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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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The science of morals, or of human duty; the systematic presentation of the fundamental principles of human conduct and of the obligations and duties deducible therefrom. It includes, therefore, also the exposition of the virtues and their opposites which characterize human conduct in proportion to the extent to which man is under the consecration of the sense of obligation to realize the fundamental concepts of right conduct. Ethics may be divided into general, or theoretical, and particular, or applied. Theoretical ethics deals with the principles, aims, and ideas regulating, and the virtues characterizing, conduct—the nature, origin, and development of conscience, as attending and judging human action. Applied ethics presents a scheme of action applicable to the various relations of human life and labor, and sets forth what the rights and duties are which are involved in these relations. Ethics may also be treated descriptively; this method includes a historical examination, based upon data collected by observation, of the actual conduct, individual or collective, of man, and is thus distinct from ethics as dynamic and normative, as demanding compliance with a certain standard resulting from certain fundamental principles and ultimate aims. Philosophical ethics embraces the systematic development of ethical theory and practise out of a preceding construction (materialistic or idealistic) of life and its meaning (optimistic or pessimistic). Religious ethics finds the principles and aims of life in the teachings of religion, and proceeds to develop therefrom the demands and duties which the devotee of religion must fulfil.

Jewish ethics is based on the fundamental concepts and teachings of Judaism. These are contained, though not in systematized formulas, in Jewish literature. As it is the concern of Jewish theology to collect the data scattered throughout this vast literature, and construe therefrom the underlying system of belief and thought, so it is that of Jewish ethics to extract from the life of the Jews and the literature of Judaism the principles recognized as obligatory and actually regulating the conduct of the adherents of Judaism, as well as the ultimate aims apprehended by the consciousness of the Jew as the ideal and destiny set before man and humanity (see Lazarus, "Die Ethik des Judenthums," pp. 9 et seq.). This entails resort to both methods, the descriptive and the dynamic. Jewish ethics shows how the Jew has acted, as well as how he ought to act, under the consecration of the principles and precepts of his religion. Jewish ethics may be divided into (1) Biblical, (2) Apocryphal, (3) rabbinical, (4) philosophical, (5) modern; under the last will be discussed the concordant, or discordant, relation of Jewish ethics to ethical doctrine as derived from the theories advanced by the various modern philosophical schools.

—Biblical Data:

The books forming the canon are the sources whence information concerning the ethics of Bible times may be drawn. These writings, covering a period of many centuries, reflect a rich variety of conditions and beliefs, ranging from the culture and cult of rude nomadic shepherd tribes to the refinement of life and law of a sedentary urban population, from primitive clan henotheism to the ethical monotheism of the Prophets. The writings further represent two distinct types, the sacerdotal theocracy of the Priestly Code and the universalism of the Wisdom series—perhaps also the apocalyptic Messianism of eschatological visions. It would thus seem an unwarranted assumption to treat the ethics of the Bible as a unit, as flowing from one dominant principle and flowering in the recognition of certain definite lines of conduct and obligation. Instead of one system of ethics, many would have to be recognized and expounded in the light of the documents; for instance, one under the obsession of distinctively tribal conceptions, according to which insult and injury entail the obligation to take revenge (Genesis 4:23,24; Judges 19-), and which does not acknowledge the right of hospitality (Genesis 19; Judges 19); another under the domination of national ambitions (Numbers 31:2 et seq.), with a decidedly non-humane tinge (Deuteronomy 20:13,14,16,17). But it must be remembered that the ultimate outcome of this evolution was ethical monotheism, and that under the ideas involved in it Biblical literature was finally canonized, many books being worked over in accordance with the later religious conviction, so that only a few fragmentary indications, remain of former ethical concepts, which were at variance with those sprung from a nobler and purer apprehension of Israel's relation to its God and His nature.

The critical school, in thus conceding that the canon was collected when ethical monotheism had obliterated all previous religious conceptions, is virtually at one, so far as the evidential character of the books concerning the final ethical positions of the Bible comes into play, with the traditional school, according to which the monotheism of the Bible is due to divine revelation, from which the various phases of popular polytheism are wilful backslidings. It is therefore permissible in the presentation of Biblical ethics to neglect the indications of anterior divergences, while treating it as a unit, regardless of the questions when and whether its ideal was fully realized in actuality. The treatment is more difficult on account of the character of the Biblical writings. They are not systematic treatises. The material which they contain must often be recast, and principles must be deduced from the context that are not explicitly stated in the text.

Autonomous in Sanction.

With these cautions and qualifications kept in view, it is safe to hold that the principle underlying the ethical concepts of the Bible and from which the positive duties and virtues are derived is the unity and holiness of God, in whose image man was created, and as whose priest-people among the nations Israel was appointed. A life exponential of the divine in the human is the "summum bonum," the purpose of purposes, according to the ethical doctrine of the Biblical books. This life is a possibilityand an obligation involved in the humanity of every man. For every man is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). By virtue of this, man is appointed ruler over all that is on earth (Genesis 1:28). But man is free to choose whether he will or will not live so as to fulfil these obligations. From the stories in Genesis it is apparent that the Bible does in no way regard morality as contingent upon an antecedent and authoritative proclamation of the divine will and law. The "moral law" rests on the nature of man as God's likeness, and is expressive thereof. It is therefore autonomous, not heteronomous. From this concept of human life flows and follows necessarily its ethical quality as being under obligation to fulfil the divine intention which is in reality its own intention. Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and other heroes of tradition, representing generations that lived before the Sinaitic revelation of the Law, are conceived of as leading a virtuous life; while, on the other hand, Cain's murder and Sodom's vices illustrate the thought that righteousness and its reverse are not wilful creations and distinctions of a divinely proclaimed will, but are inherent in human nature. But Israel, being the people with whom God had made His covenant because of the Patriarchs who loved Him and were accordingly loved by Him—having no other claim to exceptional distinction than this—is under the obligation to be the people of God (, Exodus 19:5 et seq.) that is to illustrate and carry out in all the relations of human life, individual and social, the implications of man's godlikeness. Hence, for Israel the aim and end, the "summum bonum," both in its individuals and as a whole, is "to be holy." Israel is a holy people (Exodus 19:6; Deuteronomy 14:2,21; 26:19; 28:9), for "God is holy" (Leviticus 19:2, et al.). Thus the moral law corresponds to Israel's own historic intention, expressing what Israel knows to be its own innermost destiny and duty.

Israel and God are two factors of one equation. The divine law results from Israel's own divinity. It is only in the seeming, and not in the real, that this law is of extraneous origin. It is the necessary complement of Israel's own historical identity.

God is the Lawgiver because He is the only ruler of Israel and its Judge and Helper (Isaiah 33:22). Israel true to itself can not be untrue to God's law. Therefore God's law is Israel's own highest life. The statutory character of Old Testament ethics is only the formal element, not its essential distinction. For this God, who requires that Israel "shall fear him and walk in all his ways and shall love and serve him with all its heart and all its soul" (Deuteronomy 10:12, Hebr.), is Himself the highest manifestation of ethical qualities (Exodus 34:6,7). To walk in His ways, therefore, entails the obligation to be, like Him, merciful, etc. This holy God is Himself He that "regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger" (Deuteronomy 10:17-18), qualities which Israel, as exponential of His unity and power and love, must exhibit as the very innermost ambitions of its own historical distinctness (Deuteronomy 10:19 et seq.).

Family Ethics.

Hence great stress is laid on reverence for parents (Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 19:3). Central to the social organism is the family. Its head is the father; yet the mother as his equal is with him entitled to honor and respect at the hands of sons and daughters. Monogamy is the ideal (Genesis 2:24). Marriage within certain degrees of consanguinity or in relations arising from previous conjugal unions is forbidden (Leviticus 18:6 et seq.); chastity is regarded as of highest moment (Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 18:18-20); and abominations to which the Canaanites were addicted are especially loathed. The unruly and disrespectful son (Exodus 21:17) is regarded as the incarnation of wickedness. As virtue and righteousness flow from the recognition of the holy God, idolatry is the progenitor of vice and oppression (Exodus 23:24 et seq.). For this judgment history has furnished ample proof. Hence the ethics of the Pentateuch shows no tolerance to either idols or their worshipers. Both being sources of contamination and corruption, they had to be torn out by the roots (Leviticus 19:4; Exodus 20:3 et seq.; Deuteronomy 4:15-25 et seq.). Marriages with the aboriginal tribes were therefore prohibited (Deuteronomy 7:3), for Israel was to be a "holy" people. To the family belonged also the slaves (Deuteronomy 16:14). While slavery in a certain sense was recognized, the moral spirit of the Pentateuchal legislation had modified this universal institution of antiquity (see see CRUELTY; Slavery). The Hebrew slave's term of service was limited; the female slave enjoyed certain immunities. Injuries led to manumission (Exodus 21:2-7,20,26). Man-stealing (slave-hunting) entailed death (Exodus 21:16). The stranger, too, was within the covenant of ethical considerations (Exodus 22:20 [A.V, 21]; Leviticus 19:33). "Thou shalt love him as thyself," a law the phraseology of which proves that in the preceding "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Leviticus 19:18) "neighbor" does not connote an Israelite exclusively. There was to be one law for the native and the stranger (Leviticus 19:34; comp. Exodus 12:49). As was the stranger (Exodus 23:9), so were the poor, the widow, the orphan, commended to the special solicitude of the righteous (INTEREST; see POOR LAWS; USURY; Leviticus 19:9 et seq.; Exodus 22:24 et seq., 23:6).

