The Jewish language of love

The Torah states, “Lo tov heyot ha-adam levado,” “It is not good for a person to be alone.” In the Jewish tradition, marriage is not only for the purpose of having children; it is also for companionship and remedying what Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik called the existential state of loneliness. The ideal loving relationship in Jewish tradition is an “I-Thou” relationship in which each partner sees the other and treats the other with respect and compassion. In Judaism, marriage and sex (when in the context of marriage, out of mutual love and desire) are not frowned upon; rather, they are mitzvot. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, “Love transforms us. It makes us beautiful in the eyes of those who love us. It makes us real.”

An expanded curriculum is available for this topic.

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber encouraged us to move from an “I-It” to “I-Thou” relationship. Read Buber’s explanation of this concept below. How would you describe an “I-Thou” relationship?“If I face a human being as my Thou, and say the primary word I-Thou to him, he is not a thing among things, and does not consist of things. Thus human being is not He or She, bounded from every other He and She, a specific point in space and time within the net of the world; nor is he a nature able to be experienced and described, a loose bundle of named qualities. But with no neighbor, and whole in himself, he is Thou and fills the heavens. This does not mean that nothing exists except himself. But all else lives in his light…Just as the melody is not made up of notes nor the verse of words nor the statue of lines, but they must be tugged and dragged till their unity has been scattered into these many pieces, so with the man to whom I say Thou. I can take out from him the color of his hair, or of his speech, or of his goodness… But each time I do it he ceases to be Thou.”
  2. In The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage, Rabbi Maurice Lamm wrote about the idea of the ideal Jewish marriage as a triangle: “If God created man, woman, and their marriage relationship; and if the creation of man and woman is good and marriage a blessing; then God is a conscious, albeit silent, partner in the marriage. Thus the ideal Jewish marriage is a triangle composed of two human beings and their Creator.” How do you interpret Rabbi Lamm’s statement, “the ideal Jewish marriage is a triangle composed of two human beings and their Creator”?
  3. Read Shir HaShirim (the Song of Songs) Chapter 2. Shir HaShirim depicts the love between a man and a woman, understood by the Sages to represent the relationship between God and the Jewish people, Rabbi Akiva famously said, “Nothing in the entire world is worthy but for that day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel; for all the Scriptures are holy, but The Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies!” Based on what you have learned about Jewish attitudes toward love so far, why do you think Rabbi Akiva described this as the “Holy of Holies”?
  1. Watch this video on “The 5 Love Languages Explained” summarizing the book, “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts” by Dr. Gary Chapman. The 5 love languages are: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Take the love language quiz to find out your primary love language and which other love languages you “speak.” How can knowing our own love languages and the love language of others influence our relationships?
  2. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik wrote about how Adam and Eve’s differences complemented one another: “They have a lot in common; otherwise Eve could not be a helper. However, they are also different; their existential experiences are incommensurate. The I-awareness in Adam is totally incomprehensible to Eve, and vice-versa. Each of them has a secret which neither will ever betray. [They] resemble each other and at the same time do not understand each other.” Can you think of a relationship in your life with someone who is different from you? How do your differences complement one another?
  3. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote, “Listening lies at the very heart of relationship. It means that we are open to the other, that we respect him or her…Listening is the climate in which love and respect grow.” Read these articles from The New York Times and Fast Company on how to be a better listener. Choose one of the strategies to implement in your own life. After one week of implementing the strategy, report back to your class on how the strategy impacted you and your relationships.
  1. In the video, the different couples reflect on Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 5:16, which states: “All love that depends on something (t’luya b’davar), when the thing ceases, the love ceases; and all love that does not depend on anything (ayna t’luya b’davar), will never cease.” How do you interpret the idea of love that is “t’luya b’davar” (dependent on something)? What does the text mean by “love that does not depend on anything”? Which friendships in your own life would you say do not depend on anything? How do you recognize this type of friendship?
  2. Can you think of a time when love gave you strength or courage to do something you didn’t think you could do?
  3. In the video, different couples reflect on the impact love has had on them. What is a relationship in your own life that transformed or transforms you for the better?
  4. Think about someone who you are having a conflict or disagreement with. Take a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle. On the left side of the page, make a list of everything that bothers you about this person or how you want them to be different from who they are. On the right side of the page, list that person’s strengths and everything you appreciate about them that you can think of. How would your life change if you were more frequently aware of this person’s strengths? What holds us back from appreciating and accepting those who challenge us?

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