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GENESIS — 1:27 Image

GEN96 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 God 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 God’s love for us, with the first paragraph of the Shema, which commands us to love God or that we are at least partially spiritual and thus share God’s spiritual nature. [Consider the prayer in the traditional, early morning weekday service, Elohai, neshamah she-notata bi, “My God, 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 God; 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 God’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. God, 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 God 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 God. DORFFWITO 31


GENESIS — 1:27 image

GEN97 Because every human being was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27; 5:1), each person has an inherent dignity that must not be compromised by poverty. This requires that we aid the poor and that the process of collecting the principal on a loan after it has expired must be a dignified one. “When you make a loan of any sort to your neighbor, you must not enter his house to seize his pledge. You must remain outside, while the man to whom you made the loan brings the pledge out to you” Deuteronomy 24:10-11). The dignity of the poor person is also the governing value of the famous hierarchy of modes of charity that Maimonides created, culling together and organizing previous sources in his characteristically thoughtful, ordered, and sweeping way. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7-14)


GENESIS — 1:28 multiply

GEN155 As late as 1970, all American states except Nevada required that a divorcing couple justify their divorce as a response to adultery, insanity, imprisonment, or some other communally accepted reason for the couple to separate. In contrast, the covenantal nature of Jewish marriage had enabled couples to divorce simply for “irreconcilable differences” almost 2,000 years earlier.  Furthermore, the covenantal character of Jewish marriage enables the couple to create special conditions for their marriage, usually regarding the monetary arrangements between them, but sometimes also other matters. The only condition Jewish law forbids the couple to make with each other is to promise never to engage in conjugal relations, because the Rabbis construe sexual intercourse to be the defining characteristic that distinguishes marriage from other close relationships. After they have produced both the male and a female child to fulfill the Torah’s commandment, “Be fruitful and multiply” [this verse], they may mutually decide never to have sex again, but they may not put that decision into their marriage covenant. Nowadays, couples—especially those where one member brings much more money into the marriage than the other, or where there are children or property from a prior marriage—often create a prenuptial agreement that can be very specific about certain matters. This, however, is a relatively new phenomenon in Anglo-American law. Jewish law provided for such mutually agreed-upon conditions to a marriage from as early as the second century Mishnah as a manifestation of the covenantal character of Jewish marriage.  DORFFWITO 173-4


GENESIS — 5:1 likeness

GEN543 Spreading false, negative comments about people—that is, slandering them—clearly attacks their integrity and reputation, and that is, as Maimonides says, akin to murder. But even slurs—that is, true but negative comments about someone (lashon hara) – can be nothing less than lethal. Oliver Sipple is a woeful case of this. Sipple, an ex-Marine who saved the life of President Gerald Ford by deflecting the gun directed at him by Sarah Jane Moore, became an instant national hero. Despite his request to reporters, “Don’t publish anything about me,” many noted in their articles that Sipple was active in the gay community. This led to rejection by his parents, who had not known about that aspect of his life—even to the point of his father telling him that he was not welcome at the funeral of his mother—which, in turn, led Sipple to drink heavily and to die alone at age forty-seven. The reporter who first publicized Sipple’s homosexuality made this postmortem comment: “If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t.” Stephen Bates, If No News, Send Rumors: Anecdotes of American Journalism (New York: Henry Holt, 1989), pp. 143-43). Note that this case illustrates that what constitutes negative information depends largely on how the hearers will respond to it.  After all, being gay is not in and of itself a bad thing; for many people now, it is simply a fact of life, like the fact that some people have blue eyes and some have brown eyes. Sipple knew, though, that his parents would think ill of him if they found out that he was gay, and that was all that mattered. The prohibition of uttering negative speech applies all the more if everyone knows that what a person is saying is negative, for then there is a clear intention to defame a person.  We may not defame a person, for we are required to respect each and every person as being created in the image of God [this verse]. DORFFWITO 81-2


GENESIS — 9:5 your

GEN697 Jewish sources specify four duties with regard to physical and mental health: To adopt helpful practices and avoid harmful ones; to seek to heal those who are sick; to balance at the same time health care costs with those of other communal needs; and to visit the sick. Some of these apply to society as a whole, and others apply to individuals. The Duty to Maintain Health. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Before we address our duty to attend to the sick, it is important to note that we have a prior duty to try and avoid illness in the first place. In modern society, people think that they should engage in healthy habits for all kinds of pragmatic reasons. Proper diet, exercise, hygiene, and sleep are, for Americans in particular, ways to feel good, look good, be popular, avoid illness, get a good job, and live a long life. If follows that if I do not want any or all of these things, I have the perfect right to do whatever I want, as long as I do not directly injure others. I may not smoke indoors (at least in certain places) because we now know that secondhand smoke harms others, but I may smoke outdoors. I may not drink and drive, but as long as I do not get behind the wheel of a car, I may get drunk whenever I want. I may eat a half-gallon of ice cream every night of the week even if that will mean that I will weigh five hundred pounds in no time. It is my body, and I may do whatever I want with it. In stark contrast, the Jewish tradition makes it a duty to take care of our bodies, whether we want to or not. That is, in part, based on the Jewish presumption that God owns our bodies as well as everything else on earth: “Mark, the heavens to their uttermost reaches belong to the Lord your God, the earth and all that is on it!” Deuteronomy 10:14 As Owner of our bodies, God can and does insist that we take care of them. It is as if you were renting an apartment: you have fair use of the apartment during your lease, but you may not destroy or damage it, because it is not yours. Similarly, while suicide is not punished through depriving your heirs of your inheritance or in any other way in any of the fifty states in the United States (although assisted suicide is punishable everywhere but in Oregon), in Jewish law we do not have the right to commit suicide or assist in one. [this verse]. DORFFWITO 144-6


