Often-cited Torah passage ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ is meant only between Jews



, Mondoweiss

Last week, Matt Rosenberg, the Hillel rabbi at Texas A&M University, sought to convince white-supremacist Richard Spencer of the error of his ways by citing a ‘Torah’ message of ‘radical inclusion and love’. Spencer masterfully responded by citing Israeli policy, Zionism, and Jewish exclusivity, which left Rosenberg speechless. 

Rosenberg professed that this ‘radical inclusion and love’ is what the Torah teaches. But is this really true?

One of the most iconic phrases in the whole Torah, which Jews will typically refer to, is ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’. You will also hear some Jews bragging about it, because it got picked up as the 2nd most important commandment by Christianity (after ‘love thy God’), and so this is often regarded as Judaism’s ‘gift’ to humanity – love and kindness, as it were. See for example here in ‘Judaism 101.’

But let us scrutinise the source, really. It is Leviticus 19:18:

לֹֽא־תִקֹּ֤ם וְלֹֽא־תִטֹּר֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָֽה׃

This translates commonly to: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord”.

There are two problems in the common translation: The main one is that “your neighbor” is not really precise. ‘Re’acha’ in Hebrew could better be understood as ‘your friend’ or ‘your companion’. The second one is that ‘your own people’ is ‘amcha’ in Hebrew, which is commonly understood today as ‘your nation’. In an ancient tribal society, this could be very much the perception.

So the question becomes, how tribal is one’s perception? Is this about just loving the ‘Hebrews’ or later the ‘Jews’, loving each other amongst themselves?

“The Jewish soul”

Classical Jewish Talmudic tradition is full of qualifications that not only distinguish ethics between Jews and non-Jews – it even contains opinions that regard a Jewish soul as blessed and elevated above the level of the gentiles. See for example how Chabad.org’s Tzvi Freeman answers a question on the ‘Jewish soul’:  

‘Here’s how the Jewish soul works, according to the classics: We are children of the three greatest people that ever lived, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They tied a bond between their children and Gd forever after them…In that way, we are chosen, and in that way, we have performed our chosenness. If it were not for Jews, there would be no concept of human dignity, of meaning and purpose, of the right of every person to education and knowledge, of social justice and of the value of world peace. These (along with psychology, relativity, quantum physics, anthropology, Hollywood and superheroes) are among our many vital contributions to the world.”

Or on the same Chabad site, where an inquirer asks, “Why do you speak of a “Jewish soul”? How can you put souls in boxes?” Aron Moss answers:

“The idea that all souls are the same is one of the biggest mistakes of modern spirituality”. 

Whilst Chabad is a Hassidic movement that leans heavily on Kabbalah mysticism, we should not make the mistake of assuming that this view of a Jewish soul being superior to that of a non-Jew is a mere fringe view in Jewish religious culture today. Indeed, as rabbi Hanan Balk (rabbi emeritus of Congregation Agudas Israel in Cincinnati) poses in his study on the subject:

The view expressed in the above heading [The Soul of a Jew is Superior to that of a Non-Jew, ed.] —as uncomfortable and racially charged as it may be in the minds of some—was undoubtedly, as we shall show, the prominent position maintained by authorities of Jewish thought throughout the ages, and continues to be so even today. While Jewish mysticism is the source and primary expositor of this theory, it has achieved a ubiquitous presence not only in the writings of Kabbalists, but also in the works of thinkers found in the libraries of most observant Jews, who hardly consider themselves followers of Kabbalah. Clearly, for one committed to the Torah and its principles, it is not tenable to presume that so long as he is not a Kabbalist, such a belief need not be a part of his religious worldview”. 

This religious notion of a ‘superior soul’ has found its way into Zionism and Israel, beyond the limits of religious observant culture as such. It can be seen in the very words of the national anthem. It goes:

“As long as in the heart within

A Jewish soul still yearns…”

This representation of the ‘Jewish soul’ may seem benign, if it were not for the religious culture surrounding the term. It does not matter that in Hebrew it is more literally “the soul of a Jew” (“nefesh Yehudi”) – the reference here is clearly collective, and even the stateofisrael.com site which translates ‘soul’ to ‘spirit’ is clear about the collective sense:

“As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart” 

As I have noted in an earlier article titled ‘Jews aren’t special,’ the notion of Jews being special simply because they supposedly are, is prevailing in no uncertain ways even amongst liberal, secular Zionists. I had noted this conversation with one of these. It went:

(Her): “Jews are special”.

