Passing Phrase -

Hara Bemi'uto

Literally: The evil in its minority
Idiomatically: Lesser of two evils

This interesting phrase, although widely used today, is definitely not Biblical. In English it is based on a story derived from Homer's Odyssey, and is later used as a phrase by Chaucer in his Troilus & Criseyde (1374), and by Thomas à Kempis in the early 15th century.

In many ways this phrase it is not even "Jewish" per se. Throughout the Bible the emphasis is on not choosing evil at all - any evil (Amos 5:14-15; Psalms 34:15). It may seem like splitting hairs but what do you do when you have a dilemma - you choose the "best" possibility. "Hatov beyoter sheyesh lecha" הטוב ביותר שיש לך. Maimonides ("Hilchot Melachim" 1:8-9) uses this idea to describe how to choose a leader when none of the choices are optimal, basing it on the Talmud (Ketuvot 103b).

Of course no one says it better than Douglas Adams in The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy when Arthur asked Ford why people vote for lizards:

"מפני שאם לא היו בוחרים בלטאה," אמר פורד, "הייתה הלטאה הלא נכונה עלולה לתפוס את השלטון".

"Mipnei she'im lo hayu bocharim beleta'a," amar Ford, "Hayi'ta halita'a halo nechona alula litfos et hashilton."

Because if they didn't vote for a lizard," said Ford, "the wrong lizard might take over the government."

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