Research Shows That Love is a Universal Phenomenon

Photo courtesy of Kim Bifulco

The way love is viewed by different religions is different on a spiritual level, but Dr. Yudit Kornberg-Greenburg, professor of Religious Studies at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., wanted to see and explore love as both a mythical understanding and social construct. Her research addressed this question: do cultures have something unique about their story of the nature of love?

As the editor of the “Encyclopedia of Love in World Religions,” Kornberg-Greenberg came to the University’s Wilde Auditorium as the lead-off lecturer for the college’s First-of-the-Month Contemporary Issues Forum.

As a cultural construct, love is viewed as the decision to love, the emotion of loving, the action of loving and the experience of being in love. Her view is that love is both culturally constructed and a universal phenomenon.

In the Jewish tradition of love one must love their neighbor, stranger and God. She determined that in the Jewish tradition, there is more desire to loving God than the fulfillment of being in love. This starts with the origin of the story of Adam and Eve, Kornberg-Greenberg explained, that there are two different views of the origins of man. In the Christian tradition Adam and Eve take part in the original sin of stealing from the Tree of Knowledge, but in the Jewish tradition this is not a “transgression but an act of curiosity,” said Kornberg-Greenberg.

The origins of love are both mythical and humanistic, and different cultures have developed explanations of why couples search for one another.

In Greek tradition, it is believed that Zeus split man and women from one androgynous being. This being was both male and female and since the split “we look for our other half,” she said.

Kornberg-Greenberg established that love is more than just a physical act and emotion between two people. Love also provides the spiritual connection to one’s God. She viewed this as “love as a sacrifice.” This includes martyrdom as a sacrifice for one’s God. She determined that religions differentiate between one’s desire to achieve spiritual love of God and the more human need to love their neighbor.

Jewish law follows the commandment to “love thy neighbor.” But there is no commandment to love God. Loving God is then a duty and loving your neighbor is a social construct. “Rabbi’s agree that the commandment to love is a goal that cannot be commanded,” she said. “Only actions can be commanded.” This refers to the way in which people learn to love their God through pray and study.

Kornberg-Greenberg explained that in the Jewish tradition the act of loving God is defined differently from the relationship of love for your neighbor or family. This is evident with the understanding of love vs. desire. “Desire,” said Kornberg-Greenberg, is understood as the longing for something one has not yet obtained, and love is the wanting to join in union with that which you have obtained. This creates a difference between the desire to love God and the joining in union with those you love.

When studying the Jewish tradition of love Kornberg-Greenberg noticed a duality in the way love is viewed spiritually and as a physical manifestation of our love for each other.

“I think that being in a state of desire, not in a state of fulfillment is a very Jewish state of love,” she said. She believes that in order for one to love God and love others these two terms should be understood as one. If acts of love including sexual acts were viewed as having a spiritual connection she said we would have a “positive way of looking at mind, body and soul.”

The next event for the Maurice Greenberg Center For Judaic Studies will be “Faces of a Nation” an art exhibit by photographer Lena Stein opening on Feb. 14, in the William Signer Gallery in the Mortensen Library. For more information on upcoming events contact the Maurice Greenberg Center For Judaic Studies at