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Unequal Justice? – Does Halakha Tolerate Unethical Behavior Towards the Other? Part 4: Halakhic Strategies for Minimizing the Distinctions and Darkhei Shalom

by Rabbi Dov Linzer (Posted on July 20, 2016)
Topics: Gittin, Halakha & Modernity, Machshava/Jewish Thought, Nashim, Non-Jews & Other Religions, Non-Jews & Other Religions, Talmud

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In Part I of this series we explored areas where the halakha – as articulated in the Talmud – has made distinctions between our obligation to Jews and our obligation to Gentiles.  The following chart is based on a similar chart which appeared at the end of Part I.  It summarizes the distinctions in laws for each category – which distinctions are clear, which are debated, and where there are no distinctions – and identifies the factors and context which are relevant for each category.  

Here, in Part II, we look at how some of these distinctions in law were minimized or eliminated by a number of Rishonim and poskim.  What will form the conclusions of our discussion are summarized in a final column added to this chart – the different halakhic ways in which poskim closed these gaps.


CategoryDistinctionsFactors / contextStrategies for closing the gap
A. Acts of financial aid and assistanceLending without interest

Agricultural gifts

Returning a lost object, assisting collapsing animal (acc. to Bavli)

Protecting property against loss

Protecting against bodily injury

Single Tanaaitic opinions:

– Returning a lost object

– Assisting a collapsing animal

Prioritizing versus excluding

Gifts versus protecting from loss

Direct encounter versus abstract obligation

Other obligations: darkhei shalom; vi’halakhta bi’drakhav

Universal ethical mandates

B. Acts against propertyReturning overcharge

Not paying loans or correcting errors

Not paying damages

Permission to overcharge


Deceit and Theft (acc. to Bavli).  “Not keeping Noahide laws and made their money permissible”

Bavli / Yerushalmi

Historical context

Ruling according to the more inclusive position

Redefinition of Talmudic “Gentiles” – only non-law abiding citizens

C. Acts against person; Saving a lifeBiblical prohibition against smiting

Death penalty for murder

Obligation to save a life

Permission to violate Shabbat to save a life

Included in Biblical prohibition “Thou shall not murder”Forbidden to wound or killFocus is on severity.  Acts against person never warranted.

Non-assistance – probably based on behavior – comparison to shepherds

Halakhic workarounds (pikuach nefesh of Jews)

Redefinition of Talmudic “Gentiles” – only idolaters / those who threaten lives of Jews

Redefinition of today’s Gentiles – all fall in the category of ger toshav


Our organization of this material will focus on the different halakhic tools or strategies that these poskim used.  As we shall see, which strategy is most appropriate and most effective is often a function of which halakhic category we are addressing – acts of aid, acts against person, or acts against property.  At the end of Part II, we look at some texts that are self-reflective about the halakhic process in the area of  laws relating to Gentiles, and ask how it is possible to interpret or apply the halakha in ways different than before.

We start with looking at the invoking of other obligations as a way of closing the gap, a strategy that works particularly well with differences in the area of aid and assistance.


Darkhei Shalom


Self-interest or a healthy society?


The mitzvot of assistance – tzedakkah,  providing loans, and returning lost property – do not themselves mandate that these services be rendered to a Gentile.  A number of poskim, however, have argued that we are mandated to do these things for Gentiles based on other, more global obligations, specifically, the requirement of darkhei shalom, ways of peace, and the mitzvah of vi’halakhta bi’drakhav, following in God’s ways, otherwise known as imitatio Dei.  Some also invoke a universal ethics, or natural law, that requires such actions.  


The principle of darkhei shalom is normally understood to refer to Rabbinic enactments with the goal of reducing conflict, achieving greater social stability, and promoting the general well-being of society.  These enactments are listed in two mishnayot in the 5th chapter in Gittin {source ‎1}.   Notice how almost all of them relate to interactions between Jews. In these instances, are there ethical obligations that relate to the other person, or is there just a concern for society as a whole?

The last ruling in each mishna addresses interactions between Jews and Gentiles.  How would you characterize these obligations towards Gentiles?  Are they of an ethical nature or more rooted in self-interest?

  1. Mishna Gittin, ch. 5    |    משנה גיטין, פרק ה’
[ח] ואלו דברים אמרו מפני דרכי שלום

כהן קורא ראשון ואחריו לוי ואחריו ישראל מפני דרכי שלום

מערבין בבית ישן מפני דרכי שלום

בור שהוא קרוב לאמה מתמלא ראשון מפני דרכי שלום

מצודות חיה ועופות ודגים יש בהם משום גזל מפני דרכי שלום רבי יוסי אומר גזל גמור

מציאת חרש שוטה וקטן יש בהן משום גזל מפני דרכי שלום…

אין ממחין ביד עניי גוים בלקט שכחה ופאה מפני דרכי שלום:

[ט]  משאלת אשה לחברתה החשודה על השביעית נפה וכברה ורחים ותנור … וכולן לא אמרו אלא מפני דרכי שלום

ומחזיקין ידי גוים בשביעית אבל לא ידי ישראל ושואלין בשלומן מפני דרכי שלום

[8] The following rules were laid down in the interests of peace (for the sake of darkhei shalom).

