FRIENDSHIP


FRIENDSHIP, a relationship between people arising from mutual respect and affection. The ideal of friendship in the Western world is largely derived from classical Greece. Not only do the myths and legends point to friendship as one of the great human achievements, but the philosophers make it one of the primary virtues of existence. The Romans continued this exaltation of friendship, as is evident in Cicero's essay on the topic, De amicitia. Biblical tradition seems to take friendship, as it does so many other general values, for granted and accords it respect; yet it never raises the close relationship between one person and a chosen companion to the status of a major ideal. There can be no question that the significance of true friendship is recognized in the Bible. A friend (re'a) is defined, almost accidentally, in Deuteronomy 13:7 as "one who is like your very self"; in Proverbs 18:24 a friend (ohev) is one "who sticks closer than a brother." There are few depictions of friendship in the Bible; the most notable examples are those of David and Jonathan (I Sam. 20), David and Barzillai (II Sam.17:27–29, 19:32–40), and Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1:7–3:17). When Jephthah's daughter goes off to bewail her fate she asks permission to do so with her companions (Judg. 11:37). The Bible seems to emphasize proper concern for one's neighbor as a means for the creation of a sacred society, rather than intense person-to-person relationships. This may be a safeguard against homosexuality, which was so much a part of the Greek conception of friendship.

Typical of the Bible's ethical concern in human relations is the frequent reference to false friendship in the book of Proverbs. As the worthy friend is he who stands by you, so the bad friend is he who deserts you when you are in need. Thus the warning is issued that the rich, not the poor, have many friends (14:20); that friends flock to the gift giver (19:6); and that he who has many friends has reason to worry (18:24). The rabbinic tradition, like the biblical, shows appreciation of friendship. The friendship of David and Jonathan is held up as the supreme example of altruistic love (Avot 5:19). It does not consider it a major concern, however, though the good ḥaver (associate or colleague, ibid., 1:6; 2:13) and the good neighbor (2:13) are mentioned as ideals to be sought. The amora Rav is reported to have praised the friends of Job for going to see him when they learned of his suffering, even though they lived at a great distance from him. In response to Rav, Rabbah quoted the popular saying "Either a friend like the friends of Job or death" (BB 16b). The Talmud reports that Rabbi Zera showed friendship even to some lawless men who lived near him. It chides some of the other sages who did not do so for their hardness of heart but praises them for their repentance (Sanh. 37a). Modern Jewish thought, responding to the ethical implications of the concept of friendship, has shown a renewed interest in this subject, exemplified in the writings of Martin *Buber (I and Thou, 19522, passim) and Hermann *Cohen (Religion der Vernunft (19292), 510).

[Eugene B. Borowitz]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.