The Mitzvah of Loving a Jew

The Alter Rebbe repeated what the Mezritcher Maggid said quoting the Baal Shem Tov: “Love your fellow like yourself” is an interpretation of and commentary on “Love Hashem your G-d.” He who loves his fellow-Jew loves G-d, because the Jew has with in himself a “part of G-d Above.” Therefore, when one loves the Jew – i.e. his inner essence – one loves G-d.

from “Today’s Day”
Friday, Menachem Av 12, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

Of course, the scripture to love God and to love your fellow (Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18 respectively) is rendered very “Jewish-oriented” by Chabad, but it made me ask myself that if one Jew loving another Jew is considered a mitzvah, what about a Gentile loving a Jew? No, not a Gentile Christian loving another Gentile Christian or generic human being, but specifically a Jew…is it a mitzvah?

I can’t find any Biblical corroboration except perhaps for the following:

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

Matthew 25:34-40 (NASB)

At first blush, that seems to be a directive for us to love people in need, feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, and so on, but early in my return to church, Charlie, who is on the Board of Elders at the church I attend was teaching Sunday school one day, and he interpreted that scripture specifically as what Christians are supposed to do for the needy of Israel.

Up until that day, it had never occurred to me to read that passage in such a manner, but now it makes perfect sense. I read the Master’s words as a commandment to assist the hungry and thirsty and needy among the Jewish people.

Of course, Jesus (Yeshua) was talking to a completely Jewish audience, so from that perspective, he was issuing the commandment of one Jew to love another Jew, even as we see it from the Chabad’s point of view. But we also have this:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

John 13:34 (NASB)

Here again we have Jesus speaking to his Jewish disciples, so we can interpret this command as we have the one we have in Matthew 25, but I also believe we can extend the intent to include how we Gentile disciples are supposed to love other disciples, both Jewish and Gentile, with a love like the Master’s, with a love that includes the willingness to give our lives for our fellows in Messiah.

jewish charity
Photo: Reuters

But that doesn’t absolve us from our duty to love the Jewish people as well, particularly those who are in need, those who are suffering.

In my case, having a Jewish wife and children, I automatically fulfill the mitzvah on a daily basis, but that’s not an excuse to remove myself from loving the larger Jewish population, the people and nation of Israel.

Related to the recent observance of Tisha B’Av, Aish.com dedicated an article to the challenge of one Jew loving another. Jewish people come in all shapes and sizes and dispositions, and as you might imagine, it isn’t always easy for one Jewish individual to indiscriminately love all other Jewish people everywhere.

How much more difficult it is for us, who are not Israel and not Jewish, and especially we who in the Church have a history of disagreement and even enmity with the Jewish people, to express that indiscriminate love?

In trying to research the “mitzvah” of Gentiles loving Jews, I came across this:

I love the Jewish people and have enjoyed reading the many spiritual thoughts on your website. I want to draw closer to God, but from what I’ve read it is a very big commitment to convert. I don’t think I am up for this at this stage in my life. Is there some way to tap into the Torah wisdom without being part of the Jewish people?

-from Ask the Rabbi
“Seven Laws of Noah”

One of the ways that some non-Jews express their love for the Jewish people and Israel is to become Noahides, or people of the nations who observe the Seven Noahide Laws. This is about the best way to express such a love and attraction from a Jewish point of view, since it has the full support of Orthodox Judaism and allows Gentiles to enter into Jewish worship and community space, albeit with a radically different status than the Jewish leaders, mentors, and participants.

Of course, you have large groups of Evangelicals who love Jews and love Israel, but that love isn’t always returned. To be fair, sometimes Christian love for Israel is pretty shallow and very conditional, so Jews have a right to be hesitant about returning all the “love and support”.

in gratitude and hope
Photo: Aish media

There are, of course, those non-Jews who show love to Jewish people, even at great risk to themselves such as an Arab family protecting Jews during the Holocaust. Given the current world-wide criticism of Israel (and by inference all Jewish people) relative to Hamas and its terrorist attacks (and Israel’s response), it may come to a point, even very soon, when any non-Jew who supports the Jewish people will risk at least a verbal or print backlash if not actual violence. If not now, then eventually I believe it will come to that.

