Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition

(Northvale, New Jersey and Jerusalem: Jason Aronson,1998)
by David Sears

Reviewed by Richard H. Schwartz

One of the main reasons the world faces so many crises today is that the ways of society are generally contrary to fundamental Torah values. Even many people who are committed to Judaism often stress ritual observance but fail to place sufficient emphasis on Judaism's powerful universal concerns.

In his very well researched, organized, and written book, Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition, David Sears takes a major step to correct this situation. The book is a compilation of translations from classic texts of Jewish thought, from Scripture through the Talmud and up to contemporary rabbinic leaders, on Judaism's teachings on how Jews should relate to other people. The book also includes a number of essays that serve as general overviews and prefaces to the translations, discussing and analyzing the source material.

Among the themes that the quotations superbly amplify are: the Jewish mandates to be a "light onto the nations" and to work for tikkun olam (the healing, repair, and perfecting of the world); the mitzvot to pursue justice and righteousness and to emulate God in His attribute of compassion; the implications of such mitzvot as "love thy neighbor as thyself", "be kind to the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt", and "seek peace and pursue it"; Jewish business ethics; treatment of converts; how the ultimate goal of Jewish particularism is to benefit all of humanity and all of creation; and the ramifications of the Jewish "Messianic Vision."

David's background in both secular and Jewish areas gives him unique qualifications to write this trend setting book on Jewish obligations to humanity. His initial education was in the liberal arts and in the fine arts and music, and for a time he taught at the college level. Later, he studied at several Chassidic yeshivas. He has written several books on Chassidic leaders and teachings, including The Path of the Baal Shem Tov: Early Chassidic Teachings and Customs (Jason Aronson, 1997) as well as several books for Jewish young people, including Tales From Reb Nachman (Artscroll/Mesorah. 1987). He has illustrated a number of books, including The Artscroll Youth Haggadah (Artscroll/Mesorah, 1987), as well as over 20 "kosher comic books". He has also made substantial contributions to various phases of Jewish music, has had exhibits of his paintings and photography, and has contributed a wide variety of articles to Jewish publications.

I hope that this book will be widely read in the Jewish community (and in other communities), because it has the potential to have a major impact on the future of both Judaism and our imperiled planet. Since this review is for a vegetarian publication, I will indicate one example of a quote from the book that can be tremendously helpful in efforts to put the treatment of animals on the Jewish agenda:

Love of all creatures is also love of God, for whoever loves the One (God) loves all the works that He has made. When one loves God, it is impossible not to love His creatures. The opposite is also true. If one hates the creatures, it is impossible to love God Who created them. (Maharal of Prague, Nesivos Olam, Ahavas haRe'i, 1)

If aware of such a teaching, how could committed Jews square it with the cruel treatment of over 9 billion animals annually on factory farms prior to their slaughter for a diet that also has such negative health and environmental effects. Of course the fact that over 70% of the grain produced in the U. S. and 40% produced worldwide is fed to animals destined for slaughter while an estimated 20 million people worldwide die every year from hunger and its effects is also sharply at variance with many of the quotations in the book.

What God must think of the widespread mistreatment of animals today is indicated in another of the book's quotes:

This may be likened to an expert goldsmith who fashions a vessel with great skill, but when he displays his work, one of the people begins to mock and scorn it. How angry that goldsmith would be; for by disparaging his handiwork, one disparages his wisdom. Similarly, it is evil in the sight of the Holy One, blessed be He, if any of His creatures is despised. (Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Tomer Devorah, Chapter 2).

The very thorough and sensitive job that David Sears has done in this book makes it imperative that he obtain the financial means to complete another work in progress: a companion volume on "Compassion for Animals in the Jewish Tradition." For David has the background, wisdom, sensitivity, compassion, and commitment to animal rights to effectively challenge Jews to apply Jewish teachings on animals. As a Breslav Chassid, his commitment to Jewish law and tradition cannot be challenged. No one could claim that he is just one more animal rights advocate who doesn't care about Judaism and religion, in general, and is not concerned about human problems. Also. his knowledge of Hebrew and Kabbalistic, Chassidic, and other Jewish sources enables him to find teachings that are not commonly known. His authentic and powerful quotations would be a respectful but powerful challenge to the Jewish community that it would not be able to easily ignore.

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