Altruistic Virtues.

In dealings with men honesty and truthfulness are absolutely prerequisite. Stealing, flattery, falsehood, perjury and false swearing, oppression, even if only in holding back overnight the hired man's earnings, are under the ban; the coarser cruelties and dishonesties are forbidden, but so are the refined ones; and deafness and blindness entitled to gentle consideration him who was afflicted by either of these infirmities (Leviticus 19:11-14). The reputation of a fellow man was regarded as sacred (Exodus 23:1). Tale-bearing and unkind insinuations were proscribed, as was hatred of one's brother in one's heart (Leviticus 19:17). A revengeful, relentless disposition is unethical; reverence for old age is inculcated; justice shall be done; right weight and just measure are demanded; poverty and riches shall not be regarded by the judge (Leviticus 19:15,18,32,36; Exodus 23:3). The dumb animal has claims upon the kindly help of man (Exodus 23:4), even though it belongs to one'senemy. This epitome of the positive commandments and prohibitions, easily enlarged, will suffice to show the scope of the ethical relations considered by the Law. As a holy nation, Israel's public and private life was under consecration; justice, truthfulness, solicitude for the weak, obedience and reverence to those in authority, regard for the rights of others, strong and weak, a forgiving and candid spirit, love for fellow man and mercy for the beast, and chastity appear as the virtues flowering forth from Pentateuchal righteousness.

Motive of Morality.

It has often been urged that the motive of ethical action in the Pentateuch is the desire for material prosperity and the anxiety to escape disaster. This view confounds description of fact with suggestion of motive. The Pentateuchal lawgiver addresses himself always to the nation, not to the individual. In his system Israel is under divine discipline, intended to make it in ever greater measure worthy and fit to be a holy nation exponential of the holy God. The physical and political disasters which, from the point of view of modern critics, were actual experiences in the time of the Deuteronomist, were consequences of Israel's disloyalty. Only repentance of its evil ways and adoption of ways concordant with its inner historic duty would put an end to the divinely appointed and necessary punitive discipline. The motive of Israel's ethical self-realization as the "holy people," nevertheless, is not desire for prosperity or fear of disaster. It is to be true to its appointment as the priest-people. From this historical relation of Israel to God flows, without ulterior rewards or penalties, the limpid stream of Pentateuchal morality.

Prophetic Ethics.

For the Prophets, too, the distinct character of Israel is basic, as is the obligation of all men to lead a righteous life. The ritual elements and sacerdotal institutions incidental to Israel's appointment are regarded as secondary by the preexilic prophets, while the intensely human side is emphasized (Isaiah 1:11 et seq., 58:2 et seq.). Israel is chosen, not on account of any merit of its own, but as having been "alone singled out" by God; its conduct is under more rigid scrutiny than any other people's (Amos 3:1-2). Israel is the "wife" (Hosea), the "bride" (Jeremiah 2:2-3). This covenant is one of love (Hosea 6:7); it is sealed by righteousness and loyalty (Hosea 2:21-22). Idolatry is adulterous abandoning of God. From this infidelity proceed all manner of vice, oppression, untruthfulness. Fidelity, on the other hand, leads to "doing justly and loving mercy" (Micah 6:8). Dissolution of the bonds of confidence and disregard of the obligation to keep faith each man with his fellow characterize the worst times (Micah 7:5). Falsehood, deceitfulness, the shedding of blood, are the horrors attending upon periods of iniquity (Isaiah 59:3-6; Jeremiah 9:2-5). Truth and peace shall men love (Zechariah 8:16-17). Adultery and lying are castigated; pride is deprecated; ill-gotten wealth is condemned (Jeremiah 23:14, 9:22-23, 17:11; Habakkuk 2:9-11). Gluttony and intemperance, greed and frivolity, are abhorred (Isaiah 5:22; Jeremiah 21:13-14; Amos 6:1,4-7). The presumptuous and the scoffers are menaced with destruction (Isaiah 29:20-21; Ezekiel 13:18-19,22). But kindness to the needy, benevolence, justice, pity to the suffering, a peace-loving disposition, a truly humble and contrite spirit, are the virtues which the Prophets hold up for emulation. Civic loyalty, even to a foreign ruler, is urged as a duty (Jeremiah 29:7). "Learn to do good" is the key-note of the prophetic appeal (Isaiah 1:17); thus the end-time will be one of peace and righteousness; war will be no more (Isaiah 2:2 et seq.; MESSIAH).

In Psalms and Wisdom Literature.

In the Psalms and the wisdom books the national emphasis is reduced to a minimum. The good man is not so much a Jew as a man (Psalms 1). The universal character of the Biblical ethics is thus verified. Job indicates the conduct and principles of the true man. All men are made by God (Job 29:12-17, 31:15). The picture of a despicable man is that given in Proverbs 6:12-15, and the catalogue of those whom God hates enumerates the proud, the deceitful, the shedder of innocent blood, a heart filled with intrigues, and feet running to do evil; a liar, a false witness, and he who brings men to quarrel (Proverbs 6:16-19). The ideal of woman is pictured in the song of the true housewife (Proverbs 31:8 et seq.), while Psalms and sketch the type of man Israel's ethics will produce. He walketh uprightly, worketh righteousness, speaketh truth in his heart. He backbiteth not. The motive of such a life is to be permitted "to dwell in God's tabernacle," in modern phraseology to be in accord with the divine within oneself. The priesthood of Israel's One God is open to all that walk in His ways. The ethics of the Bible is not national nor legalistic. Its principle is the holiness of the truly human; this holiness, attainable by and obligatory upon all men, is, however, to be illustrated and realized by and in Israel as the holy people of the one holy God.

The temper of the ethics of the Bible is not ascetic. The shadow of sin is not over earth and man. Joy, the joy of doing what "God asks," and what the law of man's very being demands, willingly and out of the full liberty of his own adaptation to this inner law of his, is the clear note of the Old Testament's ethical valuation of life. The world is good and life is precious, for both have their center and origin in God. He leads men according to His purposes, which come to pass with and without the cooperation of men. It is man's privilege to range himself on the side of the divine. If found there, strength is his; he can not fall nor stumble; for righteousness is central in all. But if he fails to be true to the law of his life, if he endeavors to ignore it or to supersede it by the law of selfishness, which is the law of sin, he will fail. "The way of the wicked He turneth upside down" (Psalms 1). Ethics reaches thus beyond the human and earthly, and is related to the eternal. Ethics and religion are in the Bible one and inseparable.

E. G. H.

—In Apocryphal Literature:

Ethics in systematic form and apart from religious belief is as little found in apocryphal or Judæo-Hellenistic literature as in the Bible, though Greek philosophy has greatlyinfluenced Alexandrian writers such as the authors of IV Maccabees and the Book of Wisdom (see CARDINAL VIRTUES), and, above all, see Philo. Nevertheless decided progress is noticeable both in the conception and in the accentuation of theoretical ethics from the time the Jews came into closer contact with the Hellenic world. Before that period the Wisdom literature shows a tendency to dwell solely on the moral obligations and problems of life as appealing to man as an individual, leaving out of consideration the ceremonial and other laws which concern only the Jewish nation. From this point of view Ben Sira's collection of sayings and monitions was written, translated into Greek, and circulated as a practical guide (παιδαγωγός: Clemens Alexandrinus, "Pædagogus," 2:10,99 et seq.), giving instructions from a matter-of-fact or utilitarian standpoint on the various relations of man to man in the domestic and social sphere of activity. The book contains popular ethics in proverbial form as the result of everyday life experience, without higher philosophical or religious principles and ideals; also in regard to charity (ib. 4:1 et seq., 7:32 et seq.) the author takes a popular view (Sira, Ben). It is possible that other books of a similar nature existed in the pre-Maccabean era and were lost (see AḤiḲar).

Of a higher character are the ethical teachings which emanated from Ḥasidean circles in the Maccabean time, such as are contained in see Tobit, especially in ch.; here the first ethical will or testament ("ẓawwa'ah") is found, giving a summary of moral teachings, with the Golden Rule, "Do that to no man which thou hatest!" as the leading maxim. There are even more elaborate ethical teachings in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, in which each of the twelve sons of Jacob, in his last words to his children and children's children, reviews his life and gives them moral lessons, either warning them against a certain vice he had been guilty of, so that they may avoid divine punishment, or recommending them to cultivate a certain virtue he had practised during life, so that they may win God's favor. The chief virtues recommended are: love for one's fellow man; industry, especially in agricultural pursuits; simplicity; sobriety; benevolence toward the poor; compassion even for the brute (Issachar, 5; Reuben, 1; Zebulun, 5-8; Dan, 5; Gad, 6; Benjamin, 3), and avoidance of all passion, pride, and hatred. Similar ethical farewell monitions are attributed to Enoch in the Ethiopic Enoch ( et seq.) and the Slavonic Enoch ( et seq.), and to the three patriarchs (see Barnes, "The Testaments of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," in "Texts and Studies," 2:144, Cambridge, 1892).

