Sorrow and pity for one in distress, creating a desire to relieve, a feeling ascribed alike to man and God; in Biblical Hebrew, ("riḥam," from "reḥem," the mother, womb), "to pity" or "to show mercy" in view of the sufferer's helplessness, hence also "to forgive" (Hab. iii. 2); , "to forbear" (Ex. ii. 6; I Sam. xv. 3; Jer. xv. 15, xxi. 7); "to spare" (Deut. vii. 16, xiii. 8; Ezek. vii. 4, xx. 17); and , "to be gracious" and "kind" (Isa. xxii. 23 [if the text is correct]; Prov. xx. 28; Job vi. 14; Num. xiv. 19; Gen. xxx. ii. 10; Isa. lxiii. 7). The Rabbis speak of the "thirteen attributes of compassion," (Ex. xxxiv. 6; Pesiḳ. 57a; R. H. 17a). Later a distinction is made between attributes of compassion and those of love (; see Asher Ben David in his commentary on the Thirteen Attributes, where he classifies them under "justice," "love," and "compassion").
The Biblical conception of compassion is the feeling of the parent for the child ("pitieth"; Ps. ciii. 13). Hence the prophet's appeal in confirmation of his trust in God figures the feeling of a mother for her offspring (Isa. xlix. 15), and Pharaoh's daughter, moved by maternal sympathy, has compassion on the weeping babe (Ex. ii. 6).
But this feeling should mark the conduct of man to man (I Sam. xxiii. 21); its possession is a proof that men are among those deserving recognition as "blessed unto
The physiological psychology of the Bible places the seat of the sympathetic emotions in the bowels. But the eyes were credited with the function of indicating them. Hence the frequent use of the expression "the eye has," or "has not," pity. The "length of the breath"—that is, in anger or wrath ()—is another idiomatic expression for compassionate forbearance.
God is full of compassion (Ps. ciii. 11, cxlv. 3); and this compassion is invoked on men (Deut. xiii. 17), and promised to them (Deut. xxx. 3). "His compassions fail not, being new every morning" (Lam. iii. 22). Repeatedly He showed His compassion (II Kings xiii. 23; II Chron. xxxvi. 15). His "mercy [or "compassion"] endureth forever." He loveth the "poor," the "widow," the "orphan," and the "stranger." He is named ("gracious and full of compassion"; Ex. xxxiv. 6, passim). To obtain His "compassion," as the quality that pardons, sinners must first repent and return to Him (II Chron. xxx.). But when they do this, even non-Jews will experience His compassion (Book of Jonah). For God "pitieth" like a father those "that fear him" (Ps. ciii. 13).
These Biblical ideas become the foundation of the ethical and theological teachings of the Rabbis. Israel especially should be distinguished for its compassionate disposition (Yeb. 79a), so that one who is merciful falls under the presumption of being of the seed of Abraham (Beẓ. 32b). One who is not prone to pity and forbearance is cruel (B. Ḳ. 92a), and this though to be compassionate has the tendency to rob life of its savor (Pes. 113b). The thoughtlessly frivolous is like a cruel man, but one who is compassionate experiences the lot of the poor man (B. B. 145b). Compassion shown to fellow man will win compassion from on high (Shab. 151a). Eyes without pity will become blind, and hands that will not spare will be cut off (Ta'an. 21a). Women are recognized as prone to pity (Meg. 14b). In fact, this trait of its women was one of the glories of Jerusalem (B. B. 104b). To praise God meant to become merciful like unto Him (Shab. 133b; Ex. xv.). Strangers certainly came within the scope of the rabbinical ideas of compassion. Their dead were buried with the dead of Israel; their poor were assisted; their sick were visited (Giṭ. 61a, Tos. v. 4, 5). The angels when about to celebrate in song Israel's victory over Egypt were hushed by God with the rebuke: "The works of My hands have been drowned, and you would intone jubilant pæans!" (Meg. 10b).
The peculiar interdiction of the explanation of Pentateuchal laws as manifestations of divine compassion for dumb creatures (Ber. 33b) proves that this explanation was popular (see Cruelty to Animals). But the Rabbis often lay stress on the fact that the Torah takes great care to "spare" () the property of man (Soṭah 14b; Nega'im xii.).
God is recognized as the "Compassionate" (; compare the frequent use of "raḥman" in the Koran). He is invoked as the (Father of Compassion). So close is this association with Him that "Raḥmana" becomes the usual designation for His revealed word. He suffers with His people (Rabbi Meïr: "The Shekinah exclaims with the suffering patient, 'Oh, my head! Oh, my arm!'" Sanh. iv. 46a; but see Levy, s.v. ). He mourns with His people (Lam. R. to i. 1). The relation which God's "compassion" sustains to His "justice" is also a subject of rabbinical inquiry, as it was among the early Christian sects. When the shofar is sounded "God's quality of compassion mounts the throne" (Pesiḳ. 151b, 155a; Lev. R. xxix.; compare also Abraham's prayer [Yer. Ta'an. 65d]). The name "Elohim" designates God's justice (), and the name