Stern College for Women – Judaic Studies


Jewish Ethics

Spring 2015

Richard Hidary -

 email the whole class

The Jewish tradition provides an ethical system which has influenced much of the world throughout its centuries of development. This course will explore the foundations of Jewish ethics and attempt to find a set of principles for deciding ethical issues. We will delve into a few of the most relevant and widely argued cases of ethical controversy and seek guidance from Jewish sources that relate to these matters. Throughout, we will focus on primary sources and survey the various methodologies used by modern posekim and ethicists to interpret and apply these ancient texts to modern contexts.



(1)   Attendance, prompt arrival and class participation are assumed. Anything more than two absences or three lates will lower your grade.

(2)   Preparation and Participation: Homework assignments and quizzes based on readings to prepare may be given throughout the semester. The purpose of these is to make sure you keep up with the preparation. In addition, students will be selected randomly each class to read and explain the required texts. (10%)

(3)   Exams. A midterm (35%) and a final (40%) will assess your grasp and retention of material as well as give the class an opportunity to review and notice patterns that recur through many topics.

(4)   One 8-10 page final paper on any topic in Jewish ethics that we did not cover in class. The paper should cite at least five primary sources and two books or articles. The paper should cite the texts, explain them, provide rationales for various sides of the argument, summarize what modern writers say and comes to some conclusion. You can also compare it to other systems of ethics or discuss an application. Please confirm your topic with me before you start writing. All papers are due on April 21. (15%).


Required Texts: (1) Tanakh

  (2) The sources sheets and readings for each class listed below. You can either print it and bring it to class or bring a laptop/ipad. Here are most of the readings in one pdf.


Office hours: Room 523 on Tuesdays and Thursdays 1:15-2:30PM and/or by appointment. Please email with any questions or concerns.



1.         Tuesday, January 20


Prisoner's Dilemma Sources

Reading: Michael Harris, "Consequentialism, Deontologism, and the Case of Sheva ben Bikhri."

Suggested: Douglas Hofstadter, "Prisoner's Dilemma."

2.         Thursday, January 22

Sources and Methodologies

Definitions, Mapping out the field

Required Reading: Lawrence Schiffman, From Text to Tradition. Hoboken: Ktav, 1991, pp. 177-200 and 220-239.


The Foundations of Jewish Ethics

3.         Tuesday, January 27

Prepare Primary Sources

Wikipedia on “ethics.” - Metaethics, Normative Ethics

Rambam, Eight Chapters


4.         Thursday, January 29

Rabbi Moshe Shamah,  The Basic Principle of Religion.

Moshe Halbertal, “Human Rights and Membership Rights in the Jewish Tradition,” in Judaism and the Challenges of Modern Life, Continuum: 2007, pp. 179-187.



5.         Tuesday, February 3

Prepare Primary Sources

Required Reading: Abraham Isaac Kook, “A Firm and Joyous Voice of Life” in Walters and Portmess eds., Religious Vegetarianism, Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001, 118-121.

Cohen, Alfred S., “Vegetarianism from a Jewish Perspective,” Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 1,2 (1981) 38-63.


6.         Thursday, February 5

Required Reading: Richard Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, Micah: 1988, pp. 1-12, 65-76, 84-109.

Suggested Reading: J. David Bleich, “Vegetarianism and Judaism,” Tradition 23, 1 (1987) 82-89.

 Powerpoint - What's for Dinner?



7.         Tuesday, February 10

Prepare Primary Sources.

Required Readings: Norman Lamm, “Ecology in Jewish Law and Theology,” in Torah of the Earth: Exploring 4,000 Year of Ecology in Jewish Thought, Jewish Lights 2000, pp. 103-126.

Tsvi Blanchard, “Can Judaism Make Environmental Policy? Sacred and Secular Language in Jewish Ecological Discourse,” in Judaism and Ecology, pp. 423-48.

Truth and Lying

8.         Thursday, February 12

Prepare Biblical Sources pdf

Required Reading: Joseph Rackman, “Deception in Genesis,” Jewish Spectator 60,4 (1996) 38-42.


9.         Tuesday, February 17

Prepare Rabbinic Sources

Required Reading: Mark Dratch, “Nothing but the Truth?,” Judaism 37,2 (1988) 218-228.


Business Ethics

10.       Thursday, February 19

Prepare Primary Sources. Please bring a Tanakh to class.

