Jewish ethics

Jewish ethics is the moral philosophy particular to one or both of the Jewish religion and peoples. Serving as a convergence of Judaism and the Western philosophical tradition of ethics, the diverse literature of Jewish ethics's broad range of moral concern classifies it as a type of normative ethics. For two millennia, Jewish thought has focused on the interplay of ethics with the rule of law. The tradition of rabbinic religious law - Halakhah - addresses several problems associated with ethics, including its semi-permeable relation with duties that are usually not punished under law.

Jewish ethical literature

Biblical and rabbinic ethical literature

In early rabbinic Judaism, the oral Torah both interpreted the Hebrew Bible and engaged in novel topics. Ethics is a key aspect of this legal literature, known as the literature of halakhah.

The best known rabbinic text associated with ethics is the non-legal Mishnah tractate of Avot (“forefathers”), commonly translated as “Ethics of the Fathers”. Similar ethical teachings are found throughout more legally oriented portions of the Mishnah, Talmud and other rabbinic literature. Generally, ethics is a key aspect of non-legal rabbinic literature, known as aggadah. This early rabbinic ethics shows signs of ideological and polemical exchange with the Greek (Western philosophical) ethical tradition.

Medieval ethical literature

In the medieval period, direct Jewish responses to Greek ethics may be seen in major rabbinic writings. Notably, Maimonides offers a Jewish interpretation of Aristotle (e.g., Nicomachean Ethics), who enters into Jewish discourse through Islamic writings. Maimonides, in turn, influences Thomas Aquinas, a dominant figure in Christian ethics and the natural law tradition of moral theology. The relevance of natural law to medieval Jewish philosophy is a matter of dispute among scholars.

Medieval and early modern rabbis also created a pietistic tradition of Jewish ethics. This ethical tradition was given expression through musar literature, which presents virtues and vices in a didactic, methodical way. The Hebrew term musar, while literally derived from a word meaning "discipline" or "correction," is usually translated as ethics or morals. ArtScroll translates the word as censure in Psalms 50:17.[1]

Examples of medieval Musar literature include:

Halakhic (legal) writings of the Middle Ages are also important texts for Jewish ethics. Important sources of Jewish ethical law include Maimonides' Mishneh Torah (12th century) and Joseph Karo and Moses Isserles's Shulkhan Arukh (16th century), especially the section of that code titled "Choshen Mishpat." A wide array of topics on ethics are also discussed in medieval responsa literature.

Modern ethical literature

In the modern period, Jewish ethics sprouted many offshoots, partly due to developments in modern ethics and partly due to the formation of Jewish denominations. Trends in modern Jewish normative ethics include:

Academic scholars of Judaism have also engaged in descriptive Jewish ethics, the study of Jewish moral practices and theory, which is situated more in the disciplines of history and the social sciences than in ethics proper (see Newman 1998).

In 2003, the Society of Jewish Ethics was founded as the academic organization "dedicated to the promotion of scholarly work in the field of Jewish ethics." The Society promotes both normative research (the field of ethics proper) and descriptive (historical/social scientific) research.

Central virtues and principles in Jewish ethics

Major themes in biblical ethics

The writings attributed to the Biblical prophets exhort all people to lead a righteous life. Kindness to the needy, benevolence, faith, compassion for the suffering, a peace-loving disposition, and a truly humble and contrite spirit, are the virtues which the Prophets hold up for emulation. Civic loyalty, even to a foreign ruler, is urged as a duty (Jer. 29:7). "Learn to do good" is the keynote of the prophetic appeal (Isa. 1:17); thus the end-time will be one of peace and righteousness; war will be no more (Isa. 2:2 et seq.).

Summaries of classical rabbinic ethics

Hillel the Elder formulated a version of the Golden rule: "What is hateful to you, do not do unto others." (Talmud, tracate Shabbat 31a; Midrash Avot de Rabbi Natan.) Rabbi Akiva, a 1st-century CE rabbi, states "Whatever you hate to have done unto you, do not do to your neighbor; wherefore do not hurt him; do not speak ill of him; do not reveal his secrets to others; let his honor and his property be as dear to thee as thine own" (Midrash Avot deRabbi Natan.)

Rabbi Akiva also declared the commandment "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Lev. xix.18) to be the greatest fundamental commandment of the Jewish doctrine (compare to Great Commandment); Ben Azzai, in reference to this, said that a still greater principle was found in the Scriptural verse, "This is the book of the generations of Adam [origin of man]. In the day that God created man [Adam], in the likeness of God made he him" (Gen. v.1; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, iv; Yer. Ned. ix.41c; Gen. R. xxiv).

