Richard S. Levy
This article addresses the phenomenon of organized antisemitism in the sixty years preceding the “Final Solution,” primarily in Germany but with comparisons to contemporaneous developments elsewhere in Europe. It assesses theories that attempt to account for the appearance of political movements aimed at disempowering Jews, profiles the creators and proponents of antisemitic ideology, identifies the social groups they sought to mobilize, and notes the widespread failure of these movements to achieve their goals prior to 1933. It shows that decades of organized antisemitism prepared the way for the Holocaust chiefly by eroding popular willingness to defend, and indeed to care about, the rights and fates of Jews.
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.
This chapter examines Conservative Judaism and ethic. Changing what Jews do and altering the reasons why they should do things differently was not an exclusively Reform endeavour; Conservative Judaism has also instituted innovations, especially since World War II. These changes are most evident in Conservative liturgy as well as in halakhic positions vis-à-vis women, homosexuality, and mamzerut (bastardy). Conservative thinkers and scholars of Jewish law, however, have taken diverse approaches as to how and when to make such changes, and so one cannot articulate a single “Conservative theory” of Jewish ethics. The chapter presents the author's own approach in contrast to those of some of the other representatives of Conservative Judaism, whose theories and legal rulings are discussed.
This chapter examines the writings of Modern Orthodox thinkers. To frame the discussion, it focuses on a so-called maximalist Modern Orthodox position consisting of four assertions, each of which is discussed in turn: (i) the validity thesis, (ii) the knowledge thesis, (iii) the jurisprudential thesis; (iv) the reconciliation thesis. The four components of the maximalist Modern Orthodox positions have varying degrees of textual, philosophical, and empirical support. Perhaps the deepest problem confronting a Modern Orthodox thinker is how a decisor can trust his ethical judgments, given that some of God's commands strike people as immoral and human judgment therefore appears to be deeply flawed.
David A. Teutsch
The Reconstructionist movement perceives Judaism as the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people. This chapter demonstrates Reconstructionism's concern for ethics by identifying the movement's assumptions about how and why Jews should act in the world. As shaping actual Jewish living has continually been its major goal, the movement eventually developed what is now called values-based decision-making that would guide collective as well as personal ethical deliberation and concrete action.
This chapter traces the emergence of Reform Jewish ethical sensibility from its early days in nineteenth-century Germany through its evolution to modern America, Israel, and beyond, identifying four major sensibilities that, while chronologically presented, are nevertheless found among contemporary Reform Jews. These include the notion that ethics rightfully should be the first theology of Judaism, a passion for tikkun olam (repairing the world from injustices), a suspicion and critique of modernity, and an ethics of authenticity.
This chapter analyzes the ethical theories of Rabbis Abraham Isaac Kook and Joseph B. Soloeitchik, two luminaries in of twentieth-century Orthodoxy in Israel and the United States, respectively. Despite Kook's lean toward the mystical and Soloveitchik's tendency toward the rational, they nonetheless share in the perspective that ethics is central to proper Jewish living and theology. Whereas Kook views the moral impulse as already embedded in Jewish existence, Soloveitchik understands imitatio Dei as the central mechanism through which Jewish ethical behaviour comes into being.
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.
This chapter examines the thoughts of the most significant and influential theologians in American Jewish religious life, Mordecai Kaplan and Abraham Joshua Heschel. Emerging from the pragmatism and naturalism of the early decades of the century, Kaplan fostered a fascination with humanity that led him to eschew traditional Judaism's theocentric views of morality. For him, it would be better to understand Judaism as a civilization—no better and no worse than others—and jettison mitzvoth (commandments) in favour of “folkways” so as to inspire social behaviour, for it is through the folk themselves that morality comes into being. Heschel, by contrast, favours a more mystical and theocentric approach. For him the prophets best articulated the apocalyptic dangers of even the smallest immorality and the need to rise above human communities to root morality in God's will for us.
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.
John K. Roth
This article argues that without the overriding of moral sensibilities, if not the collapse or collaboration of ethical traditions, the Holocaust could not have happened. Although the Shoah did not pronounce the death of ethics, it showed that ethics is vulnerable, subject to misuse and perversion, and that no simple reaffirmation of pre-Holocaust ethics, as if nothing disastrous had happened, will do any longer. The article explores those realities and focuses on some of the most important issues they contain, stressing that the Holocaust did not have to happen. It emerged from human choices and decisions. Those facts mean that nothing human, natural, or divine guarantees respect for the ethical values and commitments that are most needed in contemporary human existence, but nothing is more important than our commitment to defend them, for they remain as fundamental as they are fragile, as precious as they are endangered. Ethics may not be enough, but failures notwithstanding, it still provides our best post-Holocaust compass.
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.”
B. S. Jackson, B. Lifshitz, Alyssa M. Gray, and Daniel B. Sinclair
The academic study of ‘halacha’, like its traditional study in the yeshiva, is far broader than the study of ‘Jewish law’. The halacha, in both its scope and concerns, goes well beyond the scope and concerns of that section of it which has counterparts in secular, Western legal systems. For the purposes of this article, ‘Jewish law’ is that latter subsection of the halacha, a subsection moreover which has attracted the particular attentions of scholars trained in secular jurisprudence. This article surveys trends in the field, in relation to both halacha and Jewish Law, in terms of the fourfold division — historical, dogmatic, comparative, and philosophical.
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.
David H. Jones
This article assesses the aftereffects of the Holocaust on human rights law. Addressing the so-called ‘promise of Nuremberg’, which began in 1945 with the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, it argues that the Charter, partly as a response to the evil of the Holocaust, broke dramatically with traditional international law by mandating ‘individual responsibility’ for crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed by the leaders of the Axis Powers. The Nuremberg Principles were codified into international law by the United Nations General Assembly in 1946; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide followed in 1948. However, the promise of Nuremberg remains largely unfulfilled. None of these post-World War II documents included mechanisms for executive or judicial enforcement, the UN Security Council was stymied by the power of the veto held by its permanent members, and the UN became a community of bystander states that has allowed numerous genocides and mass killings to occur. Among the possibilities for making the world safer for human rights are reform of the Security Council, creation of an international Rapid Response Force, the spread of democracy, and a reduction of poverty in the underdeveloped world.
Aaron S. Gross
This chapter discusses Jewish animal ethics, describing a central concept, tza'ar ba'alei hayyim, the ban on causing undue pain to animals, and the varying justifications for that ban. Some of these justifications focus on how compassion for animals will benefit human beings, including human moral character, and others assert the inherent value of animals in and of themselves. The chapter also discusses how the prohibition against causing animals pain is balanced in Jewish sources by human need, a balance that affects not only our use of animals but also Jewish rules regarding eating their flesh, with a persistent minority strain which urges vegetarianism. It then turns to two responsibilities that humans have to animals according to the Jewish tradition—to preserve compassion toward them and to guard them from abuse produced by economic motives. In general, Jews are required to provide animals with both a good life and a good death; this goes against many of the methods used in modern factory farming.