A Jewish Handbook For Resistance Part 2

Matthew Gindin
14 min readJan 24, 2024


Nourishment from premodern sources

Prophet Amos as depicted by Gustave Doré

And there was thick darkness throughout all the land of Egypt, for three days

If a person does not see his fellow, or does not want to see him, there is darkness in the world.

  • Eshkol Ma’amarim

In this series of four essays drawn from a class I’m teaching I want to wind back the clock and look and engage in a project of reclamation focused on the voices of our ancestors who spoke out of Jewish tradition in a way which was skeptical of, or downright opposed to, statism, violence, war, and xenophobia, and who embraced principles of universal human dignity, careful ethical sensitivity, and love of both Jew and non-Jew.


Existing alongside what we saw in the last essay to be the fundamentally sacrilegious monarchy lived the Navi’im (prophets) who danced and sang and played music to go into trances and speak with the voice of God, or who were chosen to do so, sometimes quite against their will, by God Godself. Although we associate the word “prophecy” with seeing the future, we should note that the vocation of Israelite prophets was to communicate God’s perspectives on human activity and warn people of what would happen if they continued in their injustice and idolatry.

“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness,

his upper rooms by injustice,

making his own people work for nothing,

not paying them for their labor.

He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace

with spacious upper rooms.’

So he makes large windows in it,

panels it with cedar

and decorates it in red.

“Does it make you a king

to have more and more cedar?

Did not your father have enough for food and drink

And then do what was right and just-

so all went well with him.

He defended the cause of the poor and needy,

and so all went well.

Is that not what it means to know me?”

declares YHVH..

So said Jeremiah.

The Prophets were not popular with Kings, and sometimes not with other Israelites either. They were jailed, exiled, beaten, and sometimes killed. Israeli Kings often kept court prophets who said things that pleased them, and were all too willing to say folks like Jeremiah and Isaiah and Amos were mad. It can be helpful for those who feel like dissident Jews to remember that the prophets, whose words fill most of the pages of the Tanakh, were in their own time unpopular fringe figures who were at odds with the Jewish religious and political leadership. If they were alive today they would all, without a doubt, be classified as “self-hating Jews.”

Cry with full throat, without restraint; raise your voice like a ram’s horn!

Declare to My people their transgression, to the House of Jacob their sin.

To be sure, they seek Me daily, eager to learn My ways.

Like a nation that does what is right, that has not abandoned the laws of its God,

They ask Me for the right way, they are eager for the nearness of God:

“Why, when we fasted, did You not see? When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?”

Because on your fast day you see to your business and oppress all your laborers!

Because you fast in strife and contention, and you strike with a wicked fist!

Your fasting today is not such as to make your voice heard on high.

Is such the fast I desire, a day for men to starve their bodies?

Is it bowing the head like a bulrush and lying in sackcloth and ashes?

Do you call that a fast, a day when YHVH is pleased?

No, this is the fast I desire: to unlock fetters of wickedness,

And untie the cords of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke.

It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home;

When you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin.

Then shall your light burst through like the dawn, and your healing spring up quickly;

Your Vindicator shall march before you, the Presence of YHVH shall be your rear guard.

Then, when you call, YHVH will answer; when you cry, He will say: Here I am.

If you banish the yoke from your midst, the menacing hand, and evil speech,

And you offer your compassion to the hungry, and satisfy the famished creature —

Then shall your light shine in darkness, and your gloom shall be like noonday.

(Isaiah 58)

The Navi’im call out the Jewish people for straying from the covenant- for worshiping others gods and making idolatrous images, yes, but alongside that for being heartless to the poor, engaging in crooked business dealings, failing to love the refugee and the stranger, and falsely believing that a religious devotion without enacting justice and kindness would please YHVH or constitute fidelity to the covenant.

In review, here are principles expressed in the Tanakh, from last class and from our short look at the prophets, which have echoed explicitly or at times subconsciously in Jewish ethical thought for the last two thousand years:

The only acceptable idolatry is worshiping universal human dignity

All human beings are equally reflections of the divine

Murder and violence are wrong

Diversity is valuable

Revenge attacks are wrong

One should take a risk on reconciliation

Human authority is suspect and fascism is bad

Militarism is bad, one should not rely on violence or might

Alliances with corrupt empires are bad

The worship of YHVH consists primarily in caring for the vulnerable and doing no injustice

Love the stranger

Love The Stranger

As we mentioned last class, the mitzvah to “love” or “not oppress’ ‘ the stranger is mentioned at least 36 times in the Tanakh, more than any other mitzvah. The stranger (ger) of the Tanakh is a non-Israelite who is either resident in, or passing through, Israel. They were classed as a vulnerable population that YHVH is particularly concerned with, and often mentioned alongside widows, orphans, and the poor. Together these four types of people are understood to be the vulnerable or disadvantaged members of society who are endangered and at risk in many ways for many things.