A Kohen is called up first to read the Torah and after him a Levite and then a lay Israelite, in the interests of peace.

An ‘eruv is placed in the room where it has always been placed, in the interests of peace.

The pit which is nearest the [head of the] watercourse is filled from it first, in the interests of peace.

[The taking of] beasts, birds and fishes from snares [set by others] is reckoned as a kind of robbery, in the interests of peace. R. Yossi says that it is actual robbery.

[To take away] anything found by a deaf-mute, a person not of right mind or a minor is reckoned as a kind of robbery, in the interests of peace.

The poor of the Gentiles may not be prevented from gathering gleanings, forgotten sheaves, and the corner of the field, in the interests of peace.

[9]     A woman may lend to another who is suspected of not observing the sabbatical year a fan or a sieve or a handmill or a stove… all these rules were laid down only in the interests of peace.

Gentiles may be given encouragement in the Sabbatical year but not Israelites, and one may ask after their well-being, in the interests of peace.

The enactments of darkhei shalom in the above mishnayot are geared towards reducing conflict in society.  Having guidelines for what order to use to call people up to the Torah, or not removing an ‘eruv from where it was previously, do not emerge from an ethical obligation towards the other.  To the degree that any ethical principle is at stake, it is one that mandates that we work to maximize the well-being of society and minimize sources of potential conflict.  It is possible that in the ruling that one may not take fish out of someone’s net (although they caster of the net has not done a formal act of taking possession of the fish), or a lost object away from a minor do reflect a sense that this is something that the person is entitled to, and not just that this is a rule that society needs (witness R. Yossi’s position that this is actual theft –the person legally owns the fish or the lost object).

When we then consider the rulings regarding Gentiles – to not prevent Gentiles from gleaning the dropped grain, to give them encouragement during the Sabbatical year (when we rely on their farming the land) and in general to ask after their wellbeing – it seems like the same principle is operative.  To obstruct a poor Gentile from entering one’s field could certainly lead to conflict between the poor person and the farmer, and more generally, to animosity from the larger Gentile society.  Wishing them well and giving them encouragement may be a more positive expression of ways of peace – not just preventing conflict, but promoting positive feeling between different groups in society.  

Darkhei shalom in regards to Gentiles, as it appears in the Mishna – can be interpreted in a purely self-serving way: we are good to them so that they will be good to, or not inflict harm on, us. Or it can be interpreted in a way that reflects a more positive, intrinsic value: we care about the larger society in which we Jews live, and we seek to promote a healthy society and reduce conflict in general.   Which of these explanations seems correct based on the following passage from Gittin {source 2}?

2. Bavli, Gittin 59b   |     (:בבלי, גיטין (נט

א”ל אביי לרב יוסף: מפני דרכי שלום? דאורייתא היא! א”ל: דאורייתא, ומפני דרכי שלום. כל התורה כולה נמי מפני דרכי שלום היא, דכתי’: דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום!Said Abaye to R. Yosef: Is this rule [that a Kohen is called up first to read from the Torah] only [a Rabbinical one] for the sake of darkhei shalom?  Does it not derive from the Torah (from the verse that states ‘you shall sanctify him’)?!

He answered: It does derive from the Torah, but [the purpose of this Torah law is] for the sake of darkhei shalom.

[Abaye responded:] But the whole of the Torah is also for the purpose of darkhei shalom, as it is written, “Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace?” (Mishlei 3:17).

In the above passage, Abaye states that all of the mitzvot of the Torah can be understood to be directed towards the goal of darkhei shalom, inasmuch as the verse states that the Torah’s way are ways of peace.  Darkhei shalom according to this is clearly not just the self-interest of the Jewish community, it is an intrinsic good that the mitzvot of the Torah are meant to promote: a healthy society free from conflict. It is quite possible, then that this is also how darkhei shalom is used when applied to our dealings with Gentiles. What is clear, however, that we are not dealing with an ethical mandate towards the individual Gentile, just towards society as a whole.

The idea of darkhei shalom as a broader societal concern can be seen in the Tosefta. The Tosefta goes further than the mishna in mandating our darkhei shalom obligations to Gentiles {source ‎3}.  This Tosefta is particularly important in later halakha, because it is quoted authoritatively – with some textual differences – in the Bavli (Gittin 61a).  How are the obligations in the Tosefta different than those in the Mishna?  Do they point to a different understanding of darkhei shalom?  What do you make of the obligation to collect charity from them? What do you make of the phrase “alongside the Jewish poor”?  

