I have noticed that in a large portion of the questions and answers here, the distinction between Jews and other people is repeatedly emphasized. I know enough about the Tanakh to understand that Judaism is a very unique covenant between G-d and His chosen people, but the degree of emphasis is surprising to me.

Case in point: There is a word that, according to the glossary, is specifically used when comparing Judaism to other religions, Jews to other people, the Torah to other books, etc. - "L'vhadil!

The answer is that this is one of the differences between a Jew and l'havdil a gentile.
- Rabbi Shlomo Price


“Honest politician” is an oxymoron, from the local level all the way up to Congress and the White House it’s the same story, Republican or Democrat, Jew or l’havdil Gentile...
- Source

The question isn't specific to l'havdil though, it is about the general phenomenon.

Another example:

Is there any obligation for a Jew to save a gentile's life?

And the answer to the question of Are you allowed to save a non-Jew's life on Shabbos? is "Yes, but mostly because there would be backlash if you didn't".

Instead of taking the position that life is life, and identity is secondary, the emphasis here is on whether or not the life belongs to a Jew.

Why is there such an intense focus on the difference between Jews, Judaism, Hebrew Scriptures, and everyone and everything else?

  • Hi Wad Cheber. Are you asking specifically about the word l'havdil or in general about the distinction between Jews and others? I think you have sort-of misunderstood the usage of l'havdil. It really just means a distinction between things that are comparable in a particular sense, but not in a general sense (because one of the items of comparison is "holier" for some definition of that wrod). Like I could say, "The Torah is written in Hebrew, and so is the Hebrew translation of Harry Potter (l'havdil)."
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 12:04
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    On the other hand, if you are asking why the distinction between Jews and gentiles is often emphasized in general, I think that is a good question. In that case, you might want to edit your question to remove the emphasis on the word "l'havdil"
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 12:05
  • "I can go through the site and find dozens of examples of what I'm talking about - not necessarily the l'havdil thing, but the hyperfocus on differences.": that'd probably improve your question, since you seem okay with Judaism's maintaining a difference but are asking only about the focus on the difference and I (for one) don't know what quality or quantity of focus you're referring to to be able to formulate an answer. If, as @Daniel mentioned, you're asking about l'havdil specifically, then the question should indicate as much; if, otoh, you're asking about intensity of focus [cont'd]
    – msh210
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 13:47
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    @msh210 You seem to be echoing my original comment "I don't really get what you're asking, anyway. What kind of 'basis' are you looking for?"
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 19:00
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    There is R' Hirsch's view, that Jews differ from non-Jews in mission. We are the "nation of priests", they are our parishoners. But nothing inherent to the Jewish people beyond Avraham's willingness to teach his children ethics and our havving the necessary stubbornness. There is the specialness spoken about by the Kuzari, who makes there to be 5 types of creature: domeim (inert objects), tzomeiach (plants), chai (animals), medaber (speakers, ie people) and Yisrael. Then there's the model spoken about at the end of the first chapter of the Tanya... Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 16:11

7 Answers 7


As many others have mentioned before, when creating laws, you HAVE to make certain distinctions. One of the biggest blindspots i've noticed with Christians trying to understand Judaism, is that they view everything from a theological perspective, and forget one very important point. Modern Christians are used to living in a society where the government is run by laws created by men, and the laws are changed, added to, and developed solely on what new situations dictate. Whereas in the times of the Talmud, or in the scope of the Biblical text, the Torah is not only the basis for religion, it's the basis for how you should run an entire country. And since the holy is mixed with the mundane, you will find distinctions between priest and normal israelite in the law, distinctions between the convert and the normal israelite (converts would not have an inheritance to the land of Israel like the 12 tribes would), and the list goes on. Just like in the United States, we have certain laws for citizens and non citizens. Non citizens are not allowed to go to certain schools, or have drivers licenses, etc. It's (hopefully) not because we feel we are superior to them, but that at some point we need to have some distinguishments.

For the Torah, this is also evident, and it's easy to focus on the abundance of scriptures for how Holy we as children of Israel are/should be. We are supposed to be a nation of priests, we are God's chosen, we are "His Children."

But i think sometimes we forget some other scriptures, the ones that are a response to those who think we are better than other nations, or holier, or that God has only done wondrous things for us. Scriptures that should humble us and help us remember, that at the end of the day, we all stand before the same Judge, and He doesn't pick favorites.

