Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Jewish values and public policy

Rabbi/Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, in Medicine and Jewish Law(edited by Fred Rosner, a compilation of talks at the `AOJS physicians' conference in 1989) addresses the topic of The Role of Jewish Medical ethics in shaping legislation:

There is a basic difference between secular medical ethics and Jewish medical ethics. Secular medical ethics seeks to turn ethical guidelines ..into law... the law is a product of moral intuition or consensus.

Jewish medical ethics operates in reverse. Out of legal verdicts..we distill the ethical guidelines and principles responsible for the legal judgements. Jewish medical ethics derives from legislation, it does not lead to legislation... the legislative rulings have been given as Halachah, and we then have to extrapolate the rules and principles from them....

As Jewish citizens, we clearly have certain moral obligations, perhpas even halachic duties, at least to contribute to the public debate on moral issues in medicine, but perhpas also to apply our influence in the formulation of legislation.

(discussing autopsies and abortion vis a vis israeli law)

In principle, I have always opposed the idea of seeking to enforce halachic discipline in Israel by way of Knesset legislation, thus subjecting the majority..secularists, to "religious coercion.". As a rule this can only further alienate the secular majority from the religious minority and their beliefs. But there are bound to be certain exceptions.

(regarding abortion, which is an exception to the above rule)..I believe that precise legislation was vital, but its presentationi was all-important. In light of the fact that the majority of Knesset members do not share our respect for Halacha, it was imperative that legislation..be presented in a manner that would be persuasive to them and lead them to consider our concerns.
It seems strange that for a long time ther was absolutely no agitation on abaortion in religious circles. Even the Agudah did not raise the matter until the mid-1970's. It had evidently been of no major concern to them or to the otherreligious parties. Why?.... (it) did not affect the religouis community. No one forced anyone to have an abortion, so the religious community felt no need to seek legislation on the subject. (he goes on to say that the thrust of his arguement against abortion was framed in the context of national survival-abortion lessens the number of Jews, rather than simply a religious basis)
I use this illustration to show that in terms of legislation what is at stake is not merely the strit demands of Halacha. Of critical importance is the effect that the discipline of Halachah has on the Jewish public.

(on non-Jewish legislation)

To what extent must (I) bring (my) Jewish moral convictions to bear on society in general and the laws governing it?

...the major areas of medical ethics ..come under the heading of the Seven Noahite Commandments...We should endeavor to ensure, as best we can, that non-Jews fulfill the Seven Commandments incumbent on all humans, and for that legislative enactments are required.

(he then goes on to bring examples from his speeches in the House of Lords of his opposition to abortion on demand and his bringing a tradional Halachic viewpoint to other topics.)

We have a duty as custodians of what we believe to be the universal moral order as enshrined in the Seven Noahite Commandments, and more extensively in the divinely ordained laws of the Torah, to do our utmost to advance the appreciation oand the rule of these moral values.

Notice all of his efforts are within the legal system, not street protests. Also his aim is a general societal acceptance of moral values, not a case by case intervention.

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