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

Jerusalem

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GENESIS — 1:27 image

Ethics is defined as the science of proper human behavior. This definition presupposes a clear perception of propriety. That is a false assumption. There is no single standard of ethics by which the rectitude of human conduct can be measured. What we have come to label as civilized deportment reflects the moral values of a particular civilization in a particular era. All of man’s values derive from religion and mores and are conditioned by economic necessities and geographic exigencies. Perfection is an abstract term subject to development and change. This precludes the establishment of a universal uniform standard of ethics.  Sociologists speak of a Judeo-Christian civilization. To the extent that major religions have accepted the Decalogue as the foundation of morality there is a significant consensus among them. However, divergent developments have created many differences which are not insignificant. It is therefore proper to speak of Jewish ethics, Christian ethics, Islamic ethics, and other sets of ethics. They are all designed to serve the same purpose.  Jewish ethics are primarily based on the Bible, the whole range of rabbinic literature, and ancient traditions. Their structure and evolvement were predetermined by a single sentence in Genesis: “And G-d created man in his image” [this verse]. The psalmist restated it as follows: “Thou hast made him but little lower than G-d and hast crowned him with glory and honor” Ps. 8:6. The attribution of g-dliness to earthly man had a dual effect. It heightened the degree of concern and respect that man must manifest in relations with his fellowman. It also imposed on man the duty to express his g-dliness through an emulation of the divine qualities attributed to G-d in the Scriptures. The biblical assertion that G-d created man in his image marked a radical departure from pagan theology, which created its deities in the image of Man. Like man, they warred, lusted, and committed murder. Paganism urged man to propitiate his deities but not to emulate them.  BLOCH 3-4
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GENESIS — 1:27 image

Even a sinner who is a Jewish leader must be accorded the minimum level of human dignity and may not be shunned by the community.  Every human being retains a part of G-d inside of him or her and thus must be accorded basic human dignity and honor.  However, when it comes to Jewish leaders, there is one caveat.  The Code of Jewish Law states that if a leader or Rabbi retains his evil ways, then this person must be shunned by the Jewish community, even though his talents may be desperately needed by the community. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 246:8 Thus, Judaism does not separate between one’s moral values and actions, and the ability to perform one’s duties admirably.  Until a person has admitted his sin and has returned to the proper path, the community may and should ignore the person.  But once this change has occurred, this leader must be accorded the minimum honor and dignity, and as with any sinner, may not be reminded of his checkered past.  Baba Metzia 58b   AMJV 308
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GENESIS — 1:27 image

Even prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments, the Bible underscores the paramount significance of the ethical.  Thus the Torah’s opening chapter teaches that human beings are created “in the image of G-d.”  In Jewish thought “in G-d’s image” is understood as meaning that human beings are like G-d, and unlike all other living creatures, in that they know good from evil (see, for example, Genesis 3:5, 22).  It is this ability that marks human beings as unique and in G-d’s image.  TELVOL 1:13
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GENESIS — 1:27 Image

Exactly which feature of the Divine being reflects this divine image is a matter of debate within the tradition. The Torah 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. Genesis 1:26-27; 3:1-7, 22-24.  Another human faculty connected to divinity by the Torah and by the later tradition 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. Guide for the Perplexed, part I, ch. 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; Leviticus 19:18, 33-34; note that the traditional prayer book juxtaposes the paragraph just before the Shema, which speaks of G-d’s love for us, with the first paragraph of the Shema, which commands us to love G-d or that we are at least partially spiritual and thus share G-d’s spiritual nature. [Consider the prayer in the traditional, early morning weekday service, Elohai, neshamah she-notata bi, “My G-d, the soul (or life-breath) that you have imparted to me is pure. You created it, You formed it, You breathed it into me; You guard it within me …” Harlow, Siddur Sim Shalom, p. 11. Similarly, the Rabbis describe the human being as part divine and part animal, the latter consisting of the material aspects of the human being and the former consisting of that which we share with G-d; See Sifrei Deuteronomy, par. 306; 132a. Or consider this rabbinic statement in Genesis Rabbah 8:11: “In four respects man resembles the creatures above, and in four respects the creatures below. Like the animals he eats and drinks, propagates his species, relieves himself, and dies. Like the ministering angels he stands erect, speaks, possesses intellect, and sees [in front of him and not on the side like an animal].”  In the biblical account, humanity was not only created in the divine image; was also created, initially, in the form of one human being: Adam. In an oft-quoted passage in the Mishnah, the Rabbis spell out several implications of G-d’s first creating a single human being. Two of those ramifications add further to the worth of each individual.  First, killing one person is also killing all of his or her potential descendants—indeed “an entire world.” Conversely, someone who saves an individual “saves an entire world.” That makes murder of any one individual all the more serious and saving a human life all the more praiseworthy.  It also ascribes value to each of us as the possible progenitor of future generations.  Second, when people use a mold to create coins, the image on each coin in exactly the same. G-d, however, made each human being unique.  In accordance with the laws of supply and demand, a one-of-a-kind thing demands a far higher price than something that is plentiful on the market.  Think, for example, of the comparative value of a Picasso original, or each of a few hundred prints of that work, and finally, of a photograph of that work: the more unique the produce, the greater its value. The fact that each of us is unique imparts to each of us immense value.  Thinking that the world was created for your sake (as this Mishnah in Sanhedrin [4:5] suggests) can, of course, produce more than a little arrogance. The following lovely Hasidic saying introduces an appropriate balance: “A person should always carry two pieces of paper in his/her pockets. On one should be written, “For me the world was created,’ and on the other, “I am but dust and ashes” [quoting Genesis 18:27].”  Rabbi Bunam, cited by Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim (New York: Schocken, 1948), vol. II, pp. 249-250 We must have humility before G-d and before other people, then, while still appreciating our own immense worth and that of every other human being by virtue of our creation in the image of G-d. DORFFWITO 31
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GENESIS — 1:27 image

