Sago Boulevard

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Judaism and Morality

I want to take up a question brought up by lamedzayin in a post at the newly formed (and high recommended) Maven Yavin. He's asks "Does yahadut [Judaism], if practiced according to the rules, imply morality?" Obviously, this is a very complex issue with far more implications than I could cover in a blog post. That said, I want to suggest what I think is clear from Jewish sources and may thus serve as a starting point.

The closest thing Judaism has to a "definition" or a summary of God, if you will, is the 13 Attributes (Ex. 34:6-7). Hazal and the Rishonim (especially Rambam) understand God's essential qualities as ethical models. With this in mind, consider that Hazal also understand Torah and mitsvot as either a manifestation or reflection of God's will. If God is essentially good, then it is reasonable to conclude that His mitsvot reflect this goodness.

Returning to lamedzayin's question, the answer is that it has too. How exactly this works out is, of course, the subject of centuries of debate. But the basic principle remains. Any imitation of God (which we understand to be a mitsvah) must include an imitation of His attributes of goodness. We are, after all, commanded to imitate He who is "compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness, and truth".