate Me. It is only these haters of God, David declares, that he too will hate. For God is the Father of both those who obey Him and those who betray Him, but not of those who hate Him.
Why ought we to hate those who hate the Lord? The answer lies in Judaisms insistence that in each human being lies the ability to choose the righteous path, and to eschew evil. Prof. Kreeft, tellingly, compares sin to cancer, and a sinner to a patient. It is this cancer, he argues, that will drag us to hell if we do not repent. Surely, he wonders, Jews understand this. The answer is that we do not understand this at all. Perhaps Prof. Kreeft sees sin as an illness that, like cancer, afflicts us with a condition that we never asked for in the first place. But Jews insist that sin is a state that only we can inflict upon ourselves, willingly and deliberately. The choice is our own: God, Moses instructed Israel, sets before us life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live. Karl D. Stephan puts it rightly when he asserts that Jews believe that any human being can be righteous enough to please God without the help of Jesus. The Jewish people were persecuted for centuries for this assertion; yet they refused to relent. For it is a basic tenet of our faith: no human being begins life stained by sin; one mans trespass did not lead to condemnation for all, and so we do not need a savior to bring righteousness for all. God leaves it in our hands to choose eternal life or eternal death; it is not our sins that drag us to hell, but rather we who send ourselves to hell by choosing to sin, and to sin egregiously.
To love Hitler, Jews insist, is to imply that it was not Hitler himself who chose to sin, and that we who chose differently are in some way no different than he. Such love is, Jews would argue, immoral, a denial of the Deuteronomic assertion that we can choose the righteous path on our own: For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. Rather, it is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. And so we can celebrate the suffering of the egregiously evil who hate God, for it is they, and not their sins, that are ultimately to blame: The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance . . . . So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily He is a God that judgeth in the earth (Psalm 58).
Having addressed the biblical view, let me now approach the rabbinic tradition. Rabbi David Novak writes that he cannot recall a single rabbinic source that considers Samson a positive role model. The fact is, however, that while the Talmud criticizes Samsons sexual sins, it also explicitly lavishes praise on the manner in which he protected Israel from its enemies. Let me cite several of these statements. The Talmud goes so far as to compare Samson to the Almighty, asserting that Samson judged Israel in the same manner as their Father in heaven, and adding that as the Holy One, blessed be He, shields the whole world, so too Samson shielded Israel during his generation. The Talmud further states that thanks to Samsons destruction of the Philistine fortress, for which he paid with his life, the Jews remained protected decades after his death, because The Philistines feared [Samson] twenty years after he died, just as they feared [Samson] for twenty years of [Samsons] life. Perhaps it is this adulation that Maimonides had in mind when he referred to Samson, centuries later, with the glowing appellation Shimson ha-moshia et Yisrael , Samson the savior of Israel.
Further, the Rabbis never refer to Samsons death as a suicide, nor is there any reason to describe it as such. A prisoner who destroys an enemy fortress, killing himself in the process, is not committing suicide, any more than a soldier who falls on a grenade to save his battalion is committing suicide. Indeed, according to rabbinic law, burial in a family plot is denied to suicides; yet the Midrash states that the patriarch Jacob, who prophetically foresaw Samsons life and death, prayed that Samsons dead body be quickly discovered, so that it could be buried in the grave of Manoah, Samsons father.
Additionally, Rabbi Novaks letter fails to address the passage from the book of Judges that I cite in my essay. But that passage is crucial, for Deborah the prophetess undeniably revels in the excruciating, well-deserved death of her very wicked foe. At the end of his letter, Rabbi Novak insists that Jews hope for the repentance of all evildoers, even the most wicked. Yet rather than praying for their repentance, Deborah clearly wishes Siseras fate upon his fellow evildoers: So perish all your enemies, O Lord! Moreover, rabbinic literature states in several places that this conclusion to Deborahs song was not composed by the prophetess, but rather was a product of ruah ha-kodesh , a divine inspiration that caused Deborah to conclude her song in this manner. This overt rabbinic approval alone serves to refute Rabbi Novaks argument.
