By: Kaufmann Kohler
The deep affection by which one person feels closely drawn to another and impelled to give up much, or do much, for him without regard of self.—Biblical Data:
While the word , like the Greek ἀγάπη, denotes also sensual love (Hos. ii. 7, 9, 12; Ezek. xxiii. 5, 9; Judges xvi. 4; II Sam. xiii. 15), it becomes, owing to the higher ethical spirit pervading Judaism, more and more expressive of the purer sentiment so exquisitely characterized in Cant. viii. 6-7: "Love is strong as death. . . . Many waters can not quench love,neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned." Besides love of man for woman, "ahabah" denotes parental love (Gen. xxv. 28, xxxvii. 3), and it is transferred to that love of man for man which is better termed friendship, and which is exemplified in the love of David and Jonathan and characterized by the former in the words, "My brother Jonathan, very dear [A. V. "pleasant"] hast thou been unto me; thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women" (II Sam. i. 26, Hebr.). Hence "lover" becomes identical with "friend" (Prov. xviii. 24; Ps. xxxviii. 12 [A. V. 11], lxxxviii. 19 [A. V. 18]). Gradually the entire system of life is permeated by the principle of love, and the relation between God and man as well as between man and man is based upon it.
It is the prophet Hosea who, chastened by his experience in his own life, gives to love a deeper and purer meaning, while finding that God loves Israel notwithstanding its backslidings (Hos. xi. 1). It is a love of free will (ib. xiv. 5 [A.V. 4]). Upon love Deuteronomy builds its entire system. God loved the fathers (Deut. x. 15), and because He transferred this love to their descendants, the entire people of Israel, He chose them, though not on account of their own merit, to be His own peculiar (missionary) nation and shielded them against their foes (ib. vii. 6-8, xxiii. 6). He therefore demands their love in return (ib. vi. 5; x. 12; xi. 1, 13, 22; xiii. 4; xix. 9; xxx. 6, 16, 20). He loves also the stranger, and demands love for the stranger in return (ib. x. 18-19). The love of God for Israel is declared by Jeremiah to be "an everlasting love" (Jer. xxxi. 3), and both the exilic seer and the last of the prophets accentuate this love of God (Isa. lxiii. 9; Mal. i. 2).
The love of God for mankind in general is not expressed in Scripture by the term "love," but by "mercy" (Ps. cxlv. 9); it is, however, extended to all who observe His commandments (Ex. xx. 6; Deut. vii. 9), who follow righteousness and speak "right" (Prov. xv. 9, xvi. 13; Ps. cxlvi. 8), because He loves righteousness and justice (Isa. lxi. 8; Ps. xi. 7, xcix. 4). Nor is the love of God for Israel favoritism. "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth" (A. V. "correcteth"; Prov. iii. 12). Love being the essence of God's holy nature, the law of human life culminates in the commandment "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Lev. xix. 18). This love includes the enemy (Ex. xxiii. 4-5). The words "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart: thou shalt not bear sin against [A. V. "suffer sin upon him"] him . . . nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people" (Hebr.) show in what manner the enemy can be loved—one must remove the cause of hatred in order to be able to love his neighbor (Lev. xix. 17). This includes the stranger (Lev. xix. 34); the criminal also is called "thy brother" (Deut. xxv. 3; see Brotherly Love).—In Apocryphal and Rabbinical Literature:
Love as a divine principle was especially developed among the Ḥasidim, who made love of God and love of man the guiding principles of their lives (Philo, "Quod Omnis Probus Liber," § 12; see Essenes). To them God appeared as "the spirit of love for all men" (Wisdom i. 6). "Thou lovest all things that are. . . . Never wouldst Thou have made anything if Thou hadst hated it. . . . Thou sparest all, for they are Thine, O Lord, Thou Lover of souls" (ib. xi. 24-26). Philo also ("De Opificiis Mundi," i. 4; comp. Müller, "Buch von der Weltschöpfung," 1841, p. 150) finds love, or goodness, to be the principle and motive power of the divine creation. So God says to Ezra, as he complains about the ills of the world, "Thou canst not love My creation more than I do" (IV Esdras viii. 45). Love for God and man is accordingly declared to be the principle of conduct in the Didache and in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Simeon, 3, 4; Issachar, 5; Zebulun, 8; Dan, 5; Gad, 7; Benjamin, 8). Love of all creatures is taught by Hillel (Abot i. 12; Wisdom xii. 19; Philo, "De Humanitate," §§ 12-14; comp. Brotherly Love and Golden Rule).Justice the Fundamental Principle.
