The Magazine

Call It Murder

But don't call it a hate crime.

Aug 14, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 45 • By DAVID GELERNTER
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Two other nuanced statements from the Talmud: Rabbi Yehoshua says that "hatred of mankind shortens a man's life." He is condemning blanket, undiscriminating hatred--not hatred of a man who deliberately hurt your child (say) but hatred of the sort that encompasses everyone. Elsewhere in the Talmud we read that God decreed the destruction of the Second Temple because of "groundless hatred" within the Jewish community. A staggering idea: that such devastating punishment would be imposed on account of unbrotherly hatred running wild, like an evil thread through an unraveling tapestry. A statement that modern America (and Israel and Europe, not to mention the radical Arab world) ought to ponder. But again groundless hatred is the culprit, and not all hatred is groundless.

There is no way to read the Jewish sources as a group and not conclude that hatred is bad and must be avoided wherever it can be. ("Hatred stirreth up strifes; but love covereth all sins." Proverbs 10:12.) When hatred is inevitable, the best a man can do is to speak honestly to his enemy--and never behind his back.

The New Testament view seems less psychological, more categorical. ("But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you." Matthew 5:44, and similar verses.) But there are nuances under the surface here too. Other ethical systems have their own views, subtleties, and circumstances. An important topic--and our policemen and bureaucrats are the wrong people to teach us about it.

A crime and sin like the one we saw in Seattle probably has no great implications for U.S. criminology. But it does throw light into the great U.S. cultural rift, now wider than the Grand Canyon. Where do we go for spiritual wisdom, to our religious heritage (and the occasional wise teacher) or to the do-gooding, ceaselessly nattering Professor's State that smothers us like a child's antique yellow raincoat?

In Hebrew, "repentance" and "return" are the same word. The Seattle catastrophe calls on us to return to churches and synagogues where we can get wisdom instead of sociological insight. Let the cops return to catching criminals without editorializing, and the clergy to preaching religion. A change of pace for everyone. The murder of Pamela Waechter and the injuries inflicted on five of her coworkers--Dayna Klein, Carol Goldman, Cheryl Stumbo, Christina Rexroad, and Layla Bush--tell us that this is a time for national repentance, or in other words national return, from moralizing to morality.

David Gelernter, a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD, is a national fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.