In fact, the rabbinic view is fully consistent with, and is based upon, the view of the Bible. The Rabbis, like the prophets, distinguished between most sinners on the one hand, and the haters of God, or wanton sinners, on the other. This distinction is reflected in the traditional Jewish liturgy, known as the Shemonah Esrei . Here are two of its blessings:
. . . [A]nd return us in wholehearted repentance before you. Blessed are you, O Lord, who desires repentance.
. . . May you speedily uproot, smash, cast down, and humble the wanton sinners”speedily in our days. Blessed are You, O Lord, Who breaks enemies and humbles wanton sinners.
Yes, God loves the wicked”but not the frightfully wicked. Yes, God desires the repentance of the sinful”but not the wantonly sinful. Rabbi Novak argues that Jews ought to hope for the repentance of the egregiously evil; yet as a traditional Jew, he recites the above prayer three times a day . In fact, every rabbi cited by my Jewish correspondents”from Rabbi Meir of the Mishnah, to Maimonides, to Rabbi Moses Cordevero”recited these blessings, which ask God to return most human beings to Him in wholehearted repentance, but also to uproot, smash, cast down the wantonly sinful. If, as seems implied by his conclusion, Rabbi Novak prays for the wholehearted repentance of murderers like Osama bin Laden, or of Yasir Arafat, I wonder how he could ask God daily for the immediate destruction of the terribly wicked.
The fact remains that not a single source cited by my Jewish critics indicates that we are to love extreme sinners such as Stalin, or Hitler, or Pol Pot. Rabbi Novak cites the story of Rabbi Meir in the Talmud, who in the end prayed for the repentance of the petty criminals (ruffians is the Talmuds description) who lived in his area. Rabbi Novak concludes, wrongly, that Rabbi Meir would make no distinction between ruffians and the Hitlers of this world. Messrs. Stern and Skydell allude to the repentance of the sinners of Nineveh, as if the book of Jonah would make no distinction between Ninevehs sinners and Stalin. No one succeeds in citing a source stressing Gods love of Haman, or of Ahab, or of Pharaoh. Meanwhile, a plethora of sources”biblical, mishnaic, talmudic, midrashic”indicate that while we do deeply desire the repentance of most, there are a few figures whom we are entitled, and obligated, to hate.
Finally, my Jewish correspondents resort to hyperbole. Rabbi Novak compares Samson, who devoted his life to protecting his people, to terrorists; I am compared to Meir Kahane; I am accused of defaming Judaism. Rabbi Novak is correct that both Jews and Christians regard the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, in toto, as the word of God. Yet that should not prevent a vibrant argument about religious truth, with each faith respecting the right of the other to disagree.
Rabbi Novak concludes that we Jews have no time for hate. Yet our sacred scripture informs us in Ecclesiastes that there is not only a time for love, but also a time for hate. I would suggest that now is one of those times. We”Americans, Israelis, and other members of the free world”face enemies who cannot be deterred, haters of God who seek nothing but death and destruction. Adherents of the Christian faith may continue to love these enemies of the Divine, but as a Jew I believe that the bin Ladens of this world chose their path freely, and that, like David, we ought to hate them with perfect hatred”for they know well what they do.
David Smolins review of Hadley Arkes new book, Natural Rights and the Right to Choose (February), disserves both the author and the readers of First Things. Indeed, Professor Smolin wrote not a review, but an intellectual ramble that might have been titled, David Smolin muses about the use and abuse of natural rights, with occasional references to someone named Hadley Arkes. Nowhere does he set forth the argument of the book, and on natural rights jurisprudence generally, he uses Arkes as a kind of foil for his own reservations”again, without ever delineating Arkes position.