The Rabbis also declare that the world was created by the divine principle of love (Gen. R. xii. 15) and that the human world is founded on mercy (Ab. R. N. iv.). "Beloved is man by God, in whose likeness he is made; especial love was shown him in being made aware of this godlikeness of his" (Ab. iii. 14). Still, a deeper conception of the Rabbis made justice the fundamental principle of life, and not mere love. "When God saw that the world could not stand on rigid justice, then only He tempered it with love" (Gen. R. l.c.). Love pardons but fails to eradicate sin in individuals or society at large. Upon justice, truth, and peace the world is founded (Ab. i. 15; Deut. R. v. 1). Love is not strong and firm enough to form the foundation of life, whether in individuals, who must strive for character, or in society at large, which can not afford to tolerate wrong-doing (see Holiness; Judgment, Divine). Love prevails only where God is recognized as Father, and this tender relation works for pity and forgiveness (Ber. 7a). All depends then upon whether that state has been attained in which the will of God is done from mere love.The Broader Hellenistic View.
Whether the heathen as well as Jews may attain this state of true God-childship is a question at issue between the Hellenistic and a few of the more liberal Palestinian rabbis on the one hand and the greater majority of the rabbis on the other. The former insist that Job and Enoch attained this state as well as Abraham; the latter deny it, asserting that fear and not love of God was the motive power of the ancient heathen (comp. Testament of Job, i. 24 [in Kohut Memorial Volume, p. 171], Enoch, lxxi. 14, and Slavonic Enoch, lxiv. 5, with Soṭah v. 5 and Gen. R. xxv.). Christianity was partly influenced by the broader Hellenistic views in stating that "God is love" and that all men are children of God (I John iii. 1; iv. 7-8, 11-20; v. 3). Still, the prevailing view in the New Testament is that of Paul, according to whom it is the Holy Spirit which, through baptism, works love and renders the believers "sons of God," for whom there would otherwise be only salvation by righteousness (Rom. viii. 14-31; comp. i. 17). In other words, only through belief in the especial God-sonshipof the crucified Christ does the Christian obtain the title of God's son and the right to claim His fatherly love. This view is maintained also in John v. 20-24, x. 17, xv. 9, xvii. 26.
This conception of a divine love bought by sacrificial blood was combatted by the rabbis; R. Akiba, for instance, declares: "Beloved are the Israelites inasmuch as they are called children of God"; especially did that love manifest itself in making known to them that they are children of God (Abot iii. 15, with reference to Deut. xiv. 1). The entire relation between Israel and God is found by R. Akiba to be typified in the Song of Songs, which to him is "the holiest of all books," because it allegorizes the divine love (Yad. iii. 5; Cant. R., Introduction). Whether Israel may claim God's love as His children when disregarding His commandments is a matter of dispute between R. Meïr (who affirms) and R. Judah (who denies; Sifre, Deut. 96).God's Love for Israel.
The love of God means the surrounding of life with His commandments (Men. 43b) and is conditioned by the love of the Torah (R. H. 4a); God loves Israel in a higher degree than He does the Gentiles (Sifre, Deut. 144; Yoma 54a) because through the Torah they stand closer to Him (Pesiḳ. ii. 16-17); they love Him, giving their very lives for the observance of His commandments (Mek., Yitro, 6, to Ex. xx. 6). Indeed, love of God is voluntary surrender of life and all one has for God's honor (Sifre, Deut. 32; Ber. 54a). It is unselfish service of God (Abot i. 3; 'Ab Zarah 19a). There are chastisements of love for the righteous to test their piety (Ber. 5a; comp. Rom. v. 3). It is this unequaled love, braving suffering and martyrdom, which established the unique relation between God and Israel, so that "none of the nations can quench this love" (Cant. R. viii. 7). This unique love is echoed also in the liturgy (see Ahabah Rabbah). To be a true "lover of God," however, means "to receive offense, and resent not; to hear words of contumely, and answer not; to act merely from love, and rejoice even in trials as tests of pure love" (Shab. 88b; Soṭah 31a; comp. Rom. viii. 28).The Highest Aim of Life.
