Love and Brotherhood
Kindness to others is an important commandment
Jewish Law spells out how to be kind to others
Kindness applies to people and animals, to Jews and gentiles
Many people think of Judaism as the religion of cold, harsh laws, to be
contrasted with Christianity, the religion of love and brotherhood. This is an
unfair characterization of both Judaism and Jewish
law. Love and kindness have been a part of Judaism from the very beginning.
When Jesus said, "love thy neighbor as thyself," he was merely quoting
Torah, and he was quoting the book that is most
commonly dismissed as a source of harsh laws: Leviticus 19:18. The point is
repeated in Leviticus 19:34: love [the stranger] as thyself.
Love and Brotherhood in Jewish Sources
A large part of Jewish law is about treating people with kindness. The same
body of Jewish law that commands us to eat only
kosher food and not to turn on lights on
Shabbat, also commands us to love both Jews and
strangers, to give tzedakah (charity) to the
poor and needy, and not to wrong anyone in speech
or in business. In fact, acts of kindness are so much a part of Jewish law that
the word "mitzvah" (literally, "commandment") is informally used to mean any
Pirkei Avot, a book of the Mishnah, teaches that
the universe depends on three things: on Torah
(law), on avodah (service to G-d), and on g'milut chasadim (usually translated
as "acts of lovingkindness") (Avot 1:2), perhaps drawing from Psalm 89:3, "the
universe is built on kindness" (more commonly translated as "forever is mercy
built"). In fact, this quote has become a popular song in synagogues: Al
Shlosha D'varim (On Three Things). The Mishnah also describes g'milut chasadim
as one of the few mitzvot (commandments) for
which there is no minimum amount sufficient to satisfy your obligation. (Pe'ah
1:1; reiterated in Talmud Chagigah 7a). That verse also describes g'milut
chasadim as one of the few things that one derive benefit from in this world
and yet still be rewarded for in the world to
come. The Talmud says that g'milut chasadim is greater than
tzedakah (charity), because unlike tzedakah,
g'milut chasadim can be done for both poor and rich, both the living and the
dead, and can be done with money or with acts. (Talmud Sukkah 49b).
The Talmud tells a story of Rabbi Hillel, who
lived around the time of Jesus. A pagan came to him saying that he would
convert to Judaism if Hillel could teach him the whole of the
Torah in the time he could stand on one foot.
Rabbi Hillel replied, "What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow
man. That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary. Go and study it."
(Talmud Shabbat 31a). Sounds a lot like Jesus' "Golden Rule"? But this idea was
a fundamental part of Judaism long before Hillel or Jesus. It is a common-sense
application of the Torah commandment to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev.
19:18), which Rabbi Akiba described as the essence
of the Torah (according to Rashi's commentary on
The true difference between Judaism and Christianity lies in Hillel's last
comment: Go and study it. Judaism is not content to leave love and brotherhood
as a lofty ideal, to be fulfilled as each individual sees fit. Judaism spells
out, in intricate detail, how we are meant to show that love.
Commandments of Kindness
Jewish law includes within it a blueprint for a just and ethical society, where
no one takes from another or harms another or takes advantage of another, but
everyone gives to one another and helps one another and protects one another.
Again, these are not merely high ideals; the means for fulfilling these ideals
are spelled out in the 613 commandments.
Everyone knows that the Ten Commandments command us
not to murder. The full scope of Jewish law goes much farther in requiring us
to protect our fellow man. We are commanded not to leave a condition that may
cause harm, to construct our homes in ways that will prevent people from being
harmed, and to help a person whose life is in danger, so long as it does not
put our own lives in danger. These commandments regarding the preservation of
life are so important in Judaism that they override all of the ritual
observances that people think are the most important part of Judaism. Almost
any commandment may be violated to save a life.
We are commanded to help those in need, both in physical need and financial
need. The Torah commands us to help a neighbor with his burden, and help load
or unload his beast. See Treatment of Animals. We are
required to give money to the poor and needy, and not to turn them away empty
handed. See Tzedakah: Charity.
Jewish law forbids us from cheating another or taking advantage of another.
Jewish law regarding business ethics and practices is extensive. It regulates
conduct between a businessman and his customer (for example, not to use false
weights and measures, not to do wrong in buying and selling, not to charge
interest) and between a business man and his employee (to pay wages promptly,
to allow a worker in the field to eat the produce he is harvesting, and not to
take produce other than what you can eat from the employer while harvesting).
Entire books have been written on the subject of Jewish laws against wronging
another person in speech. We are commanded not to tell lies about a person, nor
even uncomplimentary things that are true. We are commanded to speak the truth,
to fulfill our promises, and not to deceive others. See
Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra.
Contrary to what many people think, most of these laws regarding treatment of
others apply not only to our treatment of our fellow Jews, but also to our
treatment of gentiles, and in many cases even
to our treatment of animals. In fact, some of
the laws instituted by the sages even extend kind treatment to inanimate
objects. The bread on the Shabbat table is
covered during the blessing over the wine, so
that it's "feelings" are not hurt by having the wine take precedence over it.
Of course, we do not believe that bread actually has feelings, but this
practice helps to instill an enormous sensitivity to others. If we can show
concern for a loaf of bread, how can we fail to show concern for our fellow
© Copyright 5756-5771 (1995-2011), Tracey R Rich
If you appreciate the many years of work I have put into this site,
show your appreciation by linking to this page, not copying it to your site.
I can't correct my mistakes or add new material if it's on your site. Click Here for more details.