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21.07.2020 21:11    Comments: 0    Categories: Weekly Parashah      Tags: torah shabbat parasha devarim kasher  

"Hear out your brethren, between any man and his brother and his stranger" On Brotherhood

"Did not He who made me in my mother's belly make him?  Did not One form us both in the womb?" (Job 31:15).  So is he inferior to or worse than me?  After all, He who made me in my mother's womb, made him in his mother's womb!  And all of us He formed in a single womb, namely the womb of Eve, who was "the mother of all the living."  If so, "We are brethren" (Metzudat David)

At the beginning of Deuteronomy Moses describes to the people how he addressed the judges at the time they were appointed:  "I charged your magistrates at that time as follows, 'Hear out your brethren, and decide justly between any man and his brother and his stranger'" (Deut. 1:16).  This verse raises a question:  if at the end of the verse the "stranger" is distinct from "his brother," how is it that the stranger is included among "your brethren" at the beginning of the verse?

The notions of "stranger" and brotherhood go hand in hand in Scripture in the story of Lot.  Abraham expresses familial brotherhood towards his nephew Lot.  These sentiments served Abraham as a reason for making peace—"for we are brethren" (Gen. 13:8)—and for rescuing Lot from captivity:  "When Abram heard that his brother had been taken captive…he also brought back his brother Lot and his possessions" (Gen. 14:14-16).  Lot himself addressed his fellow townsmen metaphorically as brothers:  "I beg you, my brothers, do not commit such a wrong" (Gen. 19:7).  But when he sought to protect his guests, he was immediately rejected with a response that noted his inferior status as an outsider, a stranger:  "The fellow came here as an alien, and already he acts the ruler!" (Gen. 19:9).  For good reason Sodom came to symbolize a tight-knit society—"young and old, all the people to the last man"—that abuses outsiders who are not its citizens.

A parallel verse to the one cited above, calling for justice "between any man and a fellow Israelite or a stranger," is found in Leviticus 24:22:  "You shall have one law for the stranger and the citizen alike."  A connection between the stranger as a person without citizenship and as a person without family is expressed in the picturesque distinction made by Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra:

In the Holy tongue a person who has family is likened to a branch that is firmly attached to a root and is therefore called a "citizen" (Heb. ezrah), because he is "well-rooted like a robust native tree" (Heb. ke-ezrah ra`anan).  Whereas the stranger (ger) is like a single berry (gargir) cut off from its branch.  (Commentary on Gen. 15:13)

Citizen (ezrah)—like having many branches; such is the person who has an extended family.  Alien (ger) is the opposite, for he is like a single berry (garger) cut off from its tree.  (Commentary on Ps. 37:35)[1]

The alien (ger) is compared to a garger or a berry, cut off from its branch or tree, while the citizen is likened to a "branch firmly adhering to the root," deeply rooted in the soil, because "he has family" or "has many branches" growing out of him and then "has extended family."  Thus the alien is isolated wherever he may be, with no blood relations to support him.

In the context at hand, the term ah (= brother or kinsman) most likely denotes someone belonging to the Jewish people, and hence the stranger (ger) who is to be treated like "your kinsman" has been identified solely with the ger-tzedekor proselyte.[2] For example, Ralbag in his commentary on the verse at hand:  "or a stranger—clarifying that this is the law applying to a proselyte who has undertaken to observe all the laws of the Torah, for such a person is like our fellow."

Ralbag also interpreted the parallel verse mentioned above in like manner, calling for the "stranger" and the "citizen" to be treated equally under the law:  "The law is the same for a proselyte as for a born Jew" (commentary on Lev. 24:21-22).  Ralbag's remarks imply that the proselyte does not fall into the same category as the citizen and that the latter term has ethnic connotations.

A similar interpretation is put forward by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in his commentary on the Torah:  "Between any man and his brother or his stranger" (Deut. 1:16):

You shall make no distinction in judging cases between two Jews by birth or between a Jew by birth and a proselyte who had been a gentile.  Upon converting to Judaism the outsider becomes "his stranger" (i.e., a proselyte), and such a person has equal standing with any Jew by birth, having entered the Jewish faith.

