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Compationin Jewish trdition Better Title: Jewish Universalism, in the Jewish Tradition, as Based Upon the Pronouncements of Jewish Sages

jan peczkis|Thursday, July 28, 2016

This work is an impressive collection of positive Jewish statements about gentiles. For instance, righteous non-Jews deserve a place in the World to Come (SANHREDRIN 105a). (p. 131). Maharal of Prague (1512-1609) taught that he shared the blessings that he got from God with all humankind. (p. 126). According to Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi, God’s promise, to wipe away the tears from all faces, includes the faces of non-Jews as well as Jews. (p. 156).

Better Title: Jewish Universalism, in the Jewish Tradition, as Based Upon the Pronouncements of Jewish Sages By Jan Peczkis on September 1, 2015 Format: Hardcover I knew what this book was about, before getting it, only because I saw it mentioned in response to the exclusivist aspects of Jews as the Chosen People of God. However, the unsuspecting reader may erroneously think that this is a book about Jewish philanthropy, and related topics. It is not.

This book also features Jewish concepts of the Messiah and of the Messianic age, especially its universalism. For instance, it interprets Isaiah 53 as describing the antecedent sufferings of the Jewish people, and interprets Isaiah 11 in a purely allegorical manner. Thus, according to this interpretation, the lion and the lamb dwelling together refer to Israel’s warlike neighbors, and Israel, living in peace. (p. 153).


A small portion of this book consists of the universalist verses in the Old Testament and the Talmud. As an example of Talmudic citations, Sears (p. 31) quotes BERAKOT 17a, which speaks of Jews living in peace with gentiles as well as non-Jews. He also (p. 29) quotes GITTIN 61a, which commands Jews to provide for the non-Jewish poor as well as the Jewish poor, to visit non-Jews as well as Jews when they are sick, and to attend the funerals of non-Jews as well as Jews, “for these are the ways of peace.” However, the unmentioned preceding verse, in GITTIN 61a, as written in the online Babylonian Talmud (Soncino version), says “to avoid ill feeling”. In addition, the portion quoted by Sears ends with “in the interests of peace”, instead of “for these are the ways of peace.” What, if anything, does all this mean? Sears does not say.

Most of this book consists of quotes and citations from 50 Jewish universalist-oriented thinkers, all of whom had lived many centuries after the Talmud had been written down, and quite a few of whom had lived in fairly recent times. Author David Sears includes biographical paragraphs of these Jewish thinkers. (pp. 199-218). Perhaps one shortcoming of this book is that it does not put the development of Jewish universalism in historical context. For this reason, I have done so, for the benefit of the reader. I have taken the 50 Jewish thinkers, and apportioned them by date of birth. Of these, 13 were born between 1000 and 1300 AD or CE. None were born between 1300 or 1400, and 2 were born between 1400 and 1500. The remainder were born in modern times. Of these, 9 were born between 1500 and 1700. The remainder were born during and after the Enlightenment. Of these, 10 were born between 1700 and 1800, 14 were born between 1800 and 1900, and 2 were born after 1900. (The latter, and total of 50, does not include quoted contemporaries, such as R. Ahron Soloveitchik and Menachem M. Schneerson.)


Author David Sears devotes an entire chapter (pp. 41-on) in rebuttal to the claim that Judaism allows Jews to cheat, or steal from, gentiles. For example, he quotes from Rabbi Moshe Rikvah (1595-1761), who had lived in Wilno (Vilnius) during the Cossack revolts, and then was forced to move to Amsterdam. (p. 213). Rikvah said that, (quote) “I write this for future generations: I have seen many people become wealthy by causing non-Jews to err in business in order to gain profit thereby. However, they did not remain successful, in the end, all their wealth was confiscated by the government, and their descendants were left without an inheritance.” (unquote). (p. 43).


Here are some excerpts, from the author, on this subject, (quote) I have always found it difficult to understand the statement of our Sages that whenever the Torah uses the term ADAM (man), it refers only to Israel (YEVAMOS 61a)…The Talmud also teaches that non-Jews possess the Divine image (AVOS 3:14)…The medieval Talmudic scholars of France (BAALEI TOSEFOS) in their glosses on the Talmudic passage cited above point out that the collective singular HA-ADAM (man), with the definite article, does include non-Jews. If non-Jews are not designated by the term ADAM, why should the definite article make a difference? (unquote). (pp. 131-132).

The justification for the conflation of Jews with ADAM is summarized by Sears, with the items in parentheses and brackets done by the author, (quote) From this point of view, it would be inappropriate to call all people ADAM. Adam was so named because he was formed of the earth (Hebrew: ADAMAH), whereas the rest of his descendants were born of flesh and blood. [That is, he was formed directly by God; the rest of mankind was formed through natural procreation.] Israel alone deserves to be called by this name---not because of greater honor, but because, like Adam, all that happened to them, as well as their spiritual perfection, was the doing of the Holy One, blessed is He, Himself, and not primarily the result of their own endeavor. (unquote). (p. 135). In addition, (quote) HA-ADAM (with the definite article) refers to all mankind; for we are all rational beings who possess the Divine image, Jews and non-Jews alike. (unquote). (p. 136).
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