Friday, January 25, 2008
[Jewish charity collection box]
I recall speaking to my parent’s Presbyterian minister when I was a teenager and he told me that he saw himself as being part of a continuous tradition of kindness going back to Abraham. Basically, he was correct.
Judaism invented the obligation to do kindness.
Leviticus 19:18 states “Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.”
Leviticus 19:34 states “The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
Deuteronomy 26:12 mentions the tithe of crops which must be given to the poor in the third and sixth years of the Sabbatical cycle while Leviticus 23:22 states that the remnants of the harvest must be left for the “poor and the stranger”.
Deut. 15:7 mentions the obligation to give loans to the poor according to their needs. This loan must be given without interest (Leviticus 25:36) and it must be forgiven in the Sabbatical year (Deut. 15:1).
We are obligated to celebrate our holidays together with the strangers, orphans and widows (Deut. 16:14).
Even in the present day, Jews are disproportionately represented among major philanthropists.
Based on various blogs, there would appear to be many Jews who have been raised Orthodox and lost faith in Orthodoxy, yet continue to pose as Orthodox, apparently because the secular world is so much more harsh and unkind. I am not aware of the opposite happening too often – secular Jews, who believe in Orthodoxy yet wish to remain secular because they do not want to leave behind the warm and loving secular community.
In contrast, primitive peoples were and are very violent. Infanticide was almost universal. (Today, abortion is the slightly more civilized alternative.) My pre-Christian Scandinavian ancestors murdered and robbed with no hesitation. In the ancient pagan world and in East Asia, the concept that the powerful and wealthy were obligated to help the weak and the poor was virtually unknown. The most popular entertainment in ancient Rome was gladiatorial combat. The only possible example of kindness outside the Abrahamic tradition of which I am aware is found in Stoicism.
In the modern world, kindness actually runs counter to Darwinism, which teaches that biological progress is the result of weaker individuals dying before they are able to reproduce (“natural selection”). Kindness stifles (the fictional process of) evolution.
Many non-Jews have, however, been impressed by the beauty of the concept of kindness. Christianity considers charity to be an important virtue, as does Islam. Secular humanists believe in the value of “working to benefit society”. The idea of kindness being a basic human obligation is something that has been adopted by perhaps the majority of mankind today and there can be little doubt that most of whatever kindness exists in the world is a direct result of the Torah and its influence.
However it all began with a few Jews in the Middle East a few thousand years ago.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 1:03 PM