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Jewish and Christian Ethics/Chapter VII

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Chapter VII

Universal Charity

Qualities of the Universal Charity of Judaism.—Not to be found in Christian Charity.—Unity of Man's Origin.—The Worth and Results of the Doctrine in the Teachings of the Pharisees.—Man made after God's Image; Value of the Doctrine.—Unity of Destiny.—Moses and Sophonias.—History of the Primitive Ages.—Humanitarian Character of the Prophecies; Can be traced in the Laws.—Justice and Charity equal for all.—Universal Charity of the Pharisees.—Circumstances that Enhance its Value.—Salvation to all Men.—Idea of Man.—Humanitarian Ideas of the Pharisees.—Gentile Greatness equal to that of the High Priest.—Universal Love, Respect for Life, Property, and Reputation.—Restrictions.—Political Enemy.—Christ has Created the Religious Enemy.

If Christianity has sacrificed all for universal charity, has it, at least, succeeded in giving us the incomparable ideal for which it is credited? Has it transcended in this respect the teachings of Judaism, that have, withal, not infringed on the places and rights of country and society? We dare assert that, in spite of the enormous sacrifices it has made, it gives us an idea of universal charity far less grand than that bequeathed us by Judaism. And we may risk the assertion that the latter, by preserving the rights of country and society, has made charity more active (if possible), more tender, more humane, and in short, more charitable. Christianity sees in man but man in the abstract, or even at most but the Christian. But what does the Hebrew not see in him! Man, his brother, created like himself in the image of God, the worshiper of the same God, though he be not a disciple of Moses, a father, brother, son; a member, in short, of a family, and above all one that has a country, a nationality;—and as the Jew himself is also a citizen, one of a nation, he can sympathize with the affections appertaining to citizenship and nationality, with the joys and sorrows, virtues and heroisms these relations beget. In a word, Judaism presents a new point of contact for men; by multiplying relations, it doubles, triples universal charity; and, instead of the dry abstraction, man, that Christianity would have us love, it gives its adherents something more real, more alive and similar to ourselves something with affections and wants like our own—a father, a citizen, a patriot.

But leaving these restricted considerations of man's character, should Judaism envy Christian ethics? We need but call to mind one important doctrine, one that is more peculiar to Judaism than to any religion or to any nation, one that is the essential base of universal charity, and without which no philosophy can ever succeed in transfusing man's heart with that tender brotherly love, which is its direct consequence—and that is unity of origin. Let us remember that long before liberty and equality were spoken of, Israelitic tradition showed how eminently favorable was this great doctrine to these two principles among men. "Why," say in the Talmud, these much-misunderstood Pharisees, "has man got but one origin? It is first, that no one may say to another, 'my father is greater than thine;'[1] and secondly, that no people or family may, with justification, put another in subjection." Alas! how many such tyrannies have we not in the world! How would it be if each people and race had a separate origin? But mankind from the same parents, how shall that be? And their children all similar in appearance? A grand thought, and one that Genesis, of all books esteemed by men, alone contains.

Man has been created in like image of God; he is the king of creation; all ought obey him, that he may ennoble and spiritualize all, by leaving on them traces of the mould from which he himself was struck. Is this representation an exaggeration on our part, or is it truly according to the meaning of the strict Mosaic text? These inimitable doctrines are like the sun, the sky, and other wonders of creation—ever before us, ever familiar to us, and therefore scarce any longer objects of our admiration—otherwise the august ideas that Judaism expresses would forever call forth our unqualified wonder and respect.

