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Conservative Judaism/is love of neighbor considered a command?


I heard someone preach that in Judaism there is no command to love one's neighbor, and it struck me as an unusual, probably untrue statement.

Dear Greg,

Thank you for asking a good question.

I can't speak for anyone else and their interpretation of Leviticus 19:18. "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the Lord."   

In my opinion, the text of the Five Books of Moses is clearly an injunction: 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.   The point is repeated in Leviticus 19:34: love [the stranger] as thyself.

One of my teachers and former Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, wrote concerning this verse:

"... Torah enunciates two complementary precepts that constitute a still unsurpassed ethic of interpersonal and inter-group relations.

"The first is the justly famous and oldest formulation of the Golden Rule. From the context and choice of words it may not be quite as universal as we intend it to be when we quote it with pride. "You shall not hate your kinsman in your heart... You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:18)." The emphasis on "kinsman" and "kinsfolk" strongly suggests an injunction restricted to the affairs between members of the same ethnic group, though we should not make light of such a limitation. There is no assurance that just because two Jews are joined by common ancestry or religion that their dealings will be governed by respect and empathy. Given the religious polarization that prevails today in Jewish life it is not unimaginable that someday we will be treated to a halakhic ruling that the organs of an Orthodox donor may be donated only if they go to ameliorate the life of an Orthodox recipient. That is sadly the principle that already dictates philanthropy in much of the Orthodox community.

"But the Torah adds a second demand of us that significantly expands the ethical horizon: Israelite society will most likely harbor a mixed ethnic population; what sort of treatment is to be meted out to non–Israelites? Unequivocally the same as to members of the dominant nation. The Torah repudiates any notion of a double standard: "When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19:33–34)."

"This inclusive commandment marks the pinnacle of biblical ethics, the critical extension of the Golden Rule. The language is strikingly similar to that used above with reference to other Israelites. Both Israelites and non–Israelites are to be classified as citizens of the state and treated with equal magnanimity, because that is God's will. And as if that were not quite cogent enough, the experience of Egyptian slavery is invoked to reinforce the ideal. We must never forget the tears we shed when we were oppressed. It is precisely the difficulty of loving the other, the person least like us, which prompts the Torah to repeat this particular law more than any other. True justice has to include the most vulnerable member of society, the outsider."

Best wishes and let the world be filled not just with love but with respect for one another, now and for all time.

Rabbi Dov

Conservative Judaism

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Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner


Write to me with questions about Jewish customs and law, history, philosophy and tradition for answers from a Conservative perspective or conversion. I am a graduate of The Jewish Theological Seminary and a member of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly. Having served in congregational pulpits since 1970, I now am President of the Foundation For Family Education, Inc. a non-profit educational endeavor. I established it to create new formats of hands-on programs and provide free educational downloads at In addition to general informational questions I welcome your questions about programs for social action, outreach to dual-faith families, inter-faith clergy projects, healing services, education for conversion, adult education for the congregation and the community. If you have questions about Informal and Formal Education I am ready to share my extensive experience with Youth Activities, Camping and Religious School/Hebrew High School on a congregational, community and national/international level.


I have served on the National Youth Commission for more than 25 years and serve on the Boards of the Conservative Zionist movement MERCAZ and the World Council of Synagogues. I have always dual-families and taught candidates for conversion with a great sense of fulfillment. I am very proud of 25 years on the Jewish camping staff of Camps Ramah. My greatest source of pride is my family! Ask me about them, please!:-)

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