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What Does Judaism Say About Taking Revenge?

What Does Judaism Say About Taking Revenge?

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You shall not take revenge…

Leviticus 19:18

What is taking revenge?

Taking revenge is when you ask someone, “Lend me your sickle,” and he says no. The next day he comes to you and asks you “Lend me your hatchet.” You respond, “I am not lending to you, just like you did not lend to me.”

This is an example of revenge.

—The Talmud, Yoma 23a

It is human nature. When someone wrongs us, we want to retaliate. We are infuriated and hold onto memories of these “wrongs,” and when given the opportunity, we respond in kind.

Taking revenge is prohibited in Judaism.

Maimonides writes about revenge in his code of Jewish law:

Taking revenge is an extremely bad trait. A person should be accustomed to rise above his feelings about all worldly matters; for those who understand [the deeper purpose of the world] consider all these matters as vanity and emptiness, which are not worth seeking revenge for.”1

Rather, Maimonides continues, if someone who has wronged you comes to ask a favor, you should respond “with a complete heart.” As King David says in the Psalms, “Have I repaid those who have done evil to me? Behold, I have rescued those who hated me without cause”(7:5).

In addition, Jewish law forbids us to bear a grudge. Thus, the Talmud explains, you may not even say to the person who wronged you that you will act rightly, even though he or she did not.2

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi in his code of Jewish law concludes that, “one should erase any feelings of revenge from one’s heart and never remind oneself of it.”3

The Heart

Not taking revenge is not just about modifying one’s actual actions; it is also that the thought of revenge never even enter one’s heart.4

The 13th-century Talmudist, Rabbi Aharon HaLevi of Barcelona, explains:

One of the roots of this commandment is that a person should know in his heart that all that happens to him, whether good or bad, is because it is G‑d’s will that it happen to him... It was G‑d who wished this to happen, and one should not consider taking revenge from the other person, because the other person is not the reason for what happened.5

(Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains in his Tanya that while the person wronged needs to forgive, the person who did the action is still held accountable, for “G‑d has many agents” through whom He can act.6)

The verse prohibiting revenge ends with the famous maxim, “You should love your fellow as yourself.” Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, “Nachmanides,” explains that erasing the event from your heart will guarantee that you will never come to transgress the commandment, allowing you to love your fellow, no matter what transpires between the two of you.7

See Is Turning the Other Cheek a Jewish Value? from our Jewish Ethics & Morality section.

Footnotes
1.

Paraphrased from Mishneh Torah, De’ot 7:7.

2.

Talmud, Yoma, ibid.

3.

Shulchan Aruch Harav, end of 156:3 (in the new Kehot editions (2001) p. 393).

4.

See Rabbi Jonah Gerondi (1180-1263), Shaarei Teshuvah 3:38. See Nachmanides on Leviticus, ad loc.

5.

In the classic volume Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 241.

6.

Igeret HaKodesh, Epistle 25.

7.

Ibid.

Dovid Zaklikowski is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn. Dovid and his wife Chana Raizel are the proud parents of four: Motti, Meir, Shaina & Moshe Binyomin.
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Anonymous Strasbourg November 13, 2014

children? oops. after reading the first sentence I realized I have been doing the same to my 3 year old with the intention of teaching her to be more respectful, sharing.. When she spits (on floor, on people, et c..) I say she cant have something. If she broke, ripped or destroyed a toy and she wants that toy again, I remind her every time by saying, oh no, you destroyed it, now we don't have it anymore.. If she keeps taking her little brother's sand toys in the playground - then I say, 'looks like your brother is getting bored, he has nothing to play with - we better go home." Maybe I exaggerate? Is that wrong to remind them or should they know the consequences of their actions. Is there a softer, non-vengeful way to discipline? Reply

Vuk Novi Sad September 13, 2013

@Dr. Elyas F What does it means to love another as itself? Does it really means not to oppose a threat in circumstances like the 2WW in Nazi-Germany? Or to let yourself be slaughtered?
It would be to far going for this comment to analyse the mind of a Nazi (or others) and the things that were leading to the state of mind where the killing of a human being can be justified by some ideology. Instead of this I want to concentrate on the other side. For those who can distinguish between good and bad. There is an immanent threat at the moment you pass the point of selfdefense. I can´t warn enough from the threat of an infection of hate. It consumes the souls of those infected. Seek the good, avoid the bad. You can only find the answer inside yourself! Reply