Love as the highest aim of life is especially emphasized in Tanna debe Eliyahu R. xxvi.: "Love should be perfectly unselfish, and regulate the conduct of man toward man." In the same sense it is accentuated as the highest incentive of action by Baḥya ibn Paḳuda, in "Ḥobot ha-Lebabot" (see
R. Eleazar of Worms, in his ethical work "Roḳeaḥ," begins with the chapter on love, referring to Sifre, Deut. 32, 41, 48; Ber. 54a; Yoma 86a; Ned. 62a; Soṭah 31a; Tanna debe Eliyahu xxvi.; Midr. Teh. to Ps. xiii. 2 ("I love Thee; that is, 'I love Thy creatures'"); and Midr. Tadshe xii., and stating that he who truly loves God subordinates all other desires and cares to the one great object of life—the fulfilment of God's will in joy. Still more extensively does Elijah de Vidas, in his ethical work "Reshit Ḥokmah" (part 2), dwell on love as the highest aim and motive of life. He also quotes the Zohar (i. 11b; ii. 114, 116a; iii. 68a, 264b, 267a; and other passages), where it is frequently stated that pure love is suppression of all care for self, and through such love true union of the soul with God is effected. This union is said by the cabalists to take place in the celestial "palace of love" (Zohar i. 44b, ii. 97a).As Cosmic Principle.
Still greater importance was attached to love when it was rendered a cosmic principle in the philosophical systems of Ḥasdai Crescas and, through him, of Spinoza. Instead of rendering the creative intellect the essence of the Deity, as did Maimonides and all the Aristotelians, Crescas, like Philo of old, makes love the essential quality of God. Love is divine bliss, and hence love of God is the source of eternal bliss for mortal man ("Or Adonai," i. 3, 5; comp. Spinoza's "Amor Intellectualis," v. 32-36; see Joël, "Don Chasdai Creskas' Religionsphilosophische Lehren," 1866, p. 37; idem, "Spinoza's Theologisch-Politischer Tractat," 1870, pp. ix.-xi.).
But, more than Crescas, it was probably Don Judah Isaac Abravanel, known as Leo Hebræus, from whom Spinoza borrowed the idea of "intellectual love" as a cosmic principle, and who, following the Platonic and pantheistic tendency of the period of the Italian Renaissance, made (in his "Dialoghi di Amore") the "amore intellectivo" and "amore mentale" or "rationale" the essence of God and the central force and end of the world. "Love links all things together in the cosmos, but while love in the natural world is sensual and selfish, divine love is unselfish and uplifting. God's love created the world and brings about the perfection of all things, especially of man, who, when good, is God-loving as well as God-beloved, and whose love of God leads him to eternal bliss, which is identical with divine love." This intellectual love is identical with the Biblical "to him [God] shalt thou cleave" (Deut. x. 20, xi. 22, xiii. 5; Sifre, Deut. 49; Soṭah 14a) and gives rise to the "imitatio Dei." It is highest perfection and supreme joy (B. Zimmels, "Leo Hebræus," 1886, especially pp. 51, 67, 74-79, 89-100). Leo Hebræus' view of love as the principle of the world appears to have exerted some influence also upon Schiller in his "Philosophische Briefe" (1838, x. 289; Zimmels, l.c. pp. 8-11).
- Grünbaum, Der Grundzug und Dessen Entwicklung der Liebe im Judenthume, in Geiger's Wiss. Zeit. Jüd. Theol. ii. 285, iii. 59, 180;
- Schenkel's Bibellexicon.