Monday, May 18, 2009

The Morals of Judaism

In Judaism there are several laws that seem to discriminate against non-Jews. Unfortunately, these laws are sometimes abused by people to undermine Jew-Gentile relations. This is a corruption of the true ethics and morals of Judaism. Judaism is a religion of friendly relations and non-discrimination even though this may appear not to be the case in some instances. True, there are some occurrences in Jewish literature that appear to be discriminatory where it seems like the life of a Jew or the possessions of a Jew seem more important than those of a Gentile. However, I do not believe that the true meaning of these ideas are meant in this manner. In order to divulge the true meaning of the sages throughout the generations I think a view of man through the Bible is in order.

I think the reason for the apparent discrimination of the Gentile can be divulged through an excerpt from the book The Biblical View of Man. In it Rabbi Dr. Leo Adler discusses how the Bible views a man that does not believe in G-D. He says,

"On the other hand, Godlessness and lack of fear of G-D, in the biblical conception of man, indicate human depravity: ;The benighted man thinks There is no G-D; man's deeds are corrupt and loathsome, no one does good' (Psalm 14:1). Lack of fear of G-D is so clearly considered moral corruption that Abraham can justify passing off his wife as his sister with the claim that 'I thought surely there is no fear of G-D in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife' (Genesis 20:11)."

The Gentile that is discriminated against is referred to as a man that does not have a fear of G-D. This idea was referring to an era of human civilization where there was depravity and debauchery that was being done on a daily basis. The only force in the world, in this era, that could stem human depravity was a belief in G-D. Without this essential belief, man would act immorally. There were no exceptions as quoted from Abraham's experience, man without a fear of G-D was immoral and without limits. Otherwise, why would Abraham fear for his life, wouldn't moral people allow one to be married to a beautiful woman and not have to fear for his life? Thus, in the Bible, we see that a man without a fear of G-D is immoral and without constraint. This is the purpose of the Bible, to provide moral limits for man.

Therefore, we can see that in biblical times man without a belief in G-D is immoral and dangerous. Abraham had to fear for his life when he went to a city populated with immoral people. The Bible tells us that this situation justified his lie and turned an otherwise immoral act, lying, into a necessity for life. Thus, we see the basis for protecting people against immoral people even if it means acting in a, seemingly, immoral way.

This idea can be seen in the philosophy of Kant from this website where it discusses the repercussions of Kant's Categorical Imperative. It says,

"The second consequence follows from Kant's basic moral rule, the categorical imperative: 'Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.' In other words, you can only give yourself permission to a behavior ('act according to that maxim') which you simultaneously give everyone else the same permission to do (you 'will that it would become a universal law'). This means that if I steal from you, I give permission to everyone to steal from me."

In a sense, this is the moral code that the Bible is following. When a person acts immorally, he or she allows all those to act immorally towards them. This can be seen in the case of Abraham. The Bible seems to tell us that there are two types of people in its time, those who believe in G-D, the moral people, and those who do not believe in G-D, the immoral people. This does not speak of our current generation, but rather of the society of ancient times.

This idea is not just Biblical in nature, but it evolves into a Rabbinic principle as well. This can be found in a Tosephta, a Tannaic work, in Shevuot 3:6. It says,

"Rabbi Reuben met a philosopher in Tiberias, who asked him: 'Who makes himself hateful in the world?' Rabbi Reuben replied: 'He who denies his Creator.' 'But how does that make him hateful to men?' wondered the philosopher. Rabbi Reuben replied: 'Honor thy father and mother; though shalt not murder; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness. No man can break these laws without first denying G-D, no man can commit one of these cardinal sins without first ignoring Him Who gave these commands!'"

This Tosephta is explained by Rabbi Dr Leo Adler in the following manner. He says,

"He who sins against morality and ethics can do it only by denying G-D. Rabbi Reuben built his thesis upon a verse from Leviticus (5:21): 'When a person sins and commits a trespass against the Lord by dealing deceitfully with his fellow, robbing him or oppressing him...' Here too, disloyalty to G-D is assumed to be the precondition for moral failure vis a vis man: whoever sins against men did so after first breaking faith with G-D. For the Bible, fear of G-D is the foundation of man's being, not a separate res religiosa (as it was considered by the philosopher who argued with Rabbi Reuben)."

It seems like from this Tosephta that the philosopher would be considered a moral person, although he was curious of the basis of the morality of the Bible. However, even at this point in history, in the rabbinic literature, man was still moral based on his belief in G-D. Without this belief man had no reason to act appropriately and compassionately. This led Jews to be persecuted as well as other minorities. However, at this point in history there was persecution from the pagan Romans and Zoroastrians against the monotheistic religions. This violated basic morals and thus allowed those being persecuted to act according to how Kant explained earlier in this post.

