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This verse is obviously one of the most central & important in the whole Torah. It has helped sustain us as a kind, harmonious, & loving nation for over 3,000 years & has helped introduce the Golden Rule to mankind.

Do the commentators explain if this command has any restrictions? I assume it doesn’t apply to those that are openly rebelling against HaShem or the Jewish Nation, but what about Bnei Noach?

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    Dear Lages! Welcome to the site! Would you consider translating a few jargon terms? – Kazi bácsi Sep 7 '18 at 12:48
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The answer is in the passuk itself: “lirayacha” - your fellow, which always comes to include all Jews.

The Rambam makes this point explicitly in De’os 4:3:

מִצְוָה עַל כָּל אָדָם לֶאֱהֹב אֶת כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל כְּגוּפוֹ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא יט יח) "וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ".

It’s a commandment on every man to love everyone from Yisrael like himself, as it says, “And you should love your fellow like yourself.”

Note that the term “fellow” includes converts as well; in the words of the Rambam in the very next Halacha:

אַהֲבַת הַגֵּר שֶׁבָּא וְנִכְנָס תַּחַת כַּנְפֵי הַשְּׁכִינָה שְׁתֵּי מִצְוֹת עֲשֵׂה. אַחַת מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא בִּכְלַל רֵעִים וְאַחַת מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא גֵּר וְהַתּוֹרָה אָמְרָה (דברים י יט) "וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר".

Loving a convert who comes and enters under the wings of the Shechinah is two positive commandments: one because he is included under “fellows” and one because he is a convert, and the Torah says, “You should love the convert.”

However, non-Jews, even those who have accepted the seven Noahide laws, are not included in this commandment, as they are not considered your “fellows.”

Further, the Smag (Asei 9) adds, based on Pesachim 113, that even among Jews, one is not obligated to love his fellow if his fellow is a wicked person; to the contrary, it’s a mitzvah to hate him. (Do not try this at home without the proper guidance - everyone sins, not everyone is a wicked person. It’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss who is considered a wicked person that one should hate.)

By the way, this is the general usage of “your fellow” in the Torah - while anything in this post could be prohibited by other Biblical or Rabbinic laws, when the Torah says that you should not stand by idly on your “fellow’s” blood, it refers to a Jew specifically (Sefer HaChinuch 237); the prohibition against coveting your “fellow’s” property is limited to a Jew’s (Sefer HaChinuch 38).

It seems that the prototype for this usage is Shemos 2:13: “Why are you hitting your fellow?” While Rashi translates this in the context of the passuk (“a wicked person like you”), we see that “your fellow” indicates someone like you - in these cases, someone who is Jewish. I do not have a source for this final point, but in my humble opinion, this would seem to be the source for these rulings. (If I am correct, perhaps it can be argued that while a righteous Jew shouldn’t love a wicked Jew, a wicked Jew must love another wicked Jew.)

  • Nice and +1, saw this only after posting my answer (4 mins after you :->) – mbloch Sep 7 '18 at 14:22
  • @mbloch The more the merrier. At least you brought mostly new sources, so it’s not a total dupe. – DonielF Sep 7 '18 at 14:26
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    you wrote "non-Jews... are not considered your 'fellows'." Is this always true? What about "וישאלו איש מאת רעהו" in Shemos 11:2, regarding borrowing from the Egyptians? – הנער הזה Jun 28 at 3:33
  • @הנערהזה I’d always assumed that passuk was different because it’s before Har Sinai – DonielF Jun 28 at 11:38
  • @DoubleAA Source that the application to non-Jews is from לא תסיג and not לא תגזול? Sifri to that passuk learns that לא תסיג applies only in EY, and לא תגזול is the general prohibition, a psak quoted by Rambam Hil. Geneivah 7:11 and Tur CM 376. – DonielF Jun 28 at 12:22
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This is indeed how Sefer HaChinukh (mitsva 243) understands it

To love [with] love of the soul each one of Israel - meaning to say that we have compassion for an Israelite and for his money, [just] like a person has compassion for himself and for his [own] money; as it stated (Leviticus 19:18), "you shall love your neighbor as yourself."

and the Rambam (MT Hilchot Deot 6:3)

Each man is commanded to love each and every one of Israel as himself as [Leviticus 19:18] states: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

As R Yitzchak Ginsburgh writes

The Jew is commanded to respect all human beings. The Torah prohibits any negative behavior toward a non-Jew, so long as he is not an enemy. He is instructed, however, not to become too close a companion to him. Thus the above verse, veahavta l’reyacha kamocha, “You shall love your neighbor as your self”, does not imply a universal neighbor. To be honest with the text, the parenthetical “a fellow Jew” must appear.