The Hellenistic propaganda literature, of which the didactic poem under the pseudonym of PHOCYLIDES is the most characteristic, made the propagation of Jewish ethics taken from the Bible its main object for the sake of winning the pagan world to pure monotheism. It was owing to this endeavor that certain ethical principles were laid down as guiding maxims for the Gentiles; first of all the three capital sins, idolatry, murder, and incest, were prohibited (see Sibyllines, 3:38,761; 4:30 et seq.; comp. Targ. Yer. Gen. xiii 13, et al.); then these so-called NOACHIAN LAWS were gradually developed into six, seven, and ten, or thirty laws of ethics binding upon every human being (Sanh. 56a, b; also Commandments). Regarding the ethical literature for converts see DIDACHE.


The whole rabbinical system of ethics is based upon humanitarian laws of righteousness. "Rather than commit any one of the three capital sins—idolatry, adultery, murder—man (even the Gentile) should give up his life" (Sanh. 74a, b); by disregard of this prohibition the heathen forfeits his claim upon human compassion and love ('Ab. Zarah 2b; Sanh. 108a), while the solemn acceptance of it secures him the claim to love and support (Sifra, Behar, 6:5; Pes. 21b). It was with reference to the Gentile world that the Golden Rule was pronounced by Hillel as the cardinal principle of the Jewish law (Shab. 31a; Ab. R. N., text B,; ed. Schechter, p. 53). Akiba is more explicit: "Whatever thou hatest to have done unto thee do not unto thy neighbor; wherefore do not hurt him; do not speak ill of him; do not reveal his secrets to others; let his honor and his property be as dear to thee as thine own" (Ab. R. N., text B, , , , ).

The scope of Jewish ethics embraces not only the Jew, but man, the fellow creature (see CREATURE). This is strongly emphasized by Ben Azzai when he says: "The Torah, by beginning with the book of the generations of man [Genesis 5:1], laid down the great rule for the application of the Law: Love thy neighbor as thyself" (Leviticus 19:18; Gen. R. , end). "Love the creature!" is therefore Hillel's maxim (Abot 1:12), and "hatred of the creature" is denounced by R. Joshua (ib. 2:11).

Ideal and Motive.

The source and ideal of all morality is God, in whose ways man is to walk (Deuteronomy 11:22). As He is merciful and gracious so man should be (Sifra, Deut. 49; Mek., Beshallaḥ, to Exodus 15:2; Soṭah 14a, with reference to Deuteronomy 13:5). This is in accordance with Abraham's being singled out "to command his children and his house after him, to observe the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice" (Genesis 18:19, Hebr.). The motive of moral action should be pure love of God (Sifra, Deut. 48, after 11:22), or fear of God, and not desire for recompense. "Be not like the servants that serve their master for the sake of getting a share, but let the fear of God be upon you" (Abot 1:3).

The cardinal principle of rabbinical ethics is that the very essence of God and His law is moral perfection; hence the saying of R. Simlai (see Commandments): "Six hundred and thirteen commandments were given to Moses; then David came and reduced them to eleven in Psalm; Isaiah (33:15), to six; Micah (6:8), to three; Isaiah again (56:1), to two; and Habakkuk (2:4), to one: 'The just lives by his faithfulness'" (A.V."faith"; Mak. 23b). "The heathen nations, lacking the belief in a divine ideal of morality, refused to accept the law of Sinai enjoining the sacredness of life, of marriage, and of property" (Mek., Yitro, 5).

Religion and ethics are, therefore, intimately interwoven, for it is the motive which decides the moral value, the good or evil character of the action."The words 'I am the Lord thy God,' following a Biblical command, express the idea that God judges men by the motive which springs from the heart and which escapes the notice of man" (Sifra, Ḳedoshim, 3:2; B. M. 58b; comp. "God desires the heart": Sanh. 106b; Men. 13:11). "An evil deed done from a good motive is better than a good deed inspired by an evil [selfish] motive" (Naz. 23b; Yer. Peah 1:15c); hence "the resolve to sin is of greater consequence than the sin itself" (Yoma 29a). Every good act must therefore be done for the sake of God—"le-shem shamayim"—or of His law—"lishmah" (Abot 2:12; Ber. 16a). Man has a free will (Abot 3:15): "Do His will as if it were thy will, that He may do thy will as if it were His; annul thy will before His will, that He may annul other men's will before thine" (Abot 2:4). "The righteous have their desires in their power; the wicked are in the power of their desires" (Ber. 61b).

Rabbinical ethics, the ethics of the Pharisees, while adopting the rigorous views of the Ḥasidim in principle, modified them by paying due regard to the whole of life and opposing the ascetic tendencies of the see ESSENES, and greatly deepened and enlarged the sense and the scope of morality and duty by infusing new ethical ideas and motives into both the laws and the stories of the Bible, lifting the letter of the Law to a high standard of spirituality. The fine ethical types created by the Ḥasidim out of the lives of the Patriarchs and of the ancient leaders of Israel became traditional prototypes and models, and each Mosaic law, having been greatly amplified in Ḥasidean practise, received a deeper meaning in the sphere of duty and responsibility. On the other hand, the Essene contempt for woman and home and the comforts of life was strongly opposed by the PHARISEES, and consequently rabbinical ethics developed a healthy, practical, and vigorous spirit of morality which has nothing of the sentimentalism and otherworldliness of other systems, and is not absorbed by mere socialistic or altruistic concepts of life. Its character is best described by Hillel's maxim: "If I am not for myself, who is for me? and, being only for myself, what am I? and if not now, when?" (Abot 1:15).

Duty of Self-Assertion.

Man as child of God has first of all duties in regard to his own self. "He who subjects himself to needless self-castigations and fasting, or even denies himself the enjoyment of wine, is a sinner" (Ta'an. 11a, 22b). Man has to give account for every lawful enjoyment he refuses (Yer. Ḳid. 4:66d). Man is in duty bound to preserve his life (Ber. 32b, after Deuteronomy 4:9; Sifra, Aḥare Mot, ) and his health (B. Ḳ. 91b; Shab. 82a). Foods dangerous to health are more to be guarded against than those ritually forbidden (Ḥul. 10a). He should show self-respect in regard to both his body, "honoring it as the [sanctuary of the] image of God" (Hillel: Lev. R. ), and his garments (Shab. 113b; Ned. 81a). He must perfect himself by the study of the Law, which must be of primary importance (Sifre, Deut. 34). "The third question God asks man at the Last Judgment is whether he studied the Law" (Shab. 31a). But study must be combined with work (Abot 2:2; Ber. 35b). "Greater is the merit of labor than of idle piety" (Midr. Teh. 128:2). "Love labor" (Abot 1:10); "it honors man" (Ned. 49b; LABOR). One must remove every cause for suspicion in order to appear blameless before men as well as before God (Yoma 38a). Man is enjoined to take a wife and obtain posterity (Yeb. 63b; Mek., Yitro, 8). "He who lives without a wife lives without joy and blessing, without protection and peace"; he is "not a complete man" (Yeb. 62a, 63a), and for it he has to give reckoning at the great Judgment Day (Shab. 31a). For this accentuation of the dignity and sanctity of domestic life see Woman.

Justice and Righteousness.

Social ethics is best defined by R. Simeon b. Gamaliel's words: "The world rests on three things: justice, truth, and peace" (Abot 1:18). Justice ("din," corresponding to the Biblical "mishpaṭ") being "God's" (Deuteronomy 1:17), it must, according to the Rabbis as well as Mosaism (Exodus 23:3), be vindicated at all costs, whether the object be of great or small value (Sanh. 8a). "Let justice pierce the mountain" is the characteristic maxim attributed to Moses (Sanh. 6b). They that blame and ridicule Talmudism for its hair-splitting minutiæ overlook the important ethical principles underlying its entire judicial code. It denounces as fraud every mode of taking advantage of a man's ignorance, whether he be Jew or Gentile; every fraudulent dealing, every gain obtained by betting or gambling or by raising the price of breadstuffs through speculation, is theft (Tosef., B. Ḳ. 7:8-13; Tosef., B. M. 3:25-27; B. B. 90b; Sanh. 25b; Ḥul. 94a); every advantage derived from loans of money or of victuals is usury (B. M.; Tosef., B. M. ); every breach of promise in commerce is a sin provoking God's punishment (B. M. 4:2); every act of carelessness which exposes men or things to danger and damage is a culpable transgression (B. Ḳ. -). It extends far beyond the Biblical statutes responsibility for every object given into custody of a person or found by him (B. M. and ). It is not merely New Testament (Matthew 5:22), but Pharisaic, ethics which places insulting, nicknaming, or putting one's fellow man to shame, in the same category as murder (B. M. 58b), and which brands as calumny the spreading of evil reports even when true, or the listening to slanderous gossip, or the causing of suspicion, or the provoking of unfavorable remarks about a neighbor (Pes. 118a; B. M. 58b; 'Ar. 16a).

Truth and Peace.