Amos 9:7-8

הֲלוֹא כִבְנֵי כֻשִׁיִּים אַתֶּם לִי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, נְאֻם-יְהוָה: הֲלוֹא אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל, הֶעֱלֵיתִי מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, וּפְלִשְׁתִּיִּים מִכַּפְתּוֹר, וַאֲרָם מִקִּיר.

הִנֵּה עֵינֵי אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, בַּמַּמְלָכָה הַחַטָּאָה, וְהִשְׁמַדְתִּי אֹתָהּ, מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה: אֶפֶס, כִּי לֹא הַשְׁמֵיד אַשְׁמִיד אֶת-בֵּית יַעֲקֹב--נְאֻם-יְהוָה.

Are ye not as the children of the Ethiopians unto Me, O children of Israel? saith the LORD. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and Aram from Kir?

Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom [Israel], and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; saving that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the LORD.

  • I'm not a Christian, and while I understand the need for categories, it's the intensity and pervasiveness of focus on the us and them idea that I don't understand.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 18:00
  • @WadCheber, two of the examples (all but the "l'havdil" one) you gave in the question are answered by this answer; if you didn't mean them as exemplars of your question, then these repeated attempts at refining your question while it garners answers are getting kind of silly. I'm beginning to think you have not a question at all but a complaint: "I don't like the categories" rather than "Why is there focus on the categories?".
    – msh210
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 18:07
  • i wasn't implying you were Christian, it's just something i've noticed. The intensity tends to get hightened or reduced depending on how nice our gentile neighbors are. For example, we can't drink gentile wine, to prevent intermingling. However, the Gaonim, would add honey to gentile wine to be able to drink it. For some reason this custom has fallen out of use.
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 18:08
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    @WadCheber i remember once hearing a lecture by a Rabbanith, (Rabbi's wife) who said that there was a gentile who was mean to her and how sorry she felt for her because God was going to punish this horrible gentile for being mean to a beloved daughter of God. I was very terrified by this lady and i stopped downloading Shiruim from that website in their entirety based on her words. But as others have mentioned, these thoughts are true to all peoples of all religions. When you feel like you've got God on your side, the more potential pitfalls that open up before your feet.
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 18:16
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    @Daniel He is asking why is there such a preoccupation with our thoughts about making such a distinction. For example, even though there are halakhic differences between a Kohein and a normal Israelite, we don't write as much about it, or bring it up as much. But i think this can be compared to why does the Rambam write about Muslims/Islam so much? Because he lived in a Muslim land, and had to give halakhic rulings based on the peoples that surrounded him and his community.
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 18:33

As has been discussed in the comments on the question, I think your understanding of the word "l'havdil" is not quite accurate. "L'havdil" really just means a distinction between things that are comparable in a particular sense, but not in a general sense (because one of the items of comparison is "holier" for some definition of that word). For example, I could say, "The Torah is written in Hebrew, and so is (l'havdil) the Hebrew translation of Harry Potter."

Your main question is about why there is a focus on the difference between Jews and everybody else (on this site and, perhaps, in general). The basic reason for that is simply that Jews and non-Jews are in different halachic categories. As such, the laws that apply to individuals are different for Jews and for non-Jews.

This site in particular deals extensively with halacha. As such, it is frequently important to distinguish between Jews and gentiles because the halacha is different. Jews have responsibilities that non-Jews do not have. In addition, sometimes a Jew's responsibilities are different depending on whether he lives in an area that is predominantly Jewish or otherwise. We focus on the difference when it is relevant.


R. Hirschensohn rejects the notion that this word (l'havdil) should be used to distinguish Jews from non-Jews. See his commentary to Horayot (Jerusalem, 1926), part 3, p.6a:

וזה אין לנו לומר כי הלא אב אחד לכלנו א-ל אחד בראנו

R. Hirschensohn says that it is wrong to say הגוי להבדיל since it is precisely the Jews whom God chose to separate as his special people... Yet as mentioned already, R. Hirschensohn rejects the usage of this word when it comes to Jews and non-Jews. In addition to what I already quoted, he writes:

כונת האומר "להבדיל" הוא כמו להבדיל בין הקדש ובין החול, ואין הבדלה כזאת בין ישראל לעמים, כי כל בני תמותה נבראו בצלם אלקים וחייבים בשבע מצות רק אותנו הבדיל אלקים לו לחייבנו בתרי"ג מצות

The intent of the word "l'havdil" is similar to separation between the holy and the profane, but there is not such separation between the Jews and the non-Jews, for all people are created in the image of God and are obligated in the seven (basic) commandments. Just Jews were separated to in being obligated on 613 commandments.

