Kedoshim stands out as a beacon of ethics amidst all the ritual sacrifices and other obsolete laws of Vayikrah (so far), even including Yom Kippur.
Usually part of a double sedra with Acharei Mot, this being a leap year it is read alone. And what a revelation this must have been in olden days. Kedoshim contains 51 mitzvot. Only Ki Tetseh in D’varim has so many moral commands packed together, but whenever this sedra was written it is certainly much older than the Ki Tetseh list, which clearly depicts an urban environment (probably written during the period of Kings).
Many of the laws are fundamental to Judaism and Christianity. One stands out. Placed in the middle of the sedra and in the centre of the Torah is what became known as “The Golden Rule” – “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Rabbi Akiva considered it the greatest mitzvah, and Hillel’s famous dictum put it in a negative form: “That which is hateful to you do not do unto your fellow man.”
Matthew, in his Gospel 22.39, states that Jesus called this the most important law, ranking equally with the Shema commandment to love the Lord with all your heart, soul etc. It’s a bit surprising that Matthew does not prefer “Love the stranger” or even “Love your enemy”, since Christianity later denigrated this law on the grounds that “neighbour” meant only other Jews. Yet even if this were true, Christian critics overlooked v. 34, which requires us to love the stranger in the land: “You shall love the stranger as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (the Torah makes this point 36 times!). This clearly meant all foreigners resident in the land, and although subsequently these were also referred to as “Gerei Tsedek”, i.e. proselytes, there was no condition that the strangers had to convert to Judaism; Israel did not convert to Egypt’s religion.
Our sedra also includes laws mandating respect and consideration for the elderly, compassion for the deaf and the blind, concern for the poor, impartial justice, no tale-bearing, no taking vengeance or bearing a grudge, and many more. Yet make no mistake, mixed among what are clearly ethical concepts are ritual laws of apparently equal importance, such as neither mixing different seeds nor mating different species of cattle.
Everything is part of the life of Israel and is meant to lead it to holiness, the essence of all the laws.
Some years ago, I read on a tube train an ‘advert’ by the Trinitarian Bible Society (an Anglican evangelical movement directed against Jews as well as non-believers). It stated “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”, Matthew 22.39. There was no reference whatsoever to Leviticus. On my remonstrating with the Society (which no longer seems to advertise on the underground) on the telephone the reply was given – “It is not incorrect as it does state it in Matthew and we are concerned with the New, not the Old, Testament.” No apology was offered nor acceptance of their disingenuous attitude. It was many years ago, but it still rankles.
Alan Orchover is a member of Edgware Masorti Synagogue.