Do we Owe Respect to Old Bones?

January 9, 2012

EnglishHuman bone in forestSo there’s this this debate going on in England about a skeleton that was displayed apparantly against the explicit wish of its erstwhile live person (should we call it its “owner”?), Charles Byrne, and people are arguing whether to finally bury it, or whether so much time has passed (some 230 years) that it is no longer relevant. [Hat tip: Rabbi Ze’ev Smason] Read the rest of this entry »

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Should Humanity Call It Quits?

June 10, 2010

Peter Singer, the controversial chair of bioethics at Princeton University, wrote an online feature for the New York Times, where he ponders, considering the multitude of suffering in life, whether it is not more moral to abstain altogether from procreation, knowing full well that that means that within one life span, there would be no more humans on earth. As he emphasizes, this is not a serious proposal, but a thought experiment in order to investigate the morality of bringing children into the world, the parents knowing full well that the child will suffer. On a different level, it is an investigation into the question whether life is worth living.

At first sight, this echoes a long lasting discussion between the Houses of Hillel and Shammai:

Our Rabbis taught: For two and a half years were Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel in dispute, the former asserting that it were more pleasant for man not to have been created than to have been created, and the latter maintaining that it is better for man to have been created than not to have been created.
They finally took a vote and decided that it were better for man not to have been created than to have been created, but now that he has been created, let him investigate his past deeds or, as others say, let him examine his future actions.
(Babylonian Talmud, Eiruvin 13b)

ת”ר שתי שנים ומחצה נחלקו ב”ש וב”ה הללו אומרים נוח לו לאדם שלא נברא יותר משנברא והללו אומרים נוח לו לאדם שנברא יותר משלא נברא נמנו וגמרו נוח לו לאדם שלא נברא יותר משנברא עכשיו שנברא יפשפש במעשיו ואמרי לה ימשמש במעשיו (עירובין יג:)

Does Peter Singer have a point, or is he fundamentally misunderstanding what life is all about?

After quoting some excerpts of his article, I present an analysis of the Jewish sources on the matter, in the hope that, when asked “what is the meaning of life,” we will give a better answer than “42.”
Read the rest of this entry »


Schande! !שאנדע

July 30, 2009

EnglishOn the 23rd of June, the FBI and associated law enforcement agents arrested 44 individuals on, mostly in New Jersey. The arrested individuals were mostly charged with money laundering, but some also on organ trade. As it happens, many of those arrested were Jews, four or five of them even Orthodox rabbis. You can read more on the arrests here and here. Thankfully, there are still upright people among us (stories: I, II) It should be noted that, both in Judaism and in Western democracies, the principle of innocent until proven guilty applies. Particularly, there are sensible claims that some, but surely not all, of those charged, were entrapped. Nonetheless, some of the accusations are very grave, very serious.

The Rabbinical Council of America has issued a press release. A salient paragraph is:

We are appalled at the allegations which, if true, violate the letter and the spirit of Jewish law, decency, good citizenship, and the norms of our great society. Read the rest of this entry »


The Folly of Greed

December 25, 2008

EnglishSome two weeks have passed since Bernard Madoff has admitted to his sons, and later to the police, that he had perpetrated the greatest financial swindle of the history of mankind, and we yet have to come to terms with it (hint: it’ll take years). Meanwhile, a life was lost, as one institutional investor, Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, committed suicide after having lost some USD 1.5 billion for his clients through Bernard Madoff. For the benefit of those who, surely steeped in their Torah study, failed to notice the uproar in the streets, I will briefly outline what I gleaned from court papers and the financial press on this matter. (If you do know the details, you can skip ahead.) Read the rest of this entry »


Financial Regulators Seek Out Choshen Mishpat

October 13, 2008

EnglishThis is just in from Time Magazine. There seems to be a growing interest in Jewish Civil Law (Choshen Mishpat) among economists, politicians and financial regulators, as is evidenced by this Time Magazine article, “The Financial Crisis: What Would the Talmud Do?” by David Van Biema.

I previously explored the conflict between Halakhah and secular civil law, as well as its moral importance, in the following essay:

  • True Freedom of Conscience English
  • Wahre Gewissenfreiheit Deutsch