Kavod Hatzibur, Kavod Habriyot and Dignity Therapy: On Communal and Human Dignity

Definition of Dignity, Merriam Webster Dictionary

1:the quality or state of being worthy of honor and respect He believes in the dignity of all people.

2:a serious and admirable look or way of behaving

לְפִיכָךְ נִבְרָא אָדָם יְחִידִי, לְלַמֶּדְךָ, שֶׁכָּל הַמְאַבֵּד נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ אִבֵּד עוֹלָם מָלֵא. וְכָל הַמְקַיֵּם נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ קִיֵּם עוֹלָם מָלֵא. וּמִפְּנֵי שְׁלוֹם הַבְּרִיּוֹת, שֶׁלֹּא יֹאמַר אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ אַבָּא גָדוֹל מֵאָבִיךָ. וְשֶׁלֹּא יְהוּ מִינִין אוֹמְרִים, הַרְבֵּה רָשֻׁיּוֹת בַּשָּׁמָיִם. וּלְהַגִּיד גְּדֻלָּתוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, שֶׁאָדָם טוֹבֵעַ כַּמָּה מַטְבְּעוֹת בְּחוֹתָם אֶחָד וְכֻלָּן דּוֹמִין זֶה לָזֶה, וּמֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא טָבַע כָּל אָדָם בְּחוֹתָמוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן וְאֵין אֶחָד מֵהֶן דּוֹמֶה לַחֲבֵרוֹ. לְפִיכָךְ כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד חַיָּב לוֹמַר, בִּשְׁבִילִי נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם. :

"It was for this reason that man was first created as one person [Adam], to teach you that anyone who destroys a life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a life is as if he saved an entire world." And also, to promote peace among the creations, that no man would say to his friend, "My ancestors are greater than yours." And also, so that heretics will not say, "there are many rulers up in Heaven." And also, to express the grandeur of The Holy One [blessed be He]: For a man strikes many coins from the same die, and all the coins are alike. But the King, the King of Kings, The Holy One [blessed be He] strikes every man from the die of the First Man, and yet no man is quite like his friend. Therefore, every person must say, “For my sake ‎the world was created.”‎

"Because Humans are the image of God they are endowed by their creator with three intrinsic dignities: infinite value, equality, and uniqueness".- Rabbi Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way

ת"ש גדול כבוד הבריות שדוחה [את] לא תעשה שבתורה ואמאי לימא אין חכמה ואין תבונה ואין עצה לנגד ה' תרגמה רב בר שבא קמיה דרב כהנא בלאו (דברים יז, יא) דלא תסור אחיכו עליה לאו דלא תסור דאורייתא היא אמר רב כהנא גברא רבה אמר מילתא לא תחיכו עליה כל מילי דרבנן אסמכינהו על לאו דלא תסור ומשום כבודו שרו רבנן

Come and hear: Great is human dignity, as it overrides a prohibition in the Torah. The Gemara asks: Why? Let us also say here: “There is neither wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord.” Rav bar Shaba interpreted this prohibition, which is overridden by human dignity, before Rav Kahana as referring to the prohibition of: “According to the Torah taught to you and the ruling handed down to you, you shall do, you shall not deviate to the left or the right from that which they tell you” (Deuteronomy 17:11). The Yeshiva students laughed at him, as the prohibition of “you shall not deviate” is by Torah law, like all other Torah prohibitions. Why should human dignity override it any more than any other Torah prohibition? Rav Kahana replied to them: A great man has spoken, do not laugh at him. The Sages based all rabbinic law on the prohibition of “you shall not deviate”; however, due to concern for human dignity, the Sages permitted suspension of rabbinic law in cases where the two collide. All rabbinic decrees are predicated on the mitzva in the Torah to heed the judges in each generation and to never stray from their words. Therefore, when the Sages suspend a decree in the interest of preserving human dignity, human dignity is overriding a Torah prohibition. In any case, it only overrides rabbinic decrees.

ת"ר הכל עולין למנין שבעה ואפילו קטן ואפילו אשה אבל אמרו חכמים אשה לא תקרא בתורה מפני כבוד צבור

§ The Sages taught in a Tosefta (Megilla 3:11): All people count toward the quorum of seven readers, even a minor and even a woman. However, the Sages said that a woman should not read the Torah, out of respect for the congregation.

Other examples from the Talmud of Kavod Hatzibur


A community may not read from a chumash (a scroll containing only ONE of the five books)

SOTA 40a

A kohen may not ascend the podium to deliver the priestly blessing wearing sandals


A child with ripped clothes may not read from the Torah

YUMA 70a

The Torah scroll may not be rolled in front of the community such that it is incumbent on members to stand and wait


The hazan in the synagogue may not remove the cloth covering from the bimah

Qeri’at ha-Torah by Women: A Halakhic Analysis Mendel Shapiro. The Edah Journal 2001

In impromptu services held outside the synagogue, or in synagogues where there is consensus that a woman’s Torah reading does not violate community standards of dignity, women may be permitted to read the Torah (or at least portions of it) as well. The only serious objection to qeri’at ha-Torah by women is the one raised by the baraita, namely that women’s Torah reading violates kevod ha-tsibbur, and kevod ha-tsibbur should be regarded as a relative, waivable objection that is not universally applicable.

Congregational Dignity and Human Dignity: Women and Public Torah Reading: Daniel Sperber. The Edah Journal, 2002

Many women have a sincere desire, a yearning, to take an active and spiritual role in the life of the community and its pursuits, and excluding them from the synagogue or from involvement in worship ceremonies is a cause of great distress…It thus seems clear that kevod ha-beriyot, individual dignity, must overcome kevod ha-tsibur, particularly when the concept of kevod ha-tsibur does not really pertain as it might have in ancient and medieval times.

Homosexuality, Human Dignity, and Halakha. Elliott N. Dorff, Daniel Nevins, and Avram Reisner.Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, Rabbinical Assembly, December 6, 2006

So great is human dignity that it supersedes a negative commandment of the Torah. Yet no sooner is this potentially radical principle enunciated than it islimited specifically to the commandment that establishes rabbinic authority, , לא תסור “do not stray from the law they [i.e., the rabbis] teach you right or left.” This concern for human dignity is cited in both Talmuds to override certain injunctions, but it is not considered capable of overturning an explicit biblical rule.

It is not possible to set aside the explicit biblical prohibition on anal sex that is stated twice in Leviticus and frequently reaffirmed by the Rabbis. As we have shown, the kvod habriot principle supersedes rabbinic, not biblical law. Of course, there is a theoretical way to overturn biblical law via the legislative mechanism of takkanah (decree). We do not find this mechanism to be appropriate in our case, because takkanah requires the consent of the majority of the population, and this subject remains quite controversial in the observant Jewish community.

However, the rabbinic restrictions upon gay men and lesbian women that result in a total ban on all sexual expression throughout life are in direct conflict with the ability of these Jews to live in dignity as members of the people of Israel. For this reason, the halakhic principle of gadol k’vod habriot must be invoked by the CJLS to relieve their intolerable humiliation. We must make open and rigorous efforts to include gay and lesbian Jews in our communities, to provide a proper welcome and a legal framework for the normalization of their status in our congregations.