An Introduction to Jewish Ethics / Edition 1

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Overview

For courses in Religion, Judaism and Ethics. This text offers an overview of the Jewish ethical tradition as it has evolved from biblical times to the present. Provides an overview of the central beliefs of classical Judaism and the ways in which these frame traditional Jewish approaches to issues in ethics, both theoretical and practical.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This is a model introduction: accessible, engaging, and bearing the marks of wide learning. Those unfamiliar with Jewish ethics will find that it takes nothing for granted; those already familiar will also gain much from the clear and searching way it addresses an impressive range of subjects. It is a most valuable and welcome work." — Gene Outka, Dwight Professor of Philosophy and Christian Ethics, Yale University

"For too long scholars of religious ethics have lacked a basic text in Jewish ethics. Louis E. Newman has rewarded our patience with a volume that is learned, engaging, balanced, and comprehensive. Surveying biblical, rabbinical, and modern Jewish thought and history, An Introduction to Jewish Ethics provides a wonderful overview of Judaism's moral sources. Newman introduces the reader to methodological issues in religious ethics, central themes and practices in Judaism, and influential thinkers in classical and contemporary Jewish thought. With clarity and grace, he covers a range of issues that inform Jewish tradition: revelation and reason, scripture and commentary, tradition and modernity, worldview and ethos. He also provides a sampling of Jewish thinking regarding sexuality, abortion, and war. Students of Judaism, religious ethics, and moral theory will find this book essential reading." — Richard B. Miller, Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Director, Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions, Indiana University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780132388900
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 4/28/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.97 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Louis E. Newman is the Joan M. and Elizabeth W. Musser Professor of Religious Studies and the Director of the Program in Judaic Studies at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota.

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Read an Excerpt

This book is designed to introduce students to Judaism and its ethics. In writing it, I have tried not to presume that readers have any prior background in Judaism or in the academic study of religion or ethics. Accordingly, I have tried throughout to summarize basic concepts in Judaism and key approaches to Jewish ethics in ways that do justice to their complexity but without overwhelming readers with more information than they can readily absorb. This approach, I hope, has the virtue of making this volume widely accessible, but comes at the price of reviewing what will be familiar ground to some readers.

In the interest of making this volume "user friendly," I begin each chapter with an overview and conclude with a review of key points. These should enable readers to identify quickly the central ideas presented and to track the argument of the book at it unfolds. I close each chapter with a list of questions for discussion and/or reflection. These point toward issues that merit further consideration and may help in digesting more fully material that is frequently presented in rather condensed form. The glossary at the end of the book may also be helpful in defining terms that very likely will be unfamiliar to most readers. Terms included in the glossary appear in bold when they are first introduced. For more advanced students, I have tried in the notes to draw attention to some of the complexities that I do not take up in the text. The suggestions for further reading may be especially valuable to those interested in pursuing more detailed study of matters that I have been able to cover here only in a general way.

Because textbooks of this sort are not written primarily forother scholars, they are not meant to break new ground, and this book for the most part is no exception. Its purpose is principally to present the tradition of Jewish ethics in a way that is clear and accessible. Still, this presentation of Jewish ethics has been influenced at many points by my own scholarship in the field, including essays that appear in my Past Imperatives: Studies in the History and Theory of Jewish Ethics (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1998). Chapter Five, which addresses the theoretical foundations of classical Jewish ethics, and Chapter Six, which categorizes contemporary approaches to Jewish ethics, rely on this previously published work. In this way I have tried to make even this introductory presentation sophisticated enough to sustain the interest of those for whom the material itself is very familiar.

This book has been many years in the making and could not have come about without moral, intellectual, and material help from many quarters. My interest in Jewish ethics began during my graduate studies at Brown University and owes much to my teachers, especially Wendell S. Dietrich, John P. Reeder, Jr., and Summer B. Twiss, who introduced me to this field. Over the years I have learned much, too, from the many Jewish and Christian ethicists whose work I have read, as well as from theorists of religion. I want to acknowledge here especially Eugene Borowitz, Elliot Dorff, David Novak, Laurie Zoloth, James Gustafson, Stanley Hauerwas, and Clifford Geertz.

I am especially grateful to Prentice-Hall and its editor, Ross Miller, for their support of this project and their willingness to wait long beyond the original due date for me to complete it.

Over the years I have been blessed with wonderful colleagues, both in the Religion Department at Carleton College and beyond. Collectively, they have encouraged my work, both as teacher and scholar, and their influence is visible on every page of this book. I am especially grateful to the College for awarding me a faculty development grant in 1985-86 to support my research in connection with this project.

Many colleagues generously agreed to read this manuscript and offered numerous suggestions for improvement. I wish to thank David Ellenson, Richard Miller, and especially Elliot Dorff and John P. Reeder, Jr., for the many points that they urged me to clarify, expand upon, and qualify. I am also grateful to two Carleton students, Zach Pruitt and Alice Gorel, who read the entire manuscript and guided me in making this introduction more accessible to students. The Rev. Douglas Mork, a former student, served as a research assistant, and his able work was an enormous help to me. Any failings of substance or style that remain here are entirely my own.

Most of all, my life has been blessed by a loving family. I am grateful to my wife, Amy, and to our children, Etan, Jonah, and Penina, for their unwavering encouragement and support. Whatever I manage to accomplish in this world is due in no small part to the security and serenity I find in being surrounded by their love and laughter.