Prof. Smolin does not even delineate the ground of his own reservations. He implies, without quite arguing, that natural rights reasoning is a mischievous and fragile instrument”mischievous because it is sometimes put to perverse purpose; and fragile because it is apparently incapable of defending itself against misuse. The inference is that natural rights reasoning is insufficient to establish an enduring constitutional jurisprudence, much less one capable of protecting human life. Without something more, Prof. Smolin suggests, the enterprise in which Arkes and others of his kind are engaged is ultimately a feckless endeavor. But beyond a vague allusion to getting things right on broader matters of culture, he offers not a clue about what that something more might be, by what means we might know it, or how it would cure the defects he sees in natural rights reasoning. There may be an argument in there somewhere, but Prof. Smolin doesnt make it; he merely insinuates it at Arkes expense.
Prof. Smolin is troubled (as he should be), but also seems puzzled (as he should not be), about how American jurisprudence departed from the premises of the Framers and Abraham Lincoln. But anyone wishing to learn about the course of constitutional thinking from Lincoln to Roe v. Wade could hardly do better than to consult the collected works of Hadley Arkes. Few scholars in our time have shed more light on the fateful turn toward nihilist jurisprudence, or pondered more deeply what might be done about it. And, on life and death issues, no one has argued more persuasively or to greater effect.
As for the book itself, it is positively brim-full of cogent analysis on how Roe , Casey , and Stenberg , e.g., are the inevitable sequelae of relativist assumptions planted in the law a long time ago. On a theoretical level, Natural Rights and the Right to Choose is one of the most powerful statements on the necessity of recapturing a jurisprudence of natural right that I have ever seen. And on a practical level, it offers wonderfully shrewd advice, for those who will but ponder it, on how to use the oppositions premises against the oppositions argument.
None of this, however, is accounted for in Prof. Smolins review, which snipes at (but never really engages) Arkes general approach, while ignoring the specific content of his book altogether. Prof. Smolin is under no obligation to agree with Arkes, but he does have an obligation to get his argument right.
By way of full disclosure, I should note that Professor Arkes, in a gesture of undeserved generosity, dedicated his new book to me, which may prompt the thought that I write with a certain partisan interest. No doubt I do, but not for that reason. Long before we became acquainted, I learned why Hadley Arkes is one of the most important public philosophers of our time. His tireless efforts to revive a Lincolnian understanding of the American proposition are not a mere exercise in theoretical reasoning, but an eminently practical endeavor that has helped to shape pro-life litigation and legislation.
Natural Rights and the Right to Choose , among other things, contains a riveting account of Arkes labors in the design and passage of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, signed into law by President Bush last August. If ever a law may be said to bear the indelible stamp of a single mind, that was it; and the mind was that of Hadley Arkes. For Prof. Smolin to suggest that Arkes is somehow digging joint graves for the nation and [the pro-life movement] only goes to prove how little acquainted he is with the argument of the book or with the beneficial impact of Arkes persuasive powers. I fear he has done Arkes not only a disservice, but an injustice.
Michael M. Uhlmann
Visiting Professor of Government
Claremont Graduate University
David Smolin does a disservice to the readers of First Things in his review of Hadley Arkes recent book, Natural Rights and the Right to Choose . I take it that the first task of a reviewer is accurately to represent the argument of a book and then to propose pertinent criticisms. But the argument that Professor Smolin attributes to Arkes is nowhere in the book; and what Arkes does argue for never appears in Prof. Smolins review”in fact, Smolin writes as if he is oblivious to it. This is regrettable, because Arkes argument is of the greatest importance, especially for legal theorists such as Prof. Smolin.
According to Prof. Smolin, the argument of Natural Rights is that, through Casey and its aftermath, the pro-life movement has effectively been defeated, and that, therefore, the United States must inevitably decline and collapse. Smolin objects to this pessimistic view: It is no time now for [the pro-life] movement to be digging joint graves for the nation and itself.
