To Be a Holy People:
Jewish Tradition and Ethical Values

To Be a Holy People: Jewish Tradition and Ethical Values

By Eugene Korn

To Be a Holy People: Jewish Tradition and Ethical Values

Jewish tradition faces a spiritual crisis today unlike any in the past. Can traditional Jewish practices be justified in the face of our modern understanding of justice, equality and human progress? Are ‘commandedness’ and mitsvot defensible in our culture of personal autonomy and modernity’s deep critique of authority? Can Jewish particularism to co-exist with today’s universalism?

Judaism cannot survive without a deep commitment to ethics, both in action and thought. Long ago Nahmanides observed that the two commandments, “You shall be holy” and “Do what is right and the good in the eyes of the Lord” are intimately linked. In other words, without ethics there is no holiness.

This book sensitively explores many age-old and modern moral subjects: What is Jewish morality and what is the place of ethics in Judaism? What is the relation of ethics to Jewish law? How can we ensure that halakhic decisions are moral? What roles should compassion (hesed) and fairness (tsedeq) play in our thinking and action? Are Jews different from gentiles and are our ethics fundamentally different? How can we prevent our religious commitments from making us insensitive to others and committing violence? Is there a place for personal freedom in a world of mitsvot revealed from a transcendent “beyond”? What are the proper limits, if any, of human and gender equality in Jewish life?

This book attempts to answer these fundamental questions, carefully analyzing how Jewish tradition might address the tension between halakhah and ethics, religious violence, Jewish ethics in war, fairness, women leadership, organ transplantation, human equality, openness to non-traditional Jews, secular Jews and gentiles, and the tension between traditional particularism and contemporary universalism.


Introduction: Holiness and Ethics

Chapter One: Jewish Ethics: Foundations, Development and Future

Chapter Two: What Makes Halakhic Thinking Moral?

Chapter Three: Reflections on a Jewish Tragedy: The Image of God and Jewish Morality

Chapter Four: Divine Commands, Rabbinic Reasoning and Waging a Just War

Chapter Five: On Liberty and Halakhah

Chapter Six: Receiving but not Donating Organs: Ethical and Jewish Considerations

Chapter Seven: The Open Torah of Maimonides

Chapter Eight: Religious Violence, Sacred Texts and Theological Values

Chapter Nine: Judaism and the Religious Other



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