Values and Commitments

Understanding how moral values and a sense of obligation can come from beliefs and experience;

 

Evaluating their own and others’ values in order to make informed, rational and imaginative choices.

 

Rules and Ethical Guidelines

The core precepts of Jewish morality and behaviour are found in the Ten Commandments:

I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage: You shall have no other gods besides Me.

You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I the Lord your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Lord your God; for the Lord will not clear one who swears falsely by His name.

Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God: you shall not do any work-you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.

Honour your father and your mother, that you may long endure on the land that the Lord your God is assigning to you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

You shall not covet your neighbour’s house: you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female slave, or his ox or his ass, or anything that is your neighbour’s (Exodus 20:2-14).

These are developed in the 613 mitzvot.

The Treatment of non-Jews is also prescribed in the Torah: You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:21).

Jews are required to follow the Ten Commandments and the other laws in the Torah and so, as a ‘chosen people’ to set an example to the rest of humanity for the way in which G-d wants them to live. In order to do this, Jews aim to live according to halakhah – according to the Way which G-d has prescribed.

Individual and Social Responsibility

Judaism has very clear teaching about how people should be treated:

When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I the Lord am your God (Leviticus 19:33-34).

Many of the Jewish prophets wrote about social injustice:

Spare Me the sound of your hymns,

And let Me not hear the music of your lutes.

But let justice well up like water,

Righteousness like an unfailing stream (Amos 5:23-24).

Yet you ward off [the thought of] a day of woe

And convene a session of lawlessness.

They lie on ivory beds,

Lolling on their couches,

Feasting on lambs from the flock

And on calves from the stalls.

They hum snatches of song

To the tune of the lute-

They account themselves musicians like David.

They drink [straight] from the wine bowls

And anoint themselves with the choicest oils-

But they are not concerned about the ruin of Joseph (Amos 6:3-6).

Judaism believes it is a religious responsibility to try to help anyone or any country in terms of money and development. Jews should fight injustice in whatever way they can and make financial contributions to help people.

Jews should give a tenth of their wealth as tzedaka (righteousness). This money is owed to the poor and so if it is not given it is robbing them. Even the poorest people should try to give tzedaka.

The best way to give tzedaka is to lend money to them indefinitely and without interest. By doing this people are saved the embarrassment of taking a gift. The hope is that the money will help the poor to become self-supporting.

This view of life has been demonstrated by the many great Jewish benefactors.

The experience of the 20th century Holocaust has also had considerable significance for Jewish outlooks on the world and issues of injustice.

Euthanasia

Judaism teaches that all human life is sacred. People were G-d’s special creation, and each individual is known by G-d, who plans their lives and decides how long they should live.

Your eyes saw my unformed limbs;

they were all recorded in Your book;

in due time they were formed,

to the very last one of them (Psalm 139:16).

The Torah was given to humans ‘so that they might live’. Suicide is a sin. ‘One who intentionally takes one’s life has no share in the world to come.’

So Judaism cannot approve of euthanasia because only G-d can decide when a person should die.

The teaching of Rabbi Moses Isserles is sometimes used to argue that life-support machines should be turned off if there is not hope of the patient’s recovery:

If there is anything which causes a hindrance to the departure of the soul … then it is permissible to remove it.

Sex and Marriage

Judaism has a very natural and realistic view of sexuality. Sex plays a very important role in human relationships. Judaism recognises the strength of sexual desire but also sees that this must be carefully controlled. It may only be expressed within a marriage.

The Talmud says that:

A man without a woman is doomed to an existence without joy, without blessing, without experiencing life’s true goodness, without Torah, without protection and without peace.

The importance of marriage in Judaism is seen as lying in the first book of the Torah, Genesis:

Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

This is explained in the Midrash:

G-d created the first human being half male, half female. He then separated the two parts to form a man and a woman.

The Jewish teacher, Maimonides said:

Through the sanctification of marriage, a husband and wife become the closest of relatives.

Judaism also has very strict rules concerning the relationships between husband and wife. A married couple is considered to be a complete organism whereas men and women on their own are incomplete, lacking the qualities of each other. Marriage sanctifies the relationship.