But that outlook is nowhere in Arkes book, and I challenge Prof. Smolin to find passages that evince it. In fact, Natural Rights is a forward-looking, practical, and optimistic book. Arkes remains a convinced incrementalist in abortion politics: he recounts the battle over partial-birth abortion (still ongoing) as a modest first step away from the jurisprudence of Roe ; in a similar vein he has hopes that the Born-Alive Act (now signed into law) might help to revive reasoned public discourse about the true character of abortion.
Arkes description of his debate at Duke University on the Born-Alive Act hardly evokes an attitude of gloom-and-doom: In the eyes of the audience I did indeed find wariness and traces of hostility. But those looks quickly gave way to a certain concentration as I set forth the logic of the problem, and people became engaged in the puzzle of the bill. Soon the hostility completely dissolved . . . . [O]ne young woman, who had worked for Senator [Jim] Jeffords and lobbied for Planned Parenthood, remarked that this bill sounded quite sensible to her, and she would support it. But such would have to be Arkes outlook: if indeed there are fundamental principles of natural law and natural right, discernible to the human mind generally (as Arkes thinks), then policies or practices that effectively deny these can only be supported for the short term, or in the long term only by continuing fraud and force. The philosophy of natural rights is by its nature optimistic”as even Prof. Smolin concedes at one point in his review, contradicting himself.
Embracing an apparent relativism and anti-intellectualism, Prof. Smolin writes: Even if we immediately restored the preeminence of natural rights/natural law discourse to our national jurisprudence and politics, abortion rights activists would still find ways of justifying the abortion right in that mode of discourse, just as prior generations justified the enslavement of African Americans through invoking God, the nature of things, and the Bible. Thats a perfect example of ignoratio enlenchi (argument from ignorance). Arkes agrees, precisely, that slavery and abortion can be defended in the discourse of natural rights; what he is concerned to assert is that the understanding of that discourse is destroyed by such defense”in our time as well as in Lincolns. Arkes does much to demonstrate that the Founders had an understanding of that discourse which we ourselves generally lack; Prof. Smolin, in aiming to disagree with Arkes, inadvertently provides his own proof.
Visiting Scholar in Philosophy
Because I had already read Hadley Arkes masterful Natural Rights and the Right to Choose before David M. Smolins review of it appeared in First Things, I was not disposed to accept Smolins misleading account of the book. Other readers of First Things, however, may not have had that good fortune. So, for their benefit, I offer the following.
First, Arkes is without peer in his proficiency in stringing together”with wit and wisdom”apparently disparate ideas, stories and concepts, thinkers and politicians, into a tapestry that is as elegant as it is compelling. Consider this exhibit, taken from the opening paragraph of the books introduction as Arkes recounts a visit to the Holocaust museum:
But then we took a turn, and we suddenly came upon a scene that must have been encountered by many other visitors to the museum: a vast vat filled with shoes. They were the shoes of the victims, collected by the Nazis, as they sought to extract anything they could use again or sell. And what came flashing back instantly, at that moment, were those searing lines of Justice McLean, in his dissenting opinion in the Dred Scott case: you may think that the black man is merely chattel, but he bears the impress of his Maker, and is amenable to the laws of God and man; and he is destined to an endless existence. He has, in other words, a soul, which is imperishable; it will not decompose when his material existence comes to an end. The sufficient measure of things here is that the Nazis looked at their victims and thought that shoes were the real durables.
But in the hands of Professor Smolin, we are offered this scintillating comment: Arkes believes in a rational discourse that can enumerate and build upon universal first principles. Second, Arkes jurisprudence seems to be lost on Prof. Smolin, for he employs”without any sense of irony”many of the fallacies Arkes surgically dismantles in the very book about which Smolin has offered his opinion. Consider just one example from Prof. Smolins review:
While Arkes portrayal of the proslavery position as based on moral relativism advances his argument, it ignores the fact that between 1830 and 1860 the South was awash in numerous natural law/natural rights theories that viewed slavery and white supremacy as consistent with both nature and natures God. It is typical of natural law theorists that they see evil emanating from skepticism, while it is typical of skeptics that they see evil emanating from absolutes. Both can point to their own historical and contemporary examples.
