Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"Human Dignity and the Jewish Tradition" by Hershey H. Friedman, PhD  
An excerpt from his article is below:
"There is a classic argument between Rabbi Akiva and Ben Azzai (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:4) as to which is the fundamental principle that summarizes the entire Torah. Rabbi Akiva believed that it was the verse (Leviticus 19:18) “You shall love your fellow as yourself.” Ben Azzai disagreed and felt that it was the verse (Genesis 5:1) “This is the book of the generations of Adam. On the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.” From the principle of loving your fellow human being as yourself, one can deduce “that which is hateful to you, do not do to others.” This is Hillel the Elder’s version of the Golden Rule (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a). A lofty ideal, but problematic if one does not much care about his or her own dignity. One who accepts the view that all of mankind was made in the likeness of God must respect all people, regardless of how s/he feels about her/himself (Pnei Moshe, see also Torah Temimah on Genesis 5:1). Indeed, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, one of the great rabbinical leaders of the twentieth century, makes the point that human dignity and social justice “are implicit in the biblical concept that man was created in God’s image” (Besdin, 1979: 190). Clearly, the importance of human dignity is linked to the belief that God created man. In fact, Amsel (1994) quotes the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 24:7) that maintains when you insult another person you have insulted his Creator, because man was created in the image of God."

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