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
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?
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?