The Morality of Anger

How many times have we heard the refrain when we get upset over injustice – “why are you so angry?” It’s as though being angry, in Western society, automatically is bad. Anger is completely negative in this black-and-white view of things – happy good, sad/angry bad. There’s no room for any kind of ambiguous grey area here.

Or is there? It turns out that for Jews, it’s not so cut-and-dried. I previously mentioned the commandments against hating one’s brother in his heart and how we’re obligated to point out the sins of others rather than let those sins hang over others’s heads here.

Rabbi Telushkin, in his Code of Jewish Ethics, vol. 1, outlines six instances where anger is justified (some of which don’t necessarily have political bearing, but bear with me all the same):

Misusing one’s talents for evil
Those who are ungrateful
Those who commit slander
Those who mistreat the poor
Those who worship false gods
Those who make false and cruel claims in God’s name

Based, then, on this list, the common refrain of “why are you so angry?” doesn’t make much sense, at least for Jews; are we not directed to fight injustice, advocate for the widow and the orphan, and treat the poor with compassion? As Rabbi Telushkin rightly points out, were Churchill not mad as hell at Hitler would the British have fought off the Germans with that much tenacity in WWII?

Anyway, the point is this – to the Jews out there who are keenly aware of injustice and aren’t sure how to react, get angry. Be intractable, because the fights against institutionalized prejudice, hatred, and oppression of many kinds are not won quickly or easily.


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