Rabbi Simlai taught "Six hundred and thirteen commandments were given to Moses; then David came and reduced them to eleven in Psalm 15.; Isaiah (33:15), to six; Micah (6:8), to three: 'To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God'; Isaiah again (56:1), to two: 'Maintain justice, and do what is right'; and Habakkuk (2:4), to one: 'The righteous person lives by his faithfulness'."

Justice, truth, and peace

Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel taught: "The world rests on three things: justice, truth, and peace" (Avot 1:18).

Justice ("din" corresponding to the Biblical "mishpat") being God's must be vindicated, whether the object be of great or small value (Sanh. 8a). "Let justice pierce the mountain" is the characteristic maxim attributed to Moses (Sanh. 6b). Stealing and oppression, even if only in holding back overnight the hired man's earnings, are forbidden.

Falsehood, flattery, perjury and false swearing are also forbidden. The reputation of a fellow man is sacred (Ex. 21:1). Tale-bearing and unkind insinuations are proscribed, as is hatred of one's brother in one's heart (Lev. 19:17). A revengeful, relentless disposition is unethical; reverence for old age is inculcated; justice shall be done; right weight and just measure are demanded; poverty and riches shall not be regarded by the judge (Lev. 19:15, 18, 32, 36; Ex. 23:3).

Shalom ("peace"), is one of the underlying principles of the Torah, as "her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are shalom ('peace')."Proverbs 3:17 The Talmud explains, "The entire Torah is for the sake of the ways of shalom".[3] Maimonides comments in his Mishneh Torah: "Great is peace, as the whole Torah was given in order to promote peace in the world, as it is stated, 'Her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace.'"[4]

Loving-kindness and compassion

Simon the Just taught: "The world rests upon three things: Torah, service to God, and showing loving-kindness (chesed)" (Pirkei Avot 1:2). Loving-kindness is here the core ethical virtue.

Loving-kindness is closely linked with compassion in the tradition. Lack of compassion marks a people as cruel (Jer. vi. 23). The repeated injunctions of the Law and the Prophets that the widow, the orphan and the stranger should be protected show how deeply, it is argued, the feeling of compassion was rooted in the hearts of the righteous in ancient Israel.[5]

Friendship is also highly prized in the Talmud; the very word for "associate" is "friend" ("chaver"). "Get thyself a companion" (Abot i. 6). "Companionship or death" (Ta'an. 23a).

Respect for one's fellow creatures is of such importance that Biblical prohibitions may be transgressed on its account (Ber. 19b). Especially do unclaimed dead require respectful burial (see Burial in Jewish Encyclopedia iii. 432b: "met miẓwah").

Health and self-respect

In addition to teaching caring for others, Jewish sources tend to teach that humans are duty bound to preserve their lives (Berachot 32b) and health. Foods dangerous to health are more to be guarded against than those ritually forbidden. Jewish ethics denies self-abasement. "He who subjects himself to needless self-castigations and fasting, or even denies himself the enjoyment of wine, is a sinner" (Taanit 11a, 22b). People have to give account for every lawful enjoyment they refuse (Talmud Yer. Ḳid. iv. 66d). A person should show self-respect in regard to both one's body, "honoring it as the image of God" (Hillel: Midrash Leviticus Rabbah 34), and one's garments (Talmud Shabbat 113b; Ned. 81a). According to Judaism, real life goes beyond the concept of breathing and having blood flow through our veins, it means existing with a purpose and connecting to God and others.[6]

Areas of applied Jewish ethics

Business ethics

In the Torah, there are more commandments concerning the kashrut (fitness) of one's money than the kashrut of food. These laws are developed and expanded upon in the Mishnah and the Talmud (particularly in Order Nezikin). The Talmud denounces as fraud every mode of taking advantage of a man's ignorance, whether he be Jew or Gentile; every fraudulent dealing, every gain obtained by betting or gambling or by raising the price of breadstuffs through speculation, is theft (B. B. 90b; Sanh. 25b). The Talmud denounces advantages derived from loans of money or of victuals as usury; every breach of promise in commerce is a sin provoking God's punishment; every act of carelessness which exposes men or things to danger and damage is a culpable transgression. There is a widely quoted tradition (Talmud Shabbat 31a) that in one's judgement in the next world, the first question asked is: "were you honest in business?"