There are, however, two important considerations which cannot but enhance the value of these doctrines. The one is the time, the atmosphere wherein they were enunciated; the other, the people to whom they were addressed, and the end sought in diffusing them. Truth herself must indeed have inspired the Hebrew lawgiver, if, in the midst of a people who accounted all close to their frontiers as enemies and barbarians, he was bold enough to proclaim a doctrine that went in the very teeth of that exclusionism in which each nation had entrenched itself. And this people, what was its character? Here it is that the humanitarian side of Israel's existence shines forth. We can easily comprehend that Moses might communicate his great ideas respecting the unity of our origin, the grandeur of man and of his destiny, to some tried disciple, to a school, or, better still, to missionaries who would force them on the attention of an ignorant world. Now had this Jewish people whom he was about to mould, anything of this character? Was it not, in its turn, about to become one of the nations of the East, to have a distinct existence, and interests and rights to defend from the constant inroads of its neighbors? Had it not yet to pass through many ages before it could practice the great principles taught it by Moses, or even suspect the fine fruit they could bear? Unquestionably, this universal fraternity, this unity of origin, found on the front of Genesis, have no visible connection with the immediate future of Judaism, and seem to be but dim reminiscences of Paradise existing in the midst of the bloody strifes of national egotisms; or, to speak with more precision, it appears evidently like a coupling-stone to which the non-political side of Mosaism, the religious and moral one, held as to one of its chief stays. But there is another unity which Judaism taught later to men; that is, the unity of future. It is the necessary supplement to unity of origin, destined to be one day the final terminus of this latter. At the beginning of history, the unity of Moses, the unity of the past; at its end, the unity of Sophonias, the unity of the future. The first is natural unity, the foundation of the other; the second is free moral unity,—a unity of love, faith, thought,—the result at once and the crown of the former. Moses is the prophet of the first, of man one; Zephaniah (Sophonias) of humanity one, of the collective Adam; and he gives, in the spirit of Moses, the justest formula of this doctrine, saying: At that time I shall make the lips of people pure lips, that they may all call on the name of the Eternal, and worship him with one spirit. (Zep. iii. 9.) Is this idea that the Jews were to form of man's origin and of universal fraternity, borne out by the history of the first ages narrated to them by Moses?

It would be unjust to deny that Judaism alone, of all ancient creeds, has given men the history of their origin, of the first ages, and of the various subdivisions of mankind. And besides laying the first stone of that great ethnological structure which has been so expanded in our days, it has revealed, by this very service, its great moral and humanitarian side, and the destiny of this book become universal.

But is not the God whom Moses announces, the God of all men? Are not his justice and care dispensed equally to all? Does he not, in the Mosaic history, interpose continually, avenging fratricide, drowning a corrupt generation, giving Noah laws, directions, which, far from being confined to that people to be formed by Moses, are the inheritance of all mankind.

Is it not "with all his posterity," that God declares to Noah, he established his covenant? (Gen. ix. 9). Is the God of Abraham a fetish, a local, national God, like other gods? Or rather the God of heaven and earth? (Gen. xiv. 22). Does not the great patriarch become his prophet and apostle? Does he not importune God on behalf of those wicked people of the plains, with whom his family had no affinity whatever? Does not God himself tell him of his intention respecting these sinners; because, according to the Doctors, it is unworthy of God to punish the children without telling their father, namely, Abraham, called by the same Pharisees, the father of all nations?[2] Is not Joseph made to utter language that reveals a Providence ever directing the destiny of nations? "It is God," says he, "who overruled your actions in order to save a great people."[3]

And why are those Canaanites driven before Israel, from their land? It is here that the God of Moses reveals himself as the just God, the God of all men, dealing to the Jew the same justice as to the Canaanite—a doctrine unheard of, incomprehensible, in those early days, and which Judaism alone has made the world understand. Take care, says Moses, that you be not guilty of the same sins and corruptions as are those nations whom you are about to drive out. For, deceive not yourselves, it is neither your virtue nor equity of claim, that gives you the inheritance; it is their iniquity on one side, and on another the oath that God swore to your fathers. Moreover, said he, "if you imitate them the earth will spew you out, as it did them." (Deut. ix. 5; Lev. xviii. 24 and seq.)

