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Bioethics, Jewish

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-J060-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Jewish bioethics seeks to apply Jewish modes of normative discourse in bioethics. For some moral issues in medicine, explicit guidance may be found in the traditional sources of halakhah; but many others require creative application of ancient or medieval precedents and norms. Much of the contemporary writing in this area takes the classical form of rabbinic Responsa to specific queries from adherents of the halakhah. But the field also includes contributions from thinkers who offer not rulings on religious law but the fruits of moral inspiration by the tradition.

In the Judaic tradition the idea that each human being is created in God’s image fosters a powerful commitment to saving and prolonging life. Murder and suicide are terrible sacrileges. Procreation is highly valued. Contraception is not easily countenanced, and still less is abortion. But abortion is clearly distinguished from homicide.

The symbolic preciousness of the divine image disallows disfigurement of human corpses. The implications of this prohibition for pathology and for the study of anatomy are hotly disputed. The prohibition is overridden, however, in cases of immediate life-saving.

Regarding triage and resource allocation, the universal egalitarianism implied by the idea of God’s image fosters a powerful reluctance against bringing about any person’s death, even to save a number of lives. Some tension arises between this egalitarianism and traditional structures of social and religious hierarchy.

Citing this article:
Zohar, Noam J.. Bioethics, Jewish, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-J060-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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