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Jewish Ethics

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Link to text on Halakhah and Netiquette More Ethical Halakhic concerns of the online enviornment AJL Proceedings 2014

Halakhah as an Ethical Guide for Netiquette: Applying the Chofetz Chaim’s Hilchot Esurei Lashon Hara ve-motzi shem rah (laws against slander and libel), the prohibitions of (a) ona’at devarim (meanspeak), (b) lo telech rachil b’ameicha (tailbearing), (c) embarrassing someone in public (halbanat panim) based on Baba Metzia 57a-58, and striving for (a) loshon naki (proper speech) found in Pesachim 3b and Arachin 15b, (b) derekh eretz (good manners) kadma la’torah found in sefer Derech Eretz Zuta, (c) kiddush haShem (sanctifying G-d’s name), (d) k’vod habriyot (respecting G-d’s creation) and all human bitzelem Elokim (in the image of G-d), and (e) Darkhei Noam (ways of pleasantness). All examples were illustrated by cited sources (mikorot) from the Mishnah, tosefta, Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmudim, Midrashim, Sifrei Hasidut, and Musar texts

Link to Power point slides on topic of Ethical Halakhic concerns of the online environment via AJL Montreal Proceedings

Some of the many halakhic issues treated in this paper include: (1) the Cherem RabbenuGershom forbidding reading others’ letters, and invading privacy rights [classified in 4 categories: (a) visual privacy, i.e. Hezeqre’iyya, (harm caused by seeing) (b) privacy of one’s residence against tresspassers i.e.,  אִם-בַּמַּחְתֶּרֶת יִמָּצֵא הַגַּנָּב (c)  privacy of one’s communications (d) prohibition of disclosure of nistarot and tailbearing, הוֹלֵךְ רָכִיל, מְגַלֶּה-סּוֹד; וְנֶאֱמַן-רוּחַ, מְכַסֶּה דָבָר] thereby transgressing against the Chofetz Chaim’s laws of shemiratloshon (lashonharah, and motzhishem rah), and by extension the isur on reading by spying on another person’s emails, a warning against which can include the phrase: בחדר"גמה בחרם ד,רבננו גרשום מאור הגולה meaning herem d’rabbeinu Gershom, or pagi’inפג,יןan acronymn forפורץ גדד י-שכנו נחש(2) The sanctity of Hashem’s name and the prohibitions of erasing the name (mechikat Hashem) based on Devarim 12:2-3, and does this apply on a computer screen i.e. lo ta’asum ken is an issur chaftza, a prohibition pivoting around a physical object (a sefer Torah and sacred texts qualifying for Shemos in a geniza) with a specific halakhic status, written by a sofer who has teveledin a mikvah and written the name with yirat shamayim (haikkarve-takhlit ha-adam) and kavanah (3) internet commerce on Shabbat, (4) social network listserves, blogs, wikis, etc. by which Orthodox Jews can construct "cyber" communities   (5) employing filters for screening out “pritzus, narishkeit, and stius,” (6) spyware and cookies that marketers use to target consumer groups, who may not wish these marketing techniques be used to waste their time, bitul zeman; (7) davoning from a kindle or ipod obviously not on Shabbos, (8) cyber minyanim and mizumem?, (9) permissibility of censoring hate literature on the web, (10) computer crimes of abuse and fraud by which one piggy-backs on another’s Wi-fi unsecured signals without authorization or permission to access to a computer network, contracted by others, possibly harming the network and damaging others’ data, and also diminishing bandwidth which can effect speed of connection for the paying subscriber, ergo constituting geneiva and violating Shmuel’s pronouncement of Dina De’Malchuta Dina, (11) illegal film and music downloading causing financial loss to royalties of copyrighted works,  despite minhago shel olam normative practice) and hamotzi l’or yodeah mizeh(the author knew full well upon making the work public how it might be abused, i.e. umdenah (common assumption) (12) ethical concern with author copyright within 5 halakhic categories:  A. Hasagatgevul-- unfair competition:B. Haskamot-- approbations; C. Dina d’malkhutadina-- secular law; D. Shiurb’kinyan-- witholding the right to copy.and copyright- E. sighting a law in the name of one’s Rebbe who learned it from his Rebbe, a reason Rabbi YosefKaro wrote the pirush Kesef  Mishnahon Rambam’s Sefer Mishnah Torah, MT.i.e.   (omerdavarbshemomro) i.e. Rabbi YosefKaro in KesefMishna to Rambam’s MT. see: משנה מסכת אבות פרק ו & Megilah 15a) explicating Esther 2:22

וַיִּוָּדַע הַדָּבָר לְמָרְדֳּכַי, וַיַּגֵּד לְאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה; וַתֹּאמֶר אֶסְתֵּר לַמֶּלֶךְ, בְּשֵׁם מָרְדֳּכָי

Introduction to Jewish Ethics

Chofetz Chaim

Image of the Chofetz Chaim, author of many ethical works, particularly relating to the laws against lashon hara.

