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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
That which is due to God as the Master of life, or to a fellow man, or to oneself. "Duty" is an ethical term; its recognition as such is urged by the inner voice called conscience (see Wisdom 17:11), which tells man what he ought or ought not to do. It derives its sanction and authority from god. "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole of man" (Ecclesiastes 12:13; A. V. wisely adds the word "duty"). "Duty" is too abstract a term to find a place in the Biblical terminology, but the idea of duty as inseparable from life is expressed in different forms in the Bible. It is "the keeping of the way of the Lord" (Genesis 18:19); it is defined by Micah (6:8, Hebr.): "He hath told thee, O man, what is good and what the Lord requireth of thee: to do justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God"; and it is summed up in the commandment: "Holy shall ye be, for I the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus 19:2). This thought of duty runs through all Jewish literature. "Walk after the Lord thy God; as He is merciful, be thou also merciful; as He is kind, be thou also kind" (Soṭah 14a). So also Philo: "Man was created in the image of God; it must thaerefore be his aim to become more and more like God" ("De Decalogo," § 197; "De Migratione Abrahami," § 470); "Man's highest duty is to imitate God according to the best of his ability, and to neglect no opportunity to become like God" (ib. § 40).
The Extent of Duty.
The Jewish conception of duty is therefore superior to that of the Greek and the Roman in that it emanates from a God of holiness, and life is based upon duties and obligations which form the contents of the Law, and the faithful fulfilment of which by the Jewish people establishes their claim to thetitle "'am ḳadosh" (holy people: Exodus 19:6, 22:30; Leviticus 11:44,45; 19:2; 20:7,26; Numbers 15:40; Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2,21; 26:19; 9). True, in the Pentateuch no distinction is made between duties of various kinds; the ceremonial duty is of as great importance as the moral act. In Leviticus 19, which may be assumed to represent the spirit of Pentateuchal legislation at its best, the duty to offer sacrifices (verses 5-7)—a purely ritual obligation—is given as high sanction as the fear of father and mother (3), the care of the poor (10), honesty in speech and dealing (11), respect for the aged (32), love for one's neighbor (18), and similar moral duties of the highest type. The command to keep the Sabbaths (3) has no more binding force than that requiring honesty in regard to weight and measure (35). From the standpoint of the Mosaic legislation life in its various aspects is one, and no distinction is made between the different kinds of duty enjoined; God commanded them all, and therefore they all have equal sanction.
Prophetic Hierarchy of Duties.
The prophetic conception of life, however, distinguished between the various kinds of duties. To the Prophets duty meant chiefly to do justice and to love mercy (compare Isaiah 1:26; Jeremiah 7:5-8; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:24; Zechariah 7:9,10). This characteristic of prophetic thought is expressed very clearly by R. Simlai (Mak. 23b). Similarly, see See BAHYA BEN JOSEPH IBN PAḲUDA, in his "Ḥobot ha-Lebabot," distinguishes between the various kinds of duties by dividing them into two classes: "ḥobot ha-ebarim" and "ḥobot ha-lebabot," the external religious duties and the duties of the heart, or the ritual duties and the moral obligations. However, though individual thinkers made these distinctions, yet Jewish tradition developed the thought that all duties derive their sanctity from the Law as the unchangeable will of God. And here lies the danger of LEGALISM, inasmuch as every ceremonial law is regarded from this point of view as an actual debt ("ḥobah" = ὀφείλημα) incumbent upon man, and of which he must rid himself ( or simply ; Ber. 2:1,8b, 20b; Yer. Sanh. 7:21b; Ecclesiastes 7:18) by performing it. This debt is a sin while it remains unpaid ("ḥobah"); but when paid it becomes a merit ("miẓwah"; Yer. Ber. 9:4—according to the Pharisees; compare Montefiore, "Hibbert Lectures," 1892, pp. 467-563; also Ceremonies and the Ceremonial Law; COMMANDMENT).
In the fulfilment of duty, possibly the chief consideration is the character of the motive. Why shall duty be performed: for reward or for its own sake? In this matter Jewish ethics rest on the highest plane. The sages taught, "Whether one do much or little, all that is necessary is that the intention be pure" (Ber. 17a). The classical saying of Antigonus of Sokho clearly expresses the true Talmudic ideal of the spirit that should accompany the performance of duty: "Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of the reward, but be like servants who serve their master not for the sake of the reward, and let the fear of Heaven be upon you" (Ab. 1:3). The usual expression for this thought of doing duty for duty's sake is "le-shem shamayim" (in the name of God), or "lishmah" (for its own sake); thus it is said, "Those who occupy themselves with communal affairs should do so in the name of God," and "Let all thy deeds be done in the name of God" (Ab. 2:2,16). Another manner of expressing the same thought appears in the phrase "raḥmana libba ba'e" (God requires the intention of the heart to be pure; see Sanh. 106b). This doctrine is clearly taught in passages like the following: "The words 'to love the Lord thy God, to harken to Him, and to cling to Him' mean, 'Let no man say, "I will study so that people shall call me a wise man; I will learn that they may call me rabbi; I will learn that I may become an elder and preside over the academy."' Let him learn for the love of learning, and the honor will come in the end" (Ned. 62a). So also says R. Eleazar, commenting upon Psalms 112:1: "Happy he who delighteth in His commandments, but not for the reward that might come from observing them" ('Ab. Zarah 19a). Baḥya (ib. Introduction) says: "I am convinced that all actions which are to conduce to the honor of God must have their basis in purity of the heart and of the intention; if the intention be not pure the deeds will not be acceptable, be they ever so numerous, as it is said in Scripture, 'If ye heap up ever so many prayers I will not hear, for your hands are full of blood; wash yourselves, make yourselves clean'" (Isaiah 1:15,16, Hebr.). ETHICS.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Duty'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​d/duty.html. 1901.