"The first question man is asked at the Last Judgment is whether he has dealt justly with his neighbor" (Shab. 31a). Nor is the mammon of unrighteousness to be placated for charitable or religious purposes (B. Ḳ. 94b; see comp. Didascalia in Jew. Encyc. 4:592; Suk. 3:1), the Jewish principle being, "A good deed ["miẓwah"] brought about by an evil deed ["'aberah"] is an evil deed" (Suk. 30a). The Jewish idea of righteousness ("ẓedaḳah") includes benevolence (Charity), inasmuch as the owner of property has no right to withhold from the poor their share. If he does, he acts like Sodom (Abot 5:10; comp. Ezekiel 16:49); like an idolater (Tosef., Peah, 4:20); or like a thief (Num. R. , after Proverbs 22:20). On the other hand, the Rabbisdecreed, against Essene practise, that no one had a right to give more than the fifth of his possessions to charity (Ket. 50a; 'Ar. 28a; Yer. Peah 1:15b). The twin sister of righteousness is truth, and here too the Ḥasidim were the first to insist that swearing should not be resorted to, but that a man's yea should be yea, and his nay, nay (Ruth R. 3:18; see ESSENES). "God shall punish him who does not abide by his word" (B. M. 4:2). "He who prevaricates is as one who worships an idol instead of the God of truth" (Sanh. 92a). One should be careful not to deviate from the truth even in conventionalities or in fun, was the teaching of Shammai (Ket. 17a; Suk. 46b). "Teach thy tongue to say, 'I do not know,' lest thou be entangled in some untruth" (Ber. 4a). "God hates him who speaks with his tongue what he does not mean in his heart." "It was the father of the Canaanites who taught them to speak untruth" (Pes. 113b). "Truth is the signet of God" (Yer. Sanh. 1:18a; see Truth).

While peace is everywhere recommended and urged as the highest boon of man (Num. R.; Pes. 1:1; 'Uḳ. 3:12), hatred, quarrelsomeness, and anger are condemned as leading to murder (Derek Ereẓ Rabbah,; Yoma 9b; Yer. Peah 1:16a). The highest principle of ethics, rabbinical as well as Biblical, is holiness, that is, separation from, and elevation above, everything sensual and profane (e., everything in animal life that is contaminating or degrading). The words which stand at the head of the principal chapter on ethics in the Mosaic law, "Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus 192), are explained (Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ) as: "Be separated ["perushim"] from a world that is addicted to the appetites and passions of the flesh, in order to sanctify Me by emulating My ways." "Keep away from everything leading to impurity" (Lev. R. ). "God's holiness is manifested in His punitive righteousness, which consumes wrong and sin" (Tan., Ḳedoshim, ed. Buber, 1, 4). From this principle emanated the necessity of a people consecrated to the service of a holy God (Tan. c.; Exodus 22:3; Leviticus 20:26; Deuteronomy 14:2; comp. Mekilta, Sifra, Sifre, and Rabbot on the passages), and the whole Mosaic legislation, with its hygienic and marriage laws, gave a high ethical meaning and purpose to the entire life of the Jew. Similarly the Sabbath holiness (Exodus 20:8; Mek.; see Pesiḳ. R. 23) lifted domestic and social life to a higher ethical level. The very minute precepts of rabbinical law spiritualized every part of life. So when washing of the hands before and after each meal was made obligatory, it was "to sanctify" the body and the table of the Jew (see ABLUTION). The Sabbath joy was also to be "hallowed" by wine (see ḲIDDUSH).

From the thought of a holy God emanated these four virtues: (a) The virtue of see CHASTITY ("ẓeni'ut" = "bashfulness"; Deuteronomy 23:14; Ned. 20a, after Exodus 20:20), which shuts the eye against unseemly sights and the heart against impure thoughts (Sifre, Shelaḥ Leka, to Numbers 15:14). Hence R. Meïr's maxim (Ber. 17a): "Keep thy mouth from sin, thy body from wrong, and I [God] will be with thee." (b) The virtue of humility. As God's greatness consists in His condescension (Meg. 31a), so does the Shekinah rest only upon the humble (Mek., Yitro, 9; Ned. 38), whereas the proud is like one who worships another god and drives God away (Soṭah 4b). (c) Truthfulness. "Liars, mockers, hypocrites, and slanderers can not appear before God's face" (Soṭah 42a). (d) Reverence for God. "Fear of God leads to fear of sin" (Ber. 28b), and includes reverence for parents and teachers (Ḳid. 31d; Pes. 22b).

Ḳiddush and Ḥillul ha-Shem.

Thus the idea of God's holiness became in rabbinical ethics one of the most powerful incentives to pure and noble conduct. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God" (Deuteronomy 6:5) is explained (Sifre, Deut. 32; Yoma 86a) to mean "Act in such a manner that God will be beloved by all His creatures." Consequently Israel, being, as the priest-people, enjoined like the Aaronite priest to sanctify the name of God and avoid whatever tends to desecrate it (Leviticus 22:32), is not only obliged to give his life as witness or martyr for the maintenance of the true faith (see Isaiah 43:12, μάρτυρες; and Pesiḳ. 102b; Sifra, Emor, ), but so to conduct himself in every way as to prevent the name of God from being dishonored by non-Israelites. The greatest sin of fraud, therefore, is that committed against a non-Israelite, because it leads to the reviling of God's name (Tosef., B. Ḳ. 10:15). Desecration of the Holy Name is a graver sin than any other (Yer. Ned. 3:38b; Sanh. 107a); it is an iniquity which, according to Isaiah 22:14 (Mek. c.; Yoma. 86a)—shall never be expiated until death—a tradition strangely altered into the New Testament ("Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men") Matthew 12:31, and parallels). The desire to sanctify the name of God, on the other hand, leads men to treat adherents of other creeds with the utmost fairness and equity (see Yer. B. M. 2:8c, and Simeon B. ShetaḤ; and compare God, Names of; ḲIDDUSH HA-SHEM).

Ethical Relations.

The fundamental idea of Jewish ethics is accordingly that of true humanity, without distinction of race or creed (comp. Sifra, Aḥare Mot, to Leviticus 18:5). "The righteous" (not "priests, Levites, and Israelites") shall enter "the gate of the Lord" (Psalms 118:20). "It is forbidden to take advantage of the ignorance of any fellow creature, even of the heathen" (Ḥul. 94a; comp. Shebu. 39a; comp. Mak. 24a: "He only dwells in God's tent who takes usury neither from Gentile nor from Jew"). "No one can be called righteous before God who is not good toward his fellow creatures" (Ḳid. 40a). Respect for one's fellow creatures is of such importance that Biblical prohibitions may be transgressed on its account (Ber. 19b). Especially do unclaimed dead require respectful burial (BURIAL in Jew. Encyc. 3:432b: "met miẓwah"). Gentiles are to have a share in all the benevolent work of a township which appeals to human sympathy and on which the maintenance of peace among men depends, such as supporting the poor, burying the dead, comforting the mourners, and even visiting the sick (Tosef., Giṭ. 5:4-5; Giṭ. 64a).

The relation between man and woman is in rabbinical ethics based upon the principle of chastity and purity which borders on holiness. It is theinheritance of the Ẓenu'im, or Ḥasidim, who strove after the highest standard of holiness (see Yer. Yeb. 1:3d; Lev. R.; see ESSENES). No other vice appears to the Rabbis as detestable as obscene speech ("nibbul peh"; Shab. 33a); and of him who is not bashful they say that "his fathers were not among those who received the Law from God on Sinai" (Woman). This idea of the holiness of the marriage relation is seen in the very name for marriage—"kiddushim" = "consecration" (see Frankel, "Grundlinien des Eherechts," p.; Niddah 71a; see MARRIAGE). The relations of children and parents are based upon the principle that God placed the fear and honor due to parents in the same category as those due to Himself, parents being for the child the representatives of God (Ḳid. 30b et seq.). The relations of the pupil to the (religious) teacher rank still higher, inasmuch as preparation of his pupil for the life eternal is involved (B. M. 2:11). "The fear of thy teacher should be like the fear of God" (Abot 4:12). Reverence is due likewise to all superiors in wisdom, and it should extend to the heart as well as the outward form (Sifra, Ḳedoshim,; PARENTS; Reverence; and Teachers).

Tender compassion is enjoined on the master in the treatment of his servant; he should not deprive him of any enjoyment, lest he may not feel that he is of like nature with his master (Sifra, Behar,; Ḳid. 22a, based upon Leviticus 25:40 and Deuteronomy 15:16; See MASTER AND SERVANT; comp. R. Johanan's regard for his servant; Yer. B. Ḳ. 8:6a, with reference to Job 31:15). Brotherly love extends even to the culprit, who should be treated humanely (Sifre, Deut. 286; Sanh. 52a).

Friendship is highly prized in the Talmud; the very word for "associate" is "friend" ("ḥaber"). "Buy thyself a companion" (Abot 1:6). "Companionship or death" (Ta'an. 23a).

The Biblical commands regarding the treatment of the brute (Exodus 20:10; Leviticus 22:28; Deuteronomy 25:4; Proverbs 12:10) are amplified in rabbinical ethics, and a special term is coined for see CRUELTY TO ANIMALS ("Ẓa'ar ba'ale ḥayyim"). Not to sit down to the table before the domestic animals have been fed is a lesson derived from Deuteronomy 11:15 (Giṭ. 62a). Compassion for the brute is declared to have been the merit of Moses which made him the shepherd of his people (Ex. R. ), while Judah ha-Nasi saw in his own ailment the punishment for having once failed to show compassion for a frightened calf. Trees and other things of value also come within the scope of rabbinical ethics, as their destruction is prohibited, according to Deuteronomy 20:19 (Shab. 105b, 129a, 140b, et al.). A leading maxim of the Rabbis is not to insist on one's right, but to act kindly and fairly "beyond the line of mere justice" ("lifnim mi-shurat ha-din"), in order that "thou mayest walk in the way of good men and keep the paths of the righteous" (Proverbs 2:20; B. M. 83a; Mek., Yitro, to Exodus 18:20). R. Simlai summarized the Law in the words: "Its beginning is the teaching of kindness, and so is its ending" (Soṭah 14a).

