Monday, 3 November 2014

Nishma's Focus on Jewish Ethics

From Nishma Update, November 2014
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Jewish Ethics

Many years ago, we raised the question, in INQUIRY: Is There A Distinctive Jewish Ethical Perspective?, Nishma Update 5755-2, of whether there is a uniqueness to Jewish ethics. At the core of the question would be the justifiable perception that ethics – our understanding of what is proper in interpersonal behaviour – would seem to be of a universal nature.. How can we, then, call an ethic ‘Jewish’? Is there, thus, even a Jewish ethic? It would seem that ethics are universal. Are there, then, no uniquely Jewish ethics?

In the article, we laid out some important areas for further investigation in regard to this matter. The distinction in directives between the Torah standard for Jews and the Noachide standard for Non-Jews, for example, immediately raises a question in regard to the universal nature of ethics. Such a distinction in itself, though, does not inherently challenge the concept of a universal base to ethics. The article also raised other debatable issues.

Over the years, we have often returned to this study, further articulating what may be unique to the Torah presentation of ethical concerns and directives. During this time, though, what we have also further observed is a continuing absence of the in depth study of ethics (and its consequences) within many segments of the Torah world. We are not the only ones who have noticed this. The idea has even been presented that this may be the result of the overriding concern for Jewish identity within the community. If ethical behaviour does not distinguish someone as a Jew, it will simply, as such, not be a focus of education and discussion in that it is not seen as necessarily fostering Jewish distinction (such as kashrut). Showing a uniqueness to the Jewish ethical perspective thus may have additional significance. Yet, despite this issue, it is still most important that ethics, even if defined universally, is -- and is constantly recognized as -- essential within Jewishness and within any understanding and application of the Jewish legal system.

Nishma will be devoting much of its investigative and analytic efforts this year to this topic of Jewish ethics. This is not to say that every article we will write and/or every shiur we will present this year will circle this subject but this consideration will be a focus of which we will be conscious. Ethics is not simply a personal, solely intuitive, perspective of right and wrong. Proper ethical conclusions are the result of thought. It is important that such thought be part of our Torah studies.

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