Laws concerning business ethics are delineated in the major codes of Jewish law (e.g. Mishneh Torah, 12th century; Shulhan Arukh, particularly Choshen Mishpat, 16th century). A wide array of topics on business ethics are discussed in the responsa literature. Business ethics received special emphasis in the teaching of Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin Salanter (19th century), founder of the Musar movement in Eastern Europe. Enforcing laws regarding the proper treatment of workers in the food industry has been central to the efforts of Conservative Judaism's Hekhsher Tzedek commission and its 2008 approval of a responsum by Rabbi Jill Jacobs which required paying workers in accordance with Jewish law and treating workers with dignity and respect.[7][8]

Charitable giving

The Jewish idea of righteousness ("tzedakah") gives the owner of property no right to withhold from the poor their share. According to Maimonides in the Mishneh Torah, the highest level of tzedakah is giving charity that will allow the poor to break out of the poverty cycle and become independent and productive members of society.[9][10] Tzedakah may come in the form of giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.

Traditional Jews commonly practice "ma'aser kesafim," tithing 10% of their income to support those in need. The Rabbis decreed (against Essene practice, and against advice given in the New Testament) that one should not give away much, most or all of their possessions. They did not expect a supernatural savior to come and take care of the poor, and so they held that one must not make oneself poor.[11] Given that nearly all Jews of their day were poor or middle-class (even the rich of that time were only rich relative to the poor), they ruled that one should not give away more than a fifth of his income to charity, while yet being obligated to give away no less than 10% of his income to charity.[12]

Many folios of the Talmud are devoted to encouragement in giving charity (see, for example, B.B. 9b-11a; A.Z. 17b; Pes. 8a; Rosh. 4a), and this topic is the focus of many religious books and rabbinic responsa.

Ethics of speech

Evil-speaking is a sin regarded with intense aversion both in the Bible and in rabbinical literature. The technical term for it in the latter is lashon hara, "the evil tongue." In the Bible the equivalent words are: dibbah, meaning "talk" in a sinister sense; rakhil, the "merchandise" of gossip with which the talebearer goes about; and ragal, a verb, denoting the "peddling" of slander. As these words indicate, that which is condemned as lashon hara denotes all the deliberate or malicious accusations, or even the exposure of truthful information which has the purpose of injuring one's neighbor, that is, calumny proper, and also the idle but mischievous chatter which is equally forbidden, though it is not slander.[13]

A rabbi in the Talmud opines that putting one's fellow man to shame is in the same category as murder (B. M. 58b), and brands as calumny the spreading of evil reports, even when true. Also forbidden is listening to slanderous gossip, or the causing of suspicion, or the provoking of unfavorable remarks about a neighbor.

Jewish family ethics

The Jewish tradition gives great stress to reverence for parents. More Orthodox forms of Judaism view the father as the head of the family, while seeing the mother as entitled to honor and respect at the hands of sons and daughters. More liberal Jews view the mother and father as equal in all things.

The family plays a central role in Judaism, both socially and in transmitting the traditions of the religion. To honour one's father and mother is one of the Ten Commandments. Jewish families try to have close, respectful family relationships, with care for both the elderly and young. Religious observance is an integral part of home life, including the weekly Sabbath and keeping kosher dietary laws. The Talmud tells parents to teach their children a trade and survival skills, and children are asked to look after their parents.

Marriage and sexual relations

Marriage is called kiddushin, or 'making holy'. To set up a family home is to take part in an institution imbued with holiness. Monogamy is the ideal (Gen. ii. 24). Celibacy is regarded as contrary to the injunction to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 2:18 and Isaiah 45:18). According to the Talmud and midrash, man is enjoined to take a wife and obtain posterity (Yeb. 63b; Mek., Yitro, 8). "He who lives without a wife lives without joy and blessing, without protection and peace"; he is "not a complete man" (Yeb. 62a, 63a), and for it he has to give reckoning at the great Judgement Day (Shab. 31a).

Sex is not considered acceptable outside marriage, but it is an important part of the love and care shown between partners. Sexual relations are forbidden during the time of the woman's period. After her period has ended, she will go to the mikveh (the ritual immersion pool) where she will fully immerse herself and become ritually clean again. Sexual relations may then resume. Married couples need to find other ways of expressing their love for each other during these times, and some say that the time of abstention enhances the relationship.

Adultery and incestual relationships (Leviticus 18:6–23) are prohibited. Orthodox Jews view male homosexuality as explicitly prohibited by the Torah, but other Jews view various forms of homosexual behavior or all forms of homosexual behavior as permitted by the tradition.