Ethical Literature of the Rabbis.

In this spirit the ethical sayings of the ancient rabbis have been collected into special works, the oldest of which is the mishnaic treatise Pirke ABOT, and into the Gemara-like commentary Abot de-Rabbi Natan, into Derek Ereẓ Rabbah and Derek Ereẓ Zuṭa, and into Masseket Kallah. The original part of Tanna debe Eliyahu, which appears to have contained the text and the Gemara commentary of a Mishnat Ḥasidim, belongs to the same class of ethical works of the tannaitic period as does Pirḳe di Rabbenu ha-Ḳadosh, which begins with a farewell address of Judah ha-Nasi to his children. All these are probably survivals of an ancient Ḥasidean literature, and therefore lay especial stress on the virtues of Essenism, chastity, humility, and saintliness.

It is therefore not merely accidental that the ethical works ("sifre musar") in medieval Jewish literature present the same features of extreme piety, or Ḥasidism, since they were written by German mystics who claimed to be adepts in the Essenic traditions or Cabala coming from older Oriental authorities. The oldest one among these works, belonging to the middle of the eleventh century, bears the title "Ethical Will of R. Eliezer the Great," because it starts with a farewell address of R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus; but it is really a work of Eliezer B. Isaac of Worms entitled "Orḥot Hayyim." The most elaborate and popular ethical work of this kind is the "Sefer Ḥasidim" of Judah b. Samuel, the Ḥasid of Regensburg. His pupil, Eleazar b. Judah of Worms, wrote a halakic-ethical work under the title of "Roḳeaḥ." Asher ben Jehiel wrote an ethical will addressed to his children; so did his son Judah b. Asher (see Wills, Ethical). An anonymous ethical work, under the title of "Orḥot Ẓaddiḳim," which Güdemann believes to have been composed by Lippman Mülhausen, appeared in the fifteenth century in Germany. Abraham ha-Levi Horwitz's "Yesh Noḥalin," at the close of the sixteenth century, and the popular ethical work "Ḳab ha-Yashar," by Hirsh Kaidenower, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, belong to the same class of German ethical works with a tinge of Ḥasidean mysticism. More systematic, though not philosophical, are the ethical works "Menorat ha-Ma'or," by Israel Alnaqua, a large part of which has been embodied in Elijah b. Moses di Vidas' "Reshit Ḥokmah," and the popular "Menorat ha-Ma'or," by Isaac ABOAB. Regarding these and other ethical works see Zunz, "Z. G." pp. 122-157, which contains examples of each; also Bäck, "Die Sittenlehrer vom 13ten bis 18ten Jahrhundert," in Winter and Wünsche, "Die Jüdische Literatur," 3:627-651, where examples are also given; and Abrahams, "Chapters on Jewish Literature," 1899, pp. 189-199. All these medieval ethical books have one characteristic trait: they teach compassion and love for Jew and Gentile alike, and insist on pure, unselfish motives, and on love toward God and man, instead of on hope for paradise.

  • M. Lazarus, The Ethics of Judaism, vols. and , Philadelphia, 1901-02 (transl. from the German);
  • E. Grünebaum, Die Sittenlehre des Judenthums, Strasburg, 1878;
  • L. Lazarus, Zur Characteristic der Talmudischen Ethik, Breslau, 1877;
  • M. Bloch, Die Ethik der Halacha, Budapest, 1886;
  • M. Mielziner, Ethics of the Talmud, in Judaism at the World's Parliament of Religions, pp. 107-113;
  • Morris Joseph, Jewish Ethics, in Religious Systems of the World, pp. 695-707, London, 1892;
  • K. Kohler, The Ethics of the Talmud, in American Hebrew, Nov., 1893-March, 1894;
  • Perles, Boussets Religion des Judenthums Kritisch Untersucht, Berlin, 1903;
  • Fassel, Ẓedeḳ u-Mishpaṭ: die Rabbinische Tugend und Rechtslehre, Vienna, 1848.



The term "Philosophical ethics" is here understood to mean the philosophical principles on which Jewish thinkers endeavored to base the ethics of Judaism. The first of these thinkers was Philo. The discussion of moral questions enters very largely into his writings; and although his treatment is unsystematic, his doctrines can be traced easily. Like almost all other Greek philosophers, Philo considers the end of moral conduct to be the desire for happiness. The so-called external and corporeal "goods," such as wealth, honors, and the like, are only "advantages," not in reality good ("Quod Deterius Potiori Insidiari Soleat," ed. Mangey, pp. 192-193). Happiness, then, must consist in the exercise of, and the actual living in accord with, excellence, and, naturally, in accord with the very highest excellence—namely, with that which is the best in man. This best is the soul, which, being an emanation of the Deity, finds its blessedness in the knowledge of God and in the endeavor to imitate Him as far as possible ("De Migratione Abrahami," 1:456). The opposite of this "summum bonum" is the mental self-conceit which corresponds in the moral sphere to self-love ("Fragmenta," 2:661). It consists in ascribing the achievements in the domain of morality to man's creative intellect (υοῦς ποιήτικος), instead of to the universal mind (Logos). In this Philo is in direct opposition to the Stoics, whose ethical principle he otherwise follows; for according to them man is self-sufficing for the acquisition of the virtues which lead to the "summum bonum." Cain (= "possession") typifies, according to Philo, the self-conceited, who ascribes all to his own mind, while Abel (= "breath") typifies him who attributes all to the universal mind ("De Sacrificiis Abelis et Caini," 1:163). "Complete self-knowledge involves self-despair, and he who has despair of self knows the Eternal" ("De Somnis," 1:629).

Responsibility and Free Will.

In order that man may be responsible it is necessary that he should possess the knowledge of right and wrong. In fact nothing is praiseworthy even in the best actions unless they are done with understanding and reason ("De Posteritate Caini," 1:241). Man therefore was endowed with conscience, which is at the same time his accuser, judge, and adviser. Another condition which is essential to man's responsibility is freedom of choice between opposing motives ("De Posteritate Caini," 1:236). Man has a twofold mind: (1) the rational, directed toward the universal, and (2) irrational, which seeks the particular and transient ("De Opificio Mundi," 1:17). The latter, which is the real moral agent, is, in its original condition, morally neutral, and has the choice between good and evil. Therefore praise is reserved for conduct which requires some exertion of the will, and involuntary offenses are blameless and pure.

The source of evil is the body, which plots against the soul ("De Allegoriis Legum," 1:100). Closely connected with the body are the senses and their off-spring, the passions, which, although, as a divine gift, they are not evil in themselves, are in antagonism to reason. The highest principle of morality is therefore that taught by Plato and the Stoics; namely, the utmost possible renunciation of sensuality and the extirpation of desire and the passions (ib.). This does not mean, however, the adoption of asceticism ("De Abrahamo," 2:4,14). Before addicting one-self to a contemplative life he must have discharged the duties toward mankind—toward relatives, friends, members of the tribe, country, and race—and even toward animals.

("De eo Quod Deterius Potiori Insidiari Soleat," 1:195)

"If you see any one," says Philo, "refusing to eat or drink at the customary times, or declining to wash and anoint his body, or neglecting his clothes, or sleeping on the ground in the open air, and in these ways simulating self-control, you should pity his delusions, and show him the path by which self-control may really be attained".

Cardinal Virtues.

Like Plato, Philo recognizes four CARDINAL VIRTUES and considers goodness to be the highest of them. This idea is represented by the river which watered paradise. As this river is said to have divided into four great streams, so goodness comprises four virtues; namely, prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice ("De Allegoriis Legum," 1:56). Elsewhere Philo describes the chief virtues as piety and humanity ("Human." 2:39) or as piety and justice ("Prœmiis et Pœnis," 2:406). Of these piety takes the leading place. It consists in loving God as the Benefactor, or at least fearing Him as the Ruler and Lord ("De Vict. Offer." 2:257). "A life according to God is defined by Moses as a life that loves God" ("De Post. Caini," 1:228). The virtue of temperance is of great importance. It is typified by the brazen serpent; for if the mind, having been bitten by pleasure, the serpent of Eve, is able to behold the beauty of temperance, the serpent of Moses, and through it to see God, it shall live ("De Allegoriis Legum," 1:80). Closely connected with temperance is self-control, which is also the enemy of pleasure and desire ("De Opificio Mundi," 1:39). As waging war against pleasure, Philo, in opposition to Greek philosophers, considers labor as a means of human progress ("De Sacrificiis Abelis et Caini," 1:168). Fortitude, according to Philo, does not consist in martial but in moral courage (comp. Abot 4:1). He values prayer greatly, which is the fairest flower of piety; but it must be sincere and inward; for piety does not consist in making clean the body with baths and purifications ("Cherubim," 1:156). Those who mistake bodily mortifications for temperance, and ritual for holiness, are to be pitied ("De eo Quod Deterius Potiori Insidiari Soleat," 1:195).

Characteristics of Saintliness.

The four characteristics of a pious soul are hope (which is connected with prayer), joy, peace, and forgiveness. "Behave to your servants," says Philo, "as you pray that God may behave to you. For as we hear them so shall we be heard, and as we regard them so shall we be regarded. Let us show pity for pity so that we may receive back like for like" ("Fragmenta," 2:672). Philo recognizes the efficacy of repentance. "Never to sin," says he, "is the peculiar quality of God, perhaps also of a divine man; to repent is the quality of a wise man" ("De Profugis," 1:569).

