- MERCY (Heb. רַחֲמִים), a feeling of compassion tempered with love, which engenders forgiveness and forbearance in man and which stimulates him to deeds of charity and kindness. This quality, inherent in man's attitude toward his loved ones, is an essential characteristic of God who "pitieth like a father" (Ps. 103:13; Isa. 49:15; Ex. 20:6; 34:6; Micah 7:8), and of the descendants of Abraham, renowned for their compassion. As God is known as Raḥamanah ("the Merciful"), so are the people of Israel distinguished as "merciful sons of merciful fathers" (Yev. 79a). In accordance with the tradition of the imitation of god – "as He is merciful so be you merciful" (Shab. 133b) – mercy transcends familial bounds to encompass the entire range of human relationships (Ecclus. 18:13; Gen. R. 33: 1). Just as God is bound by His covenant of mercy with His people (Deut. 13:17; 30:3; II Kings 13:23), so is the Jew bound by specific commandments to act mercifully toward the oppressed, the alien, the orphan, the widow, indeed, every living creature (Deut. 22:6; 25:4; Prov. 19:17; Git. 61a; Moses Cordovero, Tomer Devorah, ch. 3). The exercise of mercy is the fulfillment of a covenantal obligation, and, in turn, enhances moral sensibility (Suk. 49b; BB 9b). The stress placed upon maintaining charitable institutions in Jewish communal life is an outgrowth of this view of mercy. Man's recognition of God as "the Merciful One" finds its verbal expression in his prayers (Num. 19:19; Ps. 106:1), wherein he implores God to deal compassionately even with the undeserving man (Ex. 34:7; Sot. 14a; Ber. 7a). Because of the imperfection of every mortal, even such righteous men as Abraham are dependent on God's mercy. Recognizing human frailty, God forgives transgressors, especially those who themselves are forgiving (Ecclus. 28:2; Shab. 151b; BM 85a; Ex. R. 12:1). The firm belief that "it is because of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not" (Lam. 3:22) has sustained the Jewish people through many periods of travail (Hos. 12:7). God's mercifulness does not negate the principle of divine justice, but rather complements it and reinforces its efficacy (see god , Justice and Mercy of). In analyzing the 13 attributes by which God manifests Himself, the rabbis point to the positive interaction of mercy and justice in God's relation to the world (RH 17a, b; Lev. R. 29:3). This combination of justice and mercy in God is denoted in the two names of God, Elohim, and YHWH, the first of which designates justice, the second, mercy. God resolves the tension between strict judgment and mercy in favor of the latter (Ps. 89:3; Prov. 20:28). Philo expresses this in his statement: "God's pity is older than his justice" (Deus, 16). Judaism can thus demand of its judges the seemingly contradictory qualities of impartiality and compassion (Ex. 23:3; Ket. 9:2: Sanh. 6b). The principle of mercy assumes an overriding significance in the administration of Jewish law, where rules of equity qualify strict legalism: "… execute the judgment and show mercy and compassion every man to his brother" (Zech. 7:9). -BIBLIOGRAPHY: G.F. Moore, Judaism, 2 (1946), 154 and 169; C.G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology, index; Orḥot Ẓaddikim (Prague, 1581); I. Heinemann, Ta'amei ha-Mitzvot be-Sifrut Yisrael, 2 (1956), index S.V. ḥemlah. (Zvi H. Szubin)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.