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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3

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GENESIS — 1:26 image

Exactly which feature of the human being reflects this divine image is a matter of debate within the tradition. The Torah itself seems to tie it to humanity’s ability to make moral judgments—that is, to distinguish good from bad and right from wrong, to behave accordingly, and to judge one’s own actions and those of others on the basis of this moral knowledge. [this and following verse; also see Genesis 5:1] Another human faculty connected by the Torah and by the later tradition to divinity is the ability to speak. Genesis 2:18-24; Numbers 12:1-16; Deuteronomy 22:13-19 Maimonides claims that the divine image resides in our capacity to think, especially discursively.  Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, part 1, chap. 1. Locating the divine image within us may also be the Torah’s way of acknowledging that we can love, just as G-d does, Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, 33-34 or that we are at least partially spiritual and thus share G-d’s spiritual nature.  Not only does this doctrine describe aspects of our nature but it also prescribes behavior founded on moral imperatives.  Specifically, because human beings are created in G-d’s image, we affront G-d when we insult another person. Genesis Rabbah 24:7 More broadly, we must treat people with respect, recognizing each individual’s uniqueness and divine worth, because all human beings embody the image of G-d. M. Sanhedrin 4:5 Perhaps the most graphic articulation of this doctrine is the traditional blessing: “Praised are you, Lord our G-d, meshaneh ha-briyyot, who makes different creatures,” or “who created us with differences.” Precisely when we might recoil from a deformed or incapacitated person, or thank G-d for not making us like that, the tradition instead bids us to embrace the divine image in such people—Indeed, to bless G-d for creating some of us so.  Moreover, the Torah demands that the body of a person who was executed for a capital crime be removed from the place of hanging by morning out of respect for the divine image inherent in even such a human being. Deuteronomy 21:22-23  Ultimately, disrespect of others amounts to disrespect of G-d: “Rabbi Akiva said: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ Leviticus 19:18 [implies that] you should not say that inasmuch as I am despised, let my fellow-man be despised with me, inasmuch as I am cursed, let my fellow-man be cursed with me. Rabbi Tanchuma said: ‘If you act in this manner, know Who it is you despise, for “in the image of G-d made He man” Genesis 1:27. Genesis Rabbah 24:7 DORFFLOV 22
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GENESIS — 1:26 image

I want to suggest that, for Jewish ethicists, the sacredness of human life translates into several distinct but related sets of principles that, in turn, are exemplified in a variety of specific rules.  While the following analysis is sketchy, it should suffice to demonstrate some of the way in which a Jewish theology of creation shapes biomedical ethics. [This verse]. In the Genesis account only human beings are singled out as reflections of G-d’s own image. Human life is holy because it shares something of the essence of divinity. That human life is sacred means, in the first place, that it possesses intrinsic and infinite value.  Its value is absolute, not susceptible to quantification and not relative to the value of anything extrinsic to it.  Thus, Jewish scholars traditionally have rejected any argument evaluating human life in terms of its “quality,” for this implies that its value is relative to some other good, such as health or happiness or consciousness.  Accordingly, rabbinic authorities have not sanctioned measures that shorten one’s life simply because ordinary physical or mental capacities have been compromised.  Similarly, they have not supported the abortion of fetuses with known or suspected abnormalities, since low quality of life in no way diminishes its sacredness. The sanctity of life generates a second major principle of Jewish ethics, that the preservation of life is the highest moral imperative.  The rabbis were especially sensitive to those situations in which obedience to the law conflicted with the preservation of life.  Since the law, like life itself, comes from G-d a moral conflict between them is especially profound.  But the tradition resolves all such conflicts in favor of the preservation of life.  Thus, to treat a critically ill person one can violate the laws of the Sabbath, prepare non-Kosher food, and so on.  [B. Shabbat 16:17; principle of pikuah nefesh]  Moreover, if there is any doubt whatsoever as to the condition of the patient, we err on the side of preserving life.  By the same token, Jewish law proscribes individuals from engaging in life-threatening activities, unless of course they do so in the interest of saving another life.  Thus, experimental procedures with significant (or unknown) risks are never mandatory and often not recommended, except in cases where performing the procedure is necessary for saving a life.  The view that human life is sacred implies a third central principle, that all lives are equal.  Because Jewish tradition offers no criteria for valuing one life more highly than another, issues of triage are especially problematic.  As one handbook of Jewish medical ethics puts it, “This is the foundation for the practice of triage, and is fundamentally incompatible with Jewish values and Jewish law. Since, in Judaism, all human life is equally sacred including each moment of an individual’s life…no selection is justifiable among those with the need for, and the possibility, however slim, of cure.  [Citing Feldman and Rosner, Compendium on Medical Ethics, 105]. It seems that only a random or arbitrary system of allocating scarce medical resources (among patients who need the resource equally) is compatible with the sanctity of life, as Jewish scholars have understood it.  The sanctity of human life gives rise to a fourth important tenet of Jewish medical ethics, that our lives are not really our own.  Human life is not even a gift so much as a loan, which we possess conditionally and ultimately must return to its source.  Thus, Jewish ethics allows little room for notions of personal autonomy that figure so prominently in Kantian ethics.  The implications of this perspective are especially evident in discussions of abortion.  Rabbinic authorities over the centuries have tended to permit abortion in cases where the mother’s life or health (including possibly her psychological health) is endangered.  In this sense, and only in this sense, the tradition does recognize the distinctions between lives – the actual life of the mother clearly takes precedence over the potential life of the fetus.  But the notion that a mother could terminate a pregnancy for any reason on the grounds that she has a right to control what happens to her own body is entirely foreign to Jewish tradition.  The fetus, though not regarded as fully a “person,” is still alive, and insofar as all human life is sacred, it can be terminated only for the most compelling reason, in order to preserve other lives.  This same principle emerges in Jewish discussions of suicide.  One does not have a right to take one’s own life, even under the most debilitating circumstances.  Similarly, we do not control the timing or the circumstances of our death.  This undergirds the leniency among many traditional authorities with respect to treatment of the dying.  When a person is in a moribund state, we are not required to prolong the moment of death.  The principle of “sit and do nothing” is consistent with the view that G-d controls the ultimate disposition of our lives.  When death is imminent, it is a sign of humble resignation before G-d’s will to refrain from action.  PASTIMP 108-10
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GENESIS — 1:26 image

