Religion & Beliefs

Do Jewish Values Even Exist?

Yesterday in the comments to my post about virginity and the fifteenth of Av someone calling themselves Soccer suggested that I “leave HAdar and go study at a yeshiva with Jewish values!” I don’t know anything about Soccer, and I … Read More

By / July 31, 2007

Yesterday in the comments to my post about virginity and the fifteenth of Av someone calling themselves Soccer suggested that I “leave HAdar and go study at a yeshiva with Jewish values!” I don’t know anything about Soccer, and I don’t actually care. I wouldn’t have graced his/her hater comment with a link except that it amused me that Hadar was being called out for Jewish values. One might have a problem with Hadar halachically, but the truth is that Hadar does in fact consider itself obligated by halacha, it simply chooses to interpret halacha in a way somewhat different from how Rav Ovadia Yosef, for instance, might poskin. The core value is the same, though, right? But Jewish law can’t be the only Jewish value, and I bet there are plenty of people who would argue that Jewish laws are completely irrelevant to Jewish values, so where do we go for more ethical direction? Is it a Jewish value to be Zionist? What do Jewish values say about abortion? Ecology? Women’s rights? Slavery? War? Genocide? If you were under the impression that any of those are questions answered simply, I think you’re way off base. As far as I know there are conflicting understandings and opinions regarding all of these issues, with people weighing in from around the world and throughout time. Luckily or unluckily the Torah doesn’t say anything that definitely requires you to recycle, or forbids a man from beating his wife. We take a few comments that may or may not seem relevant and extrapolate from them grand and impressive doctrines on, say, slavery and halacha, and how the Torah views slavery as repugnant and an insult to human dignity. But then we’re stuck with the fact that according to the Torah, it’s perfectly acceptable for a Jewish man to own slaves. Even Jewish slaves are allowed, though not encouraged. But today, if you wanted to go to Thailand and buy some girl to be your housemaid, I doubt your rabbi would be on board with the proposal. He’d likely say something about how it doesn’t jive with Jewish values and then lecture you on the mitzvah to rescue the captives. Today, morality has been pretty much codified by humanistic terms, and most Jews, even Orthodox Jews, live according to a lot of rules and ethical guidelines that are never or rarely explicit in any Jewish texts. Technically, for instance, halacha allows a person to cheat a non-Jew out of money, but I don’t see many contemporary responsa urging Jews to pad their pockets with money they didn’t get fairly, and I can’t imagine any rabbi I know advising someone in business to go through with a shady deal just to make a mint at the expense of a Baptist coworker. I guess my point here is the same as it was when I wrote about Jewish delis the other day. I wish people would be more specific when they used the word Jewish. It’s becoming something we just clip to whatever’s convenient, never considering whether it will be a good idea to call something with little or no connection to Judaism ‘Jewish.’