Leviticus 19:18 Does Not Mean “Love Everyone”: Why I Disagree with Richard E. Friedman

      It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Dr. Hector Avalos on April 12, 2021.                    

The conflicts over immigration and social inequality mean that Leviticus 19:18 (“you shall love your neighbor as yourself [ואהבת לרעך כמוך]) is being revived once again as a biblical prooftext. One of the main defenders for the universalist interpretation of Leviticus 19:18 is Richard E. Friedman. In so doing, Friedman was attemping to refute the nationalist view of Harry M. Orlinsky (1908-1992), My article here will argue that, despite a pro-immigrant and welcoming appearance, Lev 19:18 actually is part of a colonialist and patriarchal attitude toward foreigners found in Leviticus and in other biblical traditions. Friedman overlooks the exegetical and ethical problems he creates and/or propagates in explaining his disagreement with Orlinsky.

By Hector Avalos
Professor of Religious Studies
Iowa State University
April 2021

Click here for article.

Article Comments

Submitted by Martin Hughes on Fri, 04/16/2021 - 04:26


Judgement in courts of law is in fact - and should be, I think - somewhat concerned with matters beyond the fact that the crime has been committed, with whether it is a first offence etc.. If we are to judge ‘ancient Israel’ it may be that our overall judgement is negative but there may still be places where we can recognise something progressive. I certainly think that the attempts to recruit a-Israel to the United Nations are mistaken, disturbingly so. But I don’t see how it can be denied that in the overall argument of Lev.19 a certain principle is used to commend national solidarity (vs.18) and then that the same words, to some extent the same idea, are used to commend at very least some degree of decent treatment of those who are least somewhat outside the nation. Moreover that this extension is interestingly justified on the basis of sympathy, knowing how they feel - the first time or among the first times that sympathy had played this role in human thought about right and wrong. The Jesus school may have been wrong - after all these passages are not really highlighted within the overall structure of Leviticus - in thinking that a ‘great commandment’ was emerging here, or was being proposed by the original writers, but they had a point in suggesting that the very interesting question ‘who is my neighbour?’ is prompted logically by reflection on the words. I doubt if the Jesus school were alone in these reflections which must have arisen quite often amid Hellenistic reproaches about Jewish ‘misanthropy’.
We might think that sympathy is on too narrow a basis, that it does not tell us anything about how we should feel about those of other nations who are not strangers in our midst, that insistent reference to one’s own remembered - surely worse - suffering is a somewhat alienating aspect of sympathy. But when all is said and done Lev.19 achieves something in moral philosophy.

Submitted by Richard Faussette on Fri, 04/16/2021 - 06:35


The article reads:
"Note that the town of Jericho is what is “destroyed” instead of men, women, and children (Joshua 6:21). Where is that in the count of 52 times that Hebrews are commanded to be “fair” to foreigners?"

Dr. Avalos, maybe I'm misunderstanding the text. Joshua 6:21 reads: "Under the ban, they destroyed everything in the city; they put everyone to the sword, men and women, young and old, and also cattle, sheep and asses." I agree with your hypothesis, but your text above doesn't seem to support it unless I'm missing something. Jericho and all its people and domestic animals are destroyed.

Here's a proof for your position:
Pronatalism and strict endogamy in the pursuit of intelligence increase the numbers and strength of the community practicing them but also cause social unrest, revolution and war if you are sojourning in a host nation. See Exodus 1:7-10,
Here's another:
The second creation of man and woman in Genesis is also a good proof for your colonialist and patriarchal characterization.
Woman has to be subjugated in order to pressure her to continuous childbirth to satisfy the demands of the Abrahamic covenant.

Deuteronomy 20:16-18 reads: "In the cities of these nations whose land the Lord your God is giving you as a patrimony you shall not leave any creature alive. You shall annihilate them."

Ezra 9 (entire chapter) only verses 12-13 are included here
“Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons, and do not marry your sons to their daughters, and never seek their welfare or prosperity. Thus, you will be strong and enjoy the good things of the land and pass it on to your children as an everlasting possession.

Nehemiah 13:23-31
“I argued with them and reviled them, I beat them and tore out their hair; and I made them swear in the name of God: “We will not marry our daughters to their sons or take any of their daughters in marriage for our sons or for ourselves.”

Submitted by Richard Faussette on Sat, 04/17/2021 - 09:51


Leviticus 19 is an expansion of the Decalogue with punishment for breaking the commandments added to the original commandments. The Decalogue is wholly on the amity side of the amity-enmity complex (Herbert Spencer). It is indeed for solidifying a group's internal bonds. It doesn't refer to the group's enemies. The Covenant identifies Judaism's enemies and how to destroy them.
"Be careful not to make a covenant with the natives of the land against which you are going, or they will prove a snare in your midst.
No: you shall demolish their altars, smash their sacred pillars and cut down their sacred poles."
Aniconism and iconoclasm are not easily identified when they are in their priestly form. Aniconism and iconoclasm are generally manifest as an attack on native institutions when wielded by priests.
The Decalogue is for binding your own community together. Trying to glean an attitude toward outsiders from it misinterprets its purpose.
The covenant is for identifying the enemy host and destroying the enemy host.

Lev. 19:18
You shall not seek revenge, or cherish anger towards your KINFOLK; you shall love your NEIGHBOR as a man like yourself.

The Decalogue is for internal use only.

This (Jewish mysticism) is for internal consumption and external use:

In Gershom Scholem’s treatment of the messianic idea in Kabbalism he describes what will happen at redemption.
He writes: “The Zohar follows Talmudic Aggadah” in seeing redemption as “the gradual illumination of the world by the light of the

“At the time when the Holy One, blessed be He, shall set Israel upright and bring them up out of Galut He will open to them a small and scant window of light, and then he will open another that is larger, until he will open to them the portals on high to the four directions of the universe. So shall it be with all that the Holy One, blessed be he, does for Israel and for the righteous among them, so shall it be and not at a single instant, for neither does healing come to a sick man at a single instant, but gradually until he is made strong.”

“The Gentiles (who are designated Esau or Edom), however, will suffer the opposite fate. They received their light in this world at a single stroke, but it will depart from them gradually until Israel shall grow strong and destroy them.

See Elliott Horowitz, Elisheva Carlebach or John Murray Cuddihy or my "The Fundamental Structure and Systematic Theology of the Torah"

Submitted by Richard Faussette on Sat, 04/17/2021 - 22:25


Rest in peace, Dr. Hector Avalos,

You wrote:
"My article here will argue that, despite a pro-immigrant and welcoming appearance, Lev 19:18 actually is part of a colonialist and patriarchal attitude toward foreigners found in Leviticus and in other biblical traditions."

You'll not get an argument from me, and it's not just because you've passed on and can't respond but because you're absolutely right.
You've left on a high note.

Rich Faussette

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