Shall we speak of laws? They could not be more charitable, they could not better unite the national existence and particular life of Israel to a love and charity towards all men. Is it nothing that these Gentiles were permitted like the holiest Israelites to offer sacrifices on the altar of the Lord? This is indeed why Moses solicits Pharaoh (Ex. x. 25), this is what the Mosaic laws expressly provide for, requiring the same perfection in the animals from the Pagans as in those from the Israelites; this is what Solomon nobly expresses, when he supplicates God to hear the prayers of the Gentile and stranger (Nochri) who should adore him in the temple he built.[4] Shall we lightly esteem that peaceful sojourn in Palestine assured to the Pagan, on the sole condition of his not worshiping idols, and leaving him at full and complete liberty for aught else; a liberty that extends sometimes to idolatry (as say the Pharisees), as in the case of the female captive who might publicly adore her gods in Palestine.[5] And this may be clearly inferred from the text (Lev. xxv. 39) where not only is the sojourn of the stranger anticipated, but his possible want, too, in a strange land, which, with paternal solicitude, Israel is required to relieve; as also to regard "him as a proselyte (gher), or merely (according to the Pharisees) as the Pagan (toschab) who dwells in Palestine on the fore-mentioned condition; and he is called by the tender name, thy brother, (achikha), better than neighbor. But this is not all. "Beware not to take interest in any form, from him; but fear God and act so that thy brother can live with thee." We need scarcely say that if this Pagan is a slave, the same legislation applies to him as to the Jew: in the year of Jubilee he infallibly regains his liberty. But, what appears incredible, this same Pagan, this breaker of the Sabbath, this public transgressor, can, with the full sanction of the law, buy an Israelite and hold him as a slave until the Jubilee year. And what is as extraordinary as certain, the law of Moses regulates all these cases, as: An Israelite may be sold to an idolater and in Palestine;—nay—even to the idol itself, to its temple and worship; and tradition (the Pharisees) not only has no objection to make, but authorizes this interpretation of the text, in itself very obscure. To the Pharisees is indeed due this interpretation of Leviticus (xxv. 47): The family of the proselyte is the idolater, the idol itself, to be served, not by adoration or God-worship, but by cutting wood and drawing water for its use. (Vide Sifra and Racshi).

We do not mention the remarkable details of these laws, the exhortations given to the Jewish slave of the idolater, not to imitate his master, not to say: "My master worships images; I shall do likewise. My master breaks the Sabbath; so shall I"—to do so would lead us too far from our subject.

The laws protecting the stranger and full of lore and charity towards him, are everywhere mentioned: Love the stranger as yourselves (Kamokha); for you have been strangers in the land of Egypt, for you know the mind of the stranger, his sufferings and humiliations;—words as noble as significant, for they make us see in this stranger naught but a man, of a religion, morality, and origin diverse from those of the Israelites, just as were the latter from those of the Egyptians. Not to deceive, not to oppress him, not to withhold unjustly his earnings, being in the same relation to us absolutely as a brother. Admirable teaching of the Pharisees, and of them only. Not to give him up to his master, not even to an Israelite, if he has escaped from him in a strange land and seeks an asylum with Israel: let him dwell with us and be free; let no Israelite dare to trouble or to cheat him. All this again through the Pharisees. Is not the needy stranger ranked with the poor, the widows and orphans of Israel? Do they not invoke for him, too, the benefit (better than charity) of a right which the law establishes for all,—the tenth part, the corner of the field, and the dropped ears of corn?

We have seen the spirit, not only of the Mosaic law, but of the Pharisaical interpretation—these eternally persecuted Pharisees, the objects of implacable hate—and who, notwithstanding, with impassive heart, with serene and immovable spirit, maintain all that is visibly humanitarian in the Mosaic law, and by exhibiting it under a new aspect, and revealing its many-sidedness, bring at last Hebrew charity, human fraternity, into high relief.

