BY Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn
Toward the end of his life, Moses instructed the Jewish people: “Do not hate the Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land” (Deut. 23:8). It was 40 years since the Jewish people had left Egyptian bondage and they were now on the brink of entering their homeland to create a new and free society. Moses’ command is counter-intuitive, since the Jews have every reason to hate the Egyptians: They drowned our babies and enslaved our ancestors, embittering their lives with inhumane labor. And if those Jews who endured Egyptian slavery were now dead, their children now standing before Moses had certainly seen their parents’ broken bodies and the scars that were seared into their psyches. Why should we not hate the Egyptians?
One reason not to hate the Egyptians was purely tactical: Pharaoh and his army were destroyed and the Egyptian tyranny was already a thing of the past. New mortal enemies awaited the Jewish people in the form of the Canaanite nations with whom the Jewish people would soon go to war. Instead of obsessing over past suffering and investing emotional capital in hating someone that was no longer a threat, it is wiser to focus on the present and the enemies standing in the way of future Jewish survival and independence.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggests a deeper reason: To be free, you must let go of hate. While you are consumed by hating another, you can never be truly free. Hatred corrupts our individual and collective souls, inevitably overtaking our consciousness and behavior. It prevents us from pursuing positive goals and devoting ourselves to building the society so necessary to the ethos of the Jewish people first entering their homeland more than 3,000 years ago. And those ideals are essential to Jews today, who struggle to build our homeland and people anew. If we are to thrive, we must deal with the real challenges ahead.
All this is obvious, but some Jews are still consumed with hatred of past enemies. For nearly 2,000 years, Christians were bitter foes of our people and our faith while we “were strangers in their lands.” Christian leaders humiliated, ghettoized and demonized us as deicides – and sometimes killed our ancestors in crusades, blood libels and inquisitions.
But Christianity and Christian religious leaders today are no longer enemies of the Jewish people. It has been nearly 60 years since the Catholic Church changed its theology and policies toward the Jewish people and Judaism. The 1965 Nostra Aetate document established official new Church doctrine. In it, the Church condemned anti-Semitism for any reason, rejected the charge of deicide as false and proclaimed that the Jewish people are still in living covenant with the God of Abraham. Most Protestant churches have also adopted these changes toward us.
Nor are these mere empty words. In 1994, the Vatican established diplomatic relations with Israel and today no Catholic institution or group has a mission to convert Jews. In 2000, Pope John Paul II visited Israel and asked forgiveness for the long years of Jewish suffering that Christians caused – particularly during the Holocaust. And today, Evangelical Christians are the greatest political and financial supporters of Israel in the non-Jewish world. This is a truly breathtaking transformation of Christian teaching, belief and behavior.
Yet some Jews are still mired in outdated polemics and irrational hatred of Christians. Occasionally, yeshiva students spit at Christians in Jerusalem, and this week Jews desecrated the Cistercian monastery in Latrun. This is an example of hate enslaving us, since the Latrun monks have nothing to do with the grievances of the perpetrators. In America too, some traditional rabbis still preach hatred of Christians as if they are still crusaders aiming to kill or convert Jews. These traditionalists are trapped in the past and fighting the most recent war – at significant spiritual and physical cost to our people.
The Church is no longer a spiritual or physical threat to Jews, and we have powerful new enemies to fight today. Secularism and vicious anti-Zionism is ravaging our faith and culture, while radical Islamist extremism is waging a lethal war against Israel and the Jewish people. Wise and responsible Jews need to devote their energies to defeating these existential threats to our people and faith, and we cannot afford to be distracted by false demons. Nothing we do can bring back our grandfathers and grandmothers humiliated by the old Christianity – but the urgent challenge today is how we can make our world safer for our children and grandchildren.
Like Pharaoh and his army, the Christian enemy is relegated to the past. We need to understand this and accept those Christians who honestly seek to atone for violent Christian history and wish to befriend us. If we do not, this anachronistic hatred will prevent us from achieving the constructive spiritual, cultural and national ideals that Moses, the Torah and the builders of our new State of Israel all urge us to devote our lives to.
Resentment, rage and the desire to lash out at others no longer threatening us make us slaves to the past. To be strong nationally and healthy spiritually, we should heed the commandment of Moses and let go of our misplaced hatreds and demons. They bring only a profound darkness to our individual and national souls.
The op-ed appeared in the Jerusalem Post on September 15, 2012