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Banishing Baseless Hatred

A Jewish self-help volume scientifically explains the phenomenon of hatred as a primitive

neural response to a past event or anticipated event, and outlines how to avoid this response.

‘Baseless hatred” (sinat hinam) was identified by

the talmudic sages as the damning factor leading

to the destruction of the Second Temple and the

beginning of the long exile. That baseless hatred

is a terrible thing seems to be one of the few points of agree-

ment among Jews in the past 2,000 years.

Now along comes a Seattle neuropharmacologist with a

plan of action. It’s tempting to smirk at the very thought.

And perhaps Baseless Hatred is indeed somewhat quixotic.

But it’s well worth reading this Jewish self-help book that sci-

entifically explains the phenomenon of hatred as a primitive

neural response to a past event or anticipated event, and out-

lines how to avoid this response. (The focus on gray matter

no doubt prompted the cover illustration of a human brain;

a redesign could be advantageous for greater marketing


The author labels hatred among Jews a “severe human

trap” that has had, from biblical days, a direct correlation to

losing our homeland: “The hatred-exile connection became

a sort of existential paradigm that holds the key to unan-

swered questions about the mysterious nature of the Jewish

people, its survival, and its recent return to the Land of Israel

after nineteen centuries.”

Distinguishing between hate as a necessary defense mech-

anism for survival, and hate as an extreme response to be

curbed, he identifies the antidote as arevut, or what he calls

the “Judah principle” because of the biblical Judah’s willing-

ness to take responsibility for his brother Benjamin.

The siting of the Temples on land overlapping the portion

of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin was not arbitrary, Levy

argues, and suggests that without a sense of unity, “the Tem-

ple no longer had a reason to exist.”

Yet the goal of banishing baseless hatred among us appears

to be no closer to resolution than it was millennia ago, given

almost daily confrontations and clashes between Left and

Right, secular and religious, rival hassidic sects and branches

of families.

Approaching the topic from a scientist’s perspective, Levy

outlines a practical method starting on a micro level, by

training one’s advanced neural system to develop empathy

for individuals in our personal sphere. He posits that baseless

hatred begins as a one-on-one dysfunction “that transforms

another Jew into an enemy and thereby destroys the integri-

ty of the Jewish people” because it is “incompatible with the

requirement of mutual responsibility.”

Where to start? With an awareness of real or perceived

“hate triggers” in everyday dealings with siblings, parents,

cousins, aunts, uncles, in-laws, co-workers, neighbors and

friends – interpersonal relationships that can be visualized as

a series of emotional concentric circles leading out from our-

selves in the center.

In Levy’s jargon, these individuals constitute our “person-

al hatred map,” and it is precisely here that we must begin

training ourselves to avoid reactions that lead to hate. Pre-

sumably success on the personal hatred map can then lead

to success on the broader hatred map, which cannot be as

well defined. “Unlike the personal map, which is the same

for people all over the world, this broad hatred map presents

challenges that are very different in the Diaspora and in

Israel,” he writes.

The middle portion of the book analyzes baseless hatred

toward the Jewish people rather than among the Jewish peo-

ple, analyzing the “Palestinian issue” as an outcome of

Islamist hatred rather than a land dispute. Islamist hatred,

according to the author, “is rooted in an interpretation of

Islam... that makes it mutually exclusive with the existence

of the State of Israel.”

He goes on to speculate that fostering true arevut among

Jews is the answer to both internal and external baseless

hatred. “Within the State of Israel, the logic of the arevut

proposal is that unity leads to morality and morality leads to

peace: after the Jews eliminate baseless hatred, will the rest

of the world continue to hate them without cause?”

It is clear that Levy’s intended audience is mainly reli-

giously observant Jews. He admonishes readers to avoid

feeling superiority or self-righteousness toward less strin-

gent Jews, or dismissive of more overtly religious groups as

fanatics: “A truly religious person should not come to

believe that the behavior of others is a threat to his or her

survival since this represents a lack of true faith.”

The notion of shalom “never implied uniformity but actu-

ally harmony among different groups who each have their

uniqueness or singularity,” he reminds the reader. “In short,

diversity does not have to be an impediment to Israeli

unity; it can be turned into an asset for the country, espe-

cially if individuals show that they can overcome the traps

of stereotypes.”

The beauty of the book’s hypothesis, though it may strike

some as naïve or simplistic, is its insistence that by concen-

trating our efforts on our own families and circles of influ-

ence, we can make enormous gains against baseless hatred.

We certainly have nothing to lose, and potentially much to

gain, by trying Levy’s method.


Book Review from The Jerusalem Post

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