Morality and Religion: The Jewish Story by Avi Sagi

Morality and Religion: The Jewish Story by Avi Sagi

Jewish Thought and Philosophy

The relationship between morality and religion has long been controversial, familiar in its formulation as Euthyphro’s dilemma: Is an act right because God commanded it or did God command it because it is right. In Morality and Religion: The Jewish Story, renowned scholar Avi Sagi marshals the breadth of philosophical and hermeneutical tools to examine this relationship in Judaism from two perspectives. The first considers whether Judaism adopted a thesis widespread in other monotheistic religions known as ‘divine command morality,’ making morality contingent on God’s command. The second deals with the ways Jewish tradition grapples with conflicts between religious and moral obligations. After examining a broad spectrum of Jewish sources―including Talmudic literature, Halakhah, Aggadah, Jewish philosophy, and liturgy―Sagi concludes that mainstream Jewish tradition consistently refrains from attempts to endorse divine command morality or resolve conflicts by invoking a divine command. Rather, the central strand in Judaism perceives God and humans as inhabiting the same moral community and bound by the same moral obligations. When conflicts emerge between moral and religious instructions, Jewish tradition interprets religious norms so that they ultimately pass the moral test. This mainstream voice is anchored in the meaning of Jewish law, which is founded on human autonomy and rationality, and in the relationship with God that is assumed in this tradition.

Year first published: 2021

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