“Love the Stranger as Yourself”

Dr. Ron Kronish

Dr. Ron Kronish

“The opening passages from the section in the Book of Leviticus known as the Holiness Code — Parashat K’doshim, which we will read in our synagogues this Saturday in Israel — begin with the words “You shall be holy” (Leviticus 19:2), and goes on to teach us in a very practical way what it means to be “holy.” These are undoubtedly among the most famous and most relevant passages in the Torah, and indeed, in all of world religions.

The organization I represent, the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, has partnered with the Scarboro Missions Interfaith Department in Toronto in publishing a poster which portrays the “Love your neighbor as yourself” statement as a major theme in no less than 12 of the world’s major religions!

A key question that has always interested me is: what is the meaning of the word “neighbor” in the statement “Love your neighbor as yourself. According to some commentators, the Hebrew word for “neighbor,” rei-acha, refers only to Jews. This view is supported by the context in which the phrase appears in the Torah, which can be translated as follows: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall not take revenge or feel resentment against the children of your people, you shall love your companion as yourself” (Leviticus 19:17-18). Looking carefully at this, it seems clear that “your companion” falls into the same category as “your brother” and “the children of your people,” all explicitly referring to one’s fellow Jews.”

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