How do you reconcile Hillel (1) and Rabi Akiva (2) with the Mishnah Torah (3) and Shulchan Aruch (4)?

  1. "What is hateful unto you, do not do unto your neighbor. That is the whole Torah, all the rest is commentary. Now go and study." - Hillel

  2. "And you should love your fellow as yourself; this is a great principle in the Torah." - Rabi Akiva

  3. "One who does not acknowledge the validity of the Oral Law... should be put to death by any person.... Like all the rest of the heretics who say that the Torah is not Divine in origin.... There is no need for witnesses, a warning, or judges for them to be executed. Instead, whoever kills them performs a great mitzvah." - Rambam (Mamrim 3)

  4. "The apikorsim, and those who do not believe in the Torah and in the Jewish prophecy, it is a mitzvah to kill them. If one has strength in his hand to kill them with a sword, in public, he should kill him." - Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 158:2)

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    Welcome to Mi Yodeya. There are many other instances in which we are told to do something harmful to others (e.g. execute a Shabbat violator). Is there something particular about your final two sources that make them troublesome, or is your question about how we can have any form of punishment or other mandated negative interactions with others, if those actions are presumably not things we would want done to ourselves?
    – Alex
    Jan 30, 2019 at 8:43
  • Yes, the latter - these actions which Rambam and Shulchan Aruch call a mitzvah are certainly "hateful unto you" and violate at least the spirit of "love your fellow." I'm aware of no other instance in which halacha asks individuals to directly harm other individuals. Judicial proceedings are an altogether different matter.
    – Ruvi
    Jan 30, 2019 at 14:47
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    Sure there are other instances. Halachah also tells us to stop a rodef (pursuer), up to and including wounding or killing him. (Related, and in this week's parsha: a householder may kill an intruder - he doesn't have to surrender his property rather than do so.) Another example: "zealous people" may kill certain kinds of violators of halachah (most famously, a Jewish man consorting with a non-Jewish woman, as Pinchas did to Zimri and Kozbi); etc.
    – Meir
    Jan 30, 2019 at 16:30
  • @Meir, but severe punishments for interpersonal sins don't pose the same question Ruvi did. If I understand him correctly, Ruvi is asking that if everything is about being better to other people, how do matters of belief rise to do-or-die levels? Jan 31, 2019 at 16:01
  • @MichaBerger, that might explain the first one, but not the second; a Jew consorting with a non-Jewish woman is (on the surface) not harming any other Jews by doing so. (To be sure, he does, because of כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה; but once you grant that, then the same is true of all areas of Torah, and the question falls away.)
    – Meir
    Jan 31, 2019 at 16:50

1 Answer 1


There are numerous ways of reconciling those principles:

  1. In general, we hold that the positive approach (like to love thy fellow) is limited to "one's Jewish fellow", namely another pious Jew, and does not apply to wicked ones. THere's no obligation of loving the sinners, following the Passuk (Psalms 97, 10) "אוהבי ה' שנאו רע"

  2. By reprimanding or punishing or even killing the wicked we actually do good to them and to the world - to them as they do Teshuva and increase their merits, and to the world accordingly.

  3. We can explain that just as other Mitzvos can contradict and we're obligated to choose one, like Shabbos and Pikuach Nefesh, or Kibud Av vs Talmud Torah, those positive Mitzvos hold unless we're commanded otherwise, i.g stone the Shabbos breaker.

  • "Ben Azzai said, a greater principle than that [Rabbi Aqiva's] is 'these are the generations of Adam'." So, I seriously question #1. Jan 31, 2019 at 16:03
  • @MichaBerger, הלכה כר' עקיבא מחבירו.
    – Meir
    Jan 31, 2019 at 16:58
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    @Meir: this is neither halakhah nor necessarily a machloqes. Ben Zoma is one-upping R' Aqiva with "gedolah mizu" -- does that means he disagrees, or that he found a bigger way to make the same point? But in any case, even if we assume R Aqiva disgrees with the point being made, rules of pesaq don't apply to an argument about aggadita. Jan 31, 2019 at 20:16
  • @MichaBerger עקיבא מה לך אצל הגדה
    – Alex
    Jun 30, 2019 at 1:58
  • @Alex: meaning? Are you trying to say that R Aqiva didn't mean this kelel gadol in an aggadic sense so that rules of machloqes should apply? Or that Rabbi Aqiva's opinion should be downgraded because it is indeed a debate outside his specialty? Either way, I personally believe my first option -- Ben Zoma is one-upping R Aqiva, not really disagreeing with him. Jul 1, 2019 at 6:30

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