Let us now see the Pharisees alone at work, free from all trammels of interpretation, enunciating in the intimacy of instruction, the most independent doctrines, whose publication among the Gentiles, in our modern Europe, they could never have foreseen. Well, these hypocritical Pharisees, of narrow views, ignoble ambition, without heart, enthusiasm, or genius, are not, as we shall see, the Pharisees of history; they are the Pharisees of the Gospel, or rather (what has been best proven) the pseudo Pharisees, taxed, by the true Pharisees, in their oldest books, with hypocrisy. Is it at all wonderful that Jesus should have taught a just, liberal, and generous ethics, and that, by degrees, the world should have entered into the plan of the Gospel? Was Christianity not naturally driven by its failure even with the Jews, to break down the barrier that hitherto separated it from the Gentiles, and to substitute for that refractory Israel—that rebel to the new faith, something, in good sooth, less stubborn? And, above all, had Christianity to contend, like the Pharisees, against the perpetual revolts of the national sentiment from the doctrine of love and charity towards all men? No! To love the Greek, the Roman, or the barbarian, the Christian had not to stifle the bitterest memories of old or recent wrongs; or to shut his eyes to the disgrace or enslavement of his country, he, who found one wherever he went, at Jerusalem no less than at Athens or Rome. Should a good thought, a noble doctrine then, have the same value coming from the Christian as from the Jew? Assuredly not. If historical criticism is just, it must admit that whenever Hebrew charity disengages itself from a thousand obstacles, a thousand adverse sentiments, it rises spontaneously to those heights where all men appear equal. For the doctrine itself is too old, too rooted in the hearts of men to disown it, and men are too loyal, too generous to do so. Is it nothing that these Pharisees in the time of Caligula, Tiberias, and Nero, have seriously debated if the Pagan, keeping his religion, could be saved, provided he acknowledged God and observed the moral laws? Is it nothing, above all, that the affirmative doctrine prevailed in the synagogue (conformable to the belief of all Israel to-day), that Socrates, Plato, and Marcus Aurelius, should have their places in Paradise by the same title as Abraham, Isaac, or Moses? Is it naught that the Pagan, the idolater, should be esteemed as neighbor, towards whom fraud is strictly forbidden; that one law prohibits the robbery of Jew or Pagan; that they have been so scrupulous as to forbid their inoffensive methods of gaining the good will and esteem of the idolater, to which, we already made allusion; that they extended the Mosaic prohibition of hating the Egyptian, to all the nations who gave Israel an asylum, even while they persecuted him, and this by reason of that fine maxim: "Throw no stone into the well from which thou hast drawn"; that they have exhorted us to succor the poor, to visit the sick, to bury the Pagan dead—an example followed by the primitive Christians? Who but the Pharisees would have told us—the Mosaic text being silent thereupon—that the seventy bulls sacrificed during the eight days of Tabernacles, were propitiatory offerings for the seventy nations supposed to be on the earth? The Pharisees alone discovered the motive, they who applied to Israel the words of the Psalm: For my love they persecute me, and I pray for them; adding: These are the seventy bulls that were at that time sacrificed, so that the world should not lose one of them;[6] and who said: Oh! if the nations but knew how serviceable to them is the house of God! they would have fortified it all around that it might not be touched.[7] And who, moreover, comparing Israel to a dove, give us an idea transcending anything in the Gospels: Thine eyes resemble the dove's; as the dove gives its neck to the slayer, so does Israel; as the dove is made a sin-offering, so Israel atones for the sins of the nations, giving the seventy bulls sacrificed during Tabernacles as an atonement for the Gentiles.[8] And what a noble sentiment is couched in these words: Man, created in God's image, how loved is he by him! That love shown him, to be created in that image.[9] And think not their thought extends but to the Israelite; to him the Talmud immediately after gives a special dignity in the title, Son. And is the perfection obtained by the study and practice of the divine law, promised to the Jews only? Not so! These are the precepts, said Moses, whose practice gives life to man. Does the text, ask the Pharisees, say that the priest, the Levite, the Israelite shall live by the law? No! it says man, that is the Gentile himself. Without being a convert to Judaism, without even troubling himself about the Mosaic law, provided he studies and practises natural morality, he may equal in dignity the high priest of Judaism. We may boldly say that they never omit an opportunity of illustrating the universality and eminent humanitarianism of their ethics, at the risk even of compromising the election of Israel, his rights or national prejudices.[10] Could more be required of the highest spirit? Not in vain did David say: "This is the law for man, O Eternal! " (II. Sam. vii. 19). The Pharisees seize the sentence, force from it all its consequences, even those that perhaps its author did not intend. Law of man, they say, and not of priest, Levite, or Jew. Isaiah (xxvi. 2) says: "Open the doors, and let good men enter, them who uphold their faith." And the Pharisees, commenting on the word goy, (nation) say that the reference is not to Jews merely, but to man in general, let the creed or nationality be what it may. "O ye just, praise the Lord," says David (Ps. xxxiii. 1). To this, also, the Pharisees give the same wide interpretation, asserting that the term tzaddikim (the Just) takes in all mankind. And in the 125th Psalm (ver. 5) we read: "O Eternal, heap thy blessings on the just, them who have a good heart!" Another occasion for the Pharisees: The Just! the Just in general. But this is not all; the Tanna debe[Rebe?] Eliahou advances a step: I call heaven and earth to witness! Manor woman, freeman or slave, Jew or Pagan, according to their works alone shall the holy spirit come to them. They point to Aaron as a model, inviting us to have his love towards men and to lead them to the Law. To hate them would be to give up life. Love for humanity knows no restrictions; we should love idolators even. And who say so? The Cabalists.

