Does Judaism believe in turning the other cheek?

April 27, 2020 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the rabbi.


Rabbi Raymond Apple

Q. Does Judaism believe in turning the other cheek?

A. The doctrine is found in the Sermon on the Mount, especially Matthew 5:39 and Luke 6:29-30, which say that If someone hits you on the cheek, let them hit the other cheek too.

The idea is known in the Tanach in Isaiah 50:6 and Echah 3:30, and in the “Lex Talionis” (“an eye for an eye”: Ex. 23:25).

Jesus says, “You have heard… but I say to you”: a claim that the Torah law is wrong and it is better to suffer patiently, allowing the enemy to keep on hitting.

There are three major objections to Jesus’ teaching.

1. Personal authority: no-one may cast a Torah law aside and replace it on his own authority. The result would be anarchy.

2. History: the “Lex Talionis” was not applied literally but replaced by a fine which ensured that the punishment fitted the crime.

3. Impracticality: a person who is in pain cannot be expected to let the enemy get away with it and add to his attacks.

There is a Jewish teaching that it is better not to be the persecutor but the one who is persecuted, better to be insulted than to insult. However, Jesus seems to expect people to do more than they can realistically manage.

Asher Ginzberg (Ahad HaAm) notes that Christian ethics are not always suited to life on earth.


Q. On what dates in the Omer do we not have weddings?

A. The customs vary between communities.

Some folklorists argue that the whole issue only arose when European culture frowned on weddings during the month of May and say that the Jews followed suit.

The traditional Jewish idea is that because Rabbi Akiva’s students perished during the Omer period, gravely affecting both the Jewish struggle against the Romans and the survival of Jewish learning and practice, we avoid weddings and other celebrations (though engagements are permitted) as a mark of mourning.

The dates during which we refrain from celebrations are differently calculated. The two main customs are:
1. From the 2nd day of Pesach until the 33rd day of the Omer (Lag Ba’Omer).
2. From Iyyar 2 until Erev Shavu’ot (except for Lag Ba’Omer).

The Anglo-Jewish custom (“Minhag Anglia”) was to avoid music and celebrations throughout Iyyar except for Lag Ba’Omer. Some rabbis (including me) allow weddings on Yom Atzma’ut.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.

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