3. Tosefta Gittin, 3:13-14   |   תוספתא גיטין, ג:י”ג-י”ד

עיר שיש בה ישראל וגוים הפרנסין גובין מישראל ומגוים מפני דרכי שלום מפרנסין עניי גוים עם עניי ישראל מפני דרכי שלום
מספידין וקוברין מיתי גוים מפני דרכי שלום מנחמין אבילי גוים מפני דרכי שלום
In a town that has Jews and Gentiles, those who oversee the charity collection should collect both from the Jews and from the Gentiles because of darkhei shalom.  And we distribute the funds to poor from the Gentiles alongside the poor from the Jews because of darkhei shalom.

We eulogize and bury dead Gentiles because of darkhei shalom, and we console Gentile mourners because of darkhei shalom.


For the Tosefta, darkhei shalom with Gentiles is not limited to not doing acts that will cause conflict, or simple verbal well-wishing; it mandates acts that require a serious investment of time and money, and whose goals are to promote positive feeling and a sense of community and interdependency.  The requirement to collect charity from them is particularly significant in this regard.  This is not to offset the cost of giving them charity, it is an act that itself promotes peace.  Recognizing someone as a contributing member of one’s society – someone who gives not just who takes – creates a profound sense of membership and community, and breaks down a we/them dichotomy in ways that could not be accomplished by merely giving them financial support.  The same holds true regarding the obligation to participate in their funerals and to comfort their mourners (and to visit their sick – as appears in the text in the Bavli).  These acts create a strong sense of emotional connection, of feeling their loss, and of identifying and empathizing with them.  In other words, it serves to lower the divisions between the groups and to create a more interconnected community.   Gentiles are not part of our narrowly defined community, but if we are living among them – “a town that has both Jews and Gentiles” – then they are part of our larger community.

The one phrase that is somewhat cryptic is “alongside the poor of the Jews.”  This phrase has been interpreted by some Rishonim to mean that we do not make a special effort to provide for their poor or visit their sick; only if we are already tending to our poor or visiting our sick will we include them in the effort.  Others disagree and state that the phrase is not meant precisely and not meant to be limiting in this way, see {source ‎4}.  This position gains support from the language of the Tosefta which does not have the phrase “alongside the Jews” when referring to burying their dead and comforting their mourners, and in fact, these would be solitary efforts, as most of the time we do not go to multiple funerals or console different mourning families at the same time (see Ran on Rif, Gittin 28a, s.v. Kovrin).

4. Darkhei Moshe, Yoreh Deah, 251:1    |     (דרכי משה יורה דעה ס’ רנא (א

כתב הר”ן סוף הניזקין דלאו דוקא עם עניי ישראל אלא אפילו עניי גוים לחוד מפרנסין מפני דרכי שלום אבל במרדכי שם (סי’ תסד) משמע דאין מפרנסים אלא עם עניי ישראל דוקא עכ”לRan writes in the end of the fifth chapter of Gittin that [our obligation to the Gentile poor] is not specifically when we provide for them alongside the Jewish poor, but we would even provide for the Gentile poor alone for the sake of darkhei shalom.  But Mordechai there writes: “[The Talmudic passage] implies that we would only provide for them together with providing for the Jewish poor.”

In my estimation, however, the phrase “alongside the poor of the Jews,” is not meant imprecisely, but the point is a different one.  The point is not that we do not make a special effort to provide assistance to Gentiles; the point is that these acts of helping them are meant to create an extended sense of community that includes both Jews and Gentiles.  Just like we collect charity from them so that they become part of our larger community, when we distribute charity it should likewise be done in a way which sees them as part of our larger community, not as some group that is outside and unrelated to us.  When we distribute charity to them, we do not need to ensure that in practice we are also distributing to Jews at the same time, we have to ensure that in our minds and in our hearts we see this as a distributing of charity within our broader community, a community that includes both Jews and Gentiles.

This broader understanding of darkhei shalom still falls short of a direct ethical (or legal) obligation towards the individual Gentile.  Nevertheless, understood this way, it is a principle that – for the purposes of creating a healthy, interdependent society – can close the gaps between Gentile and Jew in the area of acts of aid and assistance.    Darkhei shalom, understood this way, would mandate that we give them tzedakkah, return their lost objects, and help them when their donkey is faltering, and do much more for them, regardless of whether it serves our own self-interest or not.  
The idea that darkhei shalom can be understood as a broader concern for society appears in a slightly different form in an article by Suzanne Stone {source ‎5}.  How does Professor Stone’s definition differ from how we have been defining this term?  Is Professor Stone claiming that this is the original meaning of the term?

5. Suzanne Last Stone, “Formulating Responses in an Egalitarian Age: An Overview,” pp. 73-4, in “Formulating Responses in an Egalitarian Age,” Marc D. Stern, ed., Rowman and Littlefield, 2005

Obligations of social solidarity to non-Jews living in proximity to Jews traditionally were imposed to promote social peace (darkhei shalom).  It is customary to view darkhei shalom as a negative prudential principle, motivated by the need to fend off Gentile hatred.  It is more appropriate today, however, to interpret the principle of darkhei shalom as equally based on a positive, ethical concept of reciprocity, emphasizing norms of mutuality, moral symmetry, and gratitude.  Various Jewish sources stress reciprocity as an ethical ideal… Hillel’s famous statement, “Do not do to others what they did to you, what is hateful to you do not do to others,” is a succinct expression of the value of reciprocity and certainly a basis for Jewish support of the struggle of other groups in American society to achieve the equal treatment granted to Jews.

