Signs of Faith, "God Hates Hate"
BY Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum
June 24 2009 11:00 PM ET
Some years ago, a woman left messages on our synagogue's answering machine. She called in the middle of the night for several nights in a row during the High Holy Day season. The messages were all in "yeshiva" Hebrew. The woman said that she had been taught that while the members of my synagogue could do teshuva -- could repent for being gay, I, the rabbi, could never be forgiven because my avera -- my sin was encouraging and recruiting people to be gay. Therefore she was going to come to services on the second day of the holiday of Sukkot and kill me.
Needless to say, the NYPD was present at those services, inside and outside our sanctuary and eventually tracked down the woman. Her family pleaded with me not to press charges against their daughter or her rabbi. They argued that although the rabbi had indeed taught the law their daughter had quoted in her messages to me, neither he nor anyone in the congregation meant to incite someone to kill me. Their daughter was disturbed, they said, and needed psychiatric help.
Of course, the woman who threatened to kill me was mentally ill. And perhaps so were the killers of Dr. Tiller and Officer Jones. But whose words were they listening to? It may be comforting for some to think that the words of hatred that come from parts of our society, like the Westboro Baptist Church and others like them, are fringe and therefore somehow less dangerous. But we are seeing the consequences in our society of ignoring this face of hatred, especially in these times of change.
Words have power. And hate speech can lead to murder.