Eryl W. Davies
This article begins with a discussion of the methodological issues faced by scholars of ethics in the Old Testament and New Testament. It then identifies the basis of Old Testament ethics in law, natural law, and the imitation of God. This is followed by a discussion of New Testament ethics covering Jesus and the law, Jesus and eschatology, the background of Paul's ethics, and Paul's Christology and eschatology.
This chapter examines the difficulties the Holocaust posed and continues to raise for Jews, Jewish theology, and specifically Jewish ethics, identifying eight major commitments made by Jews and non-Jews that have since then inspired Jewish and global responses to human-made atrocities such as genocide and crimes against humanity. These are (1) to survive; (2) to perpetuate the memory of what happened; (3) to survive as Jews; (4) to set the moral bar high such that people are expected to be “upstanders,” not bystanders, in the face of evil; (5) to recreate relationships with people of other faiths; (6) to combat discrimination and genocide; (7) to define and demand humane standards for medical research; and (8) to learn how to attain both justice and reconciliation after genocidal atrocities.
Warren Zev Harvey
This chapter discusses the ethical views of medieval Jewish philosophers, showing that the varieties of Jewish philosophy in the medieval period defy easy categorization, let alone condensation into a single notion of Jewish ethics. Scholars surveyed include Saadia Gaon, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Bahya ibn Paquda, Judah Halevi, Abraham ibn Ezra, Abraham ibn Daud, Moses Maimonides, Levi Gersonides, Jedaiah Bedersi, Hesdai Crescas, Joseph Albo, and Joseph ibn Shemtob.
This chapter explores the medieval genre of sifrut ha-musar (ethical literature), which has largely been ignored in the recent burgeoning of the field of Jewish ethics. This neglect is attributed to the fact that the genre does not call halakhah into question, as does Jewish ethics generally, particularly through the notion of lifnim mi-shurat ha-din (supererogation), that one must act beyond the letter of the law. But this does not mean that musar is non-ethical; rather, its purpose was to “harmonize the spirituality of God with the values guiding his worship.” This spiritualization of Jewish ritual and culture generated creativity for nearly a thousand years around the Jewish world, first in Islamic contexts and then climaxing in Christian milieus.
Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert
This chapter first sets out the difficulties in studying the sources for Jewish ethics in classical rabbinic literature. Not only do rabbinic texts lack the very notion of ethics, they also emerge from different terrains and times and perforce bespeak different moral conclusions if not presumptions on how to reach those positions. However, one exception is texts classified as rabbinic “ethical” literature, which include 'Avot or Pirkei 'Avot and its companion text(s), Avot de-Rabbi Natan. The discussion then turns to the relationship between law and ethics in rabbinic literature; ethical limits to halakhah in rabbinic literature; and issues of universality and particularity in rabbinic literature.
Jonathan K. Crane
This chapter focuses on the thoughts of the early twentieth-century German Jewish thinkers Hermann Cohen, Franz Rosenzweig, and Martin Buber. These three German scholars, writing in the decades surrounding World War I, were both attracted to and repulsed by modernity. On the one hand, the modern drive toward nationalism inspired their commitment to Jews and Judaism, and so each plumbed the Jewish textual tradition to ground their ethical theories. Yet the destructiveness caused by self-centeredness led each man to promote an ethic that attended to others. The chapter explores this turn to others and otherness—a turn that oriented much subsequent Jewish ethical theorizing.
Elaine Adler Goodfriend
This chapter reviews ethical concepts in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh). Fear of God (yir'at Elohim) is perhaps the most pervasive and powerful notion inspiring social concern and behaviour. The Bible contains multiple ways to motivate people to do what is right and good—ways that are championed by later contributors to Jewish ethical theories. The chapter discusses motivations for ethical behaviour in the Torah; the prophets' views on ethics; works within the “Writings” (Ketuvim) section of the Hebrew Bible; outlooks on human nature and free will; and universal standards for ethical behaviour.
This chapter highlights some key contexts in which feminist ethical discourses emerge, and important methods that Jewish feminists employ in order to address gender and other inequalities, arguing that all the many forms of Jewish feminism are “fundamentally about ethics.” Across denominations, in the broader feminist movement, in academia, and in Israel as well as North America, Jewish women have been reshaping what and how Jews and non-Jews think and act—regarding women, gender, inequality and injustice, and many other critical ethical issues, including Judaism itself. Feminist methodologies creatively critique halakhah, theology, liturgy, ritual, and textual interpretation, with implications for social and political analysis and activism. In doing so, Jewish feminists “have created both a rich literature and a legacy of activism that is ethical to its core.”