No Moral Philosophy in Talmud.

For the doctors of the Talmud, the Saboraim, and the Geonim of the time of Saadia the ruling principlesof life were derived from the current conception of God and of the relation in which the Jewish people stood toward Him. Morality was to these Jewish philosophers the embodied will of God. Their maxim was: "It is not speculation that is essential, but practise"; and for the practise of morality the Jews had to follow the injunctions of the Bible and Talmud. Under the influence of Greek and Arabic philosophy, Jewish thinkers turned their attention to the ethical side of Judaism also, the underlying principles of which they endeavored to systematize and to bring as far as possible into accordance with the ethical teachings of the philosophers. Saadia in several passages of his religio-philosophical work "Ha-Emunot weha-De'ot" deals with ethical questions, as those of free will, providence, and others, and devotes his last chapter to human conduct. That happiness is the result of morality is assumed by him as a fact; the only question for him is, which is the highest virtue leading thereto. Accordingly he points out thirteen different views on the highest virtue, and warns against adopting any one of them. For him the ideal order of life lies in the cooperation of all the legitimate inclinations suggested by the two ruling faculties of the soul, love and aversion, with each inclination in its due place and proportion; the third faculty of the soul, the faculty of discernment () being the judge that is to control the other two. Saadia condemns complete asceticism, and disapproves of the total neglect of the world's pursuits even when such neglect is due to the desire for learning.

Ibn Gabirol's Ethics.

However, Saadia's excursion in the field of ethics was of small importance. He touches very slightly upon the qualities which result from the forces of the soul, and thus leaves his readers in the dark as to one-half of the system which he proposes to construct. A system of the principles of ethics, independent of religious dogma or belief, was given by Solomon ibn Gabirol in a special work entitled "Tiḳḳun Meddot ha-Nefesh" (The Improvement of the Moral Qualities), in which he deals with the principles and conditions of virtue, the goal of life, and the particular circumstances, phenomena, and results of moral conduct. Man is, according to Gabirol, the final object of the visible world. He has two divine gifts in common with angels—speech and reason. Like Plato, Gabirol holds that evil is not innate in man; the immortal and rational soul comes pure from the hands of God; only the vegetative soul is the home of sensual desires, which are the source of all evil. The aim of man therefore must be to restrain his sensual desires to the indefensible minimum. This can be done by the acquisition of knowledge of his own being and of the ultimate cause, and by moral conduct. The qualities of the soul, or the virtues and vices, are ascribed by Gabirol to the five senses, which are constituted by the five humors. As the humors may be modified one by another, so can the senses be controlled, and the qualities of the soul be trained unto good or evil. The goal of human endeavor is to bring about the union of man's soul with the higher world. The more he divests himself of bodily sensuality the nearer his soul approaches to an immediate vision of the highest stages of the spiritual world. Ibn Gabirol's system has the defect of being one-sided, in that it treats only of the five physical senses and not of the intellectual senses, such as perception and understanding, which partake of the nature of the soul.

Baḥya's Ethics.

A system of ethics was propounded by Ibn Gabirol's contemporary, Baḥya ben Joseph ibn Paḳuda, in his work "Ḥobot ha-Lebabot." It has many points in common with the system of Gabirol; but it is more definitely religious in character, and deals more with the practical side of Jewish ethics. Like Ibn Gabirol, Baḥya teaches that man is the final object of this visible world, distinguished alike by his form, activity, and intellect. The aim and goal of all ethical self-discipline he declares to be the love of God. Amid all the earthly attractions and enjoyments, the soul yearns toward the fountain of its life, God, in whom alone it finds happiness and joy. Study and self-discipline are the means by which the soul is diverted from the evil passions. The standard of morality is the Law; but one must penetrate into the sentiments embodied in the 613 precepts which show the "via media," equally removed from sensuality and from contempt of the world, both of which are abnormal and injurious. Like Philo, Baḥya values hope highly, and shares the opinion of Ibn Gabirol that humility is the highest quality of the soul; it causes its possessor to be gentle toward his fellow men, to overlook their shortcomings, and to forgive injuries. The characteristic feature of Baḥya's ethical system is his tendency toward asceticism, which, although not directly advocated, may be seen in every line. He recommends fasting, withdrawal from the world, and renunciation of all that is not absolutely necessary.

Abraham bar Hiyya.

Abraham bar Ḥiyya followed Baḥya. In his homily in four chapters on repentance, entitled "Hegyon ha-Nefesh," he divides the laws of Moses, to correspond with the three classes of pious men, into three groups, namely: (1) the Decalogue, the first commandment of which is merely an introduction accentuating the divine origin and the eternal goal of the Law; (2) the group of laws contained in the second, third, and fourth books of Moses, intended for the people during their wandering in the desert or during the Exile, to render them a holy congregation; (3) the Deuteronomic legislation, intended for the people living in an agricultural state and forming a "kingdom of justice." All these laws are only necessary while sensuality prevails; but in the time of the Messianic redemption, when the evil spirit shall have vanished, no other laws than those given in the Decalogue will be necessary. The note of asceticism is still more accentuated in the "Hegyon ha-Nefesh" than in "Ḥobot ha-Lebabot," and Abraham bar Ḥiyya went so far as to praise celibacy, which is in direct opposition to the law of Moses. According to Ḥiyya, the non-Jew may attain as high a degree of godliness as the Jew ("Hegyon ha-Nefesh," 8a).

As the firm adversary of any kind of speculation,Judah ha-Levi is not much concerned with ethical philosophy; and when, under the influence of his time, he treats philosophically some ethical questions, such as free will, rewards, and punishment, he follows the beaten tracks of his predecessors, especially Saadia. The versatile Abraham ibn Ezra in his "Yesod Moreh" laid down the important doctrine that the fundamental moral principles which relate to all times and peoples were "known by the power of the mind before the Law was declared by Moses," or, in other words, ethical laws are universal (comp. Kant's "Categorical Imperative"). He furthermore declared that the motive leading to right acting was internal.

The Ethics of Maimonides.

A new departure in the field of ethics was taken by Maimonides. As in metaphysics, he closely follows Aristotle. Maimonides' ethical views are to be found in his introduction and commentary to Abot, in various passages of the "Sefer ha-Miẓwot," and in his "Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah," especially in the "Hilkot De'ot" and "Hilkot Teshubah." In Maimonides' opinion ethics and religion are indissolubly linked together, and all the precepts of the Law aim either directly or indirectly at morality ("Peraḳim,"; "Moreh Nebukim," 3:33). The final aim of the creation of this world is man; that of man is happiness. This happiness can not consist in the activity which he has in common with other animals, but in the exercise of his intellect which leads to the cognition of truth. The highest cognition is that of God and His unity; consequently the "summum bonum" is the knowledge of God, not through religion, but through philosophy. This is in accordance with the teachings of the philosopher and, according to Maimonides, of the prophet Jeremiah, who praises (9:23) neither bodily perfection, nor riches, nor ethical perfection, but intellectual perfection. The first necessity in the pursuit of the "summum bonum" is to subdue sensuality and to render the body subservient to reason.

Moral and Intellectual Virtues.

In order that man should be considered the aim and end of the creation of this world he must be perfect morally and intellectually. Neither the wise lacking virtue nor the virtuous lacking knowledge can be perfect. Virtue and vice have their source in the five faculties of the soul: the nutritive, the sensitive, the imaginative, the appetitive, and the deliberative. The soul is to the intellect what matter is to form: it is susceptible to both good and evil, according to the choice made by the deliberative faculty. Human excellence is either of the appetitive faculty (moral virtues); or of the deliberative faculty (intellectual virtues). The appetitive virtues are numerous, and include courage, temperance, magnanimity, truthfulness, etc. The vices of the appetitive faculty consist in the opposites of the appetitive virtues; for instance, cowardice and rashness are the opposite extremes of courage), and both are vices. However, to make virtue deserving of praise and vice deserving of blame there must be deliberate preference. Man possesses a natural capacity for judging good and evil, and he is perfectly free in his choice (FREE WILL). Therefore the rewards or punishments promised for the observance or infraction of the precepts fall also upon him who has not been forewarned by revelation or religion. Intellectual perfection is to be reached by the study of philosophy, beginning with the preparatory study of mechanics and mathematics. Maimonides distinguishes seven degrees in the religious and intellectual development of man; the lowest being that of barbarism, the highest that of the true knowledge of God, attained only when one's intellectual energy is so predominant that all the coarser functions of the body are held in abeyance.

These are the main principles upon which Maimonides based the general ethical system of Judaism. They are essentially those of Aristotle, but clad in a Jewish garb and supported by quotations from the Bible and Talmud. In the field of personal ethics Maimonides established rules deduced from the teachings of the Bible and of the Rabbis. These rules deal with man's obligations to himself and to his fellow men. To the obligations of man to himself belong the keeping of oneself in health through leading a regular life, by seeking medical advice in sickness, by observing cleanliness of the body and of clothing, by earning a livelihood, etc. The requisites for the soundness of the soul are peace (contentment), moderation in joy and in grief. Maimonides considers as a noble characteristic of the soul the disinclination to receive presents. Pity is a generous quality of the soul. To develop this sentiment the Law forbade cruelty to animals. Mutual love and sociability are necessary for men. The sentiment of justice prescribed by the Law consists in respecting the property and honor of others even though they be one's slaves.

