Jewish and Christian Ethics/Chapter IX

Chapter IX

Love to Sinners

Meaning of the Pharisees' Reproach to Jesus.—Passage from Ezekiel.—Pharisees Interpretation.—Brotherly Reproof; Its Different Forms.—Aaron the Model of a Priest.—Abraham the Model of Apostles.—Doctors strive to convert Sinners.—Testimony of the Gospels.—Privileges of the Converted.—The Gentiles.—Measure for Measure.—Universality of Judaism.

Next to charity and the forgiveness of injury, the doctrine most particularly ascribed to Jesus is love to sinners. We do not examine the political prudence of a new doctrine's preaching the reinstatement of so many prescripts of the ruling Church, and appealing to all the religious malcontents, to found, like a new Romulus, a Christian Rome after the method that gave life and glory to Rome Pagan; or (to use a Hebrew example) of imitating Absalom's greetings and promises, in David's anti-chambers, to all the fractious spirits he met there. Whatever were the motives, the fact of the proceeding is beyond doubt. Jesus surrounds himself with all sorts of sinners, new patients to whom he brings a cure; he absolves with a word an adulteress, sits to table with the dregs of the people, and equivocates strangely upon the censures of the Pharisees for not drawing near sinners to convert them, but sitting to table and making free with them, before they were cleansed. Against the Pharisees he urges the scriptural and traditional doctrines that they never dreamed of disputing, and that had been ever accredited by the Hebrews. "If a man," he asks his disciples, "have a hundred sheep and one of them go astray, doth he not leave the ninety-nine and go into the mountains to seek the strayed one? and if he find it, he rejoiceth more over it truly than over those that had not strayed" (Mat xviii, 12). In Luke we have this parable too, with others of the same kind: that of the woman who lost a piece of silver, and that of the prodigal son. Well! we have, in a passage from the prophets, both the idea and simile that Jesus employs against the descendants and imitators of the prophets: "The word of the Lord came unto me," says Ezekiel; "Son of man prophesy against the shepherds of Israel and say to them: woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed only themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe yourselves with the wool; ye kill the fat sheep, and ye feed not the flock. Ye have not healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up the limb of the wounded. Ye have not brought again the strayed nor sought for the lost, but with force and cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered because without a shepherd, and because a prey to all the beasts of the fields. My sheep wandered through all the mountains and high hills, and were scattered over the face of the earth. ... Thus said the Lord God: I shall demand my sheep and seek them: as the shepherd, when with his sheep, seeketh the strayed ones, so shall I seek my sheep and draw them from the places to which they have strayed in the cloudy and dark day. ... I shall seek the lost and bring again those that were hidden, and bind the broken limbs of the wounded. ... As for you, my flock, behold! I am about to separate the sheep, the rams and the he-goats." (From this comes the saying of Jesus as to the separation of the sheep from the goats at the last judgment.) Here is unquestionably the model which long preceded Jesus and his doctrine, and which he could not forget in his utterances. But we must examine more closely what the Pharisees taught on this subject and see if they entertained the aversion and estrangement towards the sinner with which the Gospels reproach them.

Two things appear from Jesus' utterances on this subject: First, the duty of working for the conversion of sinners and the charity we should entertain towards them; and second, the greatness of those same sinners when converted, the place they occupy in God's love, and the glorious crown promised them. We shall not inquire of the Bible if these ideas are unknown to the Pharisees, as we have just seen what Ezekiel writes. There is, however, a precept that forms a transition from the Bible thoughts on this question to the Pharisaical ones, viz., fraternal correction; and it is one of those subjects which, without tradition, lose some of their value in the Mosaic Law. Its literal signification is an amicable adjustment of disputes between friends. It is Pharisaical tradition alone that points out the duty of striving for the conversion of sinners, rigorously enjoining its practice, even at the sacrifice of our self-love, at the risk of the rudest affronts,—in short, at every hazard save that of humiliating the sinner. For, beside the precept to fraternal admonition, the Pharisees see a provision and limitation against abuse, in the words of Moses as interpreted by them: "Reprove him, but always so that thou dost not expose thyself to sin; that is, to humiliate and put to shame thy neighbor." And, what is remarkable, it is this very subject that draws from the Pharisees the assertion upon which Jesus bases his excessive tolerance towards the sinner, viz: that no one is free from sin, and that consequently no one has the right to judge too severely his neighbor.