Abortion

Jews believe that, as G-d created human beings, therefore G-d is in charge of when they live and when they die. Judaism considers that abortion not only interferes with G-d’s plan for the world but also destroys what has the potential to become a human being. However, according to the Jewish scriptures, the life of a human being is more important than the life of the unborn child. This is shown in this passage from Exodus:

When men fight, and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other damage ensues, the one responsible shall be fined according as the woman’s husband may exact from him, the payment to be based on reckoning. But if other damage ensues, the penalty shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise (Exodus 21:22-25).

The argument is when a foetus becomes a human being. The decision was that the foetus became a person at the moment of birth, not at conception. Therefore, abortion is not murder.

The life and well-being of the mother is the most important issue and abortion is acceptable if the mother or child is at risk either physically or mentally or if the pregnancy is the result of rape. The mother must be the person who decides in these circumstances.

Crime and punishment

Judaism teaches that criminals must be treated fairly. An accused person must have a fair trial by a court.

The 36 most serious crimes (including adultery, sodomy, idolatry, witchcraft, and murder) carry one of four different types of death penalty: stoning, burning, beheading, or strangling

However, the rabbis limited the possibility of capital punishment. A potential criminal had to be warned of the possible punishment before committing the crime. If all the judges agreed on a verdict it was felt likely that they were prejudiced and that the verdict was wrong. Therefore it was almost impossible to reach a death verdict.

If a death verdict was finally reached, every effort had to be made to have it reversed.

A final, less severe, penalty was makkat mardut, or disciplinary lashes.

Jewish law tried to limit the punishment and safeguard the criminal so that violence and suffering is kept to a minimum.

War

Judaism teaches that there are three kinds of wars which have to be fought:

1.  milchemet mitzvah (war commanded by G-d). Two such wars are described in the Hebrew Bible: the campaign against Amalek, and Joshua and the Israelites fighting for the Promised Land. The conditions are that the enemy has attacked first or that there is a need to pre-empt an attack;
2.  milchemet reshut (optional war). The war must be a last resort, non-violent solutions must have been tried first, civilians must not be targeted and damage must be limited. No war such as this has been called since the fall of the Temple in 70 CE;
3.  a pre-emptive war: this may only be fought when an attack upon Israel is imminent. This occurred in 1967, when Israel attacked the airfields of Egypt and Syria in the Six Day War in an attempt to prevent a long and bloody siege.

Jews must protect themselves and other Jews, as well as going to the aid of other countries to prevent war. Self-defence is also permissible:

If a person intends to kill you, be first to kill him (Talmud).

The Environment

The central concept for Jews in relation to the world is Tikkun Olam – care for the world and the environment.

At the New Year festival of Rosh Hashanah, Jews thank G-d for the creation of the world because it is G-d’s possession:

The earth is the Lord’s and all that it holds,

the world and its inhabitants (Psalm 24:1).

The scriptures say how the earth is to be treated:

When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the axe against them (Deuteronomy 20:19a).

Respect for trees is shown in the annual festival of Tu B’Shevat – New Year for Trees on the 15th of Shevat:

Agricultural land must be rested once every 50 years if it is to produce good crops. This is a Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-11).

The Jewish scriptures say little about animal rights. However, animals were seen as very valuable and were offered as sacrifices to G-d in the Temple in Jerusalem.

It is clear that the Judaism has always been concerned about animals. G-d gave Adam control over all the animals:

And G-d said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” And G-d created man in His image, in the image of G-d He created him; male and female He created them. G-d blessed them and G-d said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth” (Genesis 1:26-28).

and:

And the LORD God formed out of the earth all the wild beasts and all the birds of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that would be its name. And the man gave names to all the cattle and to the birds of the sky and to all the wild beasts (Genesis 2:19-20a).

Humanity’s stewardship of the world is a gift and an obligation.

That animals are to be shown respect is shown in several passages:

You shall not muzzle an ox while it is threshing (Deuteronomy 25:4).

A righteous man knows the needs of his beast (Proverbs 12:10).

Animals are mentioned in the Ten Commandments:

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your G-d; you shall not do any work-you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do (Deuteronomy 5:12-14).

Animals were to be shown concern as are humans and given a day’s rest.

On the use of animals for scientific experiments Judaism says that these experiments must be necessary and, as far as possible, suffering should be avoided.

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Bibliography

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