By adroitly reversing the normal direction of the equation, Professor Stone turns a principle of self-interest into one of moral behavior.  If instead of saying “we are nice to them so that they will be nice to us,” we say “we are nice to them because they have been nice to us,” it becomes a principle of gratitude and reciprocity.  While these ethical values also operate on the individual interpersonal level – rendering acts of kindness and expressions of gratitude to those who have given us concrete benefit – Professor Stone is thinking here in more global and abstract terms.  If we see ourselves as members of the larger human society, both now and in the past, then we will understand our debt to society and our obligation to help and support its members and its well-being.  

This approach to darkhei shalom comes very close to the one we developed above.  Whereas we spoke about the well-being of society as an intrinsic good, Professor Stone speaks about the ethical mandates of reciprocity and gratitude.  What both of these approaches share is a concept of society or community that extends beyond the narrowly-defined Jewish community and incorporates Gentiles – or the world at large – as well.  

Professor Stone seems to concede that the original meaning of darkhei shalom is indeed based on the principle of self-interest.  She recommends, however, an updated interpretation of this concept given our more egalitarian values.  Dr. Walter Wurzburger similarly believes that the term’s original meaning was limited to concerns of self-interest.  He notes how this term was used interchangeably with the term mipnei eivah, “out of concerns of hatred and strife,” {source ‎6}.  This proves, in his understanding, that in the Talmud this term meant nothing more than preventing of the hatred of others and the harm that may result from it.  

6. Walter S, Wurzberger, “Ethics of Responsibility,” JPS, 1994

This argument, however, collapses once we note that the Talmud uses the positive formulation mipnei darkhei shalom and the negative formulation mipnei eivah interchangeable.  As a matter of fact, many ordinances for which Tannaitic sources give no reasons but which resemble the kinds of enactments that the Mishnah justified on the grounds of darkhei shalom are explained in the Gemara as necessary for the prevention of eivah.  Thus there is no conceptual difference between the two formulations, which, for all practical purposes, are equivalent ( p. 59).

While Dr, Wurzburger and Professor Stone are correct regarding the meaning of darkhei shalom in the Mishna, it is our contention that this concept as understood and used in the Tosefta represents a broader value: the well-being of society, a society that includes both Jews and Gentiles, as an intrinsic good.
That being said, it is clear that many poskim did not accept any of these broader understandings of darkhei shalom, and continued to define the concept more narrowly and more in line with the parameters in the Mishna.  That is, we act in ways to minimize conflict and discord, and we are kind to Gentiles so that they will be kind to us.  Shulkhan Arukh, for example, rules that one provides for the Gentile poor without requiring that it be done together with the Jewish poor {source ‎7}. At the same time, however, he does not say that one must provide for the Gentile poor, only that one is allowed to do so.  He similarly rules that we do not prevent the Gentile poor from taking the gleanings of the dropped grain, but we clearly do not encourage it.

7. Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah, 151    |    שולחן ערוך יורה דעה ס’ קנא

[יב]  מותר לפרנס ענייהם ולבקר חוליהם ולקבור מתיהם ולהספידן ולנחם אבליהם, משום דרכי שלום.

[יג] אין ממחין ביד עניי עובדי כוכבים מליטול לקט שכחה ופאה.

[12] It is permissible to provide for their poor and visit their sick and bury their dead and eulogize them and comfort their mourners, for the purposes of darkhei shalom.

[13] We do not prevent the Gentile poor from taking the gleanings, the forgotten sheaf, and the corner of the field.



Darkhei shalom as agent morality – a focus on our own moral character
Another take on darkhei shalom can be identified in Rambam. {source ‎8}.  Rambam here cites the passage from Gittin that we are to visit the sick, bury the dead and feed the poor of the Gentiles because of darkhei shalom.  Notice, however, the two verses that Rambam cites following this.  What point is he trying to communicate with these verses?

8. Rambam, Laws of Kings, 10:12   |   רמב”ם הלכות מלכים פרק י:י”ב

וכן יראה לי שנוהגין עם גרי תושב בדרך ארץ וגמילות חסדים כישראל, שהרי אנו מצווין להחיותן שנאמר לגר אשר בשעריך תתננה ואכלה, וזה שאמרו חכמים אין כופלין להן שלום בגויים לא בגר תושב
אפילו הגויים צוו חכמים לבקר חוליהם, ולקבור מתיהם עם מתי ישראל, ולפרנס ענייהם בכלל עניי ישראל, מפני דרכי שלום, הרי נאמר טוב ה’ לכל ורחמיו על כל מעשיו, ונאמר דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום.
And it would appear to me that we act towards a resident-alien with courtesy and acts of loving-kindness as we do with a Jew, for behold we are command to sustain their lives, as it says, “To the resident-alien who is in your gates you should give it and he should eat.”  And when our Sages said that we do not repeat words of peace to them – they were referring to [regular] Gentiles, not to the resident-alien.
Even regarding the Gentile, our Sages have commanded us to visit their sick and to bury their dead alongside the Jewish dead, and to feed their poor amongst the Jewish poor, because of ways-of-peace.  Behold the verse says, “God is good to all and His compassion is on all of his creatures.” (Tehillim 145:9).  And it says, “Her [the Torah’s] ways are ways of pleasantness and all of its paths are peace.” (Mishlei 3:17).

