The Torah of #MeToo - Dignity

Jewish ethical tradition assigns ultimate value to each human life. Human lives are inherently valuable, and are not to be regarded in terms of their utility or usefulness to other ends. Across the diversity of circumstances and traits that differentiate one human from another, we are equal with regard to our dignity whatever our age, background, wealth, gender identity, physical appearance or ability. The value of human life is grounded in our relationship to God.

How can we shape policies, procedures, interactions, and culture in such a way that they honor Jewish teachings about the irreducible worth of every human life?

Creation in God's Image

(כו) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבְכָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכָל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃ (כז) וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃

(26) And God said, “Let us make a human in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” (27) And God created the human in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

(א) זֶ֣ה סֵ֔פֶר תּוֹלְדֹ֖ת אָדָ֑ם בְּי֗וֹם בְּרֹ֤א אֱלֹהִים֙ אָדָ֔ם בִּדְמ֥וּת אֱלֹהִ֖ים עָשָׂ֥ה אֹתֽוֹ׃ (ב) זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בְּרָאָ֑ם וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָ֗ם וַיִּקְרָ֤א אֶת־שְׁמָם֙ אָדָ֔ם בְּי֖וֹם הִבָּֽרְאָֽם׃ (ס)

(1) This is the record of the generations of humanity: On the day God created the human, He made him in the likeness of God; (2) Male and female He created them and He blessed them and called them Human on the day of their creation.

These two passages from Genesis describe humanity's creation "in the image of God."

  • How do you understand the idea of creation in God's image? How is your understanding supported or complicated by the language of these verses?
  • What aspect of humanity resembles God?
  • Genesis 1:26 uses the terms "image" and "likeness." Do they mean the same thing? Why do you think both these terms appear?
  • When does the differentiation of gender enter the human story? Do the two passages convey the same message with regard to gender?

Grounding Principles

"ואהבת לרעך כמוך" –

רבי עקיבא אומר זה כלל גדול בתורה.

בן עזאי אומר "זה ספר תולדות אדם" – זה כלל גדול מזה.

. . . "And you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18).

Rabbi Akiva says: This is a great principle in the Torah.

Ben Azzai says: "This is the record of the generations of humanity" (Genesis 5:1) — This is an even greater principle.

In this early midrash, two great sages promote essential principles of Jewish teaching.

1. In what ways can the commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself serve as a foundation for ethical decisions?

2. For the Torah, who counts as a neighbor? How do you know? Do you think Rabbi Akiva understands "neighbor" in any particular way?

3. Why do you think Ben Azzai thinks he has found a greater principle than Rabbi Akiva? How can the story of humanity's creation serve as a foundation for ethics?

4. Why do you think Ben Azzai refers to Genesis 5:1 and not to earlier verses about humanity's creation?

5. Can you think of circumstances in which Rabbi Akiva's principle and Ben Azzai's principle would point to different ethical decisions?