Morality in Judaism

by Jim Booth
The Torah, the holy text of Judaism, establishes the tenets of morality for Jews.

The Torah, the holy text of Judaism, establishes the tenets of morality for Jews.

Ethics and morality play a central role in Judaism. According to the 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.

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 mirror similar tenets in faiths such as Hinduism and Buddhism as well.

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.

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 descendents of Adam, made in God's own image. It emphasizes reciprocity and fairness toward one another and establishes compassion as a governing principle for Jews.

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 find it as necessary a part of their faith. The essence of halakhah is the mitzvot, the 613 commandments God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

About the Author

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).'

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