By citing the verse “God is good to all,” Rambam  is identifying the trait of compassion towards all of God’s creatures as a divine attribute.  This links to Rambam’s statement (Deot 1:5-6), based on the Gemara, that the mitzvah that “You shall walk in God’s ways,” (Devarim 28:9), is a mitzvah of imitatio Dei, to develop in ourselves the character traits that are used to describe God.  That is, we must strive to be as close to God as possible in our character and in who we are as people (and see also Avadim, 9:8, where Rambam  links that mitzvah to the verse “His compassion is on all his creatures.”).  

Rambam  then adds one other verse to connect this mitzvah to the concept of darkhei shalom.  The verse from Mishlei which he quotes states that “her ways” – the Torah’s ways – are ways of peace.  The key words in this verse are דרכיה and שלום.  Rambam is connecting the rabbinic darkhei shalom with the darkhei shalom of this verse – the ways of the Torah.  These ways, in turn, are the same ways that we are commanded to follow when the verse tells us “and walk in God’s ways,” vi’halakhta bi’drakhav.  In short, for Rambam, the rabbinic darkhei shalom is an instantiation of the Biblical mitzvah to walk in God’s ways.  [He is here following the lead of the Gemara which said that “the entire Torah is based on darkhei shalom,” see above source 2].

In contemporary times, it was the philosopher Walter Wurzberger, who highlighted Rambam’s innovative approach to darkhei shalom.  In the passage below (source 9}, he underscores that this approach – like some approaches we explored above – turns darkhei shalom into an ethical principle and not an expression of self-interest.  

9. Walter S, Wurzberger, “Ethics of Responsibility,” JPS, 1994

Maimonides, however, disagrees with this position and makes it abundantly clear that the notion “the ways of peace” reflects not merely pragmatic considerations of Jewish self-interest but express sublime ethico-religious ideals. (p. 61)

By linking the pursuit of “the ways of peace” with the emulation of the divine attribute of compassion, Maimonides suggests that even in situation in which, for technical reasons, certain provisions of act-morality may be inapplicable, considerations of agent-morality form the matrix of additional obligations.  Although the Torah’s commandment prescribing alms-giving does not include an obligation to support non-Jewish poor people, agent-morality dictates that we display compassion to all individuals regardless of their ethnic or religious background.  Whereas Jewish act-morality contains features that differentiate between members and non-members of the Covenental community agent-morality makes no distinctions.  Insensitivity to the needs of others is no less reprehensible when it is displayed in one’s conduct toward non-Jews than it would be toward Jews. (p. 62)

Importantly, he clarifies that by linking it to the mitzvah to walk in God’s ways, Rambam is shifting the focus from “act-morality” to “agent-morality.”  That is, the ethical principle at play here is not that being compassionate on God’s creatures – for example – is the right moral act to do.  Rather, it is that we must be compassionate so that we become compassionate people.   

This idea – that an “agent-morality” requires that we act ethically towards Gentiles, and can be used to close some of the gaps that we have seen – can also be seen in Rambam’s ruling forbidding cheating a Gentile in business {source 10}, a source we saw earlier in Part I, Section 2.  Notice that this ruling appears in Deot, Laws of Character Traits, and that cheating a person in business is treated no differently than misleading them in a more trivial matter – both acts are equally antithetical to being a person of integrity.  While this can be seen as making high moral demands from us in all actions, something still remains problematic about it.  In what ways is this way of mandating our actions vis-à-vis Gentiles still not consistent with our own moral sensibilities?

10. Rambam, Laws of Character Traits, 2:6  |  רמב”ם הלכות דעות ב:ו

אסור לאדם להנהיג עצמו בדברי חלקות ופיתוי, ולא יהיה אחד בפה ואחד בלב אלא תוכו כברו והענין שבלב הוא הדבר שבפה.

ואסור לגנוב דעת הבריות ואפילו דעת הנכרי, כיצד לא ימכור לנכרי בשר נבילה במקום בשר שחוטה… ולא יפתח לו חביות שהוא צריך לפותחן למוכרן כדי לפתותו שבשביל כבודו פתח וכן כל כיוצא בו. אפילו מלה אחת של פיתוי ושל גניבת דעת אסור, אלא שפת אמת ורוח נכון ולב טהור מכל עמל והוות.