Heres the confusion: Arkes proposes and defends the notion that natural law best accounts for our intuitions of equality and justice; Prof. Smolin responds by pointing out that people have believed evil things in the name of natural law. Arkes agrees, but thats precisely the point of his book, which Prof. Smolin simply does not get: when racists appeal to natural law to justify slavery and white supremacy they employ principles that undercut their own rights. In the same way, if we are, as the abortion-choice movement must assume, bearers of moral rights by nature (including the right to choose), then there can be no right to abortion, for the one who has the right to choose is identical to her prenatal self. Consequently, the right to abortion can only be purchased at the price of abandoning natural rights and replacing it with the will to power. Thus, to conscript Prof. Smolin for the purpose of understanding Arkes, while it is typical of skeptics that they see evil emanating from absolutes, the warrant for that very judgment is one for which their skepticism cannot account. But if they insist on retaining their skepticism, then they are in no position to judge us wrong when we voice our disagreement with them.
But Prof. Smolin himself, in his assessment of Arkes arguments, employs the resources of the natural law. For if he had truly grasped the position Arkes defends he would understand that his own judgment”that Arkes is mistaken at points”is itself dependent on moral notions not contingent upon relative circumstances or the contingencies of history. By claiming, for example, that Arkes has incorrectly interpreted the reasons for the Civil War and the debate over abortion, and has neglected to provide a fuller picture of the Founders and their beliefs, Prof. Smolin is presupposing a moral notion that is logically prior to his analysis: historical texts and events should be interpreted accurately. This, of course, is grounded in more primitive moral notions: to accurately interpret a text or event one should do so fairly and honestly, and one should pursue the truth while interpreting them. Both these moral commands are logically prior to, and thus not derived from, the events and texts themselves, for in order to extract truth from them, obedience to these moral commands is a necessary precondition.
Natural Rights and the Right to Choose is an important and sophisticated book that offers to us a careful and philosophically clear defense of first things.
Francis J. Beckwith
James Madison Program in
American Ideals & Institutions
Princeton, New Jersey
Robert P. George has justifiably criticized instances of the Supreme Courts overreaching, but the remedies he proposes have their own problems. He suggests that, in agreement with Lincoln, Supreme Court decisions should be binding only on the litigants and not on other branches of the federal government, nor on other states, as the case may be. Does Professor George contend that any time the Supreme Court finds that a specific type of governmental action violates a citizens rights, other branches of government and states not parties to the original case may continue these violations until they too are brought before the Supreme Court? For example, in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), the Court struck down an Oregon law that effectively outlawed parochial education. Should other states have been free similarly to outlaw parochial education until they too had been individually dealt with by the Supreme Court?
Legal anarchy by the states and separate branches of the federal government is a poor solution to the problem of an overbearing Supreme Court. Moreover, making the Supreme Court powerless is hardly a guarantee of civil rights. A historic example would be the state of Georgias persecution of the Cherokee Indians during the 1830s, in concert with Congress and President Andrew Jackson, and in violation of a Supreme Court ruling. As Jackson was alleged to have sneered, Well, John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it. After witnessing the plight of the Cherokee firsthand on their Trail of Tears, Alexis de Tocqueville sardonically stated, It is impossible to destroy men with more respect for the laws of humanity.
An assumption inherent in Prof. Georges proposition is that our legislative and executive branches of government would interpret the Constitution as objectively and dispassionately as the Supreme Court, and maybe more so. Im sorry, but that is, to say the least, not persuasive.
Gregory J. Roden, J.D.
Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Robert P. Georges Lincoln on Judicial Despotism raises questions for the practicing lawyer with a client to advise.
