Social Ethics

Judaism has an all-enveloping and passionate dedication to the ideal of justice. The moral imperative of justice was taught by the Jewish prophets. Moses taught the ideal of justice for the elimination of social inequities and for the moral guidance of the conduct of the individual. Personal and moral conscience are awakened by the indoctrination of the ethical values of justice, truth and peace.

Judaism also addresses in depth the obligations of the individual to other individuals. A Jew has a legal obligation to help someone in need, and to be a bystander in such a case is a violation of Torah law. Tradition states that every Jew should exhibit the characteristic of chesed, the ability to go beyond the requirement of the law to help others. That is why Jews are so often at the forefront of human rights movements and generally helping others. The Talmud states that mercy and kindness should be the defining qualities of every Jew.

Personal Relationship Ethics

Maimonides stated that “all moral principles concern the relationship of man to his neighbour”, being “given to man for the benefit of mankind”. Therefore it can be said that the practice of these principles by each Jew is mandatory. The rabbis claimed that the wellspring of all moral values was love, keeping to the same theme of “love thy neighbour as thyself”, “hate not thy brother”, “avenge not”, “bear no grudge” and “love the stranger”. Hillel urged Jews to “let the honour of your fellow man be as dear to you as your own”, meaning that every person should be his “brother’s keeper”. In keeping with this is the warning by the Talmudic sages of the destructive consequences of slander.

The rabbis stressed the necessity for people to help each other. In order to survive, all human beings must practice mutual aid. Rabbi Akiva argued that the prior duty of every person is to him/herself in order that s/he be able to care for others.

The ideal Jew should be gentle in thought, word, outlook, feeling and action; not merely in manner. In traditional Jewish thought the opposite of gentle is angry. The Bible tells us that “He who gives way to his anger shall be considered in thine eyes as an idolator.” Gentleness in response to provocation and insult is another ideal. This is illustrated by the Talmudic saying “If others speak evil of you, make no answer.”

Compassion, humility, a charitable spirit, forgiveness and good manners are also desirable qualities of the Jew in personal relationships.

Related Pages

Social Ethics and the Torah

Tzedakah – Charity in the Jewish Tradition

Philanthropic Organisations


Jewish Virtual Library: Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra

Rabbi Yitz Wyne: Gossip and Guarding Yourself From It

Rabbi Yitz Wyne: Why not be Racist? We’re Made in God’s Image (video)

Jewish Virtual Library: Usury [lending money at excessive rates of interest]

See also our page on Tzedakah (Charity)