A person is forbidden to act in a smooth-tongued and seductive manner. He should not speak one thing outwardly and think otherwise in his heart. Rather, his inside should be like his outside. What he feels in his heart should be the same as the words on his lips.

It is forbidden to deceive people, even a Gentile. For example, one should not sell a gentile the meat of an animal which has not been ritually slaughtered as if it were ritually slaughtered meat… He should not open casks [of wine] supposedly for his colleague which he must open for sale, in order to deceive him into thinking that they have been opened in his honor. The same applies with all matters of this sort.

It is forbidden to utter a single word of deception or fraud. Rather. one should have only truthful speech, a proper spirit and a heart pure from all deceit and trickery.

The problem with framing the issue this way, is twofold.  First, it denies that there is something inherently wrong with cheating a Gentile; the only problem is what this act does to our own integrity.  Second, it robs it of its legal weight.  To forbid cheating a Gentile as a form of theft is to makes it a legal violation in addition to a moral wrong.  To demand it as part of an ethical mandate of agent-morality or to walk in God’s ways makes it only a moral wrong, one that does not carry weight in the legal system and often in people’s minds.

A teshuva of Chakham Tzvi {source 11} is illustrative of this problem.  Chakham Tzvi is defending Rambam’s ruling that stealing from a Gentile is a Torah violation of theft, just as stealing from a Jew.  Chakham Tzvi states that this is rooted in the Torah’s general concern for our moral behavior.   Notice how different the valence is between giving it this explanation and stating that it is inherently an act of theft.  See how this also plays out in the other mitzvot he discusses.  

11. Responsa Chakham Zvi, 26  |   שו”ת חכם צבי סימן כו

והלא אנחנו נצטוינו שלא לעשות מעשים מכוערי’ ולא יהא אלא גונב ע”מ למיקט או ע”מ לשלם תשלומי כפל אף שאינו מתכוין לגנוב ולא עוד אלא שמתכוין לטובת הנגנב עכ”ז נצטוינו אנחנו שלא להרגיל עצמינו לגנוב

וכבר מצינו שני לאוין מפורשים בגוים לא תתעמר בה ומכור לא תמכרנה בכסף וכשצרין על ערי הנכרי’ נצטוינו להניח רוח אחת מבלי מצור לכל מי שירצה להמלט על נפשו כמ”ש הרמב”ם ז”ל בה’ מלכים פ”ו דין ז’ וכן כי תקרב אל עיר להלחם עליה וקראת אליה לשלום ואף בבע”ח בלתי מדברים נצטווינו על צערם מדאורייתא למ”ד ואותו ואת בנו לא תשחטו ביום אחד ומצות שלוח הקן יש בה עשה ול”ת ואף בצמחים נצטוינו לא תשחית את עצה וכל זה אינו בעבור הפעול אלא בעבורינו אנחנו הפועלים לקנות בנפשנו דעות אמיתיות ומדות טובות וישרות לזכותנו לטוב לנו וז”ב מאוד

Behold we are commanded to not do ugly acts.  This [burgling from a Gentile] should be at least as prohibited as [the prohibition against] burgling for the purpose of provoking (but intending to return the object), or for the purpose to pay back double, although in these cases he does not intend to truly burgle (i.e., take the object away from the owner), and what’s more, in the latter case his intention is for the benefit of the victim.  Nevertheless, we are commanded to not habituate ourselves to burgle [and the same would be true regarding burgling from a Gentile.]

In fact, there are two Biblical prohibitions which explicitly proscribe certain actions against Gentiles: “You shall not make merchandise of her” and “You shall not sell her for money” (Deut. 21:14).  And when we lay siege to a city of foreigners, we are commanded to leave one side of the city free of siege so that whoever wishes can escape, as Rambam writes in Laws of Kings, 6:7.  Similarly, [the verse states:] “When you draw close to a city to wage war against it, you shall call out to it in peace.” (Deut. 20:10).  Even when it comes to animals which cannot speak, we are Biblically commanded against causing them pain, according to one opinion.  [And there is the prohibition that] “An ox or sheep, you shall not slaughter it and its child on the same day” (Lev. 22:28), and the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird contains both a positive and negative mitzvah.  Even regarding plants we are commanded, “You shall not destroy its trees” (Deut. 20:20).  All of these commandments are not for the sake of the one who is receiving the act, but for us – that we should acquire within ourselves the true beliefs and the good and upright character traits so that we may merit, and for our good, and this is all very clear.


The mitzvah to “walk in God’s ways” serves to close some of the gaps between Jew and Gentile.  This solution, however, is not a fully satisfactory one.  Since this is an ethical mandate and not a legal one, it does not really close the gaps in the area of  law, of halakha.  Also, it remains problematic even on the moral level.  Are we really satisfied in saying that the only reason we can’t steal from a Gentile is so as not to habituate ourselves to burgle, as Chakham Tzvi writes?  Or that the whole reason we can’t abuse the woman taken in battle is so that we should acquire good character traits?