In our legal system, courts follow precedents. By their nature, then, courts are perhaps the most conservative of the three branches of government. The first question in any legal dispute is, How have the courts ruled on this issue in the past? Lawyers expect courts to continue to rule the same way on the same issues. Courts generally try to do so. Lower courts, at least, are bound by the hierarchical structure of the judiciary to follow precedents of a higher court. Even state supreme courts and the U.S. Supreme Court are reluctant to overrule themselves, and often will not admit it when they do.
The problem may be cast in a different way if we think of it as one of access to the courts. As long as parties are free to present a dispute in legal terms, courts will continue to make rulings. Under the precedential system followed in American jurisprudence, those rulings will be more or less binding on future disputes involving the same or similar issues. President Lincoln, as an attorney, knew this.
It would be interesting to know as a matter of history whether President Lincolns desire to limit the binding force of Dred Scott ever found its way into a practical legal argument. Between the time of Dred Scott and the enactment of the Civil War Amendments, Dred Scott was the law. An executive or legislature might try to ignore it, but a slaveowner could seek relief in court, and the court would be bound to follow Dred Scott . Defiance of Dred Scott thus would be futile, as long as the courts were open.
Roe v. Wade , which Professor George mentions only at the end of his essay, is of course the real subject. How is Roe to be got around? Probably only through litigants continued attempts to chip away at it”parental consent requirements, waiting periods, etc.”and careful appointment of future Justices. The birth control movement followed this course in the decades leading up to Griswold v. Connecticut .
The federal courts have abstained in certain classes of cases, notably those involving political questions (usually matters of foreign affairs) and what Justice Hugo Black called Our Federalism. Why the courts should begin to abstain in abortion cases is not clear. Giving up this kind of power isnt easy.
Suppose a state wants to go all the way and passes a complete ban on abortion. Such action might be in keeping with President Lincolns view of what the political branches can do”an alternative interpretation of the Constitution. A practicing lawyer, advising a legislative committee or governor, would predict the following: the law would meet immediate legal challenge and be struck down by a federal district court, which would be affirmed by the court of appeals. The Supreme Court, having no obligation to take any particular case, likely would deny a petition for certiorari, and that would be the end of it.
It would be the end, that is, unless the political branches were willing to ignore the judgment of the courts. This would bring the matter to a constitutional crisis, resolvable perhaps only by force, as at Ole Miss in 1962. The Civil War would seem to be evidence that such a crisis in interpretation can result in violence and more death. This possibility should be considered.
Bad law in a good system is better than no law at all. Self-correction by the Court is possible, if litigants demand that correction through bold and creative argument. We need new arguments, not defiance. If were going to pick and choose which decisions we respect, then to hell with the whole thing.
Donald P. Boyle, Jr.
Robert P. George replies:
I am grateful to Barton L. Ingraham for his kind words. He wonders whether the Supreme Courts declaration of its own supremacy in constitutional interpretation in the 1958 case of Cooper v. Aaron was really anything new. It is a legitimate question. I myself suggested that it was not entirely new when I said in my article that the modern expansion of judicial power may, perhaps, be conceived as having been expressed and ratified, rather than created, by the Supreme Court in Cooper .
Naturally, political institutions tend to take an expansive view of the scope of their own powers. Courts are no exception. At various points in our national history prior to Cooper , the Supreme Court had all but said that its rulings were binding on the other branches absolutely and without regard to the judgment of Presidents or members of Congress that the judges had exceeded their constitutional powers and were themselves acting in violation of the Constitution. Defenders of the Supreme Courts infamous pro-slavery decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford , for example, advanced precisely this view of judicial power. That is why Lincoln perceived the need forcefully to rebut it in his First Inaugural Address. I would resist Mr. Ingrahams characterization of Lincolns powerful critique of judicial supremacy as mere musings on the subject; but there is no denying that the doctrine condemned by the Great Emancipator has, in fact, prevailed in the legal profession and with the public at large.
A standard argument advanced by partisans of judicial supremacy is that the only alternative to