Morality in Judaism

Morality in Judaism

Ethics and morality play a central role in Judaism. According to the written Torah, the main Jewish holy text, Jews made a covenant with God that establishes them as God’s chosen people. God requires Jews to uphold this covenant by adhering to the moral guidelines such as the Ten Commandments found in the Torah. A holy Rabbinical text like the Talmud reflects and analyzes the written Torah to help people in the Jewish faith practice and honor the tenets of their faith.

1 The Ten Commandments

Though the Torah contains around 613 commandments, or mitzvot, the Ten Commandments frame the overall ethical outlook Jews must adhere to. The commandments prohibit murder, adultery, and theft among others. These moral prescriptions impact not only Judaism, but Christianity and Islam, the other two Abrahamic traditions. In fact, much of the Ten Commandments also mirror similar tenets in faiths such as Hinduism, Christianity and Buddhism.

2 An Eye For An Eye

Exodus, one of the five books that comprise the Torah, allows for retribution. It states, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" (Exodus 21:24). However, according to religious scholar, Huston Smith, this mandate does not encourage vengeance, rather, it mitigates it. An eye for an eye disallows Jews from seeking more than equal recompense for harm or loss. The Torah recognizes that individuals require justice when wronged, but disallows any action beyond what is considered fair. The Talmud specifies monetary compensation for wrongs, not physical retribution.

3 The Golden Rule

The golden rule in Judaism explicitly states, "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:18). Scholars such as Jacob Neusner consider the golden rule to fully express the meaning and intent of the Torah. This ethical notion in Judaism springs from the belief that all humans are descendants of Adam, made in God's own image. The faith tenet emphasizes reciprocity and fairness toward one another and establishes compassion as a governing principle for Jews.

4 Halakhah

Halakhah is religious law in Judaism. It provides normative rules for everyday living such as eating, praying, dressing, observing the Sabbath and conducting funeral rites. Halakhah draws from various Jewish sources including the Torah, custom and the Talmud -- the collection of rabbinical teachings in Judaism -- to establish its guidelines. Some Jews strictly observe Halakhah while others do not follow it as a part of their faith. The essence of halakhah is the mitzvot, the 613 commandments God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Part of Halakhah includes “keeping kosher”. Kosher kitchens with separate dishes, utensils and preparation methods for dairy and meat are used by Orthodox Jews who choose strict adherence to the laws.

Jim Booth is a writer living in Los Angeles. He is currently pursuing graduate work in Philosophy and Religion. The study of faith, in all its various guises, has been a paramount pursuit for him. He has published work in 'The Seattle Review (2005),' 'Rattle (2003),' and 'Zouch (2011).'