The Kosher Golden Rule

Kedoshim By :  Matthew Berkowitz Former Director of Israel Programs, JTS Posted On Apr 25, 2014 / 5774

Two great questions are often asked in our community: What is our obligation to our fellow Jews? What are our responsibilities to the larger world? Parashat Kedoshim seeks to provide an answer to these queries in teaching what is perhaps the most famous lesson of Torah, “v’ahavta l’rayekha k’mokha” (that you will love your neighbor as yourself; Lev. 19:18). It is the Golden Rule—a simple, yet complex teaching. How are we to understand it?

Commentators, interestingly enough, do what they can to limit the scope of this teaching. Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson, for instance, comments, “im tov hu aval lo im hu rasha”—that is to say, if your neighbor is good and decent, you should love him as yourself; but if he is wayward, then not. Ramban (Nahmanides) authors a long essay on this mitzvah in which he explains that it cannot be that the Torah’s intent is that you should love your neighbor as yourself. Rather, he explains that a human should wish his or her fellow or friend well. It doesn’t really and truly mean love in the deepest sense. And then there are those today that argue that the intent of the verse is to love only fellow Jews. Each one of these answers seems limited in scope, and lacking in expansiveness and generosity of spirit.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, one of the first chief rabbis of Israel teaches, “Love for Israel implies love for all humanity.” One unlikely source for this message comes from another part of the book of Leviticus that deals with the laws of kashrut (Lev. 11:19). One of the fowl deemed nonkosher by Torah is a bird called the hasidah (the stork). Rashi explains, based on the Talmud, that it is called a hasidah because it demonstrates hesed to its fellow birds in feeding them. Eight hundred years later, the Kotzker Rebbe asked, “If the hasidah is kind toward its kin, why is it unkosher?” His answer: “To be kosher, you have to be kind not only to your own kind but to all.” That, I believe, is the peshat, or literal interpretation of our verse in Torah.

The publication and distribution of A Taste of Torah are made possible by a generous grant from Sam and Marilee Susi.