Do you have any questions about where traditional Judaism stands on moral issues?

A thread on the Traditional Catholicism forum made me see that there might be a need for a thread like this.

The doctrinal questions about Judaism (such as, “Why don’t Jews believe in Jesus?”) have pretty much been beaten to death, so why not have one for those Catholics and others who have questions about where traditional (Orthodox) Judaism stands on moral issues, like abortion, birth control, modesty, etc?

This is really the area where I’m most knowledgeable, so fire away!

I am curious about a few things,

Homosexuality I know some liberal jews are all for it, exactly were is and how strong is the orthodox position?

Same for abortion.

Where do they stand on government social programs? The moral issues of taking care of ones self vs government dependency with the whole loving they neighbor stuff.

Oh one more pick me!! (where is the little smiley with the hand raised when you need it)

How do orthodox Jews view other Jewish sects/groups?

I don’t know much about the non-Orthodox forms of Judaism, but as for Orthodox Judaism, where do they stand on homosexuality?

They are absolutely, 100% against homosexuality. I know that for sure! In fact on all moral issues, they seem to take a stronger stand on that than almost anything else.

They are also 100% against abortion on demand. Abortion is only allowed to save the life of the mother. In such cases, the unborn baby is seen as a ‘rodef’, or pursuer, who will take the mother’s life if she does not abort it. But in 99% of cases, they are against abortion…even for rape, incest, birth defects, etc

As for social programs, that can vary. I do know that most very Orthodox Jews are also very politically conservative and tend to vote Republican, so that might give you some idea.

It depends on which kind of Orthodox Jews you’re dealing with.

The “Modern Orthodox” tend to be the most liberal. The Chasidic/yeshivish Jews tend to be the most conservative. Everyone else falls somewhere in the middle.

But in general, the non-Orthodox sects are viewed as not truly representing traditional Jewish thought or belief. This does not mean the JEWS within those groups are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox, but that what they BELIEVE is not considered Jewish.

A Jew is defined by the Orthodox as someone born of a Jewish mother, or validly converted to Judaism according to traditional (Orthodox) Halacha (Law). This means that some non-Orthodox Jews will not be considered Jewish, if they had non-Orthodox conversions or if they were born of women who had non-Orthodox conversions.

But in general, their problem is with the type of things they TEACH, not so much whether they are regarded as Jews or not (I have to always make this clear, because some non-Orthodox Jews have accused the Orthodox of claiming that none of them are Jews, when that is not the case…the real problem is with their beliefs.)

Not exactly related, but not unrelated, can you show me how and where secualr judaism came from? A link would work.

I am totally confused by the concept that even if you do not beleive in God, following the Jewish laws is enough to get you by.

Here on “planet Sinai” our talmudic/halachic people give the impression that if you tell 'em what answer you want, they’ll tell you which Rabbi will give it to you. I’m sure that’s not really the case. And we have all stripes of Orthodox here. Everybody thinks his Kosher can beat up everybody else’s Kosher.

When a case comes up that is handled in house (by no means all – remember? My Rabbi can beat up your Rabbi. They have big discussions quoting the Rambam and the Ramban, and a few other leading lights, and ask, “do we need a Parsha for this?” find one or two, then they render a decision, usually with a big dose of pragmatism thrown in. After all, the Ark of the Coventant was built so that the propitiatory (mercy seat) sat ABOVE the law.

Just an intimate outsider’s view of how they make delicate decisions about difficult medical problems. It’s amazing to watch. I have learned a LOT from them about working out practicalities on the flint of ethical absolutes.

The concept of Rodaif seems to crop up a lot.

One of our new efforts is to see if the Orthodox Rabbis can be persuaded that a perfectly healthy mother of a perfectly healthy newborn can be discharged and sent home on the Sabbath as an act of mercy since we are sometimes unable to admit sick patients who NEED a hospital bed because Orthodox women are in those rooms until sundown.

Stay tuned.

Some people confuse Reform with secular…I’m not sure which one you mean. I’ve had some secular (that is, nonreligious) Jews tell me they are “reform” when what they really meant was “not religious”!

As for your second paragraph…one thing you need to understand is that Judaism is a religion of doing, whereas Christianity is a religion of believing. I don’t totally agree with this personally, I think belief is vital as well as doing the mitzvos (commandments), but the rabbis say that it is more important to do a commandment than to understand why it is done.

They base this on the fact that when the Jewish people stood at Sinai, and God presented them with the Torah, they said, “Na’aseh ve’nishmah”, which means, “We will do and we will hear”.

Because the “do” part came before the “hear” part, they interpreted that to mean that Jews must first DO the commandments, and the understanding (“hearing”) will come later.

(I’m personally not crazy about that interpretation, but there it is.)

As for how they can accept a Jew who does a commandment but does not yet believe, they reason that if he does the commandment, or does enough of them, eventually the belief will come too. (I’ve seen this happen a lot, so maybe they’re right!)

I agree. Sometimes you just have to DO something in order to UNDERSTAND it – and even if you never understand it, it is better to do an act of mercy than NOT to do it, wherever your little pea brain may stand on the subject.

Adultery punishment : how is it interpreted by orthodox or any rabbis?.

Actually…:slight_smile: sometimes it is.

Its weird this came up…I was over on the Traditional Catholicism forum, reading the attacks back and forth between TCs and “newchurch” people…and they kept charging the TCs with failing to “be obedient to the church”.