Throughout Jewish history we have seen that Jews have been oppressed and mistreated. During the years of Christian domination the Jews were constantly subjected to forced baptism, death or expulsion. These acts were clearly immoral. Under Islam, Jews were constantly demeaned and treated as second class citizens. Check out the sources listed in Wikipedia. Regarding the Islamic persecutions they mention a few,

"Islam and Judaism have a complex relationship. Traditionally Jews and Christians living in Muslim lands, known as dhimmis, were allowed to practice their religions and to administer their internal affairs, but subject to certain conditions.[205] They had to pay the jizya (a per capita tax imposed on free adult non-Muslim males) to the Islamic state.[205] Dhimmis had an inferior status under Islamic rule. They had several social and legal disabilities such as prohibitions against bearing arms or giving testimony in courts in cases involving Muslims.[206] Many of the disabilities were highly symbolic. The one described by Bernard Lewis as "most degrading"[207] was the requirement of distinctive clothing, not found in the Qur'an or hadith but invented in early medieval Baghdad; its enforcement was highly erratic.[207] On the other hand, Jews rarely faced martyrdom or exile, or forced compulsion to change their religion, and they were mostly free in their choice of residence and profession.[208] Notable exceptions include the massacre of Jews and/or forcible conversion of some Jews by the rulers of the Almohad dynasty in Al-Andalus in the 12th century,[209] as well as in Islamic Persia,[210] and the forced confinement of Morrocan Jews to walled quarters known as mellahs beginning from the 15th century and especially in the early 19th century.[211]"

This would reveal that even under Muslim rule the Jews were discriminated against and so were other non-Muslims. Also, in Christian lands the Jews and Muslims were discriminated against. Thus, repeating Kant's morals, the Jews would have every right not to respect Muslim or Christian rights even though they do believe in G-D.

Just to recap everything that we have stated until now. Originally, the Bible tells us that people that did not believe in G-D acted immorally because they had no reason to act morally. Therefore, when the Bible discusses people that do not believe in G-D and how a person can act towards them, it is referring to an immoral person that acts with depravity and debauchery. Also, even a believer in G-D can act immorally, that has been seen in the 2000 years of Jewish exile culminating with the holocaust executed by Hitler in Germany.

What we see from all of this is that the Jewish commentators that discuss mistreating Gentiles are referring to the Gentiles that mistreat Jews or anyone else. According to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant this is an entirely moral and appropriate reaction. However, nowadays I do not think that these laws would apply in the same way. As we have disclosed, the person of the Bible that does not believe in G-D is a person that is immoral. The Bible does not disclose its feelings about a person that denies G-D's existence but is still moral and demands equality for all people. In my opinion, it seems like from the sources that I have quoted, that a person that does not believe in G-D, but is moral, should be treated morally and does not fall under the umbrella of an immoral idolater.

Therefore, my conclusion is that if a group of people condones immoral behavior towards another group, it would appear to be that the Bible and Rabbinic literature would say like Kant, that one treats them as they treat others. However, if a person is moral, regardless of whether he or she believes in G-D, they are to be treated morally and correctly, with love and compassion. The Rabbinic commentaries do not discuss mistreating a Gentile in general, but rather a Gentile that mistreats and oppresses Jews or other people in general. These people do not have to be treated morally since they treat others immorally. However, a Gentile that is moral must be treated with proper morals and a failure to do so would be considered a transgression against the Biblical commandments and Rabbinic tradition.

UPDATE:
Here is a link to Kant's ideas of morals spelled out in the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Also, here is another link to a different page with more of Kant's ideas on more subjects like politics in the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

ANOTHER UPDATE:

Here are the Rishonim that holds like what I am saying.

14 comments:

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

Hi E-man,

The first thing we should note that is that Judaism is, in many aspects, a nationality, with being Jewish equivalent to citizenship. Now, find me a country where non-citizens have equal rights to non-citizens. This would be my first point, the Judaism has laws which provide privileges and protections to its citizens that do not extend to non-citizens. In this regard, it is completely consistent with other nationalities.

The second issue is that of moral behaviour when interacting with non-Jews. Despite some mystical writings to the contrary, it is clear that when non-Jews behave in a moral fashion, as you clearly pointed out, we are obliged to treat them in a moral fashion as well. Unfortunately after 1800 years of surviving by our wits, too many of our less-changing brethren still look around and see "the evil goy" even in the absence of any evidence of his presence.

As with all things in life, there is a fine balance. We are obliged to be decent to other folks. We are obliged to NOT be suckers and take punishment for the sake of "turning the other cheek". That's not us.

With wisdom we can balance both properly.

E-Man said...

"The first thing we should note that is that Judaism is, in many aspects, a nationality, with being Jewish equivalent to citizenship. Now, find me a country where non-citizens have equal rights to non-citizens. This would be my first point, the Judaism has laws which provide privileges and protections to its citizens that do not extend to non-citizens. In this regard, it is completely consistent with other nationalities."