Did not Rabbi Tryphon say, respecting this precept: "I should be much surprised, were there any in this generation who know how to reprove. I should be much more so, replies another, were there any who know how to profit by a reproof; for my part, I should be so only were I told that some have the right to reprove; for, if one say to another: 'Take out the straw that is in thine eye,' he would get for answer: 'Take out the beam that is in thine own.'"[1] If I mistake not, here are both the language and the ideas of the Gospel, less the abuse there made of them.

We shall not mention the Hebrew institutions whose only object was to bring the strayed to the right way; or that exhortation to which Jesus owed many an inspiration and which rang continually through the portico of the temple, in the synagogues and public places, when, in time of great public calamity, the whole people were assembled about the oldest and most venerable Doctors, who spoke to the weeping multitude the following words preserved in the Mischna:[2] "My brothers, it is neither hair-cloth nor fasting that obtains pardon for you; for the Bible says not that God had regard to the hair-cloth and fasting of the Ninevites, but truly to their repentance and amendment. And it is moreover written (Joel ii, 13), Rend your hearts and not your garments." The Pharisees had so high an idea of the conversion of sinners, that the words of the prophet respecting Aaron, viz., "he drew many from sin,"[3] suffice them to build a splendid edifice, that need not envy the most tender Gospel effusions in favor of sinners. "How," they ask, "did Aaron win men from sin? Whenever he found that any one was following wrong paths, he sought carefully such a one's friendship and society. What was the result? The sinner said to himself: Oh! if the holy priest knew my conduct, how he would flee me! And it was this constant thought that brought him gradually to repentance."[4]

And is Aaron the only friend of sinners mentioned by the Pharisees? David had already said, "I shall teach thy ways to the wicked that they may return to thee" (Ps. ii. 15). This species of spiritualization which tradition mentions respecting Bible personages is of much older date; it reaches even to Abraham. It is perhaps difficult to find in Genesis anything resembling an apostleship of the great patriarch. Some phrase, indeed, occasionally invests the pastor, the Arab Melkh, the soldier, the patriarch, with a far more splendid halo than the gold and silver one given him by the Bible. But ten to one that even a sharp criticism lie hard set to discover in tradition a clear trace of the apostleship of Abraham. If such is believed to-day and is admitted even by the Church, it is derived from the Pharisees; to these belong the honor; their genius it is, that has changed "the slaves got at Haran" into souls of sinners gained at Haran,[5] Could such transformations be possible for those who did not esteem the conversion of sinners as one of the highest and holiest virtues? And accordingly how profuse and eloquent are their exortations. "Whoever shall save his neighbor for the glory of God, shall merit the heritage of the Lord."[6]

To love men and to bring them close to the law were precepts upon which Hillel and Schammai were always agreed[7]. The Zohar, above all, utters words surpassingly sublime and tender: "It is the duty of the righteous man to pursue the wicked one and reconquer him at any cost; this is the highest homage he can pay the Eternal... Oh! did the world but know what merit it could acquire by the conversion of the impious, it would cling to their steps as to life." As to a certain Rabbi Meir (who gave way sometimes to passion, like Paul against the smith Alexander) , a crowd of Doctors see in the sinner only a sick brother whom they must cure. We shall cite here but three examples of this. The first is of the woman Berouria, who, in spite of the grammatical rendering, found in the Psalms, that we ought to pray for the death of sin and not for that of the sinner[8]. The other is much more ancient, being the wife of Abba Hilkiya, who prayed incessantly for the conversion of some sinful acquaintance.[9] The Doctor is Rabbi Zera, who sought the company of sinners to reform them, and was so familiar with them that he incurred the censure of his colleagues. But the Rabbi died and then these wretched people said in their hearts: Hitherto the little Doctor with burnt feet prayed for us, but now who is going to pray for us? God touched their hearts and they repented.[10] But what better testimony can we have than that of the Gospels? Well, the Gospels themselves attest most solemnly the extreme zeal of the Pharisees for the conversion of the Gentiles. "Woe to you (cries Jesus,) Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you scour sea and land to make one proselyte, and when you get him you make him. twofold more the child of hell than yourselves!"