Medical ethics and bioethics

Jewish medical ethics is one of the major spheres of contemporary Jewish ethics. Beginning primarily as an applied ethics based on halakhah, more recently it has broadened to bioethics, weaving together issues in biology, science, medicine and ethics, philosophy and theology. Jewish bioethicists are usually rabbis who have been trained in medical science and philosophy, but may also be experts in medicine and ethics who have received training in Jewish texts. The goal of Jewish medical ethics and bioethics is to use Jewish law and tradition and Jewish ethical thought to determine which medical treatments or technological innovations are moral, when treatments may or may not be used, etc.

Political governance

The ethics of proper governance is the subject of much contention among Jews. Various models of political authority are developed in the Hebrew Bible, rabbinic literature, and later Jewish literature. Many prominent Jewish thinkers, such as Maimonides, see monarchy as a moral ideal, while others, such as Abravanel, disparage the model of monarchy. Modern Jews have championed a variety of Jewish political movements, often based on their conceptions of Jewish ethics.

Ethics of warfare

Jewish war ethics are developed by Maimonides in his "Laws of Kings and their Wars," part of his Mishneh Torah. Modern Jewish war ethics have been developed especially in relationship to the Israeli military's doctrine of Purity of arms.

Capital punishment

The Talmud approves of the death penalty in principle but the standard of proof required for application of death penalty is extremely stringent, so that situations in which a death sentence could be passed are effectively impossible.

Relationship to non-Jews

The non-Jew is within the covenant of ethical considerations (Ex. xxii. 20; Lev. xix. 33). "You shall love him as yourself," a law the phraseology of which is taken to show that in the preceding verse "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Lev. xix. 18) "neighbor" does not connote a Jew exclusively. There was to be one law for the native and the stranger (Lev. xix. 34; comp. Ex. xii. 49).

The exhortation, 'Remember the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt' (Deuteronomy 10:19), is considered important in Judaism. During Passover, Jews are expected to show hospitality to all, and to consider the needs and feelings of anyone who may be marginalized, for whatever reason. According to the Hebrew Bible, the slaves of Jewish people had special rights that preserved their dignity as equal human beings, allowed them freedoms, and forbade mistreatment.

Non-Jews are to have a share in all the benevolent work of a township which appeals to human sympathy and on which the maintenance of peace among men depends, such as supporting the poor, burying the dead, comforting the mourners, and visiting the sick (Tosefta Giṭtin, v. 4-5; Babylonian Talmud, Giṭtin 64a).

Most Jews do not actively seek to convert non-Jews to Judaism; in fact conversion to Judaism can be a lengthy and difficult process. They cannot actively approve of religions that appear to promote idolatry or immorality.

Jews believe that non-Jews who follow the Noachide code, the minimum ethical and religious requirements for all non-Jews, will be equally recognized by God. The laws of the Noachide code are: do not engage in idolatry; do not engage in blasphemy; do not murder; do not steal; do not commit acts of sexual immorality; do not cause excessive pain to animals (e.g. eating a limb torn from a living animal); and establish courts of justice.

The principle of Kiddush Hashem requires Jews to conduct themselves in every way as to prevent the name of God from being dishonored by non-Israelites. The greatest sin of fraud, therefore, is that committed against a non-Israelite, because it may lead to the reviling of God's name. A desire to sanctify the name of God may help to motivate some Jews to treat adherents of other creeds with the utmost fairness and equity.[11]

Treatment of animals

According to Jewish tradition, animals have a right to be treated well, even ones that might belong to one's enemy (Ex. 23:4). The Biblical commands regarding the treatment of the brute (Ex. xx. 10; Lev. xxii. 28; Deut. xxv. 4; Prov. xii. 10) are amplified in rabbinical ethics, and a special term is coined for the prohibition on causing suffering to animals ("tza'ar ba'alei hayyim"). Not to sit down to the table before the domestic animals have been fed is a lesson derived from Deut. xi. 15. Compassion for the brute is declared to have been the merit of Moses which made him the shepherd of his people (Exodus Rabbah 2), while Judah ha-Nasi saw in his own ailment the punishment for having once failed to show compassion for a frightened calf.

Consideration for animals is an important part of Judaism. It is part of the Noachide code. Resting on the Sabbath also meant providing rest for the working animals, and people are instructed to feed their animals before they sit down to eat. At harvest time, the working animals must not be muzzled, so that they can eat of the harvest as they work. All animals must be kept in adequate conditions. Sports like bullfighting are forbidden. Animals may be eaten as long as they are killed using shechitah, a method where the animal has its throat cut using a specially sharpened knife. Jewish butchers are trained in this method which must meet the requirements of kashrut.

