The Graduate School of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America announced last week that is establishing a new academic program — a master’s degree in Jewish ethics. The program, to be headed by Alan Mittleman, a professor of Jewish philosophy at the school, will focus on such area as bioethics, business ethics and legal ethics. The Jewish Week interviewed Mittleman by e-mail. This is an edited version of the transcript.
Q -In reading about the recent Mississippi River floods, it was shocking to see how spillways were opened in less populated areas, in effect deliberately flooding out thousands of homes in order to save more populated areas downstream. How can anyone justify wiping out entire communities like that? And conversely, is it right for people to deliberately move into areas that are known "spill zones," where flooding is known to occur.
Q - I recall reading several years ago about a survivor's son who had engraved a tattoo on his arm to match the one borne by his father at Auschwitz. I understand that he meant it as a gesture of solidarity, but doesn't Jewish law prohibit tattoos?
Q - The killing of Osama bin-Laden sent Americans out into the streets in spontaneous celebration. I saw the raucous scene outside the White House and it made me uncomfortable. Isn't it against Jewish practice to rejoice at the downfall of your enemies?
Q - I was shocked to read recently that corporal punishment is still legal in 20 states. I also know the famous quote from Proverbs, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” But on Passover we are taught to answer a child’s questions with patience. Is it ever acceptable for a parent or teacher to hit a child?
A - It is never appropriate to hit a child, at school or at home. Period.
Q - "I heard from an observant friend that it is inappropriate to invite non Jews to a Seder; but doesn't it also say in the Haggadah, "Let those who are hungry come and eat?" So am I supposed to invite only Jewish homeless and hungry people? Plus, given my strained family dynamics, I think it would be best not to invite any guests at all. What's the ethical thing to do?
Q - I have been struggling with some issues. I am not observant and the teacher of a class I've been taking has led me to believe that this makes me a bad Jew. I do lots of good deeds and am ethical in my actions. So can a good person be a bad Jew?
A - Relax. Loving your neighbor puts you are well on your way to being a "good Jew," whatever that means.
Major players uphold former ruling; RCA seeks to clarify its non-position; UK rabbinate rejects brain-death criteria.
A panel of Conservative rabbis, faced with two well-founded conflicting positions of Jewish law regarding same-sex commitment ceremonies, ruled in 2006 that both were valid opinions.
Faced with two well-founded positions of Jewish law on when death occurs for the purpose of organ donations, the country’s major Modern Orthodox rabbinic group has similarly ruled that both brain-stem death and the cessation of heartbeat are valid opinions.
In both cases, the two movements left it to their fellow clergy members to determine for themselves which opinion to follow.