The ethics that form Orthodox Judaism originate from the Commandments evident in the Torah, their bible.


The ethics that form Orthodox Judaism originate from the Commandments evident
in the Torah, their bible.


Religion, Values and Ethics:

The ethics that form Orthodox Judaism originate from the Commandments evident
in the Torah, their bible.

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Hypothesis: The ethics that form Orthodox Judaism originate from the Commandments evident
in the Torah, their bible. There is a link between the ethics of Orthodox Judaism and the
practices of their religion. Ethical Frameworks are used within the religion to form the basis of
ethical decisions.
1. What are the Orthodox Judaism’s ethics?
2. What is the history of Orthodox Judaism’s ethics? Founders, Leaders, Sacred Texts,
Sacred Places
3. What values are the religion based on?
4. Which ethical frameworks fit the religion?
5. What are the links between the ethical and legal dimensions of homosexuality?
Good morning/afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Every person, religion, family, and society has
their own ethical values and morals. They are of significant value in every home or society.
Many people think morals and ethics are the same and although they fit well together, they have
different meanings. Morals are indicative of behaviour that defines right and wrong actions
whereas ethics are the principles that govern a person’s behaviour. Often it is how a person has
been brought up and their past experiences which leads them to choose their actions. The
importance of ethics have been degrading rapidly over time especially in the last century. The
human race has lost patience and has become selfish hence the reason why ethics and morals
are continually decreasing in importance. There is a clear link between ethics and religions
since the beginning of time. The ethics that form Orthodox Judaism originate from the
commandments evident in the Torah, their bible. There is a link between the ethics of Orthodox
Judaism and the practices of their religion. Ethical Frameworks are used within the religion to
form the justification of ethical decisions. Natural law is the basis for Orthodox Judaism;
however, Virtue Ethics plays a large part as well.