Sheva mitzvot B'nei Noach, or the Noahide Laws, are a set of moral imperatives that, according to the Talmud, were given by God as a binding set of laws for the "children of Noah" – that is, all of humanity, and include the 7 laws:

(1) The prohibition of idolatry

(2) The prohibition of murder

(3) The prohibition of theft

(4) The prohibition of sexual immorality

(5) The prohibiiton of blasphemy

(6) The prohibition of eating flesh taken from a  living animal

(7) The requirement of maintaining courts to provide legal recourse

As the introduction to the LibGuide on the 10 Commandments notes there are actually 613 commandments, but according to Jewish law, a righteous non-Jew who fully observes the above sheva mitzvot B'nei Noach is accorded a place in the world to come.

Rabbinic law intends through its regulations to safeguard against the sanctity of our striving for ethical-intellectual-spiritual virtue and to foster and develop and enforce respect and dignity for each  neshama. If the Jewish community is to be intellectually vibrant, compassionate, caring, and attain spiritual growth to achieve holiness, it needs to conduct lives in the spirit of humility, respect, justice, truth, kindness, striving for honesty, fairness, compassion, integrity, moral fiber, & strength of character. Jewish law also condemns wicked acts such as that of Jezebel who stole Naboth's vineyard by hiring false witnesses against Naboth and his family

In Maseket Makkot 24a with echoes in Tehillim 15, we find a list of behaviors that are the essence of the taryag mitzvoth, when Dovid HaMelekh says that the 613 commandments can be reduced to 11 principles: (1) walk in perfect innocence, (2) work righteously, (3) speak the truth, (4) have no slander on your tongue, (5) do no harm to your fellow, (6) cast no disgrace on someone else, (7) find no person contemptible, (8) Honor those who fear G-d, (9) keep your word in an oath, (10) lend money with good will, (11) take no bribes against the innocent. Isaiah makes the list of 11 ethical principles even smaller by formulating 6 moral principles: (1) walk righteously, (2) speak with fairness, (3) spurn illicit gain, (4) take no bribes, (5) seal your ears from hearing of violence, (6) shut your eyes from seeing evil acts. Hazel reduce the list even further by turning to three principles found in the navi Micah. “It hath been told thee, O man, what is good, and what the LORD doth require of thee: only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy G-d.” Isaiah (56:1) slims down the fundamental ethical principles of the torah still further to two concepts: (1) observe Justice, (2) act with righteousness. Heading the musar of one’s father bis hundert und zwanzig lemeah ve-ezreim, and the torah of one’s mother (zl) is expressed in Mishlei …. Keep your father’s commandments. Do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Tie them over your heart always. Bind them around your throat. When you walk it will lead you. When you lie down it will watch over you; and when you are awake (i.e. resurrection) it will talk with you. For the commandment is a lamp, the teaching is a light. As with the ethical behavior these moral teachings are principles that serve as the ethical compass by which G-d wants us to live morally and be ethical accountable human beings. These moral principles provide an anchor in the stormy seas of life, and discipline for which all of us must strive to become better morally and ethically as G-d’s agents on this earth striving to attain kedusha, holiness. Holiness can be achieved bain Adam LiMakom, i.e. by serving in the Beit HaMikdash being G-d intoxicated there where His Shekhinah dwells, and in bain Adam liHavero, in the ways we interact with other human beings, das Zwischenmentschliche, i.e. not clipping coins, having a just epha and hin tzedek, not murdering, cheating, committing adultery, coveting what may belong to others, etc.