This love should not be sterile. The austere Schammai himself bends to the great Judaic truth and teaches: Study the Law, and welcome all men with respect. And according to R. Ismael we should welcome them with joy. And how solicitous are they respecting a man's honor! "Let thy neighbor's honor be as dear to thee as is thine own"[11]—" Despise no one."[12] R. Mathia Ben Harasch and R. Johanan, two ancient doctors, boasted that they had never waited for another's salutation, were it an idolater's even. And elsewhere: Who is truly honorable? He who honors his fellow-creatures. As to property: Let the property of thy fellow-man be for thee as sacred as thine own. "Shouldst thou find thine enemy's ox or ass strayed," said Moses, "thou shalt bring it him;" and that, says R. Yoschia, though he be a pagan or idolater. If the civil law allows usury from the Gentiles, the moral law, through the Pharisees, forbids it: and one of them, a witness, doubtless, if not a victim of pagan cruelties, after seeing at the circus the massacre of his brethren, entered the Bet hamidrasch and taught: Thou shalt not lend on usury even to a stranger.[13]

Does this, However, mean that Judaism knows no one as enemy and never felt hate? No! and we do not blush to say so, We should not sacrifice the truth, say the Pharisees, even on the altar of the Lord, for the language and memorable examples of the prophets prove but one thing, that God hates, above all, hypocrisy. Yes, the Jew has, or (to speak more accurately) had an enemy, the political one. The Jew, who loved dearly his country, was the natural enemy of all who conspired against it. For such, no truce, no peace, no pardon, as long as there was danger. Against these were the exceptional measures, the martial laws, the terrible decrees, of which we read in the law of Moses or in the books of the Rabbis, attesting one thing only,—danger—having but one object,—the public safety—recognizing but one right,—the right of defence. A right not only lawful, but obligatory above all when it has reference to one's country. Easy for Christianity, that knows no country or nationality to dispute a religious nation's, a sacerdotal kingdom's right of existence and the consequences of that right; to be scandalized whenever the preservation of Israel demands a restriction of that limitless charity which is the final object of the restriction. Israel, with erect head and calm heart, shall never blush for its political character, given it by the God of Christians, nor for the exercise of the rights appertaining thereto. But has Christianity itself no enemies? Here it is, that the deplorable consequences of the absence of a civil polity in that system, unfold themselves. We have seen before that Christianity had to seat itself upon the empty throne, and to transfer there all its religious character and aspirations, and, as it had no political system, to risk the fatal blending of the spiritual with the temporal—of faith with law, of charity with justice, of the interior court with the exterior, of remorse with policemen, of hell with the scaffold—of which its history, alas! gives us the painful spectacle. Well, we come to one of the worst results of this confusion of things so different. Christianity, that would not have a political enemy, was obliged to have—as soon as it encountered the world—a religious enemy.