(Me): “Well, all people are special you know”.

(Her): “All people are special, but Jews are even more special”.

Anyone can be forgiven for having associations to Orwell’s Animal Farm arise in them when reading the last phrase.

Israel’s Law of Return of 1950 has embraced this ‘specialness’ in nationalist ways. Any Jew from anywhere is welcome to immigrate to Israel and receive automatic citizenship and a welcome support package for the “new ascenders” (“Olim Hadashim”), whilst those whose souls are not Jewish who happened to live there with long ancestries may be dispossessed and denied return. This is how special we are.

Are gentiles even considered human in classical Judaism?

The Talmud contains extremely problematic, to put it mildly, passages regarding the biological status of non-Jews, gentiles, referred to by the code-word of “worshippers of stars and fortunes” (Ovdei Kohavim Umazalot”, or the acronym AKU”M, which interestingly sounds as the word ‘crooked’ in Hebrew).

In Bava Metzia 114b it says:

“Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: The graves of gentiles do not cause ritual impurity in a dwelling as it says (Ezekiel 34:31) “Now, you [Israel] are My sheep , the sheep of My pasture, you are Man (Adam)…” You [Israel] are called Man (Adam) and gentiles are not called Man (Adam)”.

In Keritot 6b it says:

“One who uses the official anointing oil [that has been consecrated] to smear on an animal or vessels is innocent of violating the holiness of the oil, to smear on gentiles or corpses is innocent. Certainly an animal and vessels as it says (Exodus 30:32) “It shall not be smeared on flesh of man (Adam)…” and an animal and vessels are not man. One who smears on corpses is also innocent since it is dead it is called a corpse and not a man. However, why is one who smears on gentiles innocent? They are men! No, as it says (Ezekiel 34:31) “Now, you [Israel] are My sheep , the sheep of My pasture, you are Man (Adam)…” You [Israel] are called Man (Adam) and gentiles are not called Man (Adam). 

Whilst there are milder interpretations, these opinions certainly leave a wide space for perceiving non-Jews as lesser than human. And it is possible to speak with Yeshiva students at orthodox Yeshivas in Israel today who will quote the sentence “You [Israel] are called Man (Adam) and gentiles are not called Man (Adam)” as an indication of Jewish superiority.

This indeed seems to be the perception of the rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur from the Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva in in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Yitzhar. In their 2009 book “Torat Hamelech” (“King’s Torah”), they opined that the prohibition ‘Thou Shalt Not Murder’ applies only “to a Jew who kills a Jew”, that non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature”, that attacks on them “curb their evil inclination,” while babies and children of Israel’s enemies may be killed since “it is clear that they will grow to harm us.”

That’s not very ambivalent. They have just incited for the murder of babies. Did their advocacy influence the arsonists who burned alive baby Ali Dawabshe and his family in Duma last year? 

In any case, their incitement to murder was NOT considered incitement by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who wrote in his dismissal of a potential indictment, that Torat Hamelech is written in a general manner and does not call for violence. 

Incidentally, Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, heads the Kushner Foundation which donates to the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva – the funding of which has been stopped in 2011 by the Israeli government itself, as it has served as a base for launching violent attacks against nearby Palestinian villages. Trump said a couple of weeks ago that Kushner could head up US efforts to broker a peace agreement in the Middle East, despite not playing a formal role in his administration. 

Also worth mentioning here is the endorsement given to The Kings Torah book, by rabbi Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba, the settlement near Al-Khalil (Hebron). Rabbi Lior has in the past praised Jewish terrorists such as Baruch Goldstein (who massacred Muslim worshippers at the Al-Ibrahimi mosque in 1994, killing 29). Lior ruled that Goldstein was “holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust.” Rabbi Lior is teaching courses for young religious recruits in the police, in a program called “Believers in the Police”, which expects to produce 500 graduates over the next five years. 

Can there anyway be ‘love’ for Palestinians?

To be fair, when regarding the Leviticus 19:18 passage, one should also regard the following mention of ‘love’, appearing in 19:34, especially because it regards the ‘foreigner’ or ‘stranger’ (‘ger’ in Hebrew):

“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.”

