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Christians and the Law-Courts

By Leo Tolstoy

I was recently reading the Fifth Chapter of Matthew with a Jewish Rabbi. At almost every sentence the Rabbi said, 'That is in the Jewish Canon. That is in the Talmud,' and he pointed out to me in the Old Testament and the Talmud dicta very similar to the dicta of the Sermon on the Mount. But when we came to the verse about non-resistance to him that is evil he did not say, 'And that is in the Talmud,' but only ironically asked me: 'Do the Christians fulfil that? Do they turn the other cheek?'1 Matthew 5:39 "But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." I had no reply, especially as I knew that at that very time Christians were not only not turning the other cheek, but were striking cheeks the Jews had turned. But I was interested to know whether there was anything similar in the Old Testament or in the Talmud, and I asked him about this. He replied: 'No, it is not there. But tell me whether the Christians fulfil this law.' By this question he showed me that the presence of this rule in the Christian law, which not only is not performed by anyone, but which Christians themselves admit to be impracticable, is an admission of the irrationality and superfluity of the Christian law. And I had no reply to give him.

Now having understood the meaning of this teaching, I see clearly the strange internal contradiction with which I was faced. Having admitted Christ to be God and his law to be divine, and having at the same time arranged my life in contradiction to the teaching, what was left me but to admit that the teaching was impracticable? In words I admitted the teaching of Christ to be holy, in practice I professed a quite unchristian teaching and admitted and submitted to unchristian institutions which surrounded me on all sides.

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