For Maimonides (following Aristotle), the intellect is the quality that makes one truly human.  The intellect is the human feature that we share with the divine.  As Maimonides wrote, “It is on account of this intellectual apprehension that it is said of man [this verse].  Guide of the Perplexed, Pines, Book I, ch. 1, p. 22. Complete love of G-d, attained by means of intellectual self-development, represents the acme of human existence according to Maimonides.  … For Maimonides, intellectual apprehension of G-d is the epitome of love of G-d.  The greater the apprehension, the more intense the love.  HTBAJ 34
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GENESIS — 1:27 image

Foundational Jewish values… shape Jewish understandings regarding the distribution of health care. Among these, the Book of Genesis (1:27) teaches that G-d created humans in G-d’s image, betzelem Elohim. The ancient Rabbis and later Jews have treasured this verse as expressing the intrinsic value and dignity of each human being. … The Bible and later Judaism understand this fundamental, divine value of each person and related values to require support to meet the needs of the poor. The Torah mandates practices in the context of a farming community. The corners of one’s fields, gleanings, and forgotten produce are to be left for the poor to take, in addition to a tithe for support of the needy. [Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 14:28-29, Deuteronomy 26:12]. Rabbinic Judaism developed the Hebrew Bible’s value of justice (tzedek) and institutions for support of the needy into tzedakah. That which is given to the poor never simply belonged to the giver, but was always G-d’s, and was owed to the needy as their right. [See citations at 348, ft. 4]. OXFORD 345-6
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GENESIS — 1:27 image

In all encounters with other people, remember that you are dealing with a being who was created in the image of G-d. Rabbi Akiva said, “The verse, ‘Love your fellow man as yourself’ Leviticus 19:18 is a great principle of the Torah.” Ben Azai said, “The verse, ‘When G-d created man He created him in His image’ Genesis 5:1 is an even greater principle.” (Jerusalem Talmud Nedorim 9:4).  Love of one’s fellow man which is not motivated and nourished by the realization that man was created in G-d’s image, is doomed to failure.  Without this realization, why should a person feel obligated to love his fellow man? Man in the universe is so miniscule, he can be considered of minor importance. What, after all, is man, but one of several billion inhabitants on a planet which is only a speck of matter in a vastness of space that extends for billions of light-years.  The individual is lost in immensity beyond imagination.  And man himself is merely a mass of bones, nerves, muscles and blood that happens to function in an orderly fashion.  Is he worthy of more consideration than an animal or insect? But when we realize that man alone is fashioned in the image of the Creator of heaven and earth, he is suddenly transformed from an inconsequential and insignificant being into one that is without parallel.  Although seemingly miniscule, he is the pinnacle of creation.  This is what Ben Azai meant when he said that man’s being created in the image of G-d is an even greater principle than “love your fellow man.”  Man was created in G-d’s image and must be respected accordingly.  PLYN 19-20.
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GENESIS — 1:27 image

In today’s society, where people are often disconnected from their community, a discussion of “victimless crimes” may have traction.  Judaism’s approach to criminal justice is based on its more communitarian understanding of who we are.  The designation of certain acts as violating society’s ethics makes the community, not just an individual, one of the victims of every crime.  By their very nature, actions designated as crimes harm the moral fabric of society.  Moreover, in Judaism people do not have the right to consent to harm.  Given that each person is made in the image of G-d [this verse] and belongs to G-d [Deuteronomy 10:14, Psalms 24:1], we have a fiduciary duty to maintain our own life and health as well as that of others.  Therefore the Mishnah prohibits self-injury [M. Baba Kamma 8:6], and modern rabbinic rulings include in that category repeated drunkenness, illegal drug use, mutilation, and even unsafe sexual activity [See citations at 484 ft. 38].  OXFORD 478
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GENESIS — 1:27 image

Jewish ethicists searching for universal norms within Jewish tradition will be drawn first to that body of norms specifically designated as binding upon all people.  Known as the “Noahide laws” (since they apply to all descendants of Noah) … [t]he standard list … includes prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, bloodshed, sexual sins, theft, eating from a live animal, and the requirement to establish law courts.  … all Jewish authorities agree that these Noahide laws are the moral norms G-d expects all human beings to observe. … Among these laws one stands out as pertinent to issues of medical ethics, namely the prohibition against bloodshed. The rationale for this prohibition is twofold. First, it represents a fundamental requirement for a stable society.  Natural tendencies toward hostility and violence must be curbed to permit the flourishing of human relationships and social institutions.  Second, the prohibition against murder follows from the view that all human beings are created in G-d’s image [this verse].  As [Genesis Rabbah 34:14] put[s] it, “whoever sheds blood it is as if he diminished the Divine likeness because…”in the image of G-d he made man.’ PASTIMP 210-11
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