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A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 2: Love Your Neighbor as Yourselfby Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
Synopses & Reviews
THE MAJOR PRINCIPLE OF THE TORAH
The central commandment
1. Even though the Torah ascribes no special significance to the verse Love your neighbor as yourself, Jewish sources have long understood this commandment as having special-and in some ways preeminent—significance. Rabbi Akiva (second century) declared that the injunction to love your neighbor is the major principle of the Torah (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:4).
2. More than a century before Akiva, Hillel presented a negative formulation of this law, What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. He also declared this to be Judaism's central teaching: “This is the whole Torah All the rest is commentary (Shabbat 31a).* Occasionally, I have heard people describe Hillel's formulation of the Golden Rule as representing a lower, more pragmatic ethic than the positive but vaguely phrased Love your neighbor. But, in fact, Hillel was concerned with offering people practical guidance on how to make this law part of their daily behavior, and he understood that it is first necessary to teach people what not to do.
In defining Judaism initially by what one shouldn't do, Hillel may have been emulating God’s articulation of the Ten Commandments. Thus, my friend Dr. Isaac Herschkopf notes that God did not command us to be honest, truthful, and faithful. Rather, He commanded us, ‘Don't steal,’ ‘Don’t bear false witness, ' ‘Don’t commit adultery.’ It might be less positive, but it is undeniably more effective.
*For more on the significance of moral behavior within Judaism, see A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 1: You Shall Be Holy, pages 10-25.
A 1980s experiment conducted with American sixth-graders addressed young people's differing responses to positive and negative formulations of the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have others do unto you). Educator Ron Rembert asked the students to compose two lists, one consisting of actions they would want others to do for them, the others of actions they would not want done. Their list of Do's was short, focusing primarily on “love,” respect, and “help.” Their list of “Don'ts” was longer, and included “Don’t hit . . . steal . . . laugh at . . . snub . . . cheat. Rembert pointed out that the list of ‘Don'ts’ . . . included specific behaviors which are relatively easy to identify while] the list of ‘Do's’ . . . focused upon general attitudes and behaviors which are more difficult to define. Professor Jeffrey Wattles cited this study in his book The Golden Rule, and noted that The students concluded that the negative version of the Golden Rule would be easier to follow than the positive version.1
3. The centrality of love in Jewish teachings also characterizes many post-talmudic texts. To cite but one example: The medieval Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu attributes to God one crucial request from the Jewish people: This is what the Holy One said to Israel: ‘My children, what do I want from you? I want no more than that you love one another and treat one another with dignity.'
4. In the Torah, the commandment to love is immediately preceded by prohibitions against taking revenge and bearing a grudge. At some point, we all hurt other people-intentio
Presents the first major code of Jewish ethics to be written in English, offering examples from the Torah, the Talmud, rabbinic commentaries, and modern stories to show how ethical teachings can influence daily behavior.
The first volume in a three-part guide to the role of ethics in Judaism focuses on how to care for one another in our daily lives--and such corollaries as hospitality, charity, visiting the sick, tolerance, and end-of-life issues--using examples from the Torah, rabbinic commentaries, and modern-day stories to illustrate the influence of ethics on everyday life. 20,000 first printing.
Jewish thinkers don't talk all that much about love. All too often we leave that to Christian theologians. But in this excellent volume, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin puts the commandment to love at the center of Jewish theology and experience. This
Table of Contents
v. 1. You shall be holy — v. 2. Love your neighbor as yourself.
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