Orthodox Judaism was established to reflect more modern day traditions and practices. Moses
Sofer, the Rabbi of Pressburg from 1806 until his untimely death in 1839, put the idea of another
religion similar to the original Judaic faith forward to their community. Many Jews thought it was
a favourable idea and decided to continue with it. The Union of Orthodox Rabbis was finally
made almost 200 years after the first idea was put forward by Moses Sofer. Traditional Jews
looked for a more religious basis which they found in Orthodox Judaism. Orthodox Judaism’s
laws and behaviours are based on their ethics which are the guidelines for their followers. The
Jewish faith also has rules that are not in the Ten Commandments, these are called the 613
mitzvot. These rules cover areas such as personal morality, for example loving thy neighbour as
yourself, or treating people with kindness and respect. The mitzvot tells the reader what they
should do in relation to their morality. The Ten Commandments are rules that the Jewish faith
have to follow, the mitzvot are rules they should follow. Jews believe in living an ethical and
moral existence for God. Carl Ehrlich, who received his B.A. magna cum laude in Judaic studies
and his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages, wrote, “No rational reason is given for them [The
Commandments], other than that they are the demands that God has placed on the Jewish
people.” (Carl S. Ehrlich, (2010), Understanding Judaism) 365 of the 613 mitzvot are negative
laws which outline the things the Jews must not do. The other 248 commandments are things
the Jewish people should feel obligated to do. The Jewish faith is not to undertake the practice
of idolatry, the worshipping of any idols excluding God. The positive commandments are divided
into two sections. The first section are rules that can be performed at any time, the second
section of rules must be performed at specific times of day. The interpreted version of the Torah,
the Talmud, had an effect on changing Jewish beliefs, ethics, and laws. Laws surrounding the
kashrut and Sabbath were changed from laws that have to be followed into values that should
be followed. Judaism’s sacred text never clearly stated every rule; however, the sages put these
beliefs into place and enforced them so they became law. Emily Taitz, an author with a Ph.D. in
medieval Jewish history, states in her book on Judaism, “In addition to rulings, opinions, and
explanations, the Talmud includes anecdotes and stories that give clues to the lives of the great
sages themselves and tell of popular beliefs, morality, and customs.” (Emily Taitz, (2006),
Judaism).​ ​Judaism’s values continued to be interpreted and changed over time. Scholars
continue to change the biblical and Talmudic laws in order for them to be understood more
clearly in contemporary times. The Jewish have very strong beliefs about morality and ethics,
that is why they have often been the ones who’ve started social movements. They believe that
one day all humans can do good and no evil. “In Judaism, the belief in one God is intimately tied
in with the ethical principles that regulate human life.” (Emily Taitz, (2006), Judaism). To
integrate ethical values into daily life is to devote yourself to God’s will. “Forming the base of an
ethical life are the six hundred and thirteen commandments (mitzvot) that the rabbis distilled for
the Pentateuch or Torah proper.” (Emily Taitz, (2006), Judaism). Caring for others is an
extensive component of Jewish ethics. The concept that Jewish people desire the “betterment
of the world” is like saying you should leave the world a better place than what it was when you
arrived. (Emily Taitz, (2006), Judaism). One who struggles but wins over temptation is more
respected than one who hasn’t taken the blame for anything in their life. The Jewish care
immensely about free will. A human being can choose between right and wrong it’s their
decision to select the right choice. Cruelty towards living beings are another significant ethical
issue that the Judaic Faith strongly argue against. Judaism outlaws hunting and encourages
vegetarianism because of this ethical issue. Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, wrote a letter to
his family about the Mussar movement. “The Mussar movement in Judaism is defined as the
education of the individual toward strict ethical behavior in the spirit of Halakhah.” (Author
Unknown, (2008), The Mussar Movement) In his letter he discusses the need for peace
between his family members, “And should one of you do something that is not acceptable, let
them forgive him and live together in peace for God’s sake.” (Carl S. Ehrlich, (2010),
Understanding Judaism) He encourages his family to follow the divine ethical teachings through
his letter. Orthodox Judaism’s ethics were not just based on their beliefs and values as an
individual it is also strongly based on the history of their religion.
There are two types of sacred spaces in the Jewish religion, one is centered in the holy space in
Israel, and the other is a space made holy by the acts performed there. “Thus, the Synagogue
becomes holy as a result of the public actions that take place within it, and the home becomes
holy by virtue of what the family does to sanctify its existence.” (Carl S. Ehrlich, (2010),
Understanding Judaism). Sacred places include the First Temple built by King Solomon as well
as the second temple. Although the first and second temples were both destroyed, the Western
Wall still remains. People come from all over to visit this wall as it is the last remaining part of
the Holy Temple. They push pieces of paper with their prayers and wishes on them in the
cracks and stones of the wall in the hope that the remaining wall of the sacred temple will
ensure their prayers are fulfilled.​ ​Israel is the Holy Land, therefore, Jerusalem is the Holy City.
Jews, Christians, and Muslims have been fighting over Jerusalem for centuries as it is a holy
city for each religion. “[The mezuzah, a holy symbol hung on the Jewish home,] serves to show
that when one crosses the threshold of the home, one is entering a space devoted to God and
to a certain code of ethics.” (Carl S. Ehrlich, (2010), Understanding Judaism). A holy place is not
always a place for the Jews, It can be a number of different symbols like; The Star of David, The
Menorah (seven-branched candelabrum), The Shofar (ram’s horn trumpet), etc. The gravesites
of famous rabbis and other important leaders to the Judaic religion have also become sacred
spaces. Judah Halevi and Heinrich Heine are two important people within the Jewish faith.
“Halevi came to the conclusion that a true Jewish life could only be lived in the land of Israel, or
Zion. ‘My Heart Is in the East’ expresses the poet’s longing for the ancient homeland.” (Carl S.
Ehrlich, (2010), Understanding Judaism).​ ​The Jews have always been lead to believe that their
leaders have been prophets sent from God. Orthodox Judaism only have men as Rabbis;
however, progressive Judaism has both women and men as leaders. The first king of Israel was
