Some Jewish attitudes from A to Z

AuthorRabbi Dr. Raymond Apple
Publication Date23 November 2020
Aboriginal Reconciliation

The destruction of the culture and dignity of the Aboriginal people which has made indigenous Australians feel strangers in their own land resonates with Jews, who have such a long experience of persecution. To restore Aboriginal dignity and ensure Aboriginals have full access to education, health and economic opportunity is an ethical imperative.

Abortion

The unborn child is not considered a "full person". Nonetheless, to terminate its potential life is a grave moral act, basically permitted only to protect the life or health (physical or mental) of the mother.

Adoption

To give a child a family and home is a sacred deed of love, but the child's birth ties remain (for example, if the birth parents are known they are entitled to filial respect). The child should be aware that he or she is a "child of choice".

Animals

Cruelty to animals is forbidden by the Seven Laws of the Sons of Noah which apply to both Jews and non-Jews. Animals are, however, placed by the early chapters of the Bible at man's service. Hence certain animals and birds may be used for food if slaughtered according to the humane procedures laid down in Jewish law. (Fish do not have to be killed in any special way.) Humans must feed their animals before they feed themselves. Hunting is ethically unacceptable.

Antisemitism

Hostility to Jews, whilst known in Biblical times, seems to have gone through three stages – religious antisemitism arising out of accusations that Jews killed Jesus; quasi-racial antisemitism deriving from late 19th century views that Jews were inherently tainted; and anti-Zionism, misrepresenting Zionism as racist and genocidal. The answer to antisemitism is education to eradicate prejudice of all kinds, to promote respect for others and to recognise that every group is entitled to be safe and secure from molestation.

Art

Despite the negative attitude to graven images in the Ten Commandments, Judaism always had a concept of beauty, though not so much beauty of form as of character. Artistry was lavished on religious articles and the commandments were fulfilled as aesthetically as possible. Some rabbis opposed portraits and sculptures of human beings for fear of idolatry, though the first chief rabbi of the modern Holy Land, Rabbi Kook, enjoyed the National Portrait Gallery in London. Synagogues have no depictions of God or the human form.

Artificial insemination

To assist an infertile couple, artificial insemination using the husband's sperm (AIH) is permitted under adequate supervision. AID (Artificial Insemination by Donor) is morally unacceptable; a child is entitled to unambiguous parentage. Sperm banks threaten the privacy and identity of the family unit.

Autopsies

The body belongs to God and must not be put at risk or desecrated, even after death. Autopsies are an intrusion upon the sanctity of the body and are not approved except when the law requires them or if they can directly advance medical science. Even then, an autopsy must be sanctioned by an expert rabbi and performed with the same respect and dignity that would be accorded to a living patient.

Buddhism

Judaism respects the gentleness and spirituality of Buddhism, but cannot support its non-theistic aspects or its denial of the legitimate pleasures of the world, its non-dynamic attitude to human nature, or its non-activist approach to ethical striving.

Business ethics

Honesty and truth are essential in all human situations. Employer and employee must consider each other's well-being. Vendor and purchaser must not deceive each other. One of the questions we face when we die is "Were your business dealings honourable?" The Code of Jewish Law deals extensively with ethical business practices.

Capital punishment

Though Biblical law prescribes capital punishment in certain cases, the death penalty was rarely imposed in practice, and there was great reluctance to take a life. Strict procedural rules developed in Jewish law made capital punishment almost impossible. If it did occur, it had to be carried out with dignity; even a condemned criminal had rights.

Celibacy

Though some people do not marry, celibacy is not encouraged, and certainly not as a policy. Marriage is regarded as natural and good, and congregations are expected to appoint married rabbis. When criticised for being unmarried, the one celibate ancient sage said: "What can I do? My soul is in love with the Torah".

Children

Apart from the question of how many children there should be in the family there is a broader issue – of why many people somehow tend to think that having boys is more significant than having girls. After all, if one is allowed to be cynical, without girls being born there wouldn't be any boys either.

But cynicism is not the only consideration. Since children are a gift from God (Psalm 127), it is the Almighty who decides which parents will...

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