The Tanakh asserts ritual and legal distinctions between Israelites and Gerim, but also says “there will be one law for the Israelite and the ger” and shares both obligations and privileges with gerim (eg. gerim also rest on the Shabbat). Later, when Jews became a nomadic international tribe, the laws of “gerim” were applied to converts to Judaism. In some senses this is a logical move, since those living in and among but not from, the Jewish community in exile would be converts. On the negative side, when Jews again began interacting with non-Jews freely, and eventually had their own state, Orthodox Judaism had obscured within itself its own ethic of the truly other, focusing these laws on the issue of converts instead.

But to return to the primal mitzvah. Some texts:

Like a native from among you shall the stranger who sojourns with you be for you, and you shall show love to them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Vayikra 19:34

You shall not mistreat a stranger and you shall not oppress them, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Shemot 22:20

And you shall not oppress a stranger — and you have known the soul of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Shemot 23:9

Six days you may do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, in order that your ox and your donkey will rest, and your maid servant’s son and the stranger will be refreshed.


When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not fully reap the corner of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you collect the [fallen] individual grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I am YHVH, your God.

Vayikra 19:9

The correct interpretation in my eyes is that the One is saying: Do not wrong a stranger or oppress him, thinking as you might that none can deliver him out of your hand; for you know that you were strangers in the land of Egypt and I saw the oppression with which Egypt oppressed you, and I did vengeance against them, because I behold the tears of such who are oppressed and have no comforter, and power is in the hand of their oppressors, and I deliver every human being from the one that is stronger than him.

Nachmanides (Ramban, 1194–1270), commentary to Exod 22:21

“For you were strangers (in Egypt)” — due to your personal experience of such a status, you, better than anyone else, know that seeing that the oppression of strangers is a great wrong, the punishment for violating such a commandment is equally harsh.

Rashbam (Samuel ben Meir, c. 1085 — c. 1158) on Exodus 22:20

“You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Here it says simply and absolutely, “for you were strangers”, your whole misfortune in Egypt was that you were strangers there. As such, according to the views of other nations, you had no right to be there, having no claim to rights of settlement, home, or property. Accordingly, you had no rights in appeal against unfair or unjust treatment. As aliens you were without any rights in Egypt, out of that grew all of your bondage and oppression, your slavery and wretchedness. Therefore beware…from making rights in your own State conditional on anything other than on that simple humanity which every human being as such bears within. With any limitation in these human rights the gate is opened to the whole horror of Egyptian mishandling of human beings.”

Shimshon Rafael Hirsch (1808–1888) on Exod 22:20

“Love [the stranger] as yourself” — The nations of the ancient world would only love their own people, and defrauding foreigners/nokhrim was not abominable in their eyes. Therefore, it says here, “Love him like yourself” — act towards him as you would want other people to act toward you if you were a stranger. This is in accord with…“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Shmuel David Luzzato (1800–1865) on Leviticus 19:34

Neighbour and Stranger

By the time of the Rabbis of the Mishna (1st-2nd century AD) there was some debate about which had priority in one’s love: neighbor or stranger, and which was a more fundamental principle of Torah. This issue was dealt with in the Mishna, in Midrash and in the Talmud, and also by Rabbi Yeshua HaNotzri (Jesus).

R’ Akiva says: “And you will love your fellow like yourself” (Lev 19:18) — this is a great principle in the Torah. Ben Azai says: “This is the book of Adam’s generations [ . . . in Elohim’s (God’s) likeness God made him]” (Gen 5:1) — this is a greater principle than this (than “love your fellow”). (Torat Kohanim, Sifra Kedoshim 4:12, 42b) 35.

So Rabbi Akiva, who was also known for his anti-colonial agitation against Roman Occupiers, argues that loving your neighbor (your fellow Jew) is the klal gadol- the great principle, in the Torah. Ben Azai, however, asserts the universal dignity of all people made in the image of God as the “klal gadol.”

In the Midrash we read: R’ Akiva said: “And you will love your fellow like yourself” — this is a great principle in the Torah. Ben Azai said: “This is the book of Adam’s generations” — this is a greater principle in the Torah, for you shouldn’t say: Since I was despised, let my friend be despised. Said R’ Tanchuma: If you did so (despise your friend), know whom you despise, [for] “in Elohim’s likeness God made him”.

Genesis Rabbah 24:7

Some Rabbis, of course, would collapse the distinction between stranger and neighbour.

“The mitzvah to ‘love your neighbor’ means that we should love all people, no matter which nation they belong to or what language they speak. For all human beings are created in the Divine Image…. Our love of humanity should not exclude any nation or individual. For the human was not created for his own sake exclusively, rather, all people exist for the sake of one another.”

On Loving Your Fellow As Yourself, pt 2: R’ Pinhas Eliyahu of Vilna, z”l, Sefer HaBrit (1797), Section 2, Discourse 13).

