Talmudic Ethics: Finding Your Way to Good Decisions

When your heart is pulled in two directions, how do you know which tug to follow? The Talmud lays down principles that can help you disentangle warring intuitions so that you can clearly discern right from wrong. In this course, we invite you to experience the fascinating application of law and logic as the rabbis struggle to determine what is just.

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Lesson 1
My Brother, My Self
A parent in the Holocaust struggles to decide whether to ransom his son from certain death, because he knows that the guard will seize another Jewish boy in his son’s stead. Explore under what circumstances people may protect their own interests first, and when they must sacrifice themselves rather than bringing harm to another.

Lesson 2
The Ebbing Flame
Families facing the imminent death of a loved one grapple to make end-of-life decisions that impart the final moments with dignity and respect. They wonder when medical intervention is morally required, and when it is excessively intrusive. Must life be preserved at all costs, or can it be permitted to gracefully ebb away?

Lesson 3
The Right to Life
A woman must decide whether to abort a fetus so that she can provide a marrow transplant for her dying sister. How can we balance the interests of the yet unborn fetus with the interests of those who have already entered this life?

Lesson 4
Words That Wound
What happens when a playwright portrays a public figure in a negative light? Can the playwright be sued for slander and character defamation? Is there special protection accorded artists so that they may be free to create? Are their artistic statements held to different standards than assertions made in the press or in the context of regular public discourse? Or are all people equally accountable for their hurtful words?

Lesson 5
The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth
When truth and justice conflict, which value takes primacy? May a lawyer lie or withhold knowledge in order to ensure a just outcome? Must one trust that the system will ensure an appropriate outcome, or is it the responsibility of those in the legal profession to bend the rules so that a fair outcome is reached?

Lesson 6
Penny for Your Thoughts
Both Jewish and secular legal systems have rules outlawing unfair competition, or “encroaching on another’s boundaries.” In the modern world, the boundaries of these rules are tested by considering the degree to which ones thoughts are protected.

Can one own an idea? Are patents and copyrights concepts that are recognized by Jewish law? See how ancient cases can have some surprisingly modern applications.