Clinton austin, tx August 17, 2012

this makes less sense than usual The law on revenge is shown that city of judgment were to be set up and those guilty of crimes to flee to them for people to judge their action from a far and that no local revenge is taken. I do not see this in the new ruling. Is all the old laws then null and void and people just meant to take what is given to them without any concern? What does G@d have to do with wickedness? I do not believe this is the right view. Reply

Anonymous Calgary, Alberta June 15, 2012

Justice Justice must be pursued. Grudge is for small stuff. The art is to find the boundary. Reply

Eric Sander Kingston Beverly Hills, CA June 14, 2012

Revenge Is Anger To seek revenge, means one has to carry anger. Look what happened when to Moses when he struck the stone. It is written, "when one seek revenge, dig two graves" for you destroy yourself in the process wasting time on plots, etc. Medgar Evers said, "never waste your time hating anyone because half the people you hate don't know it and the other half don't care." Reply

Chabad.org Staff via mychabad.org June 10, 2012

An eye for an eye Please see this Doesn't an eye for an eye make the whole world blind? for an explanation of what is meant by that phrase. Reply

Alan Coconut Creek June 9, 2012

Doesn't the Torah teach us an eye for an eye? A hand for a hand? Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA June 9, 2012

The best revenge I ever got, was When I left a horrible boss and said I was luckier than he was. He asked why. I said because I am leaving him and he can't. Reply

Dr. Elyas F. Isaacs, Ph.D. New York, NY June 7, 2012

Love Your Fellow Man As Yourself I have often contemplated this idea of what it is to love another as oneself and surely for the instance of when revenge or turning the tables on another is involved.
A good case study for this covers the situation of one who persecutes another. How should the one who was persecuted respond theresoto?
Consider survivors of Nazi Germany and the concentration camps. Is it at all reasonable to believe someone who witnessed another murdering 100's if not 1000's of that persons family and friends to turn around and be friends? Well, there is really no way I can believe that could be the Lord's will.
My position on "Love Your Fellow Man As Yourself" is that however you conform yourself to the Divine Will and Purpose is that which you should look for in others. Of course, beyond that we are all called to pray for the souls of others. So, I do that, too.
Well, that is my position.
Always yours,
Reply

Matthew Stoughton, MA June 7, 2012

Revenge and Justice To those who have difficulty understanding the difference between revenge and taking someone to court to address wrongs, here is the difference:
It is a positive mitzvah for a system of justice to be set up for all nations to address wrongs - it is one of the Noahide commandments binding upon X-tians, Muslims, and all others. It is also a positive commandment for Jews to set up a court of 70 wise men under the Nasi of Israel - the 70 men correspond to the 70 nations of the world who descend from Noah. The 71st nation is Israel, represented by the Nasi or "leader" of the generation. No act of justice in the courts is revenge, since the case is not decided by the accuser, but by the judges who are impartial to persons and who work strictly within the Torah's rules to decide. One may also kill without consent of a court in many cases, in defence of life and in war. The court system makes every possible attempt to acquit the accused - the avenger does not, but seeks only to punish. Reply

David Levant Emerson, N.J. June 7, 2012

Revenge and Jealously Revenge is,for the most part,born out of jealously of another.If people were sincerely happy for one another's good fortune,there would be no jealously,and revenge would not even become a thought. Reply

Anonymous tallinn August 21, 2017
in response to David Levant:

Do You mean.. like for example: Should the holocaust survivors have been sincerely happy for the good fortune of nazis who killed their children?
Or should we be happy for the good fortune of psychopatic stepmother who drove the motherless children out of their home? Reply

Anonymous arak, iran June 6, 2012

it depends who u are The wisdom and light in the above message is clear. We are on a mission to be a true human being and it's G-d's will after all.
When this comes from more than one single person the community should pay more care some times a country in war for example. Reply

Marc June 5, 2012

re: bringing someone to Justice. i.e. when he refused to let you borrow his car, he has full right.. there is nothing that he did wrong here. your taking revenge -- ONLY -- because they did not want to loan it to you last time, is wrong.