But what is it to love the Jewish people? Is it just a warm and fuzzy feeling? Is it giving money to Jewish causes and charities? Is it wearing t-shirts supporting the IDF? I suppose it could be all those things. But what about supporting Judaism?

What’s the difference between supporting Jewish people and causes and supporting Judaism? A big, fat, whopping one for some folks.

There are a lot of people in a great many religious venues who say they love the Jewish people. I’ve already mentioned Noahides and Evangelical Christians, but what about Gentiles in Messianic Judaism (Messianic Gentiles) and Gentiles in one of the expressions of the Hebrew Roots movement (One Law/One Torah, Two House, Sacred Name, and so on)?

That can get a little more dicey. Relative to Hebrew Roots, there, I believe, is an authentic love of the Jewish people and national Israel, but sort of a love-hate relationship with Rabbinic Judaism (no, there isn’t any other kind, even Messianic Judaism is Rabbinic Judaism). There’s a love of Torah as it is understood, and a love of the “roots of our faith” which is usually expressed in some sort of modern Jewish religious practice (wearing a tallit and kippah, praying from a siddur in Hebrew, reading from the Torah, practicing a form of Shabbat rest, and so on), but there is also often a disdain for Talmud, for the authority of the Sages in ordering how to perform the mitzvot, and how Torah is continually interpreted and reinterpreted across time to apply to later generations.

I was re-reading Dr. Rabbi Stuart Dauermann’s article The Problem With Hebrew Roots, or, It’s Good to be a Goy. It actually kind of reminded me of something Aaron Eby said on this Vine of David video about the unique calling of the Messianic Gentile:

We at Vine of David have composed an alternate form of the second paragraph of Kiddush for Messianic Gentiles that reflects their unique identity and relationship to the Sabbath. The blessing was culled from the most ancient strata of the prayers of early believers. This form of Kiddush is affirming, beautiful, and ancient, and represents a radical rebound from centuries of replacement theology. Messianic Gentiles would do well to use such prayers in order to instill in their children a sense that their identity and mission as Messianic Gentiles are important and meaningful.

jewishThe identity structures of Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles is, by definition, complementary and even vaguely reminiscent of the relationship between Orthodox Jews and Noahides in the synagogue.

However, the latter relationship can’t really be compared to the former, because in the former, at the end of the day, we are all disciples of the Master and we all share equal co-participation in the blessings of the resurrection and the life in the Messianic Age in accordance with the same covenant, the New Covenant. Of course there’s also differentiation because Jews additionally come under the Sinai Covenant, but relative to Noahides and Judaism, they have no common Covenant relationship with God at all.

That complementary relationship between Jew and Gentile in Messiah requires mutual respect, which includes respecting each other’s space. A comment and R. Dauermann’s response on his aforementioned blog post drew my attention:

Glenn – July 31, 2014
Splendidly written, Stuart! It is so in concert with Paul’s exhortation in 1 Cor. 7, and the larger message of Isaiah 56.

But I am a bit perplexed. On the very principle you articulate, shouldn’t we absolutely discourage the practice of converting Gentiles to Messianic “Jews”? It was my understanding that you support such conversions.

As always, thanks for your time!

Stuart Dauermann – August 2, 2014
Well, Glenn, I so much appreciated your question that I devoted another blog to it. See it here: http://www.interfaithfulness.org/?p=2040

So I visited the link R. Dauermann posted, which led me to an article called Conversion, Yes; Confusion, No.

While Dauermann actually supports Gentile conversion specifically within Messianic Judaism on very rare occasions, he also made a number of statements relevant to the point I’m trying to make:

The problem nowadays is that Gentiles are being made to feel like second class citizens, or feel themselves to be second class citizens in the Kingdom of God because they are not Jewish. This is WRONG! Gentiles are NOT second class citizens and in no manner whatsoever do they or can they improve their citizenship in the Kingdom of God through “discovering their Jewish roots,” through deciding they are part of the lost tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, or any such thing. In other words, not only are Gentiles not second class citizens, they also do not become in some manner super-citizens through discovering or creating some sort of Jewish identity.

This is pretty common of Christians who, for whatever reasons, have left formal church attendance and entered some form of Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots. I’ve attended some Hebrew Roots groups that were downright disrespectful of Christianity and used quite abusive language when referring to Churches. There was a real drive to do anything possible to separate themselves from anything having to do with “the Church” (i.e. “Babylon” or a thousand other insulting labels).