Once converted, the sinner need not envy the lot of the most just! Jesus, as we have seen, is eager to place him above the innocent, and that always, without observing the limits which common sense, justice and morality impose, and which the Pharisees are careful not to overstep. Can, indeed, every sort of convert aspire to the same degree of happiness and reward that attends the most just? Jesus, who wishes to attract to him, at any price, sinners, has no reserve. Not so, the wiser Pharisees. This is why the converted sinner, about whom we are going to speak, is the converted sinner eminently; he who has filled all the conditions of a great penitence,—who, in a year or an hour of heroism and self-denial effaces a whole life of licentiousness or crime. Such a convert, indeed, has no more eloquent eulogists or better friends than the Pharisees. One hour of penitence and good works in this world, say they, is more worth than a whole life in the world to come;[11] doubtless, because it can win the latter. Is it that the Pharisees would not have conceded merit to works and exterior acts, as one might suppose from the imputations of the Gospel? Far from it! The Pharisees are so far from being satisfied with a mere formulism, with acts originating in no conviction or feeling, that they have established an important distinction with respect to the indispensable interior changes—one that might surprise us, did we not already know that the epithet, "Religion of love," belongs not exclusively to Christianity. This distinction is: if it be through fear of the power, the wrath, or even the greatness of God that a sinner repents, the sins he has committed will be reckoned against him only as faults, as mere omissions; but if it be through a disinterested love of God and of his perfections, then his sins are counted as merits; whatever up to that time was a cause of condemnation, now becomes a title to glory and eternal happiness[12]. And what is this happiness? According to the most moderate of the Doctors, it is all the promises made by the prophets to Israel[13]. "All the prophecies," say they, "refer but to penitents; as to the jnst themselves, for them it is written: 'No eye,' O God, 'but thine, has seen their reward.'" But other Doctors go much further, and hesitate not to tell us, "the just, the perfect, will not be worthy to sit with penitents in the world to come."[14]

To cite all we could on this subject would be never to end. They who said, "we must take, as leader, one who has frightful reptiles on his back" (a sinful past), so that if he grew proud, they could say to him, look behind!—have not blushed to give us as guides and models men come from the worst slime of immorality and Paganism. For them, what else is the father of the human race but a penitent. Abraham, his father Tarech, his son Ishmael, Reuben, one of the twelve fathers of the nation, Aaron himself, who so well taught others to repent, have they not been sinners? Is not David, the King of Israel, the Pharisees' representative of all sinners?[15] Who are sunk deeper in all kinds of sin than Achab and Manassah? Still they are models of penitence, whom the Pharisees praise to envy.[16] And who are Schemaia and Abtalion, the fathers and oracles of the Pharisaical school, if not converted Pagans? And did pure Israelitic blood flow in the veins of Bag-Bag and Ben Hehe—him who said: "The reward shall be proportioned to the suffering,"[17]—and of the great Chaldean commentator Ankylos, and Rabbis Akiba and Meir, and many more? The Pharisees honor themselves by saying that one came from the Amalekite, Aman; another from Sennacherib; another yet, from Sisera, who were not, as we know, heroes of sanctity. Rabbi Simeon Ben Lakish was a highway robber, and Rabbi Eleazar Ben Dourdeya a libertine. And how pathetic the language of Juda, the Holy, as to the latter. On being told that this sinner, after a penitence of a few moments, had died, he wept and said: "There are those who gain eternal happiness, only after long years of toil; but, on the other hand, there are some who gain it in a few moments."[18]

And is the lot of converted Pagans inferior? This God of Israel, this local and national fetish that Voltaire and others have imagined, does not disdain to send his prophet to convert the Ninevites. "Thou truly, hast had pity for this gourd that cost thee neither labor nor trouble," said he to this Jew who could not rise to the divine thoughts, "And should not I spare that great city Nineveh wherein are more than six score thousand souls?"[19]

What example did the Pharisees, in their public discussions, set before the elect people? We have seen;—that of Nineveh.