Enforcing laws regarding the treatment of animals in the certification of food products has been part of the effort of Conservative Judaism's Hekhsher Tzedek commission.

In modern times, a Jewish vegetarian movement has emerged, led in part by Jews who believe that Jewish ethics demands vegetarianism or veganism.[14]

Environmental ethics

The Book of Genesis 1:26 indicates that God gave people control over the animals and earth, while Genesis 2:15 emphasizes that people were put in the world to maintain it and care for it. The Talmud teaches the principle of Bal tashkhit, which some take to mean that wasting or destroying anything on earth is wrong. Many take the view that pollution is an insult to the created world, and it is considered immoral to put commercial concerns before care for God's creation. However, humans are regarded as having a special place in the created order, and their well-being is paramount. Humans are not seen as just another part of the ecosystem, so moral decisions about environmental issues have to take account of the well-being of humans.

Trees and other things of value also come within the scope of rabbinical ethics, as their destruction is prohibited, according to Deut. xx. 19 (Talmud, tracate Shabbat 105b, 129a, 140b, et al.). In modern times, a Jewish environmentalist movement has emerged.

Give musar

The Jewish prayer book includes the saying each morning of:[15]

  • "Hear, my child, the discipline (MuSar) of your father, and do not forsake the teachings of your mother."

Giving musar[16] is meant to help mold lives.[17]

There are timing and other aspects to the giving of musar: what to say, to whom, and when (how often).[18][19][20]

Formal lectures, known as a musar shiur[21] are part of yeshiva curriculum.[22]

There are many Jewish works on the subject, and not all agree on the details.

One suggestion from the late Rabbi Yisroel Belsky is that when there is a need to give musar to a friend: "Give musar as a friend."[23]

Some musar is on topics that are a major part of everyday life, such as consoling mourners and visiting the sick.[24]

Goal of giving musar

Rabbi Elya Lopian taught the practice as "teaching the heart what the mind already understands."[25]

Rabbi Paysach Krohn cited Rav Shimon Schwab as teaching that although "[at times] you must give mussar" the command to do so (Lev. 19:17) is followed by love your neighbor as yourself. and that "if you want ..(someone).. to change, (it must be) done through love."[26]

Conversational use

An example of using the phrase in conversation is:

  • "... but my intention is not to give musar (ethical/moral/religious reproof)."[27]

See also


  1. ^ "For you hate censure - ואתה שנאת מוסר
  2. ^ "Committee on Jewish Law and Standards". The Rabbinical Assembly. Retrieved 2013-03-12.
  3. ^ Talmud, Gittin 59b
  4. ^ Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, The Laws of Chanukah 4:14
  5. ^ The Jewish Encyclopedia
  6. ^ "Meaning of Am Yisrael Chai". Ynet. September 1, 2009. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
  7. ^ "Dispatches from the Workplace: Rabbis for Worker Justice". Retrieved 2013-03-12.
  8. ^ [1] Archived November 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Meir Tamari
  10. ^ Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Matanot Aniyim (Laws about Giving to Poor People), Chapter 10:7-14
  11. ^ a b "ETHICS". Retrieved 2013-03-12.
  12. ^ The Jerusalem Talmud Gemara to Tractate Pe'ah 1:1; Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 50a; Babylonian Talmud, Arakhin, 28a
  13. ^ "Calumny". Retrieved 2013-03-12.
  14. ^ The Jewish Vegan, ed. Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz
  15. ^ Mishlei/Proverbs,1:8
  16. ^ Rabbi Dr. Yitzchak Breitowitz. "How to Give Mussar (Mishlei 12:14 and 12:18)". Orthodox Union.
  17. ^ "Musar". toward molding the lives of ..
  18. ^ Jeffrey Shandler (2002). Awakening Lives: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Poland. ISBN 0300092776. twice a week
  19. ^ Miriam Adahan (2003). Awareness: The Key to Acceptance, Respect, Forgiveness, and Growth. ISBN 1583306277. .. not .. when a person is extremely upset
  20. ^ "Adam One as Paradigm for Communal Spiritual Leadership". Jewish Journal. November 30, 2015. when it is required
  21. ^ "Alumni add droplets to Shabbos". Rabbi ... giving Musar Shiur
  22. ^ "Musar".
  23. ^ Susie Garber (February 14, 2018). "Agudath Israel Of Kew Gardens Hills And Chazaq Host Event In Memory Of Rav Yisroel Belsky".
  24. ^ Steve Lipman. "... Orthodox ..." Jewish Action.
  25. ^ "What Is Mussar?".
  26. ^ Paysach J. Krohn (2013). The Maggid on the Podium. pp. 115–117. ISBN 978-1-4226-1453-2.
  27. ^ "Land of Israel / Eretz Yisrael – - Breslov Research Institute".