As a last source in our discussion of the agent-morality approach to darkhei shalom, we turn to a responsum written by Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman (1886-1976), the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1964-1972.  The following responsum  {source ‎12} was published in Morasha in 1971, and was a reprint from an article he published in Haaretz in 1966.  This article was written in response to a story – later proven to have been a false accusation started by an anti-religious writer – about Jews not treating a black man who had passed out in the street in Jerusalem on Shabbat for fear of Shabbat violation.  Rabbi Unterman wrote to defend halakha’s general approach to Gentiles, and also – as we will see later – to address the question of saving a life on Shabbat.  Notice how this article repeats many of the themes that we saw above regarding darkhei shalom.

12. Darkhei Shalom and its Definition,” Rabbi A. Y. Unterman, Morasha vol. 1, pp. 5-10, 1971 |

“דרכי שלום והגדרתם”, הרב  א. י. אונטרמן, מורשה א’, 5-10, 1971

בשנים האחרונות נשמע לדאבוננו מדי פעם דברי חתירה תחת ערכי המוסר של היהדות התורתית ובמיוחד נגד השקפת התורה על גוי ואדם, שכאילו אין יחס ראוי מצד ההלכה לנכרים.  כאשר הראו להמבקרים שאין בדבריהם כל ממש והביקורת מופרכת מעיקרה ע”י הלכות מפורשות, שנצטווינו להתייחס בחבה אל על אדם הנברא בצלם ולעזור לו בעניני צדקה וחסד, – נאחזו המשמיצים בטענה אחת.  הם אומרים כי הלכות אלו נקבעו מפני דרכי שלום בלבד ולא משורת הדין הם.

יש אפיא צורך לפרש את המובן האמיתי של המושג “דרכי שלום”, שאינו בבחינת מדת חסידות ולא כאמצעי להגן על עצמינו, אלא נובע מעצם המוסר של תורה”ק.  ואולי יש לפעמים גם בין נאמני התורה שלא חדרו לעומק המושג הזה, כפי שהוא מתבלט מדברי חז”ל, ולכן מצוה להרחיב את הדיבור בענין זה אעפ”י שלכאורה אין כאן חידוש…

וזה מפורש במשנה כי אין ממחין ביד עניי נכרים בלקט שכחה ופאה שזה ממון עניי ישראליים, ומזה אנו רואים כמה דינים שצריכים לעשות מפני דרכי שלום אעפ”י שהם פוגעים בקנינם של עניים, שהתורה זכתה להם ואסורים לאחרים משום גזל…

ואם החלק הראשון של הכתוב, “דרכיה דרכי נועם” משמש יסוד להלכות שבתורה בודאי גם סוף הכתוב “וכל נתיבותיה שלום” ג”כ מכריע בפירושם של דברי התורה הנוגעים להלכה.  ולכן מביא הרמב”ם את הפסוק הזה כשורש שממנו נובעת סמכות החכמים לתקן תקנות מפני דרכי שלום.  ואעפ”י שהתקנה עצמה היא מדברי סופרים השורש שלה יונק מהכתוב שנתיבות התורה הן שלום. ובכן למדין אנו כי דרכי התורה ונתיבותיה הן בנועם ובשלום ומכוונת להמטרה הגדולה שלנו להידמות במעשינו להבורא יתברך: מה הוא טוב ומרחם אף אתה תשאף להיות טוב ומרחם לכל.  ולכן הרמב”ם מביא כיסוד ושורש להתקנות האמורות לעשות צדקה וחסד גם לגוים את הכתוב “טוב ה’ לכל ורחמיו כעל כל מעשיו” שהיא המטרה לשאיפתינו ואח”כ “דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום” שהן מובילות למטרה זו…

יוצא מזה כי דרכי שלום שתקנו חכמינו יונקים את קיומם מעומק העיון של מוסר תורה”ק, וזהו המקור לכח הכרעה בענינים של הלכה כמו שהבאנו קודם.  לכל מה שניתקן מפני דרכי שלום צריך להיות יחס של מסירות להנהגה המובילה לארחות חיים של היהדות כמו שנקבעו ע”י חכמי התורה.  וכמו שאי אפשר לקרוא שומר תורה ומצוה למי שמזלזל בהלכות קבועות בדברי סופרים, כמוי יו”ט שני או בשר עוף בחלב וכדומה, כן אין לתת את התואר הזה של שמירת תורה ומצוות למי שמסרב לקיים חיובים מוסריים הנוגעים לזולת, כמו התקנות של דרכי שלום.  כי כל זה נובע ממקור חיים של תורתנו ע”י השתלשלותה של תורה שבע”פ.

In the last few years, we have heard, to our distress,  recurring times that challenge the ethical values of Torah-adherent Judaism, particularly the Torah’s view of Gentiles and human beings, and have implied that the halakhah lacks a proper attitude toward gentiles.  But when the critics were shown that there words had no merit, and that their critique was shown to be false at its very foundation by demonstrating that there are explicit halakhot that command us to relate with compassion towards every human being created in the image of God, and to help him in providing him tzedakkah and acts of loving-kindness – they seize on one specific claim: they argue that these halakhot do not represent the law per se, but were established only for the sake of peaceful relations (“darkhei shalom”).  

