Jewish Perspective on the Rights of Neighbors

· Judaism, Uncategorized

The wailing wall in Jerusalem

Source: Muslim Sunrise, Fall 2016 volume

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

The planet earth with its circumference of 25,000 miles with a population of 7.4 billion has shrunk into a global village and we are in ever greater need for mutual respect and compassion. In the world of social media, Facebook and Twitter and instantaneous news we are all neighbors to each other.

It is high time that the Muslims should be writing about compassion in Judaism and good things done by the Jewish people and we will soon find the gesture reciprocated by the Jewish writers finding compassion and love in the Holy Quran and the Hadith.

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).

What Rabbi Hillel so dramatically expressed certainly resonates with what is now popularly known as the Golden Rule, which is an integral part of the ethics of each and every religion of the world. The Golden Rule or law of reciprocity is the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated oneself. It is a maxim of altruism seen in almost every religion and culture. The maxim may appear as either a positive or a negative injunction governing conduct: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself or one should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.

The Jewish people had been enslaved for several centuries by the Egyptians and suffered to no end at their hands until they were rescued by Moses, may peace be on him, who parted the red sea for them on the final route to escape. The Holy Quran describes this struggle of Jewish people at length, for example, the Quran says:

“And call to mind when Moses said to his people, ‘Remember Allah’s favor upon you when He delivered you from Pharaoh’s people who afflicted you with grievous torment, slaying your sons and sparing your women; and in that there was a great trial for you from your Lord.’”

The Jewish ethic of treating the other, stranger or foreigner among them is grounded in this experience of suffering at the hands of the Egyptians. We read in the Old Testament: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt, and “You are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

“Many people think of Judaism as the religion of cold, harsh laws, to be contrasted with Christianity, the religion of love and brotherhood.” Writes Tracey R Rich in her blog titled Judaism 101, “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.”

Leviticus 19 has very extensive teachings on dealing fairly and compassionately towards the fellow beings especially the neighbors:

“Do not deceive one another.

Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.

Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.

Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.

Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

Do not go about spreading slander among your people.

Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.

Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

I have written detailed articles about emphasis on compassion in the Quran and in the Bible in general, Two Hundred Verses about Compassionate Living in the Quran and A Message of Compassion and Love from the Holy Bible.

The Old Testament is no exception.

In Isaiah 58, God makes his relationship with the Israelites conditional to compassionate treatment of the fellow beings. These golden words require to be quoted in their entirety:

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.

Raise your voice like a trumpet.

Declare to my people their rebellion

and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.

For day after day they seek me out;

they seem eager to know my ways,

as if they were a nation that does what is right

and has not forsaken the commands of its God.

They ask me for just decisions

and seem eager for God to come near them.

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,

‘and you have not seen it?

Why have we humbled ourselves,

and you have not noticed?’

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please

and exploit all your workers.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,

and in striking each other with wicked fists.

You cannot fast as you do today

and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,

only a day for people to humble themselves?

Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed

and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast,

a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

and your healing will quickly appear;

then your righteousness will go before you,

and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,

with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,

and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always;

he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land

and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden,

like a spring whose waters never fail.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins

and will raise up the age-old foundations;

you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,

Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”

There is a short article about Zionism in Encyclopedia Britannica, which defines it as follows: “Zionism, Jewish nationalist movement that has had as its goal the creation and support of a Jewish national state in Palestine, the ancient homeland of the Jews (Hebrew: Eretz Yisraʾel, ‘the Land of Israel’). Though Zionism originated in eastern and central Europe in the latter part of the 19th century, it is in many ways a continuation of the ancient attachment of the Jews and of the Jewish religion to the historical region of Palestine, where one of the hills of ancient Jerusalem was called Zion.”

The article describes the history of Zionism briefly starting in the 16th century.

“The strain of suppressing the Arab revolt of 1936–39, which was more extensive and sustained than earlier uprisings, ultimately led Britain to reassess its policies.” Encyclopedia Britannica describes the events leading up to the creation of Israel, “In hopes of keeping the peace between Jews and Palestinian Arabs and retaining Arab support against Germany and Italy in World War II, Britain placed restrictions on Jewish immigration in 1939. The new restrictions were violently opposed by Zionist underground groups such as the Stern Gang and Irgun Zvai Leumi, which committed acts of terrorism and assassination against the British and organized illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine.”

Is the present state of Israel and Zionism in general compatible with the Jewish teaching of the Golden Rule and treating the neighbor or the stranger as yourself?

I will leave it to the reader to gather further information, think honestly and clearly, applying the different narrations of the Golden Rule from different angles and decide for oneself.

Reference: Muslim-sunrise-fall-2016

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