Further reading on Jewish ethics

  • Abrahams, Israel, ed. 2006. Hebrew Ethical Wills. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society. ISBN 0-8276-0827-6.
  • Bleich, J. D. 1977. Contemporary Halakhic Problems. 4 vols. New York: Ktav Publishing House Inc. Yeshiva University Press.
  • Breslauer, S. Daniel, comp. 1985. Contemporary Jewish Ethics: A Bibliographical Survey. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  • Breslauer, S. Daniel, comp. 1986. Modern Jewish Morality: A Bibliographical Survey. New York: Greenwood Press.
  • Dorff, Elliot N., and Louis E. Newman, eds. 1995. Contemporary Jewish Ethics and Morality: A Reader. Oxford University Press.
  • Dosick, Wayne. The Business Bible: 10 New Commandments for Bringing Spirituality & ethical values into the workplace. Jewish Lights Publishing.
  • Segal, Arthur. 2009 A Spiritual and Ethical Compendium to the Torah and Talmud. Amazon Press.
  • Tamari, Meir. 1995. The Challenge of Wealth: A Jewish Perspective on Earning and Spending Money. Jason Aronson.
  • Telushkin, Joseph. 2000. The Book of Jewish Values. Bell Tower.
  • Werblowsky. 1964. In Annual of Jewish Studies 1: 95-139.

Further reading on Jewish bioethics

  • Bleich, J. David. 1981. Judaism and Healing'. New York: Ktav.
  • Conservative Judaism. 2002. Vol. 54(3). Contains a set of six articles on bioethics.
  • Elliot Dorff. 1998. Matters of Life and Death: A Jewish Approach to Modern Medical Ethics. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.
  • David Feldman. 1974. Marital Relations, Birth Control, and Abortion in Jewish Law. New York: Schocken Books.
  • Freedman, B. 1999. Duty and Healing: Foundations of a Jewish Bioethic. New York: Routledge.
  • Jakobovits, Immanuel. 1959. Jewish Medical Ethics. New York: Bloch Publishing.
  • Mackler, Aaron L., ed. 2000. Life & Death Responsibilities in Jewish Biomedical Ethics. JTS.
  • Maibaum, M. 1986. "A 'progressive' Jewish medical ethics: notes for an agenda." Journal of Reform Judaism 33(3): 27-33.
  • Rosner, Fred. 1986. Modern Medicine and Jewish Ethics. New York: Yeshiva University Press.
  • Byron Sherwin. 2004. Golems among us: How a Jewish legend can help us navigate the biotech century
  • Sinclair, Daniel. 1989. Tradition and the biological revolution: The application of Jewish law to the treatment of the critically ill
  • _________. Jewish biomedical law. Oxford
  • Zohar, Noam J. 1997. Alternatives in Jewish Bioethics. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Zoloth Laurie. 1999. Health care and the ethics of encounter: A Jewish discussion of social justice. Univ. of North Carolina Press.

External links

Biblical law

Biblical law refers to the legal aspects of the Bible, the holy scriptures of Judaism and Christianity.


Chesed (Hebrew: חֶסֶד, also Romanized ḥesed) is a Hebrew word.

In its positive sense, the word is used of kindness or love between people, of piety of people towards God as well as of love or mercy of God towards humanity. It is frequently used in Psalms in the latter sense, where it is traditionally translated "lovingkindness" in English translations.

In Jewish theology it is likewise used of God's love for the Children of Israel, and in Jewish ethics it is used for love or charity between people. Chesed in this latter sense of "charity" is considered a virtue on its own, and also for its contribution to tikkun olam (repairing the world). It is also considered the foundation of many religious commandments practiced by traditional Jews, especially interpersonal commandments.

Chesed is also one of the ten Sephirot on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. It is given the association of kindness and love, and is the first of the emotive attributes of the sephirot.

Chofetz Chaim

The "Sefer Chafetz Chaim" (or Chofetz Chaim or Hafetz Hayim) (Hebrew: חָפֵץ חַיִּים, trans. Desirer of Life) is the magnum opus of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, who later became known simply as The Chofetz Chaim. The book deals with the Jewish ethics and laws of speech, and is considered the authoritative source on the subject.

