Introduction to Jewish and Catholic Bioethics: A Comparative Analysis

By Aaron L. Mackler | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Methodology in Jewish Ethics

ETHICAL CONCERNS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN CENTRAL TO JUDAISM, and such concerns have been understood within the broad context of Jewish life. Basic concepts in Judaism include God; Torah, or “Teaching”; and the community of Israel, the Jewish people.1 For Jews and Jewish thinkers across a wide spectrum of beliefs, individuals and the Jewish community as a whole participate in a covenantal relationship with God. Torah is central to this relationship and basic to Jewish life. God gave the Torah in love to the Jewish people—and through them to the world. In its narrowest sense, Torah refers to the first five books of the Bible: Genesis through Deuteronomy, traditionally termed the “Written Torah.” More broadly, Torah includes the extensive “Oral Torah” and refers to all Jewish traditional teaching—in fact, all authentic Jewish thought and practice.2

Jewish ethics has been understood within this context, not sharply distinguished from other spheres of life. Indeed, Judaism has no distinct discipline analogous to Catholic moral theology. One example of this holistic approach may be found in the Holiness Code of the Book of Leviticus. This passage proclaims numerous ethical responsibilities, including the mandate to “love your neighbor as yourself,” intermixed with ritual commandments. All represent aspects of the general injunction of this section: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy. 3 Both ethical and ritual perspectives are important in answering the question, “What ought I do?” For this code, as for the Jewish tradition in general, all aspects of human activity meld together holistically in a life of service to God and one's fellow.

Two additional features of the Holiness Code represent views that have been present throughout Judaism's development. First, the passage is introduced by an instruction from God to Moses: “Speak to the whole

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