As we approach the Days of Awe, our annual exercise in self scrutiny and stock-taking can be a daunting task. Rather than highlight a single ethical dilemma this week, I offer here some suggestions, some “ethics-ercises,” as it were, to assist you on this journey.
Q - A few weeks ago an Israeli court is believed to have made history by being the first to allow parents to extract and freeze the ovarian eggs of their recently deceased daughter. I know that's been done with a man's sperm, but this seems to cross an ethical red line, doesn't it?
Q. When I saw the latest Harry potter film I was appalled at the clear use of anti-Semitic stereotype in depictions of goblin bankers, miserly, hooked nose and all. And this is what we're showing our kids? Isn’t a tacit acceptance of such damaging stereotypes if we ignore them? Shouldn’t Jews be boycotting Harry Potter?
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Q. The mother of my worst enemy just died and I'm not sure whether to visit during Shiva. In truth, I sincerely see this as a chance to reconcile (we haven't spoken in about five years but have a lot of friends in common). My only concern is that he would misinterpret the reason for the visit and kick me out of the house. I really don't want to cause him any discomfort. What should I do?
Q: An acquaintance of mine recently boasted to me that he had happened upon a bird's nest and seized the opportunity to perform what he considered the mitzvah of shiluach hakan, scaring away a mother bird before taking the eggs. This mitzvah is intended to teach compassion, so that a bird should not have to watch the devouring of its young, but I find it hard to believe that it is meant as a mitzvah to be done in ordinary circumstances if one is not in dire need of the eggs.
Q - I have always been under the impression that cremation and tatoos are forbidden by Jewish law. Yet the recent funeral for Amy Winehouse was very Jewish in nature although the singer — who was amply tattooed — had asked to be cremated. Is cremation now accepted in Jewish quarters?
Q – The recent police detainment of prominent right wing Israeli rabbis accused of incitement has been in the news lately. At issue is the halachic tract “Torat Hamelech," (the “Torah of Kings”) which allegedly condones the murder of non Jews in some circumstances. This is horrible, but how is it different from any artist or politician making an outlandish statement? Certainly those on the left have said equally inflammatory things. Are we discriminating against the rabbis? Aren’t they entitled to freedom of speech?<
Q - I frequently use a 10-trip punch card on the LIRR. Often the conductor fails to appear to punch the card before I get off.What is my obligation here? Should I tear up the card before it runs out to make up the difference or am I free to use it again as it is the responsibility of the railroad to collect the fare? This does not involve deception since I am ready to pay the fare.
Q - I have some sympathy for gay marriage, just legalized in New York, but I can't understand how anyone who takes the Torah seriously could consider it the proper moral choice. I mean, the book of Leviticus is rather explicit in describing homosexuality as "an abomination." How can anyone get around that?