Conflicts between Classical Jewish Texts and Contemporary Western Ethics

Summer, 2010
In this article, the author uses traditional and contemporary sources to tackle ethically questionable behavior by Biblical figures.
He proposes facing these problems keeping in mind three guidelines:
  • Acknowledge the Problem – Based on Jewish exegesis throughout the ages, we assume that Biblical heroes should and cannot be viewed as angels but as humans – albeit unique ones – with all their weaknesses.

  • Biblical Heroes are Heroes – We have to keep in mind that Biblical heroes cannot be treated casually or superficially. They are holy people, unique personalities, and we owe it to them that we study the texts reporting about them carefully, trying to understand their thoughts, motives and deeds with due respect.

  • Cultural and Historical Context – The moral evaluation of situations and actions varies from generation to generation and from one cultural environment to another.
Based on these points, the author suggests that all the moral issues in the Bible be discussed through a close reading and serious analysis of the Biblical text and its meaning within its literary context, also taking into account the legal and historic background of the passage. It must be stressed that the text analysis suggested must be done on the basis of the "peshat" (face reading of the text), so that the interpretation can be discussed on an objective basis following the accepted rules in understanding the Bible.
The aim of the suggested approach is not to solve the ethical problem but to revive the text in all its inner complexity, and then enable us to read the Biblical message in an additional and different way.

The suggested method is applied in analyzing the Biblical account of Avram and Sarai in Egypt.
Updated: Oct. 05, 2010