What is the logic of the reason given in Deut 23:8, "You shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in that land." How does the Israelites living for a while as welcome (and then as oppressed) strangers in Egypt excuse the murderous actions and oppression by the Egyptians?

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    Does it? The verse does not say that. You seem to be reading a lot into it. Further, looking at the surrounding verses, it mainly appears to be talking about who is eligible to be in the "assembly of the Lord" (yes to third-generation Egyptians, no to Moabites). It appears to be saying that because the Egyptians at one point welcomed the Israelites, their descendents should not be permanently excluded, guest-host relations being rather important in the ancient Middle East.
    – Obie 2.0
    Apr 3, 2023 at 4:49

2 Answers 2


Nothing in the verse "excuses" what the Egyptians did. Rashi on that verse explains that you should not hate the Egyptians entirely as all bad, it doesn't mean what they did is OK. The context of the verse is that certain nations (and kinds of people) are entirely cut off from joining the Jewish nation. If anything, it is the notion that Ammon and Moab are completely irredeemable even on an individual level that seems extreme and difficult to explain (at least to modern sensibilities). In contrast, the Torah tells us that even though the Egyptians did something horrible and inexcusable--which they were punished for--we should not write off the entire nation as 100% bad forever because we should also recognize that they did something good--namely, providing shelter to the nascent Jewish nation at a time of famine. It is also significant that the Torah does not say we need to love or forgive the Egyptians, just that we should not hate them or exclude them forever. Thus, it seems to me, the Torah is saying that we should relate to Egypt as a whole and to individual Egyptians based on their present attitudes and actions. To give a contemporary example, we do not need to love Germans, Christians, or Muslims unconditionally or forgive persecutions by them, but we also do not say that all Germans, Christians, or Muslims are per se irreconcilable enemies who can never get along with Jews or convert to Judaism.

The Gemara in Berachot 63b and Heemek Davar on that pasuk also explain that the purpose of this commandment is to inculcate in us a sense of gratitude for any slight good we receive, even if it comes from someone bad, and a fortiori for the good we receive from people who do not also persecute and mistreat us. (I recall seeing another gemara that mentions a similar idea, perhaps in Pesachim, but I cannot find it now).


[...] excuse the murderous actions and oppression by the Egyptians?

As far as I can tell, nowhere does this state this. This posuk is, as I try to demonstrate below, an instruction to treat others like we wanted to be treated. If someone wrongs you, G-d tells us "do not harm that person", rather, "show him favour".

The Rambam, in Moreh Nevuchim (Part 3, 42:6) explains that:

The Law has taught us how far we have to extend this principle of favouring those who are near to us, and of treating kindly every one with whom we have some relationship, even if he offended or wronged us; even if he is very bad, we must have some consideration for him.

The Shelah takes a different approach to this posuk (Torah Shebikhtav, Ki Teitzei, Torah Ohr 15):

We can better understand the reason that the Torah permits Edomites and Egyptians (of the third generation after conversion) to become fully fledged members of the Jewish people if we take a look at the historical development of Abraham, the first convert to Judaism.

The Torah acknowledges this in 23,8: "Do not despise Edom for he is your brother;" this means that after living as a Jew for the third generation Esau once more qualifies as a brother of Jacob not only biologically but also spiritually. The same law applies to the absorption of Egyptians into the community of the Jewish nation. Our exile in Egypt actually commenced at the time G–d foretold Abraham about it at the covenant of the pieces in Genesis 15,13. Abraham was told that the fourth generation of his descendants would return to the land of Canaan. While in Egypt, the souls of the Jewish people were refined to the extent that they were able to become a nation comprising over 600,000 men of military age, a people that qualified for the title "Israel," the honorific title bestowed by G–d on Jacob. It is appropriate therefore that the third generation of an Egyptian convert to Judaism should enjoy full equality with other Jews just as Jacob who was the third generation counting from Abraham's conversion, was pure and had shed all the spiritual פסולת which had remained from the pollutant of the serpent. Israel, too, had remained גרים, strangers, in Egypt for three generations.

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