Shem-Ṭob Falaquera wrote four works on various ethical questions, namely: "Iggeret Hanhagat ha-Guf weha-Nefesh," on the control of the body and the soul; "Ẓeri ha-Yagon," on resignation and fortitude under misfortune; "Reshit Ḥokmah," treating of moral duties; "Sefer ha-Ma'alot," on the different degrees of human perfection. In all these works Shem-Ṭob followed closely the teachings of Maimonides.

In the Cabala.

Ethics occupies a prominent place in the see CABALA. According to the cabalists, moral perfection of man influences the ideal world of the Sefirot; for although the Sefirot expect everything from the En Sof, the En Sof itself is dependent upon man: he alone can bring about the divine effusion. The dew that vivifies the universe flows from the just. By the practise of virtue, by moral perfection, man may increase the outflow of heavenly grace. Even physical life is subservient to virtue. This, says the Zohar, is indicated in the words "for the Lord God had not caused it to rain" (Genesis 2:5), which mean that there had not yet been beneficent action in heaven because man had not yet given the impulsion.

The Virtues of the Just.

The necessary requirements for deserving the title of "just" are love of God, love of man, truth, prayer, study, and fulfilment of the precepts of the Law. Love of God is the final object of the being of the soul. "In love is found the secret of the divine unity; it is love that unites the higherand lower stages, and that lifts everything to that stage where all must be one" (Zohar 2:216a). The life beyond is a life of complete contemplation and complete love. Love, which by the action of the Sefirah "Grace" spreads order and harmony in the ideal world, must also bring order and harmony into the earthly world, especially into the society of man. Truth is the basis of the world. To use the very words of the cabalists, it is the great seal by which the human spirit was engraved on matter; and as an earthly king likes to see his effigy on the coins of his realm, the King of the universe likes to see the stamp of truth on man. In the act of prayer the body cooperates with the soul, and by this the union of this world with the ideal is effected. The divine wisdom which governed the creation of the world finds its expression in human knowledge. Accordingly, knowledge of the Law, in its ethical as well as religious aspects, is a means toward influencing the ideal world. Moreover, through study man escapes the seductions of evil. Evil lies in matter, and is conscious of itself; therefore it can be conquered. Evil is necessary, for without it there can be no good. The Zohar says that every man should so live that at the close of every day he can say, "I have not wasted my day" (1:221b).

The later philosophic writers, e. g., Gersonides and Albo, mainly repeat the ethical views of Maimonides till the epoch-making appearance of Spinoza, who neither in source nor in influence is strictly Jewish.

  • For Philo: Zeller, Die Philosophie der Griechen, 3:2, pp. 402-416;
  • Drummond, Philo Judœus, 2:283 et seq.;
  • Frankel, Zur Ethik des Jüdischen Alexandrinischen Philosophen Philo, in Monatsschrift, 1867, pp. 241-252;
  • Hamburger, in Popular Wissenschaftliche Monatsblätter, 5:153,177,207,231;
  • Claude Monteflore, in Jewish Quarterly Review, 7:481 et seq.;
  • Tiktin, Die Lehre der Tugenden und Pflichten bei Philo, Breslau, 1901;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 3:378. For the Judæo-Arabic period: Brüll, Jahrbucher, 5:71 et seq.;
  • Dukes, Solomo ben Gabirol aus Malaga und Ethischen Werke Desselben, Hanover, 1860;
  • A. Frankl-Grünn, Die Ethik des Juda Halevi;
  • Horovitz, Die Psychologie Ibn Gabirol's, Breslau, 1900;
  • Geiger, Die Ethische Grundlage des Buches über die Herzenpflichten, in ed. Baumgarten, -;
  • Kaufmann, Die Theologie des Bahya Ibn Pakuda;
  • idem, Die Sinne;
  • Rosin, in Jew. Quart. Revelation 3:159;
  • idem, Die Ethik des Maimonides, Breslau, 1876;
  • J. Guttman, Die Philosophie des Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Göttingen, 1889;
  • idem, Die Religiousphilosophie des Saadia, Göttingen, 1882;
  • Wise, The Improvement of the Moral Qualities, New York, 1901;
  • M. Wolf, Moses ben Maimun's Acht Kapitel, Leipsic, 1863.
  • For the ethics of the Cabala, see Cabala.
E. C.
I. Br.


Under this heading it is proposed to treat of the agreements and differences between the concepts and theories and the resulting practises of Jewish ethics and those of the main ethical schools of modern times. The fundamental teachings of Judaism base ethics on the concept that the universe is under purpose and law—that is, that it constitutes a moral order, created and guided by divine will, a personal God, in whom thought, will, and being are identical and coincident, and who therefore is the All-Good, his very nature excluding evil. Man, "created in the image of God," is a free moral agent, endowed (1) with the perception which distinguishes right from wrong, right being that which harmonizes with the moral order of things and serves its purposes, wrong being that which is out of consonance with this order and would conflict with and oppose it; and (2) with the will and the power to choose and do the right and eschew and abandon the wrong.

The moral law, therefore, is autonomous; man finds it involved in his own nature. Man being composed of body and soul, or mind, moral action is not automatic or instinctive. It has to overcome the opposition arising from the animal elements (appetites, selfishness), which are intended to be under the control, and serve the purposes, of the mind and soul. Recognition of right, the resolve to do it, and the execution of this resolve, are the three moments in the moral act. The impelling motive is not what outwardly results from the act (reward or punishment), but the desire and intention to be and become what man should and may be. Man thus is a moral personality, as such able to harmonize his conduct with the purposes of the All, and through such concordance lift his individual self to the importance and value of an abiding force in the moral order of things. Every man is and may act as a moral personality; the "summum bonum" is the realization on earth of conditions in which every man may live the life consonant with his dignity as a moral personality. This state is the "Messianic kingdom" (). The assurance that this kingdom will come and that right is might has roots in the apprehension of the universe and the world of man as a moral cosmos. Israel, by virtue of being the historic people whose genius flowered (1) in the recognition of the moral purposes underlying life and time and world (GOD), and the ultimate ( ) triumph of right over wrong, as well as (2) in the apprehension of man's dignity and destiny as a moral personality, derives from its history the right, and is therefore under obligation, to anticipate in its own life the conditions of the Messianic fulfilment, thus illustrating the possibility and potency of a life consonant with the implications of the moral order of things, and by example influencing all men to seek and find the aim of human life in the ambition to establish among men the moral harmonies resulting from the recognition that man is a moral personality, and that the forces of the universe are under moral law.



Jewish ethics, then, differs from the Christian in insisting that man, now as in the beginning, still has the power to discern between right and wrong and to choose between them. The consciousness of sin, and the helplessness of the sinner, are not taught or recognized. Therefore Jewish ethics is not tinged with quietism or Asceticism. Resignation and submission are not among the tendencies it fosters or justifies. Resistance to evil, and its discomfiture by remedial and positive good, is the keynote of Jewish morality, individual as well as social. Pessimism and optimism alike are eliminated by a higher synthesis; the former as negative of the inherent godliness (or morally purposed creation) of the universe and the essential worthiness of human life, the latter as ignoring the place assigned to man in the economy of things, and, with its one-sided insistence that "whatever is, is right," paralyzing man's energies. Meliorism, the conscious effort at improvement, perhaps expresses the character of Jewish ethics.



Neither is Jewish ethics on the same plane as the common-sense moralism of Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, or that of Wolff and the school of the "Aufklärungsphilosophie." Theirs is a system of moral hedonism, which reduces the moral life to an equation in happiness, gross or refined, sensual or spiritual. The desire for happiness is not the true basis of ethics. Nor is it true, as insisted on by this school, that happiness, except in the sense of the feeling of inner harmony with the implications and obligations of human personality, attends moral action as does effect follow upon cause. Like all hedonism, that of the moralists, too, verges on utilitarianism, the theory that what is useful (to oneself, or to the greater number) is moral. In the modification of the original equation between utility and morality, which makes the "happiness of the greater number" the test of goodness and the motive of moral action, utilitarianism has virtually abandoned its main contention without explaining why, in cases of conflict between individual interest and the welfare of the greater number, the individual should forego his immediate or ultimate advantage; for the contention that egotism always is shortsighted, reaching out for immediate and cheaper pleasure at the loss of remoter but more precious advantages, virtually denies the efficiency of utilitarianism as normative of human conduct and relations. Jewish ethics does not deny that spiritual pleasure is a concomitant of moral action, nor that moral conduct leads to consequences redounding to the welfare of society. But, contrary to the doctrine of hedonism and utilitarianism, Jewish ethics does not regard these attending feelings or resulting consequences as other than morally inconsequential. They are not proposed as motives or aims. In other words, worthiness (holiness) is the aim and the test of moral conduct, according to Jewish ethical teaching.