Justice is when someone damages your property or the like, there is no question that you could get your payment for it.. that is not revenge, that is the right thing to do. Reply

K. Khan Lahore, Pakistan June 5, 2012

bringing someone to Justice. Please tell the difference between "taking revenge" and "bringing someone to justice". Reply

marc June 3, 2012

murder this article seems to be speaking about everyday revenge, not wars or in cases of murderers. There is no doubt if someone wrongs you or damages your property you should do justice. However, once that is done, does one need to forever try to do revenge to that person? To harbor hatred? We need to make a just world, all of that does not do that. So turn your cheek? No way. But, once justice is done, we should now work on ridding our heart from hatred. It is taking the highway, rather than sinking down into the slumps. Reply

Anonymous Montgomery, Alabama June 2, 2012

Revenge A quote follows,
"One of the roots of this commandment is that a person should know in his heart that all that happens to him, whether good or bad, is because it is G‑d’s will that it happen to him... It was G‑d who wished this to happen,"
How can it be G-d's will that children are abused and/or murdered? And, no thoughts of the act, bitterness or a grudge? To me this sounds a little too simplistic. Is t here a middle ground that I do not understand? Reply

Douglas Eivind Hall Fuengirola, Spain June 2, 2012

We are not Christians. Is not revenge simply taking punishment into one's own hand. If someone kills your daughter you want revenge. So you go to the police and you try to put that person in jail for the rest of his life or try to get the death penalty. This is revenge. It is normal human behaviour. When Israel retaliates against Gaza it is revenge. Whether it is at the personal level where the police or rabbi or judge will not get involved or whether it is on a large national government scale. The War in Afghanistan for 10 years has been revenge for 9-11. Revenge is just a personal form of punishment. So following the law against revenge then there is no punishment in the world and I can do what I want with no fear of being vulnerable to revenge or punishment. Let´s be real. We are humans and revenge is a part of nature. If a Jewish man steals a car from another Jewish man should we just forgive him and let him on his way? This does not make sense. Revenge and punishment are very simmilar acts. Reply

C.R. Zwolinski Brooklyn, NY June 1, 2012

focus on yourself If you have faith that all Hashem does is good, than you know Hashem will take care of justice, and you won't want revenge. You'll view people who hurt you (and who hasn't been hurt or hurt others?) with equanimity and hold no grudge, which is petty and self-destructive. Plus, when you focus your energy on resenting someone else, you are take the focus off yourself. You won't be able to grow as a person and in your connection to Hashem. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says to look for the good even in your "enemies."
Still, you also have to have some self-respect and not put yourself in harm's way. You have a right to address an injustice if it is within the bounds of halachah, if the injustice might be perpetuated and hurt others, etc. It is case by case.
Turn your eyes to the good in people, even in those who've wronged you and you might find that the positive energy you put out will inspire them to have remorse and correct the damage. Check out the book, You Are What You Hate! Reply

Giordano London, UK June 1, 2012

contradiction There seems to be a contradiction between this article and the article on 'turning the other cheek', where Solomon is quoted with the words:
There is a time to kill and a time to heal… a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.Ecclesiastes 3:1,8

Why, therefore, are there so many references to killing and slaughtering in the Holy Books. Unless one takes a purely mystical
interpretation, the concept of revenge seems very much a part of the Jewish mindset. Reply

Harry J Shelhamer Allentown, PA May 27, 2012

Texas and the Philippines G-d said we must set up courts of law. Let G-d handle the courts when the courts transgress. I truly believe that G-d has a firm grip on the rights and wrongs of this world. If we intervene to satisfy our need for revenge then we take the blame of this transgression off the shoulders of the courts and place it directly on our backs. See Shemoneh Esrei - Amidah, Restoration of Justice. {G-d speaks for those that can't speak for themselves.} Reply

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