At the same time, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch's teaching includes a call for treating the alien with consideration, stressing that in this regard Jews should behave differently from the general society in which they live:

Even if they deny and cast aspersions on your humanity, and consider you an alien and sub-human in the dispersed lands where you live, you nevertheless…should love, appreciate and respect the stranger.  This proper attitude stems from the brotherhood of all creatures:  "Does not the Lord call you all 'My sons'—both alien and citizen alike?" (HorevMishpatim, 8).  But pay heed:  not every gentile in the land of Israel should be given the status of a resident alien.  Although "in Europe, America, and part of Asia and Africa even the peoples who are not Jews…have laws and faith such as instruct them to uphold the seven Noachian commandments," nevertheless that which prevails throughout the world does not come up to the required standard:

A person—so the Torah instructs us[3]—who in the presence of another three people undertakes to observe these commandments, and considers them commandments that were given to Moses by divine revelation…such a person is considered a "resident alien" (loc. cit.)

Even his call for the general brotherhood of all humanity embraced with one hand while putting off with the other.  In a work directed at the young Jews of his day he wrote:  "Keep love in your hearts for your non-Jewish brethren, as the Torah bids you; feed their hungry…and rush to their aid."  But Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch cautioned against excessively close brotherhood in the sense of a tight family:

As for being like a member of the family, do you not see that you will never be able to reach the stage where all will be brothers and that you should not aspire to that?  Not out of hatred, but because of your destiny as a Jew" (Iggeret Tzafun, 15).

Despite the narrow interpretation we have seen here, asserting that the call for equality applies only to the ger in the sense of a Jewish proselyte, there have been those who applied the term ger also to non-Jewish resident-aliens.  This interpretation is in line with the widespread view that, according to the plain sense of Scripture, the term ger denotes a foreigner living outside his land of birth.[4] Such was the approach of Rabbi Saadiah Gaon in his commentary on the verse at hand, as well as the view of Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra.  Citing the verse at hand as a proof-text in another similar context (Ibn Ezra's short commentary, Ex. 23:9), he cautions against being biased, justifying this position on ostensibly religious grounds:

You shall not oppress a stranger (Ex. 23:9)—he too shall address the judge, so that the judge not think when adjudicating between an Israelite and a stranger that he can put aside the Law of Israel [and judge by gentile laws].  Also, it is written in the singular, "you shall not oppress," [meaning it is addressed to each judge individually].   And the prooftext:  "Decide justly between any man and his fellow or a stranger" (Deut. 1:16).

The verse at hand is cited in yet another context (Lev. 19:33, 35), in discussing the vulnerability of the resident-alien, who is compared to an aged person:

When a stranger resides with you—mentioned after the aged, for the following reason:  just as I admonished you to respect the aged Israelite because he has no strength, so I admonish you regarding the stranger, for you are more powerful than he.  Or, since he has no power, being in your land at your mercy…You shall not do injusticespecifically to the stranger [since he is especially vulnerable], as in the verse, "decide justly between any man and a fellow or a stranger."

(Ibn Ezra on Lev. 19:33, 35).

A similar approach, extending the meaning of these verses to the resident-alien, also follows from Moses Mendelssohn's explication of the Torah, where in his German translation of this passage he uses the word fremdling (= stranger) to denote ger.  His commentary proper emphasizes the demand for equality applying to all human beings:  "Or his stranger—the stranger of the adjudicant.  In your eyes all who stand in court should be treated as your brethren, as it says in Scripture, 'Hear out your brethren,' making no distinction between an Israelite and a stranger."[5] Similar remarks in the spirit of brotherhood encompassing all humanity were also written by the brilliant kabbalist, Rabbi Phinehas Eliyahu Horwitz of Vilna, a contemporary of Mendelssohn:

For loving one's fellow applies to all human beings, and "Love your fellow as yourself" applies to all, be it servant and master, brother and sister,…or the stranger and the resident:  "There shall be one law for all" (Sefer ha-Brit, 13:17).

Translated by Rachel Rowen

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