That looks quite good on the face of it. Indeed, it makes a qualification that could balance the ‘tribal love’ of the formerly mentioned passage. But there are various problems here that may not be so obvious to the non-Hebrew speaker. The biggest one is in the term ‘ger’. There are various rabbinical opinions about who these ‘foreigners’ are, and what they need to do to qualify as legitimate ‘foreigners’. We must note that Judaism didn’t have a national-territorial sovereign entity as Israel before 1948, except if you go back to Judean times (hence the source of the name Jewish, or ‘Yehudi’ as in ‘Yehuda’, Judea), and that would be 2,000 years back. It is interesting to note that the common Hebrew term for converting to Judaism today is ‘giur’ – a noun produced from ‘ger’. So there is a common perception of interrelation between being a Jew and being able to reside in the land legitimately, even as a ‘foreigner’. Whilst this is a complex issue, I would simplify here and summarize that even with the qualification of ‘love’ for those who are not Jews, there can be a myriad of interpretations which, in the end, leave the non-Jews as ‘exceptions’ who are apparently not worthy of this ‘love’.

Indeed, one may wonder, how it is that the Palestinians, who are the real natives, were made ‘foreigners’ and ‘strangers’ in their own land? And how did those who really were the ‘strangers’ and ‘foreigners’ (Zionist settlers) then become the ‘locals’ in their ‘promised land’, from which they would dispossess Palestinians? This is the inversion of rights which is a rather common and typical colonialist one. In the Zionist case, it is based upon the religious mythology of the ‘chosen ones’ and their ‘promised land’. Whoever inhabited the land in the meantime was thus simply a temporary ‘foreigner’.

Even if Palestinians seek to go as far as converting to Judaism, thus attempting to fulfill the most strict interpretation of ‘giur’, they are not allowed to. They are automatically rejected. Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, director of the Israeli government’s Conversion Authority, told the State Control Committee of the Knesset recently, that the threshold requirements “are that applicants be sincere and that they are not foreign workers; infiltrators; Palestinian or illegally in the country.”

So – no ‘love’ for Palestinians.

  1. #1 by Blake on 12/12/2016 - 9:34

    It’s completely unhinged thats what it is

  2. #2 by David Ben-Zion. on 02/09/2017 - 9:34

    This isn’t truth, it’s just ugly. Your “mastery” of the Torah is a shame. Yes, love your neighbor applies to Jews primarily as it should because of the subject matter at hand. Who does “as yourself” apply to? Other Jews? No, to one’s self. The Torah gives a clear order in everything. First, cultivate self-love. Then, cultivate love for your fellow (Jews). Then, cultivate love for everyone else. If you can’t love yourself or your own people, not a single non-Jew has any basis whatsoever on which to trust that you will love them. It’s simple common sense. If you wish to continue claiming we hate non-Jews, you’re going to be hard-pressed to explain why the Torah begins with non-Jews like Adam, Chava (Eve), Noah and Abraham and continues to honor them. For instance, who does the Jewish Bible call the Messiah? Jews only? No. The list includes a non-Jew, Cyrus the Great, King of Persia (Yeshayahu/Isaiah 45:1). The “deductive reasoning” in this article is so terrible that if a Jewish kid walked into yeshiva and repeated it he’d be kicked out for lack of intellectual capacity and for trying to corrupt religious Jews with hate, which is considered idolatry in religious Judaism. You can’t believe in G-d, acknowledge that He created every one of us, acknowledge that He is loving and compassionate, and then turn around and say He didn’t know what He was doing when it came to non-Jews, or imply that He did know what He was doing and made them hateful on purpose. Both of these positions are anti-Torah and anti-G-d. Just like this ridiculous article. Use the brain G-d gave you, and the courage He imbued you with to study our works in-depth at a yeshiva or a synagogue (yes, they’ll let you in if you call ahead, ask permission, and be up front about your intentions) and refute me. I’m not holding my breath though. If you had any courage to begin with, you would have written this article and presented it to us at a synagogue. Your readers are already like-minded. You think it’s us who need to change but we never see people like you hanging around our synagogues reading our literature and asking us questions. Because you lack the courage to face us, even though you call us your enemy. You’re cowards.

    ed note–utter, unadulterated Judaic bullshit on your part.

    In the first case, the word ‘neighbor’ within the Judaic lexicon is very specific as laid out in the book of Leviticus–

    ‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself’, making clear that it is fellow tribe members that qualify as ‘neighbor’, an issue that even Jesus Himself addressed in His parable of the Good Samaritan, where the Priest and the Levite refused to help the man who had been beaten and left for dead, but how the Samaritan did his duty in treating his fellow human with the compassion and respect that is deserved.