Yes, the religious enemy is a creation altogether Christian, unknown to Judaism, impossible even, the moment it admits that eternal salvation is not thq exclusive heritage of the Mosaic Law. So this charity, that with the Jew is stopped only by the political enemy, the Christian cannot entertain towards the religious enemy. And let it not be said that this refers to posterior abuses and alterations. The Gospel is there to attest that the genius of Christianity is true to itself from the most remote times. Jesus, who knew so well how to pray for his personal enemies, who would have the Jew love the Samaritan,—that is to say, the Pole to love the Cossack, or the Italian, the Austrian soldier,—Jesus has neither love nor prayer for those not of his church. I pray not, he says, for the world, but for those whom, thou hast given me (John xvii. 9); and elsewhere, Who is not for me is against me. The tree that bears not fruit shall be cut down and cast into hell-fire. But where find darker colors, more terrible words, than those he uses to predict the end of the enemies of Christianity? The Church had as yet no soldiers or executioner at its beck, and that is why it has recourse to God, but in what a style! It is right that God should afflict those who afflict you, and that you should have respite when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven ... in flames of fire, taking vengeance upon those who know not God and obey not the Gospel. It is because there is no mean between obeying Jesus and being his enemy, that he himself says: Do you think I am come to establish peace in the world? No, but war. Whosoever will not leave father, mother, brothers, to follow me, is not worthy of me. Is this execrable end the only one Jesus has in view, as think the detractors of Christianity? Or does he simply mean that war must be the inevitable result of variance of opinion regarding his doctrine? Neither, although there is some truth in the last opinion. He means this only, that his doctrine being exclusive, his faith intolerant, there being no mean between Christians and the damned, between partisans and enemies, as soon as the former declared for him, they should regard all others as religious enemies, in whom there is nothing to love but the soul and its future conversion; and to attain this end, not to be too particular about the means.

Would we have an example of this difference between Judaism and Christianity in the manner each views its relations to other religions? Paganism accused both at once of being the enemies of the human race. How do they receive the accusation? On the one side Tertullien, on the other, the Doctors of the Midrasch comment in styles as singular as diverse. The former, although with proscriptions and constant carnage before him, hesitates not to retort upon his adversaries: Yes, we are your religious enemies. The Doctors see in it but the hatred of Paganism towards them;—as to theirs, they see it not, for they feel it not. Only, as this accusation came from Rome, from its Court, its savans, its historians, the Doctors, who did not overlook Rome's intolerant oppression of the world, or the terrible harvest of smothered hate and revolt it was everywhere reaping, took care, in a remarkable sarcasm, to make Rome, too, a party: Yes, say they, all the world hates Esau,; all the world hates Jacob. And do they think they deserve this hate? They cannot even understand it. They seek in vain what Israel has done, to merit the scorn of the Gentiles; they do not even suspect that difference of faith has caused it, so remote from them in the idea of a religious enemy. What tender and pathetic language is this scrap from the Midrasch: They hated me unjustly, said David. If Esau (Rome) hates Jacob, it is because the latter took from him his birthright; but what has he done to the barbarians? To the Philistines? To the Arabs? Did not David say well: They hated me unjustly? Here is the whole spirit of Judaism. It hates not; so it is astonished that it should be hated, asking with wonder,—not, What is my creed? (it never thinks of that)—but only What have I done? That is to say, you cannot hate me but for my deeds, and I am innocent. In this cry of Judaism is found all its complaints and tears for centuries. The Pharisees have uttered it from the birth of Christianity, and the persecutors of the Jewish faith still hear repeated in an unerring simplicity: "Tell me what I have done!"

Notes[edit]

  1. Talmud, Sanhedrim, 38.
  2. Bereshith Rabba, Sect. 49.
  3. According to Moses and the Prophets, all people are the children of God; only Israel is his first born (Ex. IV. 22). See also, Is. XV. 5; Malachi I. 11; Jerem. X. 7; and all throughout the Psalms.
  4. Kings I., Chap. vii. 41.
  5. Talmud, Yabam., fol 43.
  6. Yalkout, page 251.
  7. Midrash, Rabba, Sect. Emer and Pinchas.
  8. Midrash Shir hashirim.
  9. Talmud, tr. Aboth. Chap. III.
  10. And, indeed, we see in our day the effects of this too-catholic spirit (so to speak), in the facility with which many modern Jews ignore nearly all the restraints and wholesome precepts of their faith as inconsistent with the liberal thought and action that faith ever begets.—[Trans.]
  11. Aboth, Chap, 2.
  12. Aboth, Chap. 4.
  13. Talmud, Makkot, f. 24.