It is proper for man to imitate his Creator, resembling Him in both likeness and image [this verse] according to the secret of the Supernal Form [i.e., of the Supernal Man].  Because the chief Supernal image and likeness is in deeds, [The Kabbalists think of the Sephiroth as mainly attributes, ways in which the divine Providence manifests itself.] a human resemblance merely in bodily appearance and not in deeds debases the Form.  Of the man who resembles the Form in body alone it is said: ‘A handsome form whose deeds are ugly.’  For what value can there be in man’s resemblance to the Supernal Form in bodily limbs if his deeds have no resemblance to those of his Creator? Consequently, it is proper for man to imitate the acts of the Supernal Crown, which are the thirteen highest attributes of mercy hinted at in the verses [Micah 7:18-20]. Hence it is proper that these thirteen attributes … be found in man.  CORDOVERO 46
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GENESIS — 1:26 image

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch clarifies the [Walk in His Ways] concept as an all-inclusive commandment which teaches the Torah Jew to emulate the bountiful love and kindness of the Creator. “To no other being but man did G-d give the eyes to discern Him and to recognize Him. But the purpose of this recognition should be to imitate Him in action, for G-d created you in His image. [this verse]. And just as the one aspect of G-d which you can behold everywhere and always is His activity, and this activity is nothing but love – the birth of creation is love, the existence of every creature is love, the maintenance of the world is love, its ordering and advancement is love, love for the whole, for every individual for you – so let the goal of your striving after G-d be love, love in deed and action with every power that is in you, in every moment of your existence, in order that you may become a blessing in your own circle, in whatever way and whatever place you can. And let this holy model [i.e. of G-d’s attributes] be always and everywhere before you … This all-present, all-loving G-d calls upon you in His love to follow in His steps according to the measure of your powers, to be His image in the sphere of your activities. Therefore look to Him and Him alone at every moment, and make yourself His image in love.”  And if we find it difficult to fathom the pattern of Divine mercy and compassion as reflected within the works of creation, we turn to the Torah to provide us with a deeper insight into the infinite kindness and compassion of the Eternal.  Thus, the entire universe – as seen through the eyes of Torah – becomes our planbook in our quest for improving ourselves and perfecting our ethical and moral pattern of behavior. The words of Tanach, too – the Scriptures – take on new meaning, as they become our eyes and ears, providing us with a more perceptive appreciation of the attributes of G-d. FENDEL 9-10
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GENESIS — 1:26 image