    Next, I suppose you could be forgiven for the aforementioned error were it not for the fact that your people have an entire laundry list of religious leaders who have rendered their opinion on non-Jews and their ‘worth’ as compared to Jews, not the least of whom was Israel’s one-time chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef who–shortly before he died and went to hell–made the very public pronouncement that Gentiles were created for one purpose and one purpose only, which was to serve the Jews, even going so far as to compare them to donkeys.

    Jesus had you people pegged right from the beginning, you are all born liars, murderers and thieves.

  3. #3 by David Ben-Zion on 02/11/2017 - 9:34

    More moronic “wisdom.” Not surprising. Who did Jesus mention in the parable of the Good Shomronim (Samaritan)? A Cohen (priest) and a Levi. Both of whom were Sadducees who were a murderous, corrupt regime that the Talmud mince no words in condemning. In fact, the Talmud explains exactly why Jesus made a whip of cords to overturn their tables. I’ll save the explanation and let you find it in the Talmud yourself since you’re such an “expert.” You should know exactly where to look. Incidentally, you coward, I notice that you’re unwilling to take me up on the offer to study the Talmud at a Jewish yeshiva or you would have addressed that. Jesus railed against corruption among the Sadducees primarily, but called out the Pharisees now and again for hypocrisy. Gee, who else in Jewish history did that? The Talmud. Which contains many statements about the hypocrisy of certain Pharisaic sects. Jesus’ murder was conducted by Sadducees who convened the Sanhedrin. That’s in the New Testament. Except, whoops the Sadducees don’t believe in the Oral Tradition, which the Sanhedrin was in charge of keeping. The Cohen Gadol (High Priest) only had the authority to convene the Sanhedrin. After that, protocol had to follow the Oral Tradition of the Torah, which he did not. If you knew the Talmud you could tell me exactly why in the New Testament no one answered the Cohen Gadol when he asked “What further need have we of witnesses?” Because any answer whatsoever would have been acknowledging the right of the Cohen Gadol to oversee the Sanhedrin, which right he did not have. Not just because he was a godless heretic, but also because he was a murderer. Why does the Talmud say the Second Temple was destroyed? Because of baseless hatred (although I’m sure you already knew that in your ineffable wisdom). Was Jesus a victim of baseless hatred? You bet he was. This is the reason there is a movement within religious Judaism right now to re-try him posthumously according to Torah law and declare him innocent of the charges the Sadducees wrongly condemned him to death for. And no, I don’t believe in Jesus at all. Or Yeshua, or whatever name you want to call him. But he was Jewish, and he was murdered unjustly, and true to Judaism’s morals we are actively working on undoing that historical wrong. As for Rav Ovadiah Yosef, this isn’t Christianity dingaling. He’s not the Pope. His opinion doesn’t count for squat outside of the mitzvot (commandments) and if he makes a jackass comment like that, no one, not a single Jew, is obligated to listen to that trash. So it’s nice that you like to butt into our nation and pick and choose what you want to see, but the truth will always come to the surface. Non-Jews are not the servants of Jews, or morally inferior to Jews, or inferior in any way and the Jewish Bible, as well as the Talmud and countless halakhic texts, is extremely clear on that. How come you have ZERO quotes from any of that literature? You’d make a great student of Rav Yosef’s because he clearly didn’t read any of our literature either before issuing his “statement.” Either that, or someone quoted him out of context. I don’t particularly care which one it is because I have my own personal copies of the Tanakh and the Talmud and I can read it in Hebrew and English for myself, and if the greatest rabbi in the world told me it’s Torah to hate non-Jews I’d laugh in his face and tell him to go sit with the idol-worshipers where he belongs. Maybe you have an open seat you can offer such an idiot. You guys would get along great.

    ed note–more Judaic mental illness–as well as the haughty, violent demeanor that is intrinsic to Judaism and Jewish thinking and behavior–on display for the entire world to see, just as has been the case for thousands of years.

    It was not the Sadducees, but the Pharisees who condemned Jesus to death, and yes, it is in the New Testament, a book which Jews despise as much as they do the very name of Jesus.

    The Talmud? Yes, we know all about it. We know all about what this ‘beautiful, enlightened book’ which you revere says about Gentiles, Jesus, and His blessed mother, and in the unlikely event you don’t know what your own book/religion teach on these matter, I recommend an extremely interesting book written by a Jewish professor, Dr. Peter Schaefer and published by Princeton University Press entitled ‘Jesus in the Talmud’.

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