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Great Commandment

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Headline text

The Great Commandment in Judaism is the name commonly given to a part of Leviticus 19:18 in the Torah[1]:

Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.


This Torah verse represents but one of several versions of the Golden Rule. It is seemingly the oldest written version in a positive form.[2] The Great Commandment as well as the proverbial Golden Rule calls for others the equal manner and respect we want for ourselves.

The Great Commandment appears on a 1958 Israeli postage stamp in Hebrew and several other languages commemorating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


The Sage Hillel, an elder contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth, formulated a negative form of the Golden Rule, referring to the Great Commandment. When asked to sum up the entire Torah concisely, to a gentile, he answered:[3]

That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.
Talmud, Shabbat 31a, the "Great Principle"

In the Christian New Testament the Great Commandment was referenced by Jesus in Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28, Matthew 7:12, 19:19, 22:34-40 and by Paul of Tarsus in Romans 13:9 and Galatians 5:14:

For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.'
— Galatians 5:14 NRSV

The Great Commandment is also commonly confused or associated with another similar commandment, Deuteronomy 6:5 (" the LORD thy God..."), for example in Matthew 22:36-38, though this commandment is more properly part of the Shema, the most important prayer in Judaism. The Didache, an Early Christian treatise, begins with a "way of life" that quotes the Shema ("love God"), the Great Commandment ("love your neighbor"), and the Golden Rule ("do not do to others what you would not do to yourself").

The following is a copy of the public domain article found in the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia

A Biblical Command

Brotherly love is the love for one's fellow-man as a brother. The expression is taken from the Greek word Φιλαδελφία (Philadelphia = "love of brothers"), which trait distinguished the Early Christian communities. Rom. 12:10; 1 Thess. 4:9; John 13:35; 1 John 2:9, 3:12, 4:7,5:1; and 1 Peter 3:8, 5:9 express the idea of Christian fellowship and fraternity. It was also important in the Essene brotherhoods, who practised brotherly love as a special virtue[4]. Brotherly love is commanded as a universal principle in Lev 19:18: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," the preceding verse containing the words: "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart." This commandment of love, with the preceding sentence, "Thou shalt not avenge nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people," may originally have referred, and has by some scholars [5] been exclusively referred, to the Israelitish neighbor; but in verse 34 of the same chapter it is extended to "the stranger that dwelleth with you . . . and thou shalt love him as thyself." In Job 31:13-15 it is declared unjust to wrong the servant in his cause: "Did not he that made me in the womb make him? and did not one fashion us in the womb?"

The principle of brotherly love, including all men, is plainly stated in the Book of Wisdom i. 6, vii. 23, xii. 19: "Wisdom is man-loving" (Φιλάνθρωπον); "the righteous must be man-loving." The Testaments of the Patriarchs[6] teach the love of God and love of all men "as [His?] children." Commenting upon the command to love the neighbor (Lev. l.c.) is a discussion recorded[7] between Akiba, who declared this verse in Leviticus to contain the great principle of the Law ("Kelal gadol ba-Torah"), and Ben Azzai, who pointed to Gen. v. 1 ("This is the book of the generations of Adam; in the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him"), as the verse expressing the leading principle of the Law, obviously because the first verse gives to the term "neighbor" its unmistakable meaning as including all men as being sons of Adam, made in the image of God. Tanḥuma, in Gen. R. l.c., explains it thus: "If thou despisest any man, thou despisest God who made man in His image."

The Golden Rule

Hillel also took the Biblical command in this universal spirit when he responded to the heathen who requested him to tell the Law while standing before him on one foot: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your friend. This is all of the Torah; the rest is the explanation -- go and learn" [8]. The negative form was the accepted Targum interpretation of Lev. xix. 18, known alike to the author of Tobit iv. 15 and to Philo, in the fragment preserved by Eusebius, Preparatio Evangelica, viii. 7[9]; to the Didache, i. 1; Didascalia or Apostolic Constitutions, i. 1, iii. 15; Clementine Homilies, ii. 6; and other ancient patristic writings [10]. That this so-called golden rule, given also in James ii. 8, was recognized by the Jews in the time of Jesus, may be learned from Mark xii. 28-34; Luke x. 25-28; Matt. vii. 12, xix. 19, xxii. 34-40; Rom. xiii. 9; and Gal. v. 14, where the Pharisaic scribe asks Jesus in the same words that were used by Akiba, "What is the great commandment of the Law?" and the answer given by Jesus declares the first and great commandment to be the love of God, and the second the love of "thy neighbor as thyself." To include all men, Hillel used the term "beriot"[11] when inculcating the teaching of love: "Love the fellow-creatures"[12]. Hatred of fellow-creatures ("sinat ha-beriyot") is similarly declared by R. Joshua b. Hananiah to be one of the three things that drive man out of the world[13].

Hate Thy Enemy, Un-Jewish

That brotherly love as a universal principle of humanity has been taught by the rabbis of old, is disputed by Christian theologians, who refer to the saying attributed to Jesus in Matt. v. 43: "Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy, but I say unto you, Love your enemies," etc. Güdemann thinks that Jesus' words had a special political meaning, and that they refer to a view expressed by the zealots who wanted to exclude dissenters from the command of love by such teaching as is found in Abot[14]: "Thou shalt not say, I love the sages but hate the disciples, or I love the students of the Law but hate the 'am ha-areẓ [ignoramuses]; thou shalt love all, but hate the heretics ["minim"], the apostates, and the informers. So does the command, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,' refer only to those that act as one of thy people; but if they act not accordingly, thou needst not love them." Against this exclusive principle, Jesus asserted the principle of brotherly love as applied by the liberal school of Hillel to all men. Indeed, the Talmud insists, with reference to Lev. xix. 18, that even the criminal at the time of execution should be treated with tender love[15]. As Schechter[16] shows, the expression "Ye have heard . . ." is an inexact translation of the rabbinical formula , which is only a formal logical interrogation introducing the opposite view as the only correct one: "Ye might deduce from this verse that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy, but I say to you the only correct interpretation is, Love all men, even thine enemies." Interestingly, it is never mentioned to love one's enemies in the Old Testament.

The Good Samaritan


Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Great Commandment. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

  1. Leviticus 19:18
  2. Plaut: The Torah - A Modern Commentary; Union of American Hebrew Congregations, New York 1981; pp.892.
  3. Gensler, Harry J. (1996). Formal Ethics. Routledge. pp. 105. ISBN 0415130662. 
  4. Josephus, "B. J." ii. 8, § 2; Philo, "Quod Omnis Liber Probus," § 12
  5. Stade, "Gesch. des Volkes Israel," i. 510a
  6. Issachar v., vii.
  7. Sifra, Ḳedoshim, iv.; compare Gen. R. xxiv. 5
  8. Shab. 31a
  9. Bernays' "Gesammelte Abhandlungen," 1885, i. 274 et seq.
  10. Resch, "Agrapha," pp. 95, 135, 272
  11. creatures [compare κτίσις]; Mark xvi. 15; Rom. viii. 19
  12. Abot i. 12
  13. Abot ii. 11; compare I John iii. 15
  14. R. N. xvi., ed. Schechter, p. 64
  15. Sanh. 45a
  16. Schechter, "J. Q. R." x. 11

Though in the Old Testament no commandment is found ordering to love thy ennemy, there is a commandment to assist thy ennemy in case of emergency in Ex 23,5: If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.

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