I felt sorry for the TCs because they evidently are locked into that “obey no matter what” thing, just because they are Catholics. It made me reflect on the very thing you mentioned…how people in OJudaism will often choose a rabbi to ask for a psak (rabbinical decision), based on how lenient or strict they know (or have heard) said rabbi to be!

One thing everyone knows: BE SURE before you ask a rabbi of your choice, because once he renders his ruling, that’s it! You have to obey it. That’s why there is so much “care” :slight_smile: used in choosing which Rav to ask.

In Numbers 5 there is a ceremony to establish if a woman was adulterous, and there are Biblical punishments given as well…but those are not done nowadays! (Any laws pertaining to an adulterous situation can probably be found in the Talmudic tractate, Sotah.)

This is something I’m not too sure on…I do know if a woman is caught in adultery, her husband then can divorce her. (In Judaism, a man can divorce his wife, but she cannot divorce him…however the rabbinical court can pressure him to divorce her if the wife is in the right, such as with abuse, etc)

Now, you’re bursting my bubble here! Except for the doofy refrigerator wars, I really respect these guys.

exactly, i was interested in the why…that is, the theological arguments.

thanks for the answer. I am not so much concerned with understanding. Lord knows that there are enough things about my own faith that I don’t understand. I am having trouble grasping how someone who is agnostic at best would feel the need to follow the Jewish laws and it would be pleasing to God.

Would God want them to mean it?

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe used to say that if a Jew is not religious and is zealous about one particular mitzvah (commandment), we should encourage him in it, because eventually, he may feel led to keep all of them.

There are secular Jews who might follow some religious commandments because it makes them “feel Jewish”…for instance, almost every Jew, religious or not, has their newborn sons circumcised. I’ve known totally secular, even anti-religious Jews who called a mohel (ritual circumciser) when they had a son!

Rabbis do not turn them away because they feel that ANYTHING such Jews do of a religious nature, may well eventually lead them back “home” to the Torah way of life.

Great thread - thanks for starting this.

I do have one question I never fully looked into . Why, under Jewish law today, is Jewish identity based upon lineage through the maternal line when in the Hebrew scriptures it is based upon paternal descent? (I’ve heard/read it has something to do with the inability to reliably trace paternal descent during Roman times, but I’m trying to understand the scriptural and theological basis for the switch).

Also, per your description of Jewish identity, that would cover all Jews who meet this criteria born of a Jewish mother regardless of actual belief. This is commonly believed to therefore include agnostics and athiests - but of some controversial debate these days, would not include Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah (even those who identify themselves as messianic jews)? I’d be curious to your reaction to that issue.

Many thanks,


I’m going to try to answer the first question, and then the second.

In earlier Jewish history, religious status was determined by what the father of the child was. This is how King David and King Solomon could have had wives who were not Jewish, yet their children were Jewish.

In the time of Ezra (later prophet), it was determined that religious status was now determined by what the mother of the child is…this rabbinical ruling is rooted in the Book of Ezra, in the Bible…where Ezra mourned because the Israelite men had taken nonJewish wives.

He ordered them to “put away your heathen wives and their children”. The rabbis reasoned that Ezra would not have told them to put away their wives and their children, unless the children were also not Jewish.

(PERSONALLY speaking, I have always felt that a person should be accepted as a Jew as long as ONE parent is Jewish, since in Jewish history we have precedent for both views.)

As to your next question: this is going to be hard for a nonJew to understand, and I’ll try to explain it as best as I can.

In Judaism, actions are very important. Inaction is not seen as being the same as action. This especially applies to idolatry and religious changes. In traditional Judaism, one of the greatest sins a Jew can ever commit is idolatry, or worshipping another God other than the God of Israel. In fact a Jew is supposed to die rather than worship another god or join another religion. A Jew who does not believe in anything and stays within the fold of the Jewish people, is not seen as doing anything to remove himself from his people.

His position is regrettable and deplorable, but is not seen as being as bad as one who actively negates the Covenant by removing himself to worship another deity or join another religion.

And so, a Jew who takes action to go outside of Judaism, and adopt another religion or belief, IS seen as “doing something actively” to violate the Covenant.

I know this sounds crazy…that a Jew can remain within the fold even if he does not believe in God, or is not religious…but this is because he has not openly and actively rejected the Covenant. His INaction is not seen as being a public statement in the way a Jew who ACTIVELY goes outside the fold is perceived.

(I realize that to Christians, Christianity is seen as “the fulfillment of Judaism”, “not idolatry”, etc. I am presenting this to you the way JEWISH LAW sees it, and to us, adopting Christian belief is negating the Covenant at Sinai, and adopting another religion.)

Thank you - this is very helpful. On a follow up to the second question, what about Lubuvach jews who believe the deceased Rebbe is the Messiah (ironically pointing now to Isaiah 53 as messianic - a view they, to a large point, rejected prior to his death). Are they still Jews even though they believe their Rebbe is the Messiah while mainstream judaism does not?



It was always a minority of Lubavitchers who felt their late rebbe was mashiach. They have been expelled from the movement, partly because Judaism teaches that if a man dies, that proves he was not the messiah.

The late Lubavitch Rebbe, although he was a very nice and holy man, could not have been the messiah for several reasons. One, the true messiah will be a Jewish man who had children. The Rebbe never had children. He also died…a primary reason why he could not have been the messiah.

What many Jews and Christians do not understand is: you can be a Jew and believe that someone is or was the messiah, as long as you do not also ascribe DEITY to that person. Judaism never taught that the true Messiah would be divine…that is actually the real problem for Judaism, not so much the personality of the alleged messiah.

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