Beth Immanuel ShavuotAlong with that need to separate was the requirement to create a new identity, but since Judaism is the general template for Hebrew Roots, any statement that pointed to Jewish exclusiveness in the covenants tended to elicit two related reactions: a feeling of inferiority and a response of hostility (I should point out here that not all Hebrew Roots people exhibit this dynamic, particularly the Hebrew Roots congregation in which I once worshiped, but it’s been sadly common in my previous experience with other people and groups I’ve encountered). As R. Dauermann pointed out, Gentiles are not inferior to Jews. I’ve read many (non-Messianic) Jewish commentaries stating that Jews do not (ideally) see themselves as better or superior to Gentiles, just different.

The same is true in Messianic Judaism. The distinctions particular to Jews are not really rights so much as responsibilities and duties. Think how much more difficult it is to attend to the mitzvot as a Jew than those duties assigned to the Gentile in Messiah (Christian in Jesus). Is faith in Jesus supposed to be about our “rights?” Does God owe us rights? Does He owe us anything?

Even Paul called himself a slave (see Romans 1:1 for example). He didn’t complain about his rights.

Many people act like the Torah is a book they may apply any way they choose, and that by doing so, they are being more faithful to God than those who do not bother to do so. Some even imagine that by doing so, they become in some manner Jewish. Such people are naïve and in error.

The Torah is not a book we happened to find and which we may interpret as we choose, but rather it is the national constitution of a people. It must be understood as the community property of the Jewish people, and must be understood and interpreted in keeping with millennia of Jewish discussion and practice. It is not like the Koran, which allegedly came down entire from heaven, or like the Book of Mormon, allegedly found on golden plates hidden in the Hill Cumorah in Palmyra, New York. No, Torah is the way of life of the Jewish people, it enshrines the decorum appropriate to the Jewish people as a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation, the way of life appropriate to this people serving in the courts of the King of Kings.

-R. Dauermann

This is where love of Jews and love of Judaism, particularly the Judaism(s) observed within the context of Messiah, begins to separate for some.

In my opinion, being a disciple of the Master and attaching ourselves to the God of Israel is not a matter of rights but a matter of service. We have duties and obligations and we have unique roles and identities that define those obligations. God made us who we are, and although He gave us free will, He didn’t give the leopard the ability to change his spots.

Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

1 Corinthians 7:17-20 (NASB)

And by “Keeping God’s commands is what counts,” my interpretation is keeping the commands as they apply to the person, which isn’t the same for a Jewish believer as it is for a non-Jewish believer.

As both R. Dauermann said on this blog and Dr. Mark Nanos said in a recent paper, while Paul generally opposed Gentiles in Messiah converting to Judaism, he didn’t absolutely forbid it. He just felt (and rightly so) that converting to Judaism would not have any sort of impact on the person’s justification before God. You don’t become a better person by converting to Judaism, you just become Jewish.

If you feel a strong need and desire to live as a Jew and to observe the mitzvot as a Jew, then conversion is probably the right thing for you (there are a lot of other factors to consider that are beyond the scope of this blog post, but it’s not as simple as all that).

Photo: First Fruits of Zion

However, as I mentioned, conversion isn’t necessary to serve God, because God expects the whole world to serve Him, both Israel and the nations. How we serve God is dependent on who we are, Israel or the nations. Rejecting this definition is where you may feel you love Jewish people and Israel, but it actually means you’re rejecting how they define themselves and frankly, you’re rejecting how God defines the Jews and Israel.

Judaism isn’t perfect, but it can be argued that Judaism, that is Rabbinic Judaism including Mishnah, Talmud, halachah, and the whole meal deal is what God gave the Jewish people to enable them to survive the last two-thousand years of exile, and to make it possible to re-establish the modern state of Israel.

You can’t love the Jewish people and the nation of Israel and also throw the Rabbis and their volumes of Talmud under a bus. You can’t say “I love you but I deny you the right to define yourself.”

That isn’t love. I don’t even know what to call that sort of behavior.

If it’s a mitzvah for a Christian and/or Messianic Gentile to love the Jewish people and Israel, you can’t hate Judaism at the same time. You can’t hate someone’s identity as it was assigned to them by God but say that somehow, you love that person anyway.

