Judaism and the Golden Rule

Intrinsic to Judaism is the belief that everyone is made in G-d’s image and therefore we must treat all with humanity. This has been reinforced throughout the ages, as this Talmudic tale attests:

Once there was a gentile who came before Shammai, and said to him:

“Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.”

BABYLONIAN TALMUD. credit: exhibits.library.gwu.edu

Shammai pushed him aside with the measuring stick he was holding. The same fellow came before Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying:

“That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.”  – Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a

From an early age, Jewish children are taught that they must be kind to others, whatever their religion, and help those less fortunate. The results of this teaching are nowhere more evident than the strong tradition of philanthropy within Judaism. Sadly, with the advent of other religions competing for adherents, Judaism was often villified and our G-d – the same one Christians worship – was often painted as a tyrannical deity.

The following website explains well Judaism’s ethical base:

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.

A large part of Jewish law is about treating people with kindness… 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 good deed.

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” . .. 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, and whose teachings sound 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.

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.

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… 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.

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.

So when Jesus preached about loving your neighbour, he was simply following what he had heard from his rabbis, and not pronouncing anything new; after all, he lived and died an observant Jew. We assume that the Judaic basis of these concepts is fully understood, but sadly, even those who should know better fall into the trap of denying the Golden Rule originated from Judaism. For instance, Andrew Bolt’s recent article repeated the canard that this rule stems exclusively from Christianity:

Malcolm Turnbull is very right to reach out to Australian Muslims.  He is wrong, though, to tell untruths to non-Muslims.

And the Prime Minister, a Catholic, is particularly wrong to suggest a key moral teaching of Christianity – a “golden rule” – is that of Islam, too.

Turnbull urged “mutual respect” between Muslim and non-Muslim Australians, even though most of the disrespect so far – as measured by bomb plots, sieges and attacks on police – seem to come from the extremist Muslim side.

Still, mutual respect is indeed critical if we’re not going to kill each other, so give Turnbull credit for at least winning the trust of many Muslim leaders.

But to back his appeal he added this:

“Every religion, every faith, every moral doctrine, understands the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Too many of us have forgotten how Christianity shaped our society and are blind to how the Koran created radically different societies.

If we don’t understand those things, we’re clueless in dealing with the cultural clash we’ve so recklessly imported into our own suburbs.

What Turnbull claims is the “Golden Rule” of all faiths, is in fact a direct quotation from only one – from the Christians’ New Testament.

Luke’s Gospel quotes the alleged words of Jesus Christ himself:

“Love your enemies … If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also … Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

These are powerful words of immense resonance in Christian countries.

It’s this ideal that gives such moral weight to Turnbull’s offer of “mutual respect” to a community which has produced 21 jihadists jailed for terrorism offences, and three more shot dead during attacks.

But contrast Christ’s “golden rule” and turning of the cheek with the Koran’s commands to strike hard at the enemy:

“The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger … will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land.”

True, the sacred Hadith do quote the Muslims’ prophet Muhammad, founder of their faith, stating:

“None of you have faith until you love for your neighbour what you love for yourself.”

But that version of the “golden rule” seems limited to fellow Muslims, and has been interpreted that way by many scholars for many centuries.

In vivid contrast, Christ would not let his disciples fight even to save him from capture and crucifixion.

There is another critical difference between the two religions that has helped set up this clash here of Christian and Muslim cultures.

The Jesus of the Gospels drew a line between church and state, which is why the Christian West has secular governments, not religious ones such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, which even bans the public practice of Christianity.

As John’s Gospel notes: “Jesus replied,

‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews’.”

In the Koran, the message is very different. Muslims should live under Muslim law where possible:

“Allah hath sent down no authority: the command is for none but Allah …”

True, many Muslims do not live up to these ideals and don’t want to, either.

But it is foolish to pretend these Koranic teachings don’t exist or aren’t influential.

For instance, ISIS quoted holy scripture at least 25 times in its infamous statement last year ordering Muslims around the world to kill unbelievers – to

“smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car”.

Those quotations included this, from the Koran:

“Kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush.”

Last week gave another example of Muslim preachers citing the Koran to urge the killing of unbelievers.

Israel’s Jews have suffered a wave of stabbings by young Muslims over the past fortnight.

On Tuesday alone there were four attacks. In the worst, two men boarded a public bus, locked the doors and shot and stabbed passengers, killing two.

In another, a driver rammed his car into people at a bus stop and jumped out to hack at his victims with a knife, killing an elderly rabbi.

What motivates such savagery?

Here’s a clue. Giving the Friday sermon last week at the Al-Abrar Mosque in the Gaza strip, Sheik Muhammad Sallah waved around a knife and shouted for Muslims to stab Israeli Jews.

“Attack in threes and fours,”

he bellowed, and

“cut them into body parts. Some should restrain the victim, while others attack him with axes and butcher knives.”

And to justify this slaughter he quoted the example of Muhammad himself —

“recall what He did to them in Khaybar”

— in attacking and subjugating a Jewish tribe in a battle in 629.

Yes, moderate Muslims insist other parts of the Koran invalidate the passages quoted by extremists.

Good luck to them. Let’s back their attempts to reform Islam and make it safe for our multi-religious secular democracy. But to reform Islam we must first admit there is something to reform. We cannot pretend, as Turnbull does, that Islam is as cheek-turning as Christianity.

By saying

“What Turnbull claims is the “Golden Rule” of all faiths, is in fact a direct quotation from only one – from the Christians’ New Testament”,

Bolt is ignoring the origin of the Golden Rule, and the fact that Jesus lived and died a Jew, so was influenced by the rabbis, among whom he lived .

While Bolt acknowledges that Jews in Israel are at the forefront of killings by Islamists, surely he could have also acknowledged Christianity’s debt to Judaism without invalidating his point – that Islam does not have a Golden Rule?



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One comment

  1. No one could argue that important ethical principles do not form the basis of our civilised world and I accentuate CIVILISED. Exacerbating certain traditional “beliefs”, such as the so called golden rule, falls well into desuetude when we are reminded – so often these days or how often each day – of the habitual failings of so many of those who make up our world.
    In practical terms, the degree of necessary selfishness – mark the notion – is founded on the lack of consideration of fellow man and only fairly restricted norms also known as laws of social conduct, keep most of us on the right path. I may be called now something new, such as beastly inconsiderate, but the massive wave of “refugees” crossing Europe from the ME are driven in the main by the principle that they are doing to us what we would not do to them. Similarly, any religious belief distinct from ours is predicated on doing to themselves what we would not do to ourselves and so on. Spite, distancing of mores, beliefs and core beliefs are the main engine opf a free society, one in which each individual is allowed, indeed encouraged to pursue his convictions upon the way their lives, society itself ought ot be ordained. Few, very few points of convergence are being observed, just enough to keep a certain social “harmony” afloat, otherwise I would feel comfortable to organise at least once a week a massive Jewish, pro Israel demo through the main boulevards of Sydney relying on unmanageable crowds from all walks of non Jewish life, not to mention minimum ten thousand of our own Yids.
    Here I need to define “necessary selfishness” : if we do not do upon ourselves what the others would be loathed of doing onto themselves , the others would only enjoy tremendously our demise – has vsholem !!!-.