Why is Israel called the people of the God of Abraham, rather than of the God of Isaac or Jacob? Because Abraham was the first proselyte[20], and that wherever there are true believers there are God's people—a noble idea, which Christianity has turned against the Pharisaical Judaism that instructed it. Why are proselytes called the loved of God, while the just Israelites are called only they who love God? "Because," replies R. Simeon Ben Jochai (the chief of the cabalistic school from which we believe Jesus learned everything), "proselytes surpass Israelites as much as those loved of God surpass those who simply love him"[21]. "Oh!" he adds, "how God loves proselytes; on whom are lavished all the names with which Israel has been honored, viz: servant, minister, friend!

Abraham, David, were proud to be called proselytes. Has not the latter said (Ps. cxlvi. 9): "God is the guardian of proselytes?" But how expressive the parable used by R. Simeon Ben Jochai to express the divine predeliction for reformed Gentiles! The Gospel has nothing like it, "A father of a family had a flock that went every day to feed, and returned at night. Once a wild goat joined the flock and would not go away from it. The sheep were led to the park, with the goat following; in the morning they were taken to the fields, and the goat still kept with them. So that the father conceived for the goat a great love; he never absented himself from his folks without telling them to allow the goat to feed at his pleasure, and not to strike or ill-treat him. And when the goat returned in the evening, the master himself gave him drink. One day the servants said: "Master, thou hast bucks, tame goats and lambs in abundance, why this love for the wild goat?" The master replied: "The former follow but their nature, which decrees them to feed, during the day, on the fields, and to return, in the evening, to the park. But the abode of wild goats is the forest. How should I not love him, that has given up his forest, his vast plains, his liberty and his comrades to shut himself up in my park?"[22] We need not make the application. The history of the Pharisees, like that of Christianity, gives us numerous instances of the sudden conversion of the Gentiles charged with the execution of some bloody decree against the person of the Rabbis. Thus the jailer of Rabbi Chanina Ben Teradion threw himself into the fire with his victim[23], and the officer charged with the execution of the death-sentence, upon Rabban Gamaliel, threw himself from the top of the roof and was killed—converts both, who had already secretly professed Judaism, saving themselves by death from a terrible alternative.

The last case was that of Kattia bar Schalom. His opposition to a tyrannical decree against the Jews caused him to be suspected of Jewish magic and to be condemned to the wild beasts. He was led to punishment, when a matron, entertaining also, as it seems, Jewish sentiments, and recognizing him by some Jewish sign perhaps, cried out: "Poor vessel, that goes away without paying tollage!" Kattia understanding the words, drew a knife from his pocket, cut the prepuce and cried, "Now that I have paid my toll I may pass." At his death a supernatural voice was heard saying: "Kattia Bar Schalom has attained life eternal."

A maxim in Matthew (viii. 1) has some affinity to the love for sinners: "Judge not, that you may not be judged." It must be an old Jewish one, since Joshua Ben Perachia (whom the Talmud asserts was Jesus' Teacher), and Hillel repeated it. The former taught: "Judge all men favorably." The other, "Judge not thy neighbor as long as thou art not in his place (in the same situation)." "For," adds Jesus, "as thou metest, so shall it be meted unto thee, and as thou judgest so shalt thou be judged." As to the last idea, it forms, with the Pharisees, the conclusion of all favorable decisions: "As thou hast judged leniently thy neighbor, be thou too mercifully judged in heaven." And is it not also contained in that other maxim already cited: "Whoever invokes the judgment of God upon his neighbor, shall have his own case first examined."

