There is this famous statement (B"R 78:9): "Esav Soneh l'Ya'akov."

Although the Torah tells us that Esav bore a grudge (Genesis 27:41) in his heart and showed great animosity in wanting to kill Ya'akov, the word soneh isn't used.

But I still would like to know what Esav Soneh Ya'akov means, because in the story of Yosef and his brothers it seems to mean despised (Genesis 37:4-5,8), whereas in the story of Rachel and Leah (Genesis 29:31-33) it seems to mean something like abhor/revulsion or something similar.

It seems to mean 'to feel intense dislike' for someone/something, more than it does mean 'to feel intense anger or hostility' towards someone/something.

So what does שׂנא mean? How should one define such a term?

  • What's wrong with "hate/hatred" - it seems to be a good equivalent to שנא. Also, there's a Mitzvah of לא תשנא את אחיך בלבבך. It is not clear what you're asking.
    – Al Berko
    Nov 1, 2018 at 11:49
  • My guess: hate is a feeling (the opposite of love) that the object of the hate is not dignified, and that interacting with it will decrease the hater’s dignity. Hate’s effect on man: since a man is motivated by dignity, hate causes him to want no interaction with the object of hate.
    – hazoriz
    Nov 1, 2018 at 12:02
  • It is the natural reaction when one was offended (halacha 6 here chabad.org/3302356 ) even if the offence was to one who is loved by the hater
    – hazoriz
    Nov 1, 2018 at 12:04
  • sefaria.org/Pesachim.113b.6
    – hazoriz
    Nov 1, 2018 at 12:10
  • It seems that there are multiple "levels" o fmeaning depending on context. Leah was called a "hated" wife. It doesn't mean that Ya'akov wanted to harm her or didn't love her. It means just that she was less loved compared to Rachel. However, it seems that when the brothers "hated" Yosef, they actually wanted to kill him. So, I don't think there's a clear "fit all" answer.
    – DanF
    Nov 1, 2018 at 18:22

3 Answers 3


The Malbim in his Yair Ohr explains the difference between the 3 words שונא,אויב,צר.

A שונא = a person(enemy) who hates someone in their heart only.

A אויב = a person(enemy) who doesnt inflict harm personally for his name sake,but is happy when someone else does it.

A צר = a person(enemy) who inflicts bad on others with their actions.

It seems from this explanation that esav had hatred for Yaakov in his heart,but did not reach the other levels of an enemy at that point .

Text of the Yair Ohr:

enter image description here

  • Very interesting and thanks for explaining the other related words. Esp. timely in terms of my comment to Alaychem (see below his answer) as regarding the rotze'ach we see the first two terms mentioned. I have to analyze how your explanation fits in to the Torah's usage, there, and what halachot may be involved as a result (i.e. classifying someone as a rotze'ach.)
    – DanF
    Aug 6, 2019 at 13:34

It seems that our Sages took the example of Yossef and his brothers for a model for שונא

בראשית לז ד

וַיִּרְא֣וּ אֶחָ֗יו כִּֽי־אֹת֞וֹ אָהַ֤ב אֲבִיהֶם֙ מִכָּל־אֶחָ֔יו וַֽיִּשְׂנְא֖וּ אֹת֑וֹ וְלֹ֥א יָכְל֖וּ דַּבְּר֥וֹ לְשָׁלֹֽם׃

Bereshit p37 4

And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him.

משנה סנהדרין ג ה

האוהב והשונא (פסולים לעדות).... שונא, כל שלא דבר עמו שלשה ימים באיבה.

Mishna Sanhedrin p3 5

The friend and the hater (are disqualified to give testimony)...The hater - Whoever didn't talked three days with him, due to hate.

So that's the minimum for שונא, obviously, שנאה can take more severe forms. Also, like stated before, I agree that the proper translation to שנאה is hatred.

  • Clever people may notice this Mishna not accepted to Halaca, but this rule is accepted to Halach for choosing Dayanim, So it's legit. Aug 6, 2019 at 13:05
  • 1
    I like your answer. However, as you added your comment, I wonder if you can comment about the halachic usage of שנאה regarding a rotze'ach as mentioned in Bemidbar 35:20 - וְאִם־בְּשִׂנְאָ֖ה יֶהְדָּפֶ֑נּוּ אֽוֹ־הִשְׁלִ֥יךְ עָלָ֛יו בִּצְדִיָּ֖ה וַיָּמֹֽת׃
    – DanF
    Aug 6, 2019 at 13:30
  • @DanF Good point!! the Rambam writes it's the same Aug 6, 2019 at 13:59
  • Thanks. Will check it, soon, b"n. So far, it looks like I may have to award two bounties. The other answer is also good and has different info.
    – DanF
    Aug 6, 2019 at 14:27