This reveals how far Jewish ethics agrees with that of Kant, who more than any other has left his impress upon modern ethical thought. Kant, in insisting that no ulterior purpose should determine human action—going even to the extreme of holding that the degree of repugnance which must be overcome, and the absence of pleasure and delight, alone attest the moral value of a deed—was moved, on the one hand, by his dissent from the shallow "hedonism" of the "moralists" (intuitionalists), and on the other by a psychology still under the influence of the Christian dogma of original sin. Nothing is good but the "good will." But man's will is not naturally good. The "good" man, therefore, must struggle against his natural inclination. The absence of gratification, the amount of the unwillingness overcome, are indicative of the goodness of the will. Christian and hedonistic predications of rewards and punishments (temporal or eternal), for good and evil conduct respectively, led Kant to the demand that purpose be eliminated altogether from the equation of moral conduct. Jewish ethics shares with Kant the insistence that consequences, temporal or eternal, shall not determine action. But the psychology upon which Jewish ethics is grounded recognizes that while pleasure and delight, or social utility, are not to be lifted into the potencies of motives, they are possible results and concomitants of moral action. As with Kant, Jewish ethics is based on the solemnity and awfulness of the moral "ought," which it regards as the categorical imperative, implied and involved in the very nature of man.

But Jewish ethics sees in this immediate fact of human consciousness and reason a relation, beyond the human, to the essential force of the universe (God). Because man is created in the image of God he has, with this consciousness of obligation, "conscience," the sense of harmony, or the reverse, of his self with this essential destiny of man. The fundamental maxim of Jewish as of Kantian ethics insists upon such action as may and should be imitated by all. But in Jewish ethics this applicability is grounded on the assurance that every man, as God's image, is a moral personality, therefore an agent, not a tool or a thing. Equally with Kant, Jewish ethics insists on the autonomy of the moral law, but it does this because this moral law is in God and through God; because it is more inclusive than man or humanity, having in itself the assurance of being the essential meaning and purpose of all that is realizable. It is not a mere "ought" which demands, but a certainty that man "can" do what he "ought to do," because all the forces of the universe are attuned to the same "ought" and are making for righteousness. This view alone gives a firm basis to the moral life. It gives it both reality and content. The categorical imperative as put by Kant is only formal. Jewish ethics fills the categorical imperative with positive content by holding that it is man's duty as determined by the ultimate destiny of the human family, and as purposed in the moral order of things, to establish on earth the Messianic kingdom, or, in Christian ethics, "the community of saints," the "kingdom of God."


Jewish ethics deduces and proclaims its demands from the freedom of man's will. Determinism in all its varieties denies human freedom for the following reasons:

Free Will.

  1. Because the "soul" is dependent upon, and therefore controlled and limited by, the body. The contention of the determinists has not been proved. The material elements are substrata of the human person; as such they are factors of his being. But the "soul" or "will" nevertheless has the power to resist and neutralize the effects of the material factors. The latter, within certain extent, hamper or help; but whether increasing the difficulties or not, which the "will" encounters in asserting itself, the material elements may be and are under the will's control, even to their destruction (e. g., in suicide). The materialistic constructions have not weakened the foundations of Jewish ethics.
  2. Because empirically invariable regularity of human action has been established by moral statistics. At most the tables of moral statistics prove the influence of social conditions as brakes or stimuli to human will-power; but, confronted by the crucial question, Why does one individual and not another commit the (irregular) act? the theory fails ignominiously. It does not prove that social conditions are permanent. Man has changed them at his own will under deeper insight into the law of his moral relationsto other men. Hence the arguments derived from moral statistics do not touch the kernel of the Jewish doctrine of the moral freedom of man.
  3. Because will is determined by motives, and these arise out of conditions fixed by heredity and environment. The utmost this contention establishes is that men are responsible for the conditions they bequeath to posterity. These conditions may render difficult or easy the assertion of the will in the choice of motives, but they can not deprive the will of the power to choose. Environment may at will be changed, and the motives arising from it thereby modified. Jewish ethics is not grounded on the doctrine of absolute free will, but on that of the freedom of choice between motives. Man acts upon motives; but education, discipline, the training of one's mind to recognize the bearing which the motives have upon action and to test them by their concordance with or dissonance from the ideal of human conduct involved in man's higher destiny, enable man to make the better choice and to eliminate all baser motives. Even conceding the utmost that the theory of determining motives establishes, Jewish ethics continues on safe ground when predicating the freedom of the human will.
  4. Because human freedom has been denied on theological grounds as incompatible with the omnipotence and prescience of God (see Luther; Manicheans; Predestination; comp. Koran, sura; D. F. Strauss, "Die Christliche Glaubenslehre," 1:363: Spinoza's "immanent" God). The difficulties of the problem have been felt also by Jewish philosophers (see Stein, "Das Problem der Willensfreiheit"). Still, the difficulties are largely of a scholastic nature. Jewish ethics gives man the liberty to range himself on the side of the divine purposes or to attempt to place himself in opposition to them. Without this freedom moral life is robbed of its morality. Man can do naught against God except work his own defeat; he can do all with God by working in harmony with the moral purpose and destiny underlying life.


Relation to Evolutionist Ethics.

Jewish ethics is not weakened by the theories that evolution may be established in the history of moral ideas and practise; that the standards of right and wrong have changed; and that conscience has spoken a multitude of dialects. Even the theory of Spencer and others that conscience is only a slow accretion of impressions and experiences based upon the utility of certain acts is not fatal to the main principles of the Jewish ethical theory. Evolution at its best merely traces the development of the moral life; it offers no solution of its origin, why man has come to develop this peculiar range of judgments upon his past conduct, and evolve ideals regulative of future conduct. Human nature, then, in its constitution, must have carried potentially from the beginning all that really evolved from and through it in the slow process of time. Man thus tends toward the moralities, and these are refined and spiritualized in increasing measure. Jewish ethics is thus untouched in its core by the evolutional method of treatment of the phenomena of the moral life of man.


Based on Religion.

Jewish ethics and Jewish religion are inseparable. The moral life, it is true, is not dependent upon dogma; there are men who, though without positive dogmatic creeds, are intensely moral; as, on the other hand, there are men who combine religious and liturgical correctness, or religious emotionalism, with moral indifference and moral turpitude. Furthermore, the moral altitude of a people indicates that of its gods, while the reverse is not true (Melkarth, Astarte, Baal, Jupiter, reflect the morality of their worshipers). Nevertheless, religion alone lifts ethics into a certainty; the moral life under religious construction is expressive of what is central and supreme in all time and space, to which all things are subject and which all conditions serve. God is, in the Jewish conception, the source of all morality; the universe is under moral destiny. The key to all being and becoming is the moral purpose posited by the recognition that the supreme will of the highest moral personality is Creator and Author and Ruler of All. In God the moral sublimities are one. Hence the Jewish God-concept can best be interpreted in moral values (see God's thirteen MIDDOT). Righteousness, love, purity, are the only service man may offer Him. Immorality and Jewish religiosity are mutually exclusive. The moral life is a religious consecration. Ceremonies and symbols are for moral discipline and expressive of moral sanctities (see M. Lazarus, "Jüdische Ethik"). They appeal to the imagination of man in a way to deepen in him the sense of his moral dignity, and prompt him to greater sensitiveness to duty.


Religious Basis Necessary.

The ethical teachings of religion alone, and especially the Jewish religion, establish the relation of man to himself, to his property, to others, on an ethical basis. Religion sets forth God as the Giver. Non-religious ethics is incompetent to develop consistently the obligations of man to live so that the measure of his life, and the value and worth of all other men, shall be increased. Why should man not be selfish? Why is Nietzsche's "overman," who is "beyond good and evil," not justified in using his strength as he lists? Religion, and it alone, or a religious interpretation of ethics makes the social bond something more comprehensive than an accidental and natural (material) compact between men, a policy, a prudential arrangement to make life less burdensome; religion alone makes benevolence and altruism something loftier than mere anticipatory speculations on possible claims for benefits when necessity shall arise, or the reflex impulse of a subjective transference of another's objective misery to oneself, so that pity always is shown only to self (Schopenhauer). Religion shows that as man is the recipient of all he is and has, he is the steward of what was given him (by God) for his use and that of all his fellow men.

On this basis Jewish ethics rests its doctrines of duty and virtue. Whatever increases the capacity of man's stewardship is ethical. Whatever use of time, talent, or treasure augments one's possibilities of human service is ethically consecrated. Judaism, therefore, inculcates as ethical the ambition to develop physical and mental powers, as enlargement ofservice is dependent upon the measure of the increase of man's powers. Wealth is not immoral; poverty is not moral. The desire to increase one's stores of power is moral provided it is under the consecration of the recognized responsibility for larger service. The weak are entitled to the protection of the strong. Property entails duties, which establish its rights. Charity is not a voluntary concession on the part of the well-situated. It is a right to which the less fortunate are entitled in justice (). The main concern of Jewish ethics is personality. Every human being is a person, not a thing. Economic doctrine is unethical and un-Jewish if it ignores and renders illusory this distinction. Slavery is for this reason immoral. Jewish ethics on this basis is not individualistic; it is not under the spell of other-worldliness. It is social. By consecrating every human being to the stewardship of his faculties and forces, and by regarding every human soul as a person, the ethics of Judaism offers the solution of all the perplexities of modern political, industrial, and economic life. Israel as the "pattern people" shall be exponential, among its brothers of the whole human family, of the principles and practises which are involved in, pillared upon, and demanded by, the ethical monotheism which lifts man to the dignity of God's image and consecrates him the steward of all of his life, his talent, and his treasure. In the "Messianic kingdom," ideally to be anticipated by Israel, justice will be enthroned and incarnated in institution, and this justice, the social correlative of holiness and love, is the ethical passion of modern, as it was of olden, Judaism.

E. G. H.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Ethics'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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