November 19, 2019

It's Good to Hate al-Baghdadi

“This past weekend, a United States Special Operations Forces raid finally rid the world of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Like Osama bin Laden before him, al-Baghdadi’s killing at the hands of U.S. troops raised a perennial question: How should we react to the death of extraordinarily evil people?

This is a particular dilemma for Americans, whose culture has been substantially shaped by Christianity. In the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus exclaims, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” but I say to you, love your enemies.” Is this the ethical standard we should apply to al-Baghdadi? If we feel hatred in our hearts toward a man who directed, and personally participated in, an ongoing campaign of mass rape, murder, mutilation, and genocide, should we judge our emotional response as an unfortunate if understandable moral failing?

Or, put bluntly: Is it acceptable to hate al-Baghdadi?

In a remarkable sermon delivered at Manhattan’s Jewish Center synagogue in 1973, Rabbi Norman Lamm, my grandfather and the former president of Yeshiva University, addressed this very question. His lecture, “A Hale and Hearty Hate,” laid the groundwork for a philosophical approach to hate among American Jewish thinkers that would develop through the early aughts, and provide a framework for present-day responses to al-Baghdadi’s death.”

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