I know the people who need to hear this the most will reject it out of hand, but this message is the natural and logical extension of exploring the mitzvah of loving Jews. In order to love the Jewish people, we cannot hate ourselves. The mitzvah of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves (Lev. 19:18; Matthew 22:39) means we must love both our neighbor and ourselves. If we hate being a Gentile because we think (or have been taught) that it is inferior or pagan or some other ridiculous thing, then we have no basis or platform for loving someone else, anyone else, really.

Love starts with loving God (Deut. 6:5; Matthew 22:37), then (in my opinion), loving ourselves as God made us since we are created in His image (Gen. 1:27). Only then, realizing that God loves us with a powerful love and realizing we are lovable just as we are (which in my case is a Gentile), can we love another person. Only then can we love a Jew because God made the Jew just the way he or she is including the Jewish person’s covenant identity, which includes unique roles and responsibilities.

Once you are confident in God’s love for you, no matter who you are, then you have no reason to feel inferior to someone else and you should have no desire to covet their status and assume that it is your “right” to do so.

It’s only at that point where you are capable of fulfilling the mitzvah as a Gentile disciple of the Master of loving the Jewish people, Judaism, and Israel. God loves them. So should we.

6 thoughts on “The Mitzvah of Loving a Jew”

  1. James,

    Re: “One of the ways that some non-Jews express their love for the Jewish people and Israel is to become Noahides, or people of the nations who observe the Seven Noahide Laws. This is about the best way to express such a love and attraction from a Jewish point of view, since it has the full support of Orthodox Judaism and allows Gentiles to enter into Jewish worship and community space, albeit with a radically different status than the Jewish leaders, mentors, and participants.”

    Please explain to me how refraining from murdering people conveys a special affection for the Jewish people. Is that the way to show someone that you really love them? By not stealing or being sexually promiscuous?

    The Rabbis say that to observe the Noahide “laws” is to “sit and do nothing” (sheb ve’al ta’aseh).

    You’re seriously saying that Jews feel loved when a Gentile just takes a seat and does absolutely nothing?

  2. *sigh*

    Peter, you seem to have it in for Noahides for some reason. I was merely using this as one example of how some Gentiles choose to express their love of Jews and Judaism, by joining them in a manner that is acceptable within a Jewish context. Look at what the woman who is writing the Aish “Ask the Rabbi column is trying to say. Read the quote I posted within the context of the entire article. I insert the links so readers can reference my supporting material.

  3. It seems very peculiar to me that anyone who is not Jewish, but are Believing in and trusting YHVH for their salvation through Yehoshua, should dislike Jews as a group or as individuals. Be irritated by them, sure, when they are acting out against Gentiles, but dislike them or be against them? That’s like hating your weird cousins, who none the less are your relatives, and will be a part of your family get-togethers all of your life, and into eternity.

    Without the Jews, and their covenant with G-d fulfilling the promises made to Abraham, we don’t get to be adopted in through Abraham in Yehoshua. Jews are our relatives spiritually, and we need to treat them as such. I don’t much like my blood family members, but I love them, and I try to treat them well. It is no different for the Jews, or other Messianics, or even for Christians that walk the walk.

    As for being a Noahide…it’s a step in the right direction. It’s just very Torah light, and looking to YHVH as G-d…it certainly is a good place to start in relationship with the Jews if you are not already in Yehoshua.

  4. Great posts James,

    The Noachide laws are the minimum requirements for someone (not Jewish) to be in right standing with the Creator – HaShem. And yes, i would believe it’s a great start. But that’s not the point, we are to be obedient in G-d’s calling for both Jews and Gentiles.

    I have no problem with Gentiles keeping more mitzvot as long as done correctly and with respect. I do so myself.

    Gentiles need not feel like second class citizens but we are fellow co-heirs to our older brethren the Jewish people – through Messiah.

    1. True, and I’ve always said that we Gentiles are not second-class citizens in the Kingdom and in fact, we have a vital role to play in relationship with supporting Jewish Torah observance as a precursor for the return of Messiah.

      I’ve also said that I don’t have a problem with Gentiles going “above and beyond,” but that while the roles and responsibilities of Jews and Gentiles in Messiah may overlap, they aren’t identical.

      Further, I agree that the Noahide laws are incumbent upon all of humanity, but we can have so much more by coming to faith in Messiah.

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