Rambam provides a coherent deontological ethical theory and praxis (see Hilchot Deot & Shemoneh Perakhim) that strives for the mean, i.e. the right mean balance and proportion (avoiding the extremes of excess and deficiency) of courage (andreia), temperance (sophrosune), compassion (rachamim), magnanimity (megaloprepeia), proper ambition, patience (savlanut/praotes), truthfulness (emes/aletheia/veritas/wahrheit/verite), wittiness (eutrapelia), friendliness(philia), modesty (aidos), and righteous indigation (nemesi), although we must strive go to the extremes in being very humble (Moshe was anuv moed) and never getting angry (i.e. the Avot simulated anger but always remained calm, cool, and responded with quietude). Rambam argues we should strive via imatatio dei to perform Hashem’s positive attributes of compassion, graciousness, mercy, kindness, and slower to anger. Yet with regards to Hashem’s transcendent non-mimetic traits within the limits of human beings, i.e. Hashem’s attributes of omniscience, infinity, and not being a body, etc. we must employ a method of negative theology positing that Hashem is not a body (ayn lo demuthagufve-einuguf), Hashem is not ignorant (it would be chutzpah to assume human knowledge can ever attain total divine omniscience, although the kesher between the finite human intellect and divine intellect is the sekelhapoel), and not finite i.e. aynsof. The enlightened philosopher King is internally balanced, morally virtuous, wise, just, ruled by reason, and careful to distinguish between appearance and true reality i.e. the messiah will judge not by “the assumptions of the eyes and the assumptions of the ears” (Isaiah 11). As Aaron Levine has shown, Rabbinic case law, however, must apply halakhic concepts to situations that are often complex. Poskim who are qualified to give a psak din, must with a quickness of mind deploy the treasury of Rabbinic wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and learning to marshal appropriate puskim, halakhic principles, and rabbinic precedents, to deal with difficult unique individual cases of today in evolving oral Torah, many of which include gray areas, where there are no easy answers. Works like Mishpat Ivri by Menachem Elon, [trans. By M. Sykes] are important for giving one an overview of the historical development of Jewish law across the millennium.

Striving for the proper harmony and balance between ethical, intellectual, and spiritual virtue (arête) is viewed by some philosophers wie das Wesen des Judentum. i.e. the essence of Judaism. Judaism is infused with being ethical, in Wesen die sind die Selbe. Jewish law, in its moral concern, safeguards and mandates ethical behavior. Many ceremonial and ritual laws, in fact, are interpreted as having ethical, symbolic, if not theurgic significance in Lurianic Kabbalah, which describes doing mitzvoth as a way of “gathering the sparks” to make a Tikkun. Also in the area of intellectual Litvishe attainment of Talmudic wisdom, age-old Halakhic principles are the vehicles by which Jewish law is able to apply guidance for behaving morally and striving to navigate our lives on the sea of life by the compass of Torah. The primary importance of ethical behavior is noted in the sugya in Maseket Shabbat, in which clairvoyantly the rabbis imagine the liminal moment of being before the beit din memalah, after we all go upstairs to the Eberster’s heavenly court, and our lives are evaluated in the divine scales of justice, for the mitzvoth and (aveirot) we may or may not do, and our reward is based on truth, fairness, justice, and righteousness. The first question asked there  is “How, why, where, and with what motivation did you conduct your life with excellent business ethics and moral behavior?" Giving primacy to the ethical domain as the first area of evaluation (over the intellectual and spiritual) may suggest that this sugya considers that our very reward in the olam ha-bah is primarily dependent on our ethical behavior (and intellectual & spiritual accomplishments) in olam hazeh. For Rambam this reward is based on the intellectual virtue attained in olam ha-zeh in the quest for hokhmah, binah, ve-daas, and indeed, learning how to behave ethically based on moral principles is a fundamental source knowledge gained in this world to know the difference between bad and good so that this knowledge informs one's behaviors for the better.

The Torah is filled with ethical injunctions such as:

Do not join your hand with the wicked to be a malicious witness. Do not follow a crowd to do evil; neither shall you testify in court to side with a multitude to pervert justice; neither shall you favour a poor man in his cause if it is not just.

If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again.

If you see the donkey of him who hates you, fallen down under his burden, don't leave him. Help him with it.

Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.

Do not put a stumbling block before the blind

Keep far from a false charge, and don't harm the innocent and righteous: for I will not justify the wicked.

Take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials and perverts the words of the righteous.

Do not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, for once you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

For six years you shall sow your land, and shall gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the animal of the field shall eat. In like manner you shall deal with your vineyard and with your olive grove.

Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and your servant, and the stranger may be refreshed.

This small fraction of ethical injunctions as do others need the Rabbinic tradition to help understand how to implement commandments such as "and you shall love your neighbor as yourself"  and indeed, the Rabbis formulated ethical principles that govern behavior such as: (1) BiTzelem Elokim (in the image of G-d), (2) having a just ephah and hin, (3) Tikkun Olam, etc. Becoming a grateful person who appreciates all of G-d's gifts which we all enjoy involves working on oneself to become modest, never getting angry, never humiliating others, not being envious or covetous, not taking revenge or holding a grudge, not speaking loshohn ha-rah, being truthful, sanctifying G-d's name (Kiddush ha-shem), not worshipping idols, Talmud torah, pidyon shvuyim (redeeming captives), offering hospitality, fearing and loving Hashem. Halakhah allows us to strive for moral integrity, by being true and courageous to moral convictions, practicing: temperance (moderation), magnimity, proper ambition, honesty, intellectuality, pleasantness and affableness of character, modesty, discipline, kindness, compassion, and being, to sum up in a Yiddish phrase, "a mentsch."

For an introduction to Jewish ethics see: Abstract, AJL Proceedings 2011.

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