Eugene Borowitz

Eugene B. Borowitz (February 20, 1924 – January 22, 2016) was an American leader and philosopher in Reform Judaism, known largely for his work on Jewish theology and Jewish ethics. He also edited a Jewish journal, Sh'ma, and taught at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

He was awarded the Maurice N. Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award by the Union for Reform Judaism (2005), selected as a Scholar of Distinction for a retrospective on his work by the Jewish Publication Society (2002) and given the Jewish Cultural Achievement medal for scholarship by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. He received the National Jewish Book Award (1974) for The Mask Jews Wear. Jewish Spiritual Journeys: Essays in Honor of Eugene B. Borowitz on his 70th Birthday was published in his honor in 1997.

As is apparent from a bibliography of his works, Borowitz was a prolific author.

During the Korean War, he served as a chaplain for the U.S. Navy. Borowitz held degrees from Ohio State University, Columbia University and HUC-JIR.

History of ethics

Ethics is the branch of philosophy that examines right and wrong moral behavior, moral concepts (such as justice, virtue, duty) and moral language. Various ethical theories pose various answers to the question "What is the greatest good?" and elaborate a complete set of proper behaviors for individuals and groups. Ethical theories are closely related to forms of life in various social orders.

Jewish medical ethics

Jewish medical ethics is a modern scholarly and clinical approach to medical ethics that draws upon Jewish thought and teachings. Pioneered by Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits in the 1950s, Jewish medical ethics centers mainly around an applied ethics drawing upon traditional rabbinic law (halakhah). In addition, scholars have begun examining theoretical and methodological questions, while the field itself has been broadened to encompass bioethics and non-halakhic approaches.

Jewish vegetarianism

Jewish vegetarianism is the belief that following a vegetarian diet is demanded by the Torah or by other Jewish values. While classical Jewish law neither requires nor prohibits the consumption of meat, Jewish vegetarians often cite Jewish principles regarding animal welfare, environmental ethics, moral character, and health as reasons for adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Jewish views on love

Judaism offers a variety of views regarding the love of God, love among human beings, and love for non-human animals. Love is a central value in Jewish ethics and Jewish theology.

Joseph Telushkin

Joseph Telushkin (born 1948) is an American rabbi, lecturer, and bestselling author of more than 15 books, including volumes about Jewish ethics, Jewish literacy, and "Rebbe", a New York Times bestseller released in June 2014.

Judaism and politics

The relationship between Judaism and politics is a historically complex subject, and has evolved over time concurrently with both changes within Jewish society and religious practice, and changes in the secular societies in which Jews live. In particular, Jewish political thought can be split into four major eras: biblical (prior to Roman rule), rabbinic (from roughly the 100 BCE to 600 CE), medieval (from roughly 600 CE to 1800 CE), and modern (18th century to the present day).

Political leadership is a common topic in the Hebrew Bible, and several different political models are described across its canon, usually composed of some combination of tribal federation, monarchy, a priestly theocracy, and rule by prophets. Political organization during the Rabbinic and Medieval generally involved semi-autonomous rule by Jewish councils and courts (with council membership often composed purely of rabbis) that would govern the community and act as representatives to secular authorities outside the Jewish community. Beginning in the 19th century, and coinciding with the expansion of the political rights accorded to individual Jews in European society, Jews would affiliate with and contribute theory to a wide range of political movements and philosophies.

Mashgiach ruchani

A mashgiach ruchani (Hebrew: משגיח רוחני) – or mashgiach for short – is a spiritual supervisor or guide. He is usually a rabbi who has an official position within a yeshiva and is responsible for the non-academic areas of yeshiva students' lives.The position of mashgiach ruchani arose with the establishment of the modern "Lithuanian-style" mussar yeshivas.

The role of the mashgiach ruchani was strongest in the era prior to World War II, when often the mashgiach was responsible for maintaining the yeshiva financially, recruiting and interviewing new students, and hiring staff, something akin to an academic "dean". After the Holocaust, the influence and position of the mashgiach decreased, and the roles of the rosh yeshivas have grown at the expense of those of the mashgichim. A modern mashgiach is somewhat equivalent to the secular "counselor" position.

The need for having a mashgiach within the modern yeshivas was tied in with the rise of the modern mussar movement (teaching of Jewish ethics), inspired by the 19th-century rabbi Yisrael Lipkin Salanter, and was seen as necessary because yeshiva students faced greater pressures and problems from the world outside their yeshiva studies.Some yeshivas may refer to a mashgiach ruchani as a menahel ruchani (the word "menahel" means "principal, as in the principal of a school, or "supervisor.")

Chabad yeshivas have a similar position referred to as mashpia, meaning a person who provides (spiritual) influence.