I have had the great privilege of teaching many students since I joined the faculty of Carleton College in 1983; indeed, I have had them very much in mind as I have written this book. Through their persistent questions, they have helped me again and again to see that something I thought I had just explained still was not quite clear. In the process, they have taught me how to be a teacher. To the extent that I have succeeded here in making Jewish ethics understandable, I am indebted to their intellectual curiosity, their love of learning, and especially their patience with me as I struggled to make this tradition that I know and love accessible to them. I dedicate this book to them, for it is in many ways the fruit of their work as much as mine.

Louis E. Newman
6 Av 5763
August 4, 2003

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Preparing for the Journey. 1. Religion, Ethics and Religious Ethics. 2. Judaism and Jewish Ethics. 3. Sources of Jewish Ethics. 4. Contours of Jewish Moral Life. 5. Foundations of Moral Obligation in Judaism. 6. Jewish Ethics in Modern Times. 7. Three Case Studies: Continuity and Diversity in Contemporary Jewish Ethics. Conclusion: Learning the Language of Jewish Ethics. Notes. Glossary. Suggestions for Further Reading. Index.

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Preface

This book is designed to introduce students to Judaism and its ethics. In writing it, I have tried not to presume that readers have any prior background in Judaism or in the academic study of religion or ethics. Accordingly, I have tried throughout to summarize basic concepts in Judaism and key approaches to Jewish ethics in ways that do justice to their complexity but without overwhelming readers with more information than they can readily absorb. This approach, I hope, has the virtue of making this volume widely accessible, but comes at the price of reviewing what will be familiar ground to some readers.

In the interest of making this volume "user friendly," I begin each chapter with an overview and conclude with a review of key points. These should enable readers to identify quickly the central ideas presented and to track the argument of the book at it unfolds. I close each chapter with a list of questions for discussion and/or reflection. These point toward issues that merit further consideration and may help in digesting more fully material that is frequently presented in rather condensed form. The glossary at the end of the book may also be helpful in defining terms that very likely will be unfamiliar to most readers. Terms included in the glossary appear in bold when they are first introduced. For more advanced students, I have tried in the notes to draw attention to some of the complexities that I do not take up in the text. The suggestions for further reading may be especially valuable to those interested in pursuing more detailed study of matters that I have been able to cover here only in a general way.

Because textbooks of this sort are not written primarily for other scholars, they are not meant to break new ground, and this book for the most part is no exception. Its purpose is principally to present the tradition of Jewish ethics in a way that is clear and accessible. Still, this presentation of Jewish ethics has been influenced at many points by my own scholarship in the field, including essays that appear in my Past Imperatives: Studies in the History and Theory of Jewish Ethics (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1998). Chapter Five, which addresses the theoretical foundations of classical Jewish ethics, and Chapter Six, which categorizes contemporary approaches to Jewish ethics, rely on this previously published work. In this way I have tried to make even this introductory presentation sophisticated enough to sustain the interest of those for whom the material itself is very familiar.

This book has been many years in the making and could not have come about without moral, intellectual, and material help from many quarters. My interest in Jewish ethics began during my graduate studies at Brown University and owes much to my teachers, especially Wendell S. Dietrich, John P. Reeder, Jr., and Summer B. Twiss, who introduced me to this field. Over the years I have learned much, too, from the many Jewish and Christian ethicists whose work I have read, as well as from theorists of religion. I want to acknowledge here especially Eugene Borowitz, Elliot Dorff, David Novak, Laurie Zoloth, James Gustafson, Stanley Hauerwas, and Clifford Geertz.

I am especially grateful to Prentice-Hall and its editor, Ross Miller, for their support of this project and their willingness to wait long beyond the original due date for me to complete it.

Over the years I have been blessed with wonderful colleagues, both in the Religion Department at Carleton College and beyond. Collectively, they have encouraged my work, both as teacher and scholar, and their influence is visible on every page of this book. I am especially grateful to the College for awarding me a faculty development grant in 1985-86 to support my research in connection with this project.

Many colleagues generously agreed to read this manuscript and offered numerous suggestions for improvement. I wish to thank David Ellenson, Richard Miller, and especially Elliot Dorff and John P. Reeder, Jr., for the many points that they urged me to clarify, expand upon, and qualify. I am also grateful to two Carleton students, Zach Pruitt and Alice Gorel, who read the entire manuscript and guided me in making this introduction more accessible to students. The Rev. Douglas Mork, a former student, served as a research assistant, and his able work was an enormous help to me. Any failings of substance or style that remain here are entirely my own.

Most of all, my life has been blessed by a loving family. I am grateful to my wife, Amy, and to our children, Etan, Jonah, and Penina, for their unwavering encouragement and support. Whatever I manage to accomplish in this world is due in no small part to the security and serenity I find in being surrounded by their love and laughter.

I have had the great privilege of teaching many students since I joined the faculty of Carleton College in 1983; indeed, I have had them very much in mind as I have written this book. Through their persistent questions, they have helped me again and again to see that something I thought I had just explained still was not quite clear. In the process, they have taught me how to be a teacher. To the extent that I have succeeded here in making Jewish ethics understandable, I am indebted to their intellectual curiosity, their love of learning, and especially their patience with me as I struggled to make this tradition that I know and love accessible to them. I dedicate this book to them, for it is in many ways the fruit of their work as much as mine.

Louis E. Newman
6 Av 5763
August 4, 2003

Read More Show Less

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