1

Talmud Bavli Gittin 61a state 3 actions that we should perform for Gentiles in the "manner" that we do these for Jews:

  • supporting them, financially
  • visiting them if they're ill
  • burying their dead

The reason is Darchei Shalom ("Ways of peace")

Are these actions considered a mitzvah or obligation? Or is this merely a suggestion or good practice to keep peaceful relations with Gentiles so that we can avoid conflicts and possible violence from them?

I am seeking answers that relate both to what the Talmud intended as well as how this concept is practiced now, if there are differences in approach or thinking.

1

As Micha Berger writes in Social Action/Responsibility in Judaism towards gentiles (relevant section quoted, emphasis mine):

The Rambam writes (Hilkhos Melachim 10:12):

אַפִלּוּ הַגּוֹיִים צִוּוּ חֲכָמִים לְבַקַּר חוֹלֵיהֶם, וְלִקְבֹּר מֵתֵיהֶם עִם מֵתֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וּלְפַרְנַס עֲנִיֵּיהֶם בִּכְלַל עֲנִיֵּי יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִפְּנֵי דַּרְכֵּי שָׁלוֹם: הֲרֵי נֶאֱמָר “טוֹב-ה’ לַכֹּל; וְרַחֲמָיו, עַל-כָּל-מַעֲשָׂיו” (תהילים קמה:ט), וְנֶאֱמָר “דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי-נֹעַם; וְכָל-נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם” (משלי ג:יז).

[Not only Jews and geirei toshav (resident aliens),] even for non-Jews our sages commanded to visit their sick, bury their dead [as] with the Jewish dead, support their poor among the Jewish poor, because of darkhei Shalom. For it says, “Hashem is good to all, and His Mercy is on all that He made.” (Tehillim 145 “Ashrei” v. 9). And it says, “[The Torah]’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.” (Mishlei 3:14, also said when returning the Torah to the aron)

Rav Aharon Lichtinstein zt"l points out that the Rambam's prooftext for "darkhei Shalom" are about (1) imitating G-d, and (2) that the authentic ways of the Torah are to be pleasant and advance peace. It would seem that the common understanding of Darkhei Shalom is wrong. Rather, we express our concern toward non-Jews for the sake of remaining on the path of peace, because that is Hashem's Path. (Compare the list of examples the Rambam gives here with the list of kindnesses the Talmud [Sotah 14a] shows us examples in the Torah of Hashem doing.) Not pragmatics or PC, but a fundamental part of the ideal.

Rav Lichtenstein translated the relevant snippet of a responsum by the Rama (#11) to show that peace in-and-of-itself, without any implications of future danger, is sufficient reason to override some prohibitions:

We have learned from here that it is permissible to modify [the truth] for the sake of peace, and it is permissible to violate the injunction, “Thou shalt distance thyself from falsehood.” [The consideration of peace] also overrides the biblical prohibition of “Thou shalt not do thus to the Lord thy God,” which bans the erasure of God’s Name, as is explained in the Sifri to Parashat Re’eh and counted by the Rambam and the Semag in their respective enumerations of the mitsvot. Since this is so, I say that it is also the case that [peace] overrides the prohibition of defamation; in other words, it is permissible to defame another if one’s intention is for the sake of Heaven and for a good cause, [namely,] to promote peace.

(The above is based on an email from Yeshivat Har Etzion from decades ago that I could not find a copy. However, it is very similar to Rav Aharon Lichstein's article “In The Human and Social Factor in Halakhah”, Tradition 6 (2002) pp. 89-114, made available on-line by the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education at Bar Ilan Univ.)

A similar idiom that is also commonly understood on pragmatic grounds is "mishum eivah -- because of enmity", usually explained as reason to permit something because the enmity likely caused by observing the prohibition may pose a threat. neither idiom is used not used exclusively where there is real risk to life or limb, but that would have to be the meaning of the phrase if it were pragmatic grounds to override Shabbos. Mishum eiva is applied between father and child on Bava Metzia 12a; on Yuma 12b to the kohein gadol; and on Kesuvos 58b, between husband and wife. So avoiding eivah is a value of some sort detached from the value of saving people from future retaliation. But we were looking at darkhei Shalom in particular.

There is a story in the gemara (Sukkah 53a) where David haMelekh dug deep holes into the ground as part of his preparations for the future building of the Beis haMiqdash. He dug far enough down to hit the tehom, the subterranean water, and the water came up threatening to drown the world. Achitofel wrote the name of G-d on a pot sherd and through it down the hole, thus stopping the water. He reasoned from the law of sotah, where a paragraph of the Torah that includes Hashem’s name is written on a parchment, dissolved in water (along with some dust from under the Beis haMiqdash) and given to a sotah — a married woman accused of adultery who then is found alone with the suspected paramour. Achitofel reasoned that if Hashem’s name may be erased to save one marriage, then of course it may be erased to save the entire world.

So, darkhei Shalom and mishum eivah are in reality expressions about advancing world peace and global harmony, and as per the above Rambam, imply a responsibility of Jews toward the welfare of non-Jews.

  • How does this answer the main question? – LN6595 Apr 19 '18 at 19:48
  • @LN6595 I'll quote from the OP, and quote from my answer: Q. "Are these actions considered a mitzvah or obligation? Or is this merely a suggestion or good practice to keep peaceful relations with Gentiles so that we can avoid conflicts and possible violence from them?" – רבות מחשבות Apr 19 '18 at 19:51
  • @LN6595 A. "Rav Aharon Lichtinstein zt"l points out that the Rambam's prooftext for "darkhei Shalom" are about (1) imitating G-d, and (2) that the authentic ways of the Torah are to be pleasant and advance peace. It would seem that the common understanding of Darkhei Shalom is wrong. Rather, we express our concern toward non-Jews for the sake of remaining on the path of peace, because that is Hashem's Path." – רבות מחשבות Apr 19 '18 at 19:52

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .