main || up a level || post article || search || archive

  Ethical Monotheism

Posted by Yitzhak on 2001/11/29 14:03:57 US/Eastern

I am thinking about conversion to Judaism (Yitzhak would be my choice for my Hebrew name) and naturally a number of questions are arising. It would be good to hear the opinions of others hence, I am posting here in the hope that there will be a response. Or, better still, several.
I was reading today that one of the tenets of Judaism is, "ethical monotheism". It is the word ethical that concerns me.

Firstly, it would appear to put a limit on G-d's actions. Secondly, my knowledge of the Torah is still yet to be built up but I cannot bring to mind any actions of G-d that were described in terms of ethics (actions that are expressed in terms of fulfilment of contractual obligations certainly, but that is not the same as actions based on ethics). Thirdly, the concept of ethics seems to have developed with the rise of the prophets. In other words, with the exception of the Convenant with David, several hundred years after the Covenants defining the relationship between G-d and man.

My questions are, when did the concept of ethical monotheism originate, does it not limit the actions of G-d and who decides what is ethical or not?

Post a Reply


The following replies are owned by whoever posted them:
Re: Ethical Monotheism
by Aron S-T on 2001/12/23 09:05:20 US/Eastern

An historical approach to Judaism would certainly agree with your analysis. The religion of the Israelites through the first temple period was based on a covenant between a local god and his people. The ethical concepts we associate with monothesim were initially developed by the prophets. Judaism as a distinct monotheistic religion in fact began during the second temple period and was set in its classical form during the Talmudic era, post-destruction of the Second Temple. (Please note that Orthodox Jews would contend that Talmudic Judaism was in fact given full-blown to Moses on Mount Sinai).

The question is, what does this have to do with your conversion? Modern Judaism, in all its forms, certainly recognizes the centrality of ethics. The Bible itself recognizes that ethical concerns must limit G-d's actions - as indicated in the story of the dialog between Abraham and G-d concerning the destruction of Sodom. Moreover, you will find many rabbinic precepts and stories that tie G-d's action to ethical behavior. Spent a few hours reading this online magazine and you will see for yourself. So yes, to be a Jew, you must accept the centrality of ethical behavior in our relationship with other people and in our relationship to G-d. However, it is not clear to me why you are concerned about this.

On the flip side, you don't have to convert to Judaism to lead a good and moral life. So, in fact, conversion has nothing to do with ethics at all. Jews believe that G-d requires ethical behavior of all people, Jew and Gentile alike. The classical Jewish concept of conversion has to do with the idea of the convert tying his/her fate to that of the Jewish people. In Orthodoxy this would require your assumption of the specific practices that are unique to Jews. Taking Kaplan's concept of Judaism as a civilization, even non-Orthodox Jews view conversion as the desire to partake in Jewish culture and peoplehood.

If you haven't done so already, I would certainly suggest you spend some time speaking with a Rabbi or Rabbis, discussing your motivations for conversion and what exactly it entails.

Good luck whatever you decide.

[ Reply to This ]

  • Re: Ethical Monotheism
    by Yitzhak on 2001/12/28 19:34:36 US/Eastern
    First, many thanks for your reply and your best wishes.

    To answer your question: this particular concern (and I am using the word in the sense of being, “relevant or important to” rather than being anxious or worried) is one of a number that have bubbled up as I try to work out my motivations for converting and to give some thought as to the denomination to convert into prior to making personal contact with a Rabbi.

    My question is not about ethics but about ethical monotheism. To give you a bit more background, at the moment, it is near to impossible for me to separate historical perspective from religious belief and because of that, I find myself challenging the tenet of, “ethical monotheism” or, to be precise, the ethical part of it. For me, God is just God, his actions or inactions, are neither ethical or unethical and, in any case, who are we to judge?
    So, I am trying to do some reconciliation.

    You made me smile with your reassurance that conversion to Judaism was not necessary to lead a good and moral life. You then very succinctly put forward two reasons for conversion both of which struck a chord. Again, thank you.
    [ Reply to This ]

Re: Ethical Monotheism
by Carly on 2003/06/05 04:23:29 GMT-4

I answer to your questions are that Ethical Momtheism is the foundation of why we are Jews. It originated in the Shema, "I am your Lord G-d, The Lord is one." It is here that we see that we dedicate ourselves only to G-d. There is no real reason why we do, it is just considered a statute, we do it because G-d has told us to.

Nothing can limit the actions of G-d for He is above nature and divine, if anything perhaps you could say it does the complete opposite because we are all worshiping Him, just one G-d and not lots of G-ds, in which case it would be limited.

Ethical really means the way that people act towards each other and that we shoud act decently as it is G-ds primary demand of us to do so.

Ethics is really morals and standards, but there is a book called Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot) that could help you on how we define what is ethcial and what is not.

I hope that helps you out! I am a Jewish Studies A-Level student in London so hopefully my information answers your questions!

Bear in mind that Judaism is a religion of asking one qusetion and having a thousand different answers! It is relevant to ourselves by how we judge things.



[ Reply to This ]

  main || up a level || post article || search || archive

Search Readers' Exchange



Subscribe to the JHOM mailing list for updates.

Contact us

Tell a friend