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Christian-Jewish Relations: Is Christianity A More “Loving” Religion Than Judaism?

Christianity is often regarded as a religion of love and compassion while Judaism is portrayed as harsh and inflexible. The most commonly cited proof for this contention is in the Gospels. Matthew 5:43-44 says, “You have heard it said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy.’ But I [Jesus] say, ‘Love your enemy, bless them that curse you. . .’” Matthew 5:38-39 is a second text usually quoted to prove that Judaism is legalistic, vindictive, lacking in love, “You have heard it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say unto you, ‘Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.’”

Judaism has responded to the above allegations by explaining that in the first instance that Matthew is not quoting the Bible accurately. The source of the first quotation is Leviticus 19:17-18. Verse 17 says, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart.” Verse 18 says, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Nowhere does the Hebrew Bible say, “Hate thine enemy,” as the Gospel of Matthew reports. Instead, one finds in the Old Testament many references suggesting that one's enemy ought to be treated well. Exodus 23:4 says, “If you see your enemy's ox or donkey going astray, you should surely bring them back.”

As to the second allegation, scholars have pointed out that adopting a turn-the-other-cheek philosphy, as suggested here by Matthew and repeated in the Gospel of Luke (6:29), is an unnatural way of promoting love in the world. Judaism preaches that one ought not to be vindictive, that one ought not to bear a grudge (Leviticus 19:18), but it does not propose that one love his enemy and thereby allow himself to be abused. The Jewish attitude was clearly enunciated in the Book of Proverbs and later in the Talmud. Proverbs urges that when man's enemy falls, man should not rejoice and say, “I will do to him as he has done to me” (24:29). The Talmud, expanding upon this admonition says, “Let not your heart be glad when your enemy falls lest the Lord see it and it displeases Him” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:24).

Sources: Kolatch, Alfred J. The Jewish Book of Why/The Second Jewish Book of Why. NY: Jonathan David Publishers, 1989.