Notwithstanding almost six decades of scholarship and a fast-swelling stream of publications, the historiography of the Holocaust still remains divided in its initial and traditional clusters: the history of the perpetrators, that of the bystanders, and that of the victims. Most of the historical publications about the Holocaust deal with the perpetrators (the Germans and their collaborators) and their anti-Jewish policies and measures in the Reich and throughout occupied Europe. The history of Nazi policies and measures often tends to be considered as equivalent to the history of the Holocaust as such. The second cluster of monographs examines the attitudes and initiatives of the bystanders, of local authorities in occupied countries, of the European populations, the churches, the neutral countries, and the Allies. The third historiographical cluster deals with the life and death of the victims.
Elliot N. Dorff
This chapter begins with a discussion of fundamental convictions of Judaism that affect Jewish approaches to moral issues at the beginning of life, and then considers Jewish views about preventing pregnancy through contraception and abortion, and, conversely, assisting those with infertility problems. The analysis is also used to discuss embryonic stem cell research and genetic testing.
Daniel B. Sinclair
This chapter discusses end of life issues, first describing how the Jewish tradition views the stages of the end of life and how the categories it uses are interpreted differently by Orthodox and Conservative rabbis. It then discusses the degree to which patients have autonomy to decide for themselves what treatments they will accept or reject, including the question of withholding or withdrawing medications, machines, artificial nutrition and hydration, and even the question of killing a terminally ill patient in order to save a viable life. The chapter concludes with a description of the new law in Israel that governs the treatment of patients at the end of life.
Aaron L. Mackler
This chapter discusses the distribution of health care, an issue that has become particularly urgent and controversial in recent years because the median age of populations in most English-speaking countries age has risen, so more people need more extensive medical care. This is happening, though, just, as medical science produces new but often expensive interventions that people come to expect, and, as a result of these factors and others, health care costs have risen dramatically. The chapter considers the Jewish principles that might guide the discussion of who gets what in medical care, and who pays for it.
This chapter explores one of the most important new frontiers in medicine—namely, the new genetics—addressing the issues of identity and free will that genetics raises in new ways. It then uses the case of a woman with “the breast cancer gene” as an example of how genetic testing poses excruciating, new questions to the women affected and their families. Aside from the practical questions of what to do when faced with such a diagnosis, does this and the other Ashkenazi Jewish genetic diseases serve as a basis for the “discrimination, stigmatization, and marginalization” of Jews generally? Should Jews and others think of Jews as a “sick” people? For Jews, of course, such discussion of eugenics has a painful past in both the United States and in Nazi Germany. This is complicated yet further by the fact that in some cases, as with the breast cancer gene, the presence of the gene does not guarantee that the woman will have cancer but only adds to the probability of that happening. What, then, if anything, should be done with such a diagnosis? Furthermore, the availability of pre-natal testing for genetic diseases could easily create expectations in the future that families with a history of a particular genetic disease be tested for it, and if they bear a child with the disease, they may be seen as morally delinquent to both the child and society. The analysis brings Jewish concepts and values to bear on these questions.
Barry J. Leff
This chapter discusses the Jewish approach to business ethics. It first identifies several fundamental principles of Jewish business ethics, and then applies them to several common issues in business ethics: fraud, anti-competitive behaviour, theft (including theft of intellectual property), deception, kick-backs, and contract negotiation and interpretation. Next, the chapter discusses a number of concrete examples where Jewish sources have much to tell us about how to conduct business morally. It is shown that the Jewish approach to business ethics does not impose one-sided support for any particular group (employers vs. employees, individuals vs. society), but rather is an attempt to find a nuanced balance between competing interests so that the final conclusion represents a solution recognized as just.
Baruch Spinoza's Aristotelian critique of Judaism, and religion in general, in the seventeenth century marked the beginning of a period of intense Jewish self-evaluation that continues to this day. This chapter unpacks Spinoza's criticisms to show that the ultimate ethical existence, that is, a virtuous existence, is one which entails attention to three interpenetrating relations: between the self and God, between the self and others, and with oneself. Obedience and love, Spinoza asserts, are the ultimate character traits that instantiate the highest forms of ethical existence in these realms.