Principles derived from Jewish religious teachings and traditions guide the behaviour and actions of individuals and communities, providing a framework for moral decision-making and ethical conduct. The word ‘Halakha’ describes Jewish law. This includes a wide range of ethical guidelines and commandments derived from the Torah and other Jewish texts. Halakha covers various aspects of life, including interpersonal relationships, business practices, and personal conduct.
One principle is that of ‘Tikkun Olam’, a Hebrew phrase which means “repairing/perfecting the world”. This emphasizes the Jewish responsibility to actively work towards social justice and make positive contributions to improve society. Another key principle is ‘Tzedakah’, often translated as “charity” but it is a variant of the word ‘tzedek’ meaning justice. This is the Jewish obligation to give to those in need. Halakha emphasizes the importance of helping the poor, supporting social welfare programs, and promoting economic justice, and Tzedakah is one way of doing this. Jews might donate money or goods or for a specific purpose, such as asylum seekers or children in need. Giving of your time is also seen as an important part of tzedakah.
The phrase ‘Derech Eretz’ means “the way of the land”. This phrase refers to the ethical behaviour expected in everyday life, such as to behave in an honest manner and treat others with respect and kindness. Associated with Derech Eretz is the idea of ‘Lashon Hara’, meaning ‘evil tongue’. This is a prohibition of gossip or speaking ill of others. It is a reminder to guard one’s speech and use words responsibly to avoid causing harm.
Pikuach Nefesh, meaning “saving a life,” is a fundamental principle in Jewish ethics that prioritizes the preservation of human life above all else. It allows most religious laws to be broken if necessary to save a life. For example the principle of ‘no work’ on Shabbat should be overridden if someone needs help, such as medical attention.
Finally, Jewish ethics includes the idea of ‘Bal Tashchit’ meaning “do not destroy/waste”. This is a view of respect and care for the world around us and in modern times promotes environmental responsibility and sustainability.