But Jesus has also said: "As thou givest, so shall it be given unto thee." The language and idea are purely Pharisaical—a thought most familiar to this school: "As man measures so shall it be measured unto him," says the Talmud;[24] "and not only the entire measure but any part as well. ... If all rules fail, one will stand, and that is measure for measure." Is it not the last rule of God's justice? So, the Pharisees see it everywhere in history. If the cotemporaries of Noah were drowned, it was because they arrogated the power of bringing rain.[25] If Miriam deserved that all Israel stopped traveling for seven days, it was because she stopped some moments to watch the cradle of Moses exposed on the Nile.[26] If Samson had his eyes put out, it was because he consulted but them in the choice of a wife. If Absalom was hung by his hair, it was because he was vain of its beauty. If the woman suspected of adultery make an offering of barley without oil or incense, it is because she has descended to the level of the beasts that eat barley. If the incredulous captain was crushed to death by the crowd of buyers, it was because he mocked Elisha's promise of plenty, saying: "Shall God open windows in the sky."[27] And was not Hillel himself inspired with the same thought, when addressing a crane that he saw floating on the waters, he said: "Because thou hast drowned, hast thou in turn been drowned, and such shall be likewise the fate of thy murderers."[28]

"What we have said is a full answer to the old charge against the Pharisees, that they would monopolize virtue and eternal happiness because Israel is a people elect and Abraham its father. That such a charge was the favorite theme of the early Christians cannot be denied; this was most frequently employed as a reason to reject Judaism and to pave the way for their apostleship to the Gentiles. From the time of Jesus echoed in Palestine, "Do not say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father;' for I say to you God can raise from these stones even, children to Abraham." (Mat. iii. 9.) Paul calls Abraham, "father of the circumcision; that is to say, of those not only circumcised, but who likewise adhere to the faith of our father." (Rom. iv. 12.) And more clearly in chapter 9, verse 6: "But all the descendants of Israel are not for that reason of Israel; nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham. But in Isaac is it that his posterity should be reckoned; that is to say, the children only of the promise are represented in his seed." And again (Rom. ii, 11), "For God has no respect to persons;" and further on (iv. 11), "Abraham received the sign of circumcision as a seal of his righteousness by faith while uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe though they be uncircumcised." And in the 17th verse, "As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations." This slur as to Jewish election even free criticism has sometimes made, without reflecting that if the Jews have election it is that they may be less exclusive—that they may become universal. Yes, if they were never fused with mankind at any time or place it is that they might be better united in heart and spirit to mankind in all times and places; and had this fusion taken place, that would have been the end of their priestly mission and of the religious future of mankind. But does not the aspiration to this universality break forth and show itself in the history and teachings of the Jews? We have spoken sufficiently of it, when treating of Man and the Gentiles. We shall now but add a few special maxims to what we have already said.

We have seen that, with the Pharisees, whoever are modest, merciful, charitable, are of the race of Abraham, and that whoever are otherwise, be they Israelites or not, have no share with the former. If there be any term which, on every occasion, the Pharisees set over that of Israel, it is man. David had said: "God is good to Israel, to men with pure hearts." The Zohar and the Midrasch eagerly draw this conclusion from the statement, "God is good to Israel; is it to all those bearing the name? By no means, but to those alone who are sinless, to men with pure hearts." "God loves the just," it is said elsewhere. "Why?" ask the Pharisees. "Because they are not so by heritage, because virtue is not hereditary." The sacerdotal office is a family gift. Can any one be priest or Levite? No; but he who wishes to be just, though a Pagan, can be so. Why? because virtue is not an inheritance. This is why God loves the just. "Why," ask our doctors, " has the Law been compared to the tree of life? Because, as the tree of life stretches it branches over all who enter Paradise, so the law covers with its shade all who come into the world."[29]