Rabbi Menasheh of Ilya (1767–1831) wrote: “What am I in comparison to the many forms of sentient life in the world? If the Creator were to confer upon me, as well as my family members, loved ones, and relatives, absolute goodness for all eternity, but some deficiency remained in the world — if any living thing still were left suffering, and all the more so, another human being — I would not want anything to do with it, much less to derive benefit from it. How could I be separated from all living creatures? These are the work of God’s hand, and these, too, are the work of God’s hand.”

(Author’s Introduction, Ha’amek She’eilah).

This question was also brought in ancient times to the most influential Rabbi of all time, and we should pause to hear his answer as a Jewish answer, as well as to take note of some other aspects of his radical development of Jewish ethics.

Rabbi Jesus

Jesus, or Yeshua as his mother Miriam would have called him, embodies trends in Rabbinic thought that already existed but, in keeping with his personality, he expressed boldly and radically. One example is his push back against the principle of punishment, or an “eye for an eye,” established uneasily in the book of Genesis in response to human violence.

In Sefer Matityahu Yeshua explicitly undercuts this, saying “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

In the book of Yochanan Yeshua takes this further, applying it not only to individual revenge but also to state sanctioned punitive violence:

8 Yeshua returned to the Mount of Olives, 2 but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. 3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

4 “Teacher,” they said to Yeshua, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moshe says to stone her. What do you say?”

6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Yeshua stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Yeshua stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11 “No, Master,” she said.

And Yeshua said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

In the book of Lukas, Yeshua takes a stance on the issue of loving the stranger versus loving your fellow Jew which we mentioned above:

Then an expert in the Torah law stood up to test him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Torah?” he asked him. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.”

“You’ve answered correctly,” he told him. “Do this and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Yeshua, “And who is my neighbor?”

Yeshua took up the question and said:

“A man was going down from Yerushalayim to Yericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. A Kohen happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way, a Levi, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’

“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

“The one who showed mercy to him,” he said.

Then Yeshua told him, “Go and do the same.”

What Yeshua does here warrants close attention. Imagine a white southerner asking if black folks were also his neighbors, and being told a story of a black man helping out an injured white man, and then being asked, “Who was a neighbor to the white man? Now go and do likewise.”

Not only does Yeshua expand the idea of neighbor to include Samaritans, not only does he hold up a hated Samaritan as an example to Jews, he also flips the question around from “who is my neighbour” to “how do I act like a neighbor?”

Rabbi Yeshua most radical step was his rejection of all violence. He taught his disciples to “love your enemies” and “pray for those who do violence to you” and also warned his close students that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”

The Rabbis also undercut the punitive violence in the Torah and advocated for universal human dignity, but they tended to do this by diluting laws until they were impossible to apply literally or by re-interpreting them, as in their famous ruling that capital punishment can only be applied if two people saw the accused break the law, and the accused had also been reminded of its illegality shortly before doing it. Unlike Yeshua, the Rabbis were not pacifists, although they did reject the glorification of war and became highly distrustful of militarism.

Yeshua had warned his fellow Jews not to violently rebel against the Roman Occupation, predicting cataclysmic failure. The Rabbis generally took a middle way between nonviolent pietists like Yeshua and the extreme terrorism of the Jewish Sycarii who assassinated Roman civilians. They supported a militant rebellion against Rome when they thought it could succeed. It didn’t, and in 70 CE and then again in 160CE Jewish revolts were brutally crushed by Rome. In the second of them, it is estimated that one million Jews were killed.

In the wake of this catastrophe Yerushalayim, now renamed Aelia Capitolina, was ethnically cleansed of Jews and Palestine became a province of Rome where Jews had no political power. Most Jews wandered to other parts of the Roman Empire and Judaism as we know it- Rabbinic Judaism- was created. The Rabbis who wrote down the Mishna (commentary on Jewish laws) and later the Talmud returned to the emphasis on faith characteristic of the Tanakh. When they told Jewish history they left out military and political victories, and their writings are permeated by a mistrust of military and political power.

Mishna 6:4:

“The Sages said that a man may neither go out on Shabbat with a sword, nor with a bow, nor with a shield [teris], nor with an alla, nor with a spear. And if he unwittingly went out with one of these weapons to the public domain he is liable to bring a sin-offering. Rabbi Eliezer says: These weapons are ornaments for him; just as a man is permitted to go out into the public domain with other ornaments, he is permitted to go out with weapons. And the Rabbis say: They are nothing other than reprehensible and in the future they will be eliminated, as it is written: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not raise sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).

Hanukkah is another great example of this, where the Rabbis chose not to include the books of Maccabees which tell the story of the Jewish militants and their victory against Greece in the Tanakh, and shifted the celebration of it to a commemoration of the rededication of the Temple and a miraculous eight nights of light, a story which doesn’t appear in the older texts and appears to be either a bit of folklore picked up by the Rabbis and made central or a fabrication of theirs. Either way the story of light appears 500–1000 years after the events of Hanukkah, and signals a shift away from militarism and towards a Judaism of light.