This commandment applies even to a Jew having been condemned to death, the gemara in Baba Kama 51a writes

Rav Naḥman says that Rabba bar Avuh says that the verse states: “And you shall love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), teaching that even with regard to a condemned prisoner, select a good, i.e., a compassionate, death for him. Therefore, the structure used for stoning is constructed sufficiently high that he dies quickly, without any unnecessary suffering.

(see also similar passages in Ketubot 37b and Pesachim 75a)

Bnei Noach are all righteous non-Jews, by definition they do not belong to "your brother".

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TL;DR the verse includes only Jews in good religious standing


This is an excellent question, but it should be clarified that is is also significantly limited: there are dozens of commandments and restrictions guiding interpersonal relationships and obligations that a Jew might have towards his fellow man, and all of these might have different definitions of who is included or not. Thus, for example, the prohibition of usury (lending money with interest) only prohibits Jews from lending to other Jews with interest, but deceiving someone is biblically prohibited for both Jews and non-Jews (according to most). Even in multiple cases where the Torah uses the same word, רעיך, there might be differences based on the context. For example, Rabbeinu Bachayei writes (to Ex. 20:13) that one is prohibited to bear false witness against a non-Jew, even though the Torah uses the term רעיך, your fellow.

The question here is: who is included in "fellow," or רעך in the Biblical command to "love your fellow", in Lev. 19:18?

Non-Jews

Despite the teachings of the Christian gospel, rabbinic Judaism unanimously understands that רעך, or "your fellow" refers specifically to fellow members of the nation of Israel. The Sifra (primary halakhic midrash) comments on that verse that converts to Judaism are also included as learnt out from a later verse in the chapter (Lev 19:34), but the implication is clear that those who are not Jewish are excluded. Thus, Maimonides codifies the rule as follows (Hilkhot Deot Ch 6):

מִצְוָה עַל כָּל אָדָם לֶאֱהֹב אֶת כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל כְּגוּפוֹ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא יט יח) "וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ" It is incumbent upon every person to love each and every member of Israel as himself, as it says 'you shall love your fellow as yourself' (Lev. 19:18)

Sinners of Israel

Commenting on the above-quoted statement of Maimonides, the author of Hagahot Maimoniot (here, bottom left column) writes

[the command to love someone] only applies to he who is "your fellow" in Torah and commandments; but [towards] a wicked person who does not accept rebuke it is a mitzvah to hate him

and to bolster this halakha the author quotes two verses and references a passage in Pesachim (113b), which may actually indicate that there is a talmudic dispute but the passage is not so clear. Either way, Hagahot Maimoniot's position is shared by Rashbam (to Lev 19:34), Semag (aseh no. 9), and R. Yitzhak Arama (Akeidas Yitzchak Lev no. 23).

However, not everyone agrees that sinners should be excluded from "your fellow" whom 'you must love as yourself.' In a fascinating comment, R. Meir Abulafiah explains that the Mishnah assumed that the command to "love your fellow" applies even for the wicked who are sentenced to death because

ויש לפרש ואהבת לרעך לשון רעים שבך one can interpret "love your fellow" [rei'ekha] as "the wicked among you" [ra'-im shebekha] (Ramah to Sanhedrin 52)

Some have also believed this to be the position of Maimonides, though it is hard to tell for certain. According to Maharam Shik (Taryag Mitzvot 244), the halakha is in accordance with the view that one's "fellow" in this context does include a sinner.

Non-Believing and "Secular" Jews

The entire discussion regarding Jewish sinners, however, refers specifically to those Jewish people who believe in God, are part of the Jewish community, but are known to engage in certain prohibited behaviors for whatever non-ideological reason. However, those who do not believe in the principles of faith are generally assumed to have lost their status as full-fledged members of the nation (in certain ways). Maimonides thus writes in his intro to the 10th Ch. of Mishnah Sanhedrin regarding believing the principles of Judaism:

וכאשר יהיו קיימים לאדם כל היסודות הללו ואמונתו בהם אמתית הרי הוא נכנס בכלל ישראל וחובה לאהבו ולחמול עליו וכל מה שצוה ה' אותנו זה על זה מן האהבה והאחוה ואפילו עשה מה שיכול להיות מן העבירות מחמת תאותו והתגברות יצרו הרע הרי הוא נענש לפי גודל מריו ויש לו חלק והוא מפושעי ישראל וכאשר יפקפק אדם ביסוד מאלו היסודות הרי זה יצא מן הכלל וכפר בעיקר ונקרא מין ואפיקורות וקוצץ בנטיעות וחובה לשנותו ועליו הוא אומר הלא משנאיך ה' אשנא וכו (Qafih translation)

