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Loving One’s Neighbor the Biblical Way

A long time ago in my studies of Hebrew (which I really can’t read any more), I remembered hearing that the term “neighbor” in Bible didn’t mean the universal neighbor we think of as all humanity as most people interpret it today. The context that it is used by most Christians and Jews today is that in numerous places in the Bible, Yahweh tells Moses to tell his people (the Jews) how to treat their neighbors. For example, in Leviticus 19:18 Yahweh tells Moses to tell the Jews to treat their neighbors as they wish to be treated. Most people see this as the Golden Rule.

As it turns out though, the Golden Rule in the Bible isn’t so golden. You have to suspect something is up when you see that such a statement is in Leviticus. For those who haven’t picked up their Bible’s lately, Leviticus is the same book which claims that people should kill homosexuals and disrespectful children.

In any case, while I remembered hearing that the word “neighbor” wasn’t a reference to the universal neighbor of all humanity, I couldn’t remember the specific justification nor did I recall the source that I originally heard this from. So I couldn’t go and talk about it in any kind of serious manner because I wouldn’t have been able to back it up with facts, evidence, or solid reasoning. While many religious people simply rely on faith, as an atheist I have to rely on facts, evidence, and solid reasoning. So I didn’t bring up that issue in any kind of public setting.

Now however, someone has directed me to an article on this very issue. Here is a quote from that article, “Hebrew word reyacha explicitly means ‘your fellow Jew.’ It does not refer to anyone outside the Jewish faith. ‘Neighbor’ is not an accurate translation for the word reyacha. The Hebrew word for ‘neighbor’ is shachen.”

This being the case, Leviticus 19:18 instructs Jews to love fellow Jews as they would love themselves. This of course changes the Ten Commandments a little bit too. Thou shall not bare false witness against a fellow Jew and thou shall not covet the goods of a fellow Jew. The implication is that Jews can do those things to non-Jews. In fact, non-Jews seem to be less important than Jews in the Bible. Sort of like how many Republicans think of Americans as being more important and better than non-Americans.

While Jews are still commanded to respect all life since God created all life, it is clear that there is a pecking order in how all life should be treated. This is really just tribalism which has grown into three very tribal and warring religions with thousands of warring and tribal sects within those religions.

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