Source: http://seforim.blogspot.com/2014/06/assorted-comments.html.


As mentioned in the comments, the term להבדיל probably comes from its usage in the הבדלה services: המבדיל...בין ישראל לעמים.

As far as the suggested supremacist attitude, I don't think Judaism differs in this sense from any other religion; I'd argue that the belief of "we are distinguished from all others" is common to all religions.

  • I didn't say anything about a supremacist attitude. More like a separatist attitude.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 17:18
  • Also, as a not-Jewish person, I have no idea what the Hebrew portion of your answer says.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 18:44
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    @WadCheber The first hebrew word is: l'havdil. The second is havdala. The third is a quote from Havdala.
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 19:17

I heard an interesting idea on this topic from a rav. We were learning asheivat aveida, the return of lost objects. The law is that there is no obligation to return a lost object to a non-Jew, based on the verse (Dvarim 22:1), you shall surely return them to your brother.

The rav explained that non-Jews do not have obligations to return lost objects between each other and wouldn’t be obligated to return ours. Therefore we don’t need to go beyond their law and return their lost objects. He extended this to many situations where we are obligated towards Jews but not non-Jews because they don’t have observe our laws.

I was thinking that maybe this is corroborated by the principle of dina dmalchuta dina (the law of the land becomes our law). If a civil law principle goes beyond Torah law, we are obligated in the civil law principle. In other words, we are not obligated towards non-Jews where they don’t recognize our Torah laws. But where they do or go beyond, then we become obligated as well.

  • see also here
    – mbloch
    Commented Jul 18, 2018 at 12:11

Whether or not a social claim is construed as the assertion of a right or a natural right relates to if the claim relates to an artificial construct or a natural construct.

For example, the Aboriginal people of Australia receive billions of dollars a year government funding with no objection from any part of Australian society because they are viewed as a natural part of the land.

On the other hand, the murder of Israeli teenage girls is not reported in the popular Australian press because Israel is construed as an artificial phenomenon and therefore the desire of Israelis to live in Israel is viewed as the assertion of a right.

Therefore it is important to understand the naturalness of the distinction between Jews and other peoples.


In short

We are special, holy... (G-d choose us, loved us, wanted us, made us holy (with his commandments), and brought us closer for us to do his work, and called his great and holy name on us)

Also one of the main commandments we have as Jews is to love each other this makes us focused on each other, and to speak differently about each other and our ways then about others

Jews were given the Torah to live by (613 commandments) we were told that the non-Jews need to keep 7 Noahide laws,

We were commanded by our master, father... To act a certain way, non-Jews have the 7 Noahide laws given to us on mt Sinai, we mostly discuss how we need to act, but almost all of it, is only Jewish obligations, if we do not separate it from the non-Jewish obligations, misunderstandings are guaranteed to arise

The word L'vhadil is mostly used to separate something holy from something that is not (another way to look at it is, by separating it, we are making it holy) sometimes it is used to separate something that is unholy from regular things

(Ie. Idolatry if a very serious prohibition (so we try not to speak about it) )

G-d created this world that has hierarchy G-d almighty (lihavdil) is above all, souls are above bodies (when the moshiach will come this will be flipped) men for the time being are above women (when the moshiach will come this will be also flipped), master is above slave, man is above animals, animals above plants, plants are above not living things (even though the upper levels depend on the lower things to survive (so in a certain aspect they are below Jewish kabolo explains this by saying that the lower level comes from a higher source (body and soul, man and woman, Yakov and Esav these also the one the is higher now comes from a lower source obviously from lhavdil G-d almighty). Shabos lihavdil is above week day (when mashiach it will only be shabos)

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    "brought us closer for us to do his work, and called his grate [sic] and holy name on us (but please do not kill us for this)" implying that the OP would slay Jews because of their religious conviction is not only unfounded, but absurd and offensive. Particularly, when he has specifically attempted to behave sensitively.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 15:14
  • @mevaqesh - Thank you. I would also like to mention that my grandmother's family were Polish Jews (and a couple of Dutch Jews), most of whom were murdered in the Czar's pogroms and the holocaust. The question is suggesting that a descendant of the victims is responsible for continuing the cycle of anti-Semitic brutality.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 18:15
  • @WadCheber You are very welcome.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 18:18

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