Musar literature

Musar literature is didactic Jewish ethical literature which describes virtues and vices and the path towards perfection in a methodical way.


Nakam (Hebrew: נקם‎, "Revenge") was a group of about fifty Holocaust survivors who, in 1945, sought to kill Germans and Nazis in revenge for the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust. Led by Abba Kovner, the group sought to kill six million Germans in a form of indiscriminate revenge, "a nation for a nation". Kovner went to Mandatory Palestine in order to secure large quantities of poison for poisoning water mains to kill large numbers of Germans, and his followers infiltrated the water system of Nuremberg. However, Kovner was arrested by the British on his return to Europe and had to throw the poison overboard.

Following this failure, the rest of the group turned their attention to "Plan B", targeting German prisoners of war held by the United States. They obtained arsenic locally and infiltrated the bakeries that supplied these prison camps. The conspirators poisoned 3,000 loaves of bread at Konsum-Genossenschaftsbäckerei (Consumer Cooperative Bakery) in Nuremberg, which sickened more than 2,000 German prisoners of war at Langwasser internment camp. However, no known deaths can be attributed to the group. Although Nakam is considered by some to have been a terrorist organization, German prosecutors dismissed a case against two of its members due to the "unusual circumstances".

Outline of Jewish law

This outline of Jewish religious law consists of the book and section headings of the Maimonides' redaction of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah, which details all of Jewish observance. Also listed for each section are the specific mitzvot covered by that section. These may be found in the article 613 Mitzvot in the section on Maimonides' List.

Pirkei Avot

Pirkei Avot (Hebrew: פִּרְקֵי אָבוֹת; also spelled as Pirkei Avoth or Pirkei Avos or Pirke Aboth), which translates to English as Chapters of the Fathers, is a compilation of the ethical teachings and maxims passed down to the Rabbis, beginning with Moses and onwards. It is part of didactic Jewish ethical literature. Because of its contents, the name is sometimes given as Ethics of the Fathers. Pirkei Avot consists of the Mishnaic tractate of Avot, the second-to-last tractate in the order of Nezikin in the Mishnah, plus one additional chapter. Avot is unique in that it is the only tractate of the Mishnah dealing solely with ethical and moral principles; there is little or no halacha (laws) found in Pirkei Avot.

Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC), is located in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, about 10 miles (16 km) north of central Philadelphia. RRC is the only seminary affiliated with Reconstructionist Judaism. It is accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. RRC has an enrollment of approximately 80 students in rabbinic and other graduate programs.As of June 3, 2012 the Reconstructionist movement was restructured. RRC is now the primary organization of the movement, headed by Rabbi Deborah Waxman. She is believed to be the first female rabbi and first lesbian to lead a Jewish congregational union, and the first woman and first lesbian to lead a Jewish seminary; the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College is both a congregational union and a seminary.

Society of Jewish Ethics

The Society of Jewish Ethics is an academic organization which promotes scholarly work in the field of Jewish ethics.Presidents of the Society have included:

Joel Gereboff, 2019-

Aaron S. Gross, 2017-2019

Geoffrey Claussen, 2015-2017

Jonathan K. Crane, 2013-2015

Aaron L. Mackler, 2011-2013

Toby Schonfeld, 2009-2011

David Teutsch, 2007-2009

Elliot N. Dorff, 2005-2007

Louis E. Newman, 2003-2005 (founding president)

Tza'ar ba'alei chayim

Tza'ar ba'alei chayim (Hebrew: צער בעלי חיים), literally "suffering of living creatures", is a Jewish commandment which bans causing animals unnecessary suffering. This concept is not clearly enunciated in the written Torah, but was accepted by the Talmud as being a Biblical mandate. It is linked in the Talmud from the Biblical law requiring people to assist in unloading burdens from animals (Exodus 23:5).

Yeruchom Levovitz

Rabbi Yeruchem Halevi Levovitz (Hebrew: ירוחם ליבוביץ‎; ca. 1873-1936), also known by his hundreds of students simply as The Mashgiach, was a famous mashgiach ruchani and baal mussar (Jewish Ethics) at the Mir yeshiva in Belarus.

He was born in 1873 (5633 in the Jewish calendar) in Lyuban, Minsk Voblast, Belarus (near Slutsk) to Avraham and Chasya Levovitz. He received his education in the yeshivas of Slobodka and Kelm.He was a disciple of Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, and Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv of Kelm.

Halakha (Jewish religious law)
Ritual purity
Agrarian laws
Halakhic principles
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