Jewish Ethics

Jewish Ethics

Do others have the right to define what is ethical for me?

Rabbi REUVEN BULKA is head of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa and host of Sunday night with Rabbi Bulka on 580 CFRA. Yes, they have the right to define what is ethical, but they do not have the right to impose that definition, and you have a right to disagree.

And if they are sharing with you what is ethical for you, it only has currency if, in their own lives, they live by the same ethics at least. Otherwise, telling you what is ethical for you but ignoring it for themselves is pure hypocrisy. People have a right to be hypocrites, but having a right does not make it right.

Since we have already answered your question, let’s look at it again. Perhaps you really want to know whether it is right for others to define what is ethical for you?

Put another way, and admittedly somewhat twisted — should you be the only one that you consult regarding what is ethical for you? That version of your question sounds much different, but it impacts on the question as you put it.

It is very nearsighted for someone in an ethical quandary to absolutely refuse to entertain other perspectives.

We grow from the proliferation of ideas thrown at us in a non-imposing manner. We get a fuller picture because of the various views, and then are able to make an informed decision. Anything less would itself hardly be ethical.

Now, let’s move to another variation of your question. Suppose you see someone about to do something that to you seems very unethical. You know the person, and have a relationship with him/her. Is it ethical for you to keep silent, and let that person fall into an ethical abyss? To what extent is the “it is none of my business” attitude itself a breach of ethics?

Further, to what extent does this type of thinking impact on how we care for each other?

Your question, though restricted to a specific situation, has wide-ranging implications. If the underpinning of all ethics is not our abiding concern for others, then it is a terribly flawed set of ethics.

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