Saul who was then followed by King David. King David was the most respected and prosperous
king out of all the Jewish leaders. Ezra who was also known as the ‘Scholar in the law of the
God of Heaven’; would read the ‘Law of Moses’ to the people to attempt to convert them back to
God’s law. Intermarriage was also a big problem in Jerusalem at this time and with Ezra’s
guidance the Jewish people started to remember and carry out the old Jewish laws. By
enforcing and educating the Jewish civilisation on the old law, Ezra amended the religion and its
laws. The Torah, which consists of ‘The Five Books of Moses’, is the holiest book in the Jewish
religion. The values and consequent ethical codes of adherence to Judaic tradition have been
inspired by the scripture in the Torah.
St. Thomas Aquinas developed one of the first ethical frameworks, Natural law. His ideas were
originated from the philosophy of Aristotle. In this framework unhuman acts are considered
intrinsically evil. It holds firm moral and ethical guidelines; however, it is difficult to live a life
based completely on Natural Law’s ethical code. Orthodox Jews try to live life by abiding by this
ethical code as they are passionate about the old law and traditions. The Jewish faith is a
combination of Natural Law and Virtue Ethics. Virtue Ethics is more focused in what a person
believes in or their characteristics. Elizabeth Anscombe, the founder of Virtue Ethics, realised
that ‘morality’ and ‘charity’ can become the opposite of what they are intended to be in certain
situations. It’s about what a person as an individual believes is right at that moment in time.
Natural Law is very black and white, right and wrong; however, Virtue Ethics is about
determining the best outcome despite the person deciding to tell the truth or not. Dr. Peter
Vardy, a philosopher, theologian and successful author, states in his ‘Religious Ethical Theories’
powerpoint, “[Virtue Ethics] is a branch of ethics that is person rather than action based;
exploring the virtue or moral character of the person carrying out an action, rather than the
ethical duties, rules or consequences of particular actions.” (Dr. Peter Vardy, ‘Religious Ethical
Theories’). The 613 mitzvot are based on Jewish virtues as they are different than The Ten
Commandments. If you were to apply a social issue like homosexuality to Natural Law,
homosexuality would be condemned as it is stated in the bible. Applying the same issue to
Virtue Ethics would result in homosexuality being accepted by people who have a high regard
for reason and emotion as Virtue Ethics is centered on the individual and their virtues. Most
Orthodox Jews will choose the Natural Law way; however, it is not uncommon for them to
choose a mixture of both. Although some ethical code are very black and white, throughout time
some codes have to be changed to suit the modern world.
According to Leviticus, a book of the Torah, any man who is involved with another man has
committed an abomination. Some of the more reformed Jewish faith dislike that the harsh word
abomination is still being used against Jewish homosexuals today because of the reference in
the Bible. “The traditional Jewish position on homosexuality is still difficult for many
liberal-minded Jews, and the liberal denominations have debated the extent to which gays and
lesbians can be fully integrated into religious communities.” (MLJ Staff, (2016), Homosexuality in
Jewish Thought). The Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform Movements, more
commonly know as the CCAR, sanctioned civil equality for homosexuals. Ending all
discrimination based on sexual orientation is one of CCAR’s goals. In 2006, the Conservative
Movement’s Law Committee voted for homosexuals to be allowed to become Rabbis and
Cantors. A documentary created in 2001 about gay Orthodox Jews has been successful in
raising awareness about homosexuality in the Orthodox Judaic faith. Many Jewish institutions
have started to integrate and accept transgender people. Rabbi Amber Powers, the Dean of
Admissions and Recruitment at The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, states in her article
on same-sex marriage in the Orthodox Judaic faith how the liberal side of the religion is
conflicted on deciding whether to give into contemporary times and legalise same-sex marriage
in their institutions or to continue fighting against it. Jews are unsure of whether Rabbis should
perform same-sex marriages and if so if they can be considered a Holy Union. The Union of
Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America is denying any form of same- sex marriage.
Although many Orthodox Jews oppose the idea of same-sex marriage, there are a couple of
members of the community who support and fight for it. In 2011, the first legally recognised
same-sex marriage was officiated by a Rabbi. (Rabbi Amber Powers, (2012), Same-Sex
Marriage). However compared to Orthodox Judaism, Reform Judaism is a lot more
understanding of modern times. Reform Judaism has had a positive history of trying to include
the LGBT community. Rabbi Victor Appel, a Congregational Marketing Director at the Union for
Reform Judaism who grew up in the Reform Movement, continues to write about how
understanding the Reform Judaic religion is about homosexuals like himself. David Saperstein,
director of the Religious Action Centre has stated, “Regardless of [Genesis 1:27’s] context,
discrimination against any person arising from apathy, insensitivity, ignorance, fear, or hatred is
inconsistent with this fundamental belief. We oppose discrimination against all individuals,
including gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, for the stamp of the Divine is present in each and every
one of us.” (Rabbi Victor Appel, (2016), What does Reform Judaism say about homosexuality?)
Today the LGBT community have access to all Reform temples and are offered same-sex
marriage ceremonies from most Rabbis and cantors.
There is a clear link between the ethics of Orthodox Judaism and the concepts that make up
their religion. The Torah is the main source of Orthodox Judaism’s ethics and values. Ethics,
values, and laws all create the Ethical Frameworks which are used within every religion to form
the basis of all their ethical decisions. The history and formation of Orthodox Judaism is a
considerable component to how Orthodox Jews’ live their lives. Every religion is categorised
within the Ethical Frameworks, which continues to shape religions today. Orthodox Judaism is
continuing to use their ethical ideas to face political and social issues. Homosexuality is
becoming a large controversy in society notably in the last decade. All religions need to change
the way they look at issues such as homosexuality to fit modern day otherwise some religions
may become obsolete in the near future. The values of the founders, history, social issues, and
individuals have influenced the formation of each religion’s ethical codes.


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