In terms of your question "what does Esav soneh Ya'akov means", a Times of Israel article by R' Jonathan Muskat outlines 3 approaches re: this statement (2nd & 3rd approach are similar):

1) "The halacha is Esav will always hate Yaakov"

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2:77) writes:

כי צריך לידע שהשנאה לישראל מכל האומות היא גדולה גם ממלכיות שנוהגין בטובה, וכבר אמרתי על הלשון שהביא רש”י בפירוש החומש… על קרא דוישקהו אמר רשב”י הלכה היא בידוע שעשו שונא ליעקב דמה שייך זה להלכה, דהוא כמו שהלכה לא משתנית כך שנאת עשו ליעקב לא משתנית דאף אלו שנוהגות באופן טוב שנאתן גדולה בעצם,׳

“for we have to realize that hatred of the Jews by all nations is actually great, even in the nations that behave well [toward Jews]. I have already explained concerning Rashi’s language in his Torah commentary… on the word וישקהו: Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai says: “It is a well-known halacha that Esav hates Yaakov. And why is the word halacha relevant here? It is because just as halacha never changes, so also Esav’s hatred of Yaakov never changes. Even in those [nations] that behave well [toward Jews], their hatred [of Jews] is actually strong.”

This position is echoed by Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer (Even HaAzel, Melachim 5:1)-- as cited in this article-- who also applies this principle to all non-Jews.

2) "Esav's descendants aren't always bad"

(statement could also be referring to Esav the person, not the nation)


׳גם יעקב נתעורר עליו לשעה זו אהבה לעשו. וכן לדורות בשעה שזרע עשו מתעוררים ברוח טהרה להכיר את זרע ישראל ומעלתם, אז גם אנחנו מתעוררים להכיר את עשו כי אחינו הוא

“At that moment love for Esav awakened in Yaakov as well. Similarly, whenever Esav’s descendants genuinely acknowledge Yisrael’s greatness, Yisrael reciprocates with feelings of brotherhood.”

The Netziv explicitly states that the descendants of Esav are not always bad. While they may sometimes exhibit hatred towards us, most of the time they don't and in those cases we shouldn't suspect them of trying to harm us.

3) "Eisav always hates us is NOT the halacha"

Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin in Teshuvot Ivra #116 writes:

׳ועוון פלילי מצד אותם המטיפים הפטפטנים שדורשים תמיד ‘הלכה הוא שעשו שונא ליעקב’, והשנאה עולמית. זה נגד האמת ונגד חז”ל והמקרא, שעשו גופא לא הי’ רשע תמיד ושנאתו פסקה על ידי הנהגה מתאמת וכמו עשו הראשון כן הם ג”כ דורותיו שהכנעה מביאה לשלום, וזהו שאמר בן זומא (אבות פ”ד מ”א) ‘איזהו מכובד המכבד את הבריות’, כונתו גם נגד האומות, כשמכבדים אותם ואומרים להם אוהבי אתה הם נעשים לאוהבים על ידי זה ולהפך כשאומרים שונא אתה נעשים לשונא וזהו מעשים בכל יום׳

“It’s criminal those who constantly chatter and expound that it is a halacha that Esav hates Yaakov and the hatred is eternal – this is against the truth, against our Sages and the Torah, for Esav himself was not always a wicked person and his hatred stopped after appropriate behavior. Just like with regard to the first Esav, so, too, with regard to his generations, humility leads to peace. This is what Ben Zoma says, “Who is honored? One who honors created beings.” The intent of this is also for the other nations. When we honor them and say to them you are my friend then they become friendly to us. The opposite is also true. When we say that we hate them, then they become hateful [to us] and this happens all the time.”

  • I don't think it answer the question, but it answers different questions here in MI Aug 7, 2019 at 14:41
  • And also maybe that Aug 7, 2019 at 14:44
  • @Alaychem thanks for the feedback- how would you say it's not answering the OP's question of "But I still would like to know what Esav Soneh Ya'akov means"?
    – alicht
    Aug 7, 2019 at 15:26
  • @Alaychem you're correct in that it doesnt answer "So what does שׂנא mean? How should one define such a term?" ... but that could be asked without the whole esav/ Yaakov example no? (ie that's what I focused on)
    – alicht
    Aug 7, 2019 at 15:27

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .