Question: My non-Jewish friends tell me that they think Judaism is wrong because it teaches one that an eye for an eye is the right way instead of turning the other cheek. Are they correct in their assessment of the Jewish religion? Is eye for an eye a part of Judaism and beliefs?
Answer: The quote, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” comes from our Torah, our bible. It may be found in Leviticus 24:20. This, however, does not mean that if someone cut off your hand then we should cut off his hand, G-d forbid. This verse has been misinterpreted by Christians and Muslims for centuries. All of our commentaries tell us that what it means is if someone causes you to lose the use of your hand in an accident or a similar case, then that person owes you financial damages up to the value of your lost limb. So if you were a professional arm wrestler and someone caused you to lose your arm wrestling hand then they might owe you the value of that hand including your lost wages, etc. None of the Jewish commentaries teach us to cut off the hand of the one who caused the loss. It simply is a lie if someone tells you that this is the Jewish opinion.
Now, with that said here is where your friends are wrong. We do not believe in “turning the other cheek.”
If a homicide bomber blows himself up in a crowded section of Tel Aviv, G-d forbid, then Christianity teaches to “turn the other cheek.” Judaism teaches to wipe evil off the map. The Israeli government will seek terrorists out and pull them from where they sleep. The Torah allows for us to protect ourselves from murderers at all costs. The Pope has publicly said many times that the Israeli government should not actively go after terrorists in Ramallah or Jenin or Gaza because we have to learn forgiveness. Who is turning the other cheek? According to Jewish law if someone is about to kill someone we are allowed to kill him first. The Torah allows for the death penalty in many cases. The Torah allows for harsh penalties for theft, lying, and harming a fellow person.
Does this sound like turning the other cheek to you? You can tell your friends that they should learn about Judaism in a real way before saying anything about it. If you ever have general questions about Jewish philosophy you can go to www.aish.com and www.torah.org. They have a great selection of articles there on various topics.