Required Reading: Hershey Friedman, “Biblical Foundations of Business Ethics,” Journal of Marketing and Morality 3,1 (2000) 43-57.


11.       Tuesday, February 24

Required Reading: Sinai Deutch, “Business Competition and Ethics: Predatory Pricing in Jewish Law,” Dine Israel 17 (1993-4) 7-33.


12.       Thursday, February 26

Required Reading: Ricky Cohen, Risk to Succeed, McGraw Hill, 2012.

Ricky Cohen, “Ethics in Business,” The Edah Journal 2:1 (2002) 1-5.



13.       Tuesday, March 3

Prepare Primary Sources

Going to the Beach

Required Reading: Norman Lamm, Encyclopedia Judaica Yearbook 1974, s.v. “Homosexuality.”

Uri C. Cohen, “Review Essay, Relating to Orthodox Homosexuals: The Case of Compassion,” in Tradition 40:3 (2007), pp. 76-92.


14.       Tuesday, March 10 - Midterm

Review Sheet (current)


15.       Thursday, March 12

Infertility, IVF, Artifician Insemination

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein - teshuva



16.       Tuesday, March 17

Prepare Primary Sources

Required Reading: David Feldman, “This Matter of Abortion,” in Contemporary Jewish Ethics and Morality, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, pp. 382-391.


17.       Thursday, March 19

Required Reading: Menachem Elon, Encyclopedia Judaica, s.v. “Abortion.



18.       Tuesday, March 24

Prepare Primary Sources

Required Reading: Benjamin Gesundheit, “Suicide – A Halakhic and Moral Analysis of Masekhet Semahot, Chapter 2, Laws 1-6,” Tradition 35,3 (2001), pp. 31-51.

Passover - Rejoicing at Enemies


Euthanasia and Organ Donation

19.       Thursday, March 26

Prepare Primary Sources

Rabbi Hayim David Halevy

Fred Rosner, “Euthanasia,”in Contemporary Jewish Ethics and Morality, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, pp. 350-362.


Donating Kidneys

20.       Tuesday, March 31

Rabbi Moshe Tendler et al., “Brain Death I: A Status Report of Medical and Ethical Considerations” and “Brain Death II: A Status Report of Legal Considerations” The Journal of the American Medical Association (1977).

Rabbi Moshe Tendler, “Halakhic Death Means Brain Death” Jewish Review (1990).

 Required Reading: Richard Grazi and Joel B. Wolowelsky, “Monetary Compensation for Donating Kidneys,” IMAJ 6 (2004), pp. 185-88.

Rabbi Eliezer Waldenburg - Tsits Eliezer 9:45.

Hakham Ovadia Yosef - Yehave Da`at 3:84.


21.       Tuesday, April 14

Corneal Transplant and Autopsy

Rabbi Yosef Mesas - Mayim Kedoshim, Yoreh De`ah 109.



Ethics of War

22.       Thursday, April 16

Peace as the Ideal

War in the Bible  (Please bring a Tanakh.)

Deut 20:1-20

Num 25:16-18 and 31:1-24

Required Reading: Shamah, Moshe, “Parashat Shoftim Part II: On the Warfare Passages of Deuteronomy 20,” and “Parashat Matot Part III: Numbers 31-32,” online at

Moshe Halbertal, “Monotheism and Violence,” in Judaism and the Challenges of Modern Life, pp. 105-113.



23.       Tuesday, April 21

When can/should a country go to war?

Prepare Primary Sources

Required Reading: Aviezer Ravitsky, “Prohibited Wars in the Jewish Tradition,” In The Ethics of War and Peace: Religious and Secular Perspectives, ed. Terry Nardin, 115-127. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996.



***** Final papers due *****


24.       Tuesday, April 28

The State of Israel

Required Reading: Interview with Benny Morris, from Haaretz, January 9, 2004.

Moshe Halbertal, “The Goldstone Illusion,” The New Republic, November 6, 2009.



25.       Thursday, April 30

Primary Sources

Reading: Richard Hidary, “Sephardic Approaches to Conversion.”


26.       Tuesday, May 5

Modern Applications of conversion laws in Israel and the Diaspora 


Final – Tuesday May 12 – 9:30AM

Final Review Sheet (2015)




Medical Ethics

Ecology and Human Rights