The United States and most other civilized countries nowadays treat non-citizens with the same rights as citizens. The same laws apply. Just because someone is a foreigner, the police can't lock him up indefinitely. Terrorists are a different situation, but in America all people have equal rights nowadays so I don't know what you are referring to with this paragraph.

My point was that, in truth, any moral Gentile will be treated with the same laws and rights as a Jew.

Truth be told, any immoral Jew loses his right to this claim. As stated countless numbers of times in the Gemorah that by people that become heretics, a Jew can not even drink from their wine.

Also, I agree with you, hopefully we can balance both PROPERLY.

Anonymous said...

I do not believe that the belief in the immoral nature of the goyim has spiritual origins. God is the reason and excuse for survival, and all of the rules are oriented towards survival-not so much morality. Part of this survival is creating economically advantageous practices. This cause the friction in Europe this century. A community prioritizing its own people in law, yet participating in the economic system of the greater public for its advantage. A parasitic quality. Debate?

Garnel Ironheart said...

> The United States and most other civilized countries nowadays treat non-citizens with the same rights as citizens.

Not at all. Non-citizens cannot vote. They cannot enter and leave the country as freely as those on an America passport. If they commit certain crimes they can be deprived of residency status and deported.

> A community prioritizing its own people in law, yet participating in the economic system of the greater public for its advantage

Wait, you talking about Jews in Williamsburg or Muslims in Europe?

Anonymous said...

I was specifically addressing Judaism in European history and the practice of usury.

E-Man said...

Garnel, I was talking about moral rights not technical rights. Like a non-citizen is clearly not a citizen. However, the Jewish laws seem to say that killing a Gentile or stealing from a Gentile carries no punishment. That has to be explained because it seems like a lack in morals for the Jewish code of Ethics. I wrote this post to explain why certain people carry no punishment for stealing or killing, not the technicalities of citizenship.

Anon-"I do not believe that the belief in the immoral nature of the goyim has spiritual origins."

True, the immoral nature of immoral goyim is stated in the bible like I pointed out. The Torah equates people that are G-Dless to immoral because back then if you didn't believe in G-D you had no reason to be moral, like we saw from Abaraham that non-G-D fearers were immoral. This does not mean the goyim in general are immoral, just the people that have no morals.

"God is the reason and excuse for survival, and all of the rules are oriented towards survival-not so much morality."

I think all the laws are geared towards morality and justice.

"Part of this survival is creating economically advantageous practices. This cause the friction in Europe this century. A community prioritizing its own people in law, yet participating in the economic system of the greater public for its advantage. A parasitic quality. Debate?"

As I said, I don't think the Torah is geared towards survival. However, there are people that abuse the misfortune of the people of the past in order to cheat people nowadays. This is not solely used by giant groups like religions. For example, if someone stole from John's father then John will feel inclined to be able to steal from that guy or his relatives. You see what I mean?

E-Man said...

"I was specifically addressing Judaism in European history and the practice of usury."

Oh this is a little ridiculous. Jews were prevented from making a living in any other way. They were persecuted and denied rights. They used usury to make a living since that was all that was granted to them to do. You wanted them to starve? That is not immoral, like I explained Kant in the post.

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem with this debate it that I do not believe Kant is espousing a just or admirable idea of morals. Someone lowering moral standards does not invite an equal response from any other human being. This excuses behavior that is inexcusable, and should not be held to a high standard. I hope we can find another way to reconcile the discriminatory laws.

E-Man said...

Well, do you believe in the death penalty or not? If not then why is it fair that a killer should be allowed to live? Why is that justice and why is that moral?

PLus, if you have never read Kant I would recommend it. Just disagreeing with him based on the small passage quoted would do him an injustice as well as yourself. You have to understand why he holds of the categorical imperative and how it is used. If is kinda like disagreeing with with an entire book while only reading one paragraph in the middle.

I mean if you want to debate with Kant you would not be alone, there are several philosophies out there. However, Kant is recognized as one of the greatest and most important to modern day morals.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the links. I do not believe in the death penalty, and I do not believe that morals need to be based on rationality.

E-Man said...

So what type of morals do you believe in? I mean, the only way for society to survive is to have common morals otherwise there would be anarchy and lawlessness, no? I believe the Kant model explains why morality is important and how it should be applied. In fact, I believe that Kant and the Bible (aka Judaism) have the same type of moral code. Therefore, according to how I understand it, G-D tells us this is moral and those morals are logical. So what do you believe?

Anonymous said...

the Ronald Regan?! oy. let me get back with a pared down answer.

Anonymous said...

http://www.crownheights.info/index.php?itemid=18767

E-Man said...

This link is pointless since I think this Rabbi is wrong. Just because one Jewish person says something that is wrong does not mean that is the way the Torah is supposed to be understood. Should I assume when Islamic leaders call for the death of civilizations that means the Koran is immoral.

Just because some people say bad things does not mean anything about the religion. Unless the entire religion says it, which in this case is not true. Hence, my post proving my ideas.