“Love your Neighbor as Yourself”

Rabi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Reader: Does the verse “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) also apply to non-Jews, or only to Jews? If the latter, what are the implications…that we don't love non-Jews?

Rabbi: Minchas Chinuch cites Maimonides (Hil. Dayos chap 6) who says that we are to hate a Jew who sins. Torah also says, “And you shall love the convert” (Deut. 10:19). Thus, love and hate are based on one’s character, not one’s religion.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” applies to a good Jew or a convert, not a non-Jew. And we hate those who oppose God’s Torah: Jew or convert. Just as we don’t love a sinning Jew, we don’t love others who sin. This includes a non-Jew who opposes God.

But the mitzvah to hate the sinner does not mean we harm people. Rather, that we do not support their actions. And “loving” others does not mean we falsify our feelings. It’s impossible to love one whom we do not love. It is like saying one believes in X, when one does not actually believe. Rather, love means—as the Rabbis teach—to “treat” another in words and actions as we wish to be treated. But it does not demand the impossible, to emote when no feelings exist. Hate, then, also means to not support a person who sins. For without hating him our her, we would harm ourselves (via identification) and others by supporting a sinner, be he Jew or gentile. 

We return to your question: How are we to treat a gentile who is righteous? He is not subsumed under “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Certainly we are to treat him or her with love. We learn human perfection from our patriarchs and matriarchs. Both Abraham and Rebecca did not walk, but ran to help complete strangers, and they both did so with much toil and time. Torah does not include only commands, but the many stories of our fathers and mothers are included as intentional role models. They helped others regardless of their religion. We are to do the same. 

Finally, let’s understand the context. “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen; love your fellow as yourself, I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:18). Why is loving your neighbor grouped with vengeance and grudges? This bears out the above, that love is not defined as emotion, but as action that opposes grudges and vengeance.