It is remarkable that Paul adopts the Pharisaical method of interpretation and grammatical distinctions, to exaggerate even the value set on virtue by the Pharisees, and to tear the old diploma of Jewish election. What does he mean when he asserts that, for being the seed of Abraham all are not on that account his children? This is the well known distinction which the Pharisees had made between the legal value of the word Zera, seed, and Ben, child; understanding by the first, all natural descendants, legitimate or otherwise, just or not; and by child, the special title of those worthy the name in either a legal or civil point of view. What does he mean when he adds that through Isaac should be reckoned the posterity of Abraham? Nothing but what the Pharisees had already observed, namely, a somewhat obsolete form of expression, which originated with the Doctors the interpretation: "In Isaac, yet not all Isaac," excluding consequently Esau. Singular destiny of the Pharisaical language and ideas, to furnish the Gospels all their weapons to smite spiritually old Israel, as did the Romans corporally in its external life! Singular fate of the Jerusalem of the Pharisees, harrassed at once by Pagan Rome in the zenith of its power, and by Christian Rome in its cradle, practicing thenceforth its parricidal child's play—the one, spoiling it of its royal robe, the other, of the tiara of its eternal priesthood! This Pharisaical Jerusalem, denounced as the enemy of the human race, esteemed itself but as the last called of the nations, as their vicar, their religious representative, so far was it from aspiring to an exclusive election inimical to humanity. So it has not ceased to express its thought under every form. If God appears to Israel on Sinai and gives him the Law, it is because Edom, Ishmael, all the other nations of the world had been called before him, and because the law is destined to become the universal law when the will of God is accomplished. The Pharisees have a parable of which we have an inverted copy in the Gospels on the subject of the rejection of Israel. The Gospel one is known; it is that of a king who calls to a solemn feast his ministers, nobles, and distinguished men, but in vain; no one comes. Then he orders his servants: go into the highways and call everybody without distinction. Is not the sense evident? But let us hear the Pharisees: "A king gave a great dinner and invited all his guests. No one came at the appointed hour. They were waited for a long time, but in vain. At length, towards evening, some guests appeared; the king received them with joy, and thanked them for coming, saying, 'Were it not for you this fine feast would be lost; I should have to throw it away.' Thus, they say, has God spoken to Israel: 'Thanks; for without thee to whom should I have given the great treasure I have prepared for the future?'"[30]

We need not comment on the parables; all can see the resemblance and the vast difference caused by the adverse position Christianity assumed. In view of these parables we ask which of the two—the first assuming the original intention of God to be the exclusion of the human race and their admission to be but the accident of Israel's refusal,—the second, making God's first thought to be one of justice, love, and universal charity—one that sees in the election of Israel only a temporary expedient, an imperfect realization of the divine idea—which, we ask, is the more noble, humanitarian and worthy of Deity? The answer, we think, is easy.


  1. Talmud Arachin, folio 16.
  2. Talmud Taanith, folio 15, &c.
  3. Malachi, ii. 6.
  4. Yalkout, ii. 87 (Venice Edition.)
  5. Gen. xii. 5—Talmud Sanhed. fol. 99, &c.
  6. Talmud Tamid, fol. 28.
  7. Aboth, Chap. ii.
  8. Berachoth, fol 10.
  9. Taanith, fol. 23.
  10. Sanhed, fol. 37.
  11. Aboth, Chap. iv.
  12. Talmud. Yoma, fol. 86.
  13. Talmud Sanhed, fol. 99.
  14. Talmud Berach, i. fol. 34.
  15. Talmud Aboda Zara, foL 5.
  16. Pirke Rabbi Eliezer, xli.
  17. Aboth, Chap. v.
  18. Talmud Aboda Zara, 17.
  19. Jonas, fin.
  20. Talmud Succoth, 49.
  21. Mechilta—Yalcot, vol. I, fol. 94.
  22. Bamidbar Rabba, Sect. viii.
  23. Talmud Aboda Zara, f. 18.
  24. Talmud Sota, I, fol. 8.
  25. Talmud Sanhedrim, fol. 108.
  26. Talmud Sola, fol. 11.
  27. II Kings, vii—Sanhed, folio 90.
  28. Aboth ii.
  29. Midrasch, Techillim, explanatory of Ps. I. 3.
  30. Midrash Tehillim