Scripture describes the human being as created in the image of G-d [this verse], but also as “dust” (see, e.g. Genesis 3:9, Genesis 18:27; Job 42:6; Psalms 103:14).  One the one hand, “each person is obliged to say: The world was created for my sake” Sanhedrin 37a, and, on the other hand, “if a person becomes too proud, he should be reminded that the gnats preceded him in the order of creation” Sanhedrin 38a.  The human being is G-d’s partner in the work of creation Shabbat 10a, as well as a creature derived from a fetid drop of semen who ends up in a place of worms and maggots. Pirkei Avot 3:1. Human beings share qualities both with the angels and animals. Haggai 16a; Genesis Rabbah 8:11, 14:3.  The Jewish view of human nature hovers between such sets of polar opposites: dust and divinity, animal and angel, creature and creator. SHER20C 151
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GENESIS — 1:26 image

The defining principles that govern all interpersonal interactions, especially sexual ones, include tzeniu’t (modesty), kedushah (holiness), derekh Eretz (decency), kevod ha-beriyot (dignity), tzelem Elohim (the image of G-d in which all humans are created), hesed (kindness), and ahavat re’im (neighborly love).  These values are especially important in matters of love and sex.  True love enhances the other’s self-esteem, dignity and feeling of self-worth, and sex is a significant expression of that love.  In fact, these values complete the physical pleasures and satisfaction enjoyed through sexual intimacy, not only elevating them, but making them enduring.  Our rabbis explained that the dignity of kevot ha-beriyot is due to everyone because of the tzelem Elohim (image of G-d) in which each of us was created [this verse].  By grounding human dignity in Divine dignity, any slight or act of disrespect to a human being becomes an affront to G-d.  By respecting others, our relationship with them becomes holy.   DORSEX 134-5
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GENESIS — 1:26 image

The Talmudic rabbis taught that G-d not only reveals the Torah, but that G-d also observes the commandments: “A human king issues a decree. The king may then choose to obey it; or the king may choose to have only others obey it.  Not so the Holy One. When G-d issues a decree, G-d is the first to obey it. As it is stated, ‘And they shall observe my observances… I am the Lord’ Leviticus 22:9. I [G-d] am the first to obey the commandments of the Torah” Palestinian Talmud, Yebamot, chap 4. Sec 12. Yet, when creating human beings, G-d did not obey the commandments of the Torah.  Though Scripture forbids making an image of G-d, when G-d created human being, G-d made an image of G-d.  Of all of G-d’s creatures, only the human creature is described by Scripture as having been created “in the image and likeness of G-d” [this verse; see also Genesis 5:1, 9:6]  As Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said, “A procession of angels pass before a human being wherever he or she goes, proclaiming – Make way for the image of G-d” Deuteronomy Rabbah, chap 4, sec 4; see also Midrash Tehillim, chap 17, sec. 8, 66a.  Rabbi Akiva taught that not only have human beings been created in the divine image but that divine grace allows them to become aware of it: “Beloved are human beings for they were created in the [divine] image. Even more beloved are they, because they can be aware of having been created in the [divine] image. As it is written, ‘For in the image of G-d, G-d made human beings’ Genesis 9:6Palestinian Talmud, chap 3, sec 14.  Jewish ethics focuses upon how human beings can live out their lives in the awareness of their having been created in the image and likeness of G-d. SHER20C 1
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GENESIS — 1:26 image

Throughout classical Jewish literature, there is a variety of interpretations of the term “image of G-d” that employs ontological analogies. For example, Maimonides considers G-d to be an essentially intellectual being.  For him, the attribute that human beings share with G-d is the intellect, the rational faculty.  As Maimonides states in the opening chapter of his philosophical magnum opus, The Guide of the Perplexed, (bk. 1, chap 2), “It is on account of this intellectual apprehension that is said of man, ‘In the image of G-d, G-d created human beings'” [this verse]. Maimonides’ interpretation became commonplace in subsequent Jewish philosophical literature. [See, e.g., Altmann 1968, 254] For Maimonides, ethical behavior requires the employment of the intellect.  A function of the intellect is making distinction, and ethical behavior presumes the ability to make distinctions between truth and falsehood, good and bad actions. (bk 1. Chap 2, 24-25).  SHER20C 3
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