It therefore becomes necessary to explain the true meaning of the concept “darkhei shalom”: it represents neither an attribute of gratuitous kindness nor a mechanism for self-defense (and self-interest); rather it flows from the essence of the Torah’s ethical system.  It is possible that there have been times that there have been those who are faithful to the Torah who do not penetrate to the depth of this concept, as it expresses itself in the words of the Sages.  Therefore, it is a mitzvah to discuss this matter at length, even though it appears that there is no real innovation [in what I have to say]…


It is explicit in the mishna that we do not prevent the poor of the Gentiles form taking the gleanings, the forgotten sheaf and the grain from the corner of the field, which is [rightfully] property that belongs to the poor among Israel.  From this we see that there are a number of laws that must be enacted for the sake of darkhei shalom, although the encroach upon the possessions of the poor, which the Torah has awarded to them and is forbidden for others [to take] on the basis of theft…

If, as we have seen, the first part of the verse, “Its paths are paths of pleasantness,” serves as a basis for halakhot in the Torah, then certainly the end of the verse “and all its ways are peace” also serve as a determining factor in the interpretation of halakhically relevant phrases in the Torah.  It is for this reason that Rambam cites this verse as the root from which the authority of the Sages flows (sic.) to enact rulings for the sake of darkhei shalom.  Although the enactment itself is of Rabbinic nature, the root of it draws its life-force from the verse that the paths of the Torah are peace.  Therefore, we learn that the ways of the Torah and its paths are with pleasantness and peace, and are directed towards our largest goal, to be similar in our acts to the Creator, may God be blessed: just as He is good and compassionate, even you should strive to be good and compassionate to all.  Thus, Rambam cites as a foundation and root for the enactments to do tzedakkah and acts of loving-kindness even to Gentiles, the verse “God is good to all and His compassion is on all His creatures,” which is the end-goal for our strivings, and then [he cites the verse] “its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace,” which [are the actions which] bring us to this goal…

What emerges from this is that [the enactments of] darkhei shalom that our Sages enacted draws its life-force from the depth of the investigation into the ethics of our holy Torah, and this is the source for such considerations to serve as a determining factor in matters of halakha, as we have discussed above.  Regarding everything that was enacted for the purposes of darkhei shalom there must be a relationship of dedication to a practice that cultivates a Jewish way of life, as it was established by the Jewish Sages.  Just as one who deprecates the halakhot established by the rabbis – such as the second day of Yom Tov or eating fowl and milk, and similar matters – cannot be considered observant of the Torah and commandments, neither can one be considered to be observant of Torah and mitzvot if he refuses to follow the ethical obligations that relate to the other, such as the enactments related to darkhei shalom.  For all of it flows, via the oral Torah’s chain of transmission, from our Torah’s source of living waters.

In this responsum, Rabbi Unterman builds on Rambam’s ruling of darkhei shalom and sees the rabbinic enactments as instantiations of a larger Torah mandate to walk in God’s ways. Notice how he too emphasizes agent-morality and not the inherent morality of the act, although he sometimes moves from one to the other.  He is obviously bothered that this mandate does not carry the same weight as a legal mandate.  He thus adds a new framing – one who does not follow these moral mandates cannot be called an observant Jew, or in more religious parlance, a shomer Torah u’mitzvot.  [It is not a far jump to say that for him, Torah here refers to the Torah’s ways and morality, and mitzvot to the legal obligations.] If these acts define a person’s character, then they can also be part of defining a person as an observant Jew or not.  


Rav Unterman recognizes the need to more fully close the gap between Jew and Gentile even after one has evoked the principle of darkhei shalom.  Through invoking the personal-status issue of being an “observant Jew” (and through emphasizing its importance via bolding his statement), Rav Unterman hopes to give legal weight to this ethical mandate.  



In concluding our discussion of darkhei shalom, we note that it can be understood to be purely a principle of pragmatic self-interest, or a principle of ethical behavior.  The latter possibility itself divides into two: a mandate to create a healthy, interconnected, caring society or a mandate to “walk in God’s ways” and to act in ways that make us better people.  These latter approaches go a significant way to closing the gap in practice, in particular in the area of providing aid and assistance.  When it comes to acts against one’s property, while this principle would certainly mandate that we don’t do such acts from a moral perspective, the fact that such acts are not legally prohibited remains a problem.  In general, invoking these moral mandates falls short because it does not create legal obligations in the same way.  In addition, they fall short because they don’t focus on the morality of the act per se, but locate the issue elsewhere – the well-being of society or the morality of the agent.  This is both troubling morally – shouldn’t these acts just be wrong or required in themselves? – and also because there will be cases where the well-being of society or morality of the agent is not at stake.  Would it then be permit to refuse to provide assistance to a Gentile?

We now turn to look at another source of possible obligation – a universal ethics – and see how successful this obligation can be in closing the gaps.