And when a person upholds all these foundations, and his belief in them is true, he enters into the group of Israel and it is an obligation to love him, and to have compassion for him, and all that Hashem commanded us regarding love and brotherhood for each other. And even if he has done what can be of the sins due to his desires and the overpowerment of his evil inclination, he will be punished commensurate to the greatness of his rebellion but he still has a portion and he is of the sinners of Israel. But when a person doubts one of these foundations he has left the group, and denied God, and is called a sectarian and a heretic and a cutter of shoots, and it is an obligation to hate him, and of him it is said "do I not hate those who hate you, Hashem?" (taken from here; thanks Alex)

Someone who does not believe in Judaism, therefore, is not included in the Jews' obligation to love each other. This is also true of those who are 'secular' Jews, who do not follow the commandments out of ideological principle (see Shulhan Arukh, Y.D. 158:2 and Mishnah Berurah 55:46, among many instances) and perhaps even those who are simply completely indifferent to the Jewish religion (see Biur Halakha to 608:2, though this is less clear. The vast majority of rabbinic authorities do NOT propose implementing the harsh treatments against such people mentioned by Maimonides or the Shulhan Arukh (see here), but Maimonides' statements regarding loving and hating them still stands.

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The contextual reading of the phrase makes it clear that at the very least it applies to Jews/Israelites:

יח לֹא-תִקֹּם וְלֹא-תִטֹּר אֶת-בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ, וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ: אֲנִי, יְהוָה. 18

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.

The subject of the pasuk is רֵעֲךָ, your neighbor, and it seems that your neighbor is a subgroup that comes from בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ, "the children of your people." So at the very least, you are commanded to love a fellow Israelite as yourself since your neighbor definitely comes from the children of your people. However, there is no limit given in this pasuk on who you should consider as your people.

Most Rabbinical writings legislate this love as applying only to Israelites, and this makes sense. We usually legislate laws on the bare minimum. At the bare minimum you need to do x,y, and z. Therefore it's logical to have all of the Rabbanim say that this commandment at the very least applies to only Israelites as the context implies. However, some go an extra step further and forbid expanding it to include other people. It doesn't seem clear to me that the Torah forbids expanding this love. And I have my suspicions that those who would limit this love only do so as a polemic against Christianity/Jesus who taught this verse differently. This is a recording of that teaching about our verse in question:

The Parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10

25 On one occasion an expert in the Torah stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Torah?” he [Jesus] replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side [to avoid becoming ritually impure on account of the man who might die]. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side [for the same reason]. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Clearly Jesus expanded this love to Samaritans (whom Jews classify as non Jews and potentially enemies) because of the Samaritan's love and mercy for the man in this story. The message being, your people are those that have mercy on you. To me, this is a lesson I have seen reflected in my life, as some of the greatest mercy I have ever received has come from non Jews.

But for those who would say that the word רֵעֲךָ can only apply to Jews, and therefore you cannot expand this to include non Jews, then I would answer this logic has to go both ways. This would mean that I am fully allowed to bear false witness against non Jews, covet their wives, and covet their homes and property.

The Ten Commandments from Devarim/Deuteronomy 5

.לֹא תִרְצָח, וְלֹא תִנְאָף; וְלֹא תִגְנֹב, וְלֹא-תַעֲנֶה בְרֵעֲךָ עֵד שָׁוְא וְלֹא תַחְמֹד, אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ; וְלֹא תִתְאַוֶּה בֵּית רֵעֶךָ, שָׂדֵהוּ וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ שׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ, וְכֹל, אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ

16 Thou shalt not murder. Neither shalt thou commit adultery. Neither shalt thou steal. Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour. 17 Neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour's wife; neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's house, his field, or his man-servant, or his maid-servant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour's.

Since I'm a person who cannot abide in believing in a completely unethical religion, I cannot in good conscience say that I am completely allowed to bear false witness against and sleep with the wive's of non Jews while coveting all of their property.

So while I can't say that you are required to love non Jews as you love yourself, I feel morally obligated to say that loving your neighbor רֵעֲךָ can be expanded to include everyone, even if they aren't Jewish.

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    I think that those who don't expand VeAhavta LeReyacha to non-Jews do it because of Lo Sechaneim, not because of a parable they likely never read. – Shmuel Brin Sep 14 '18 at 19:49
  • @ShmuelBrin If one holds by the Torah Temimah that Lo Sechaneim (do not give them favor) only applies to the Canaanites then there's still no reason not to expand this to include non Jews. – Aaron Sep 14 '18 at 20:19
  • But not according to the Gemara – Shmuel Brin Sep 15 '18 at 0:06

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