GENESIS — 14:19 creator

GEN826 Many contemporary Jews who are skittish about belief in God but strongly committed to helping others may be disturbed by the centrality of the belief in God in motivating Judaism’s commitment to others. Jewish sources provide a series of rationales for caring for others, and some of them, as we shall see, invoke God much less than others do. As a result, atheistic or agnostic Jews can find ample grounds in the Jewish tradition for the duty to help others, and even those who firmly believe in God will at times be motivated more by Judaism’s nontheistic reasons than by its theistic ones. At the same time, it would be misleading to pretend that the Jewish concept of (and belief in) God plays only a minor role in Judaism’s demand that we care for others. On the contrary, God is very much at the center of that Jewish duty. The ultimate theological foundation for Judaism’s commitment to help others is the belief that God created the world and therefore owns it. The Torah (Genesis 14:19, 22) describes God as “koneh shamayim va’aretz,” which in biblical Hebrew means both Creator of heaven and earth and also Owner of heaven and earth. (“Heaven and earth” is a merism, a biblical device that names the ends of the spectrum and means everything in between as well.) The Bible also spells out this idea in verses such as these: (Mark, the heavens to their uttermost reaches belong to the Lord your God, the earth and all that is on it!” (Deuteronomy 10:14) and “The land and all that is on it belongs to God, the earth and those who dwell on it”. (Psalms 24:1). DORFFWITO 23


GENESIS — 17:10 circumcised

GEN877 In our own day, some Jews have questioned the wisdom of circumcising boys. The relevant medical associations have wavered on its medical advisability, recommending it during the last several decades of the 20th Century and now saying that its medical risks and benefits are roughly equivalent, making circumcision medically optional. The Jewish tradition, however, never advocated circumcision for medical reasons. Its purpose was instead religious. First, by literally inscribing a sign of God’s covenant with Israel on the man’s flesh, circumcision symbolizes that this covenant between God and the People Israel is immutable.… Second, because circumcision changes the surface of a male generative organ, it symbolizes that this covenant is to last from generation to generation. The same symbolism was not needed in removing a girl’s clitoris, presumably because from ancient times to the modern era the man was the head of the house, and therefore making men part of the covenant throughout all generations immediately made all the female members of their families part of the covenant as well. Third, circumcision has implications for Tikkun Olam as well. In graphically tying Jews to the covenant, circumcision symbolizes Jews’ commitment to Judaism’s moral duties at least as much as to its rites. These include, of course, the duties discussed in this in previous chapters regarding speech, the poor, captives, the sick, and one’s parents and children. In light of all these religious meanings of circumcision, meanings that go to the heart of Jewish identity and continuity, it is not surprising that the Rabbis determined that if an infant boy is healthy, his circumcision must take place on the eighth day, as the Torah commands, even if that means making some exceptions to the Sabbath or High Holy Day rules to enable that to happen. Aside from saving a person’s life or health, circumcision is the only commandment that supersedes the Sabbath in this way. DORFFWITO 210-1


GENESIS — 18:25 justly

GEN1037 The Bible takes the position that morality is independent of God, because it allows for moral critiques of God’s actions. Thus, in defending innocent people in Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham stirringly proclaims [this verse]. That argument apparently works, for it convinces God to agree to save the cities if ten righteous people can be found in them. Similarly, Job readily admits God’s power, but he indignantly questions God’s justice. (Job 9:35).  Neither of these passages would make sense unless one presumes that morality exists independent of God so that God can be morally called to account. Furthermore, descriptions of God with which this section began and elsewhere would be tautologies --that is, they would be saying simply that good is good -- unless God and morality occupy separate realms. The fact that religion and morality are logically independent makes the tradition's assertion that God is morally good all the more powerful, for God then could possibly be morally bad or simply indifferent to moral claims but instead chooses to be morally good and this serves as a paradigm for our own moral struggles. Furthermore, God demands moral goodness of us. As Isaiah (late eighth century B.C.E.) put it, “The Lord of hosts is elevated through justice (mishpat), the holy (powerful, awesome) God sanctified through righteousness (tzedakah). Isaiah 5:16. That is, God like the other gods in the ancient world, has power—indeed, more power than they have—but unlike them, God is worshiped not only through acts of submission, but also through justice.… I am among those who maintain that the inherent morality of God requires rabbis and each generation to apply the law with moral norms in mind.  DORFFWITO 52-53


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