Aron Katsenelinboigen


                                                                              Chapter 5



There is a concept, especially developed in Hasidism (see Menachem Schneerson (1990)), that the Torah includes social values that are relevant to all people.[62]  These values are not presented in the Torah in an explicit form like the Ten Commandments. Meanwhile, they are withdrawn from the Torah and organized in a certain format as the interpretations of the Torah. These values are known under the name The 7 Noahide Commandments. A file on the Internet (http://www.asknoah.org) brings a condense presentation of this code.[63] Below I will talk about the presentation in the Torah of social values that are of particular relevance to the Jews.



As distinct categories, "moral" and "ethical" are not well defined. As Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Synonyms confirms (1984, p.547), the terms ethical and moral are often treated as interchangeable. The borders between moral and instrumental values are not very clear, either. What law means is clearer. Webster's dictionary defines law as “all the rules of conduct established and enforced by the authority, legislation, or custom of a given community, state, or other group.” In order to remedy this confusion of terms, I will introduce my understanding of the categories of morality, instrumental values, and ethics. I accept the aforementioned definition of a law.

I define the categories of moral and instrumental values based on my concept of the specter of conditionality of values. In one extreme case, as fully conditional values, we have a combination of four preconditions: (1) driving forces, (2) some initial resources, (3) rules of interaction that allow resources to be transformed into a final result, and (4) a procedure capable of integrating the former three preconditions in a consistent and complete way. In other words, when the goal and the starting conditions of a problem are clear and when there exists a program that completely and consistently links the goal and the starting conditions, the values that appear in process of solving the problem are fully conditional. Speaking in strict mathematical terms, these values are the Lagrange multipliers that appear in the process of solving an optimization problem. Leonid Kantorovich (1965) called them objective determined valuations in his analysis of the solution of optimal problems in economics. The other extreme case is fully unconditional values, i.e., values that are not distinguished at all. As soon as the value has a positive or negative sign independently of the situation, we deal with unconditional values (not fully unconditional). The statement that the value of a human being is infinite could be used to illustrate the meaning of this kind of values.

Between these two extremes is a whole spectrum of values. Evaluations presented in the Torah are not binary (conditional/unconditional), but they can be distinguished in terms of the degree of conditionality that they possess. Evaluations in the Torah cover a broad spectrum that reflects the degree of conditionality. Extremes are represented by moral statutes, which are unconditional judgments, and by laws (customs), which are mainly conditional judgments. Semi-conditional evaluations gravitate toward morality, which I will elaborate upon shortly. Laws are rules of reward or punishment fixed within a code.  They are almost conditional. Some of them are conditional judgments made by individuals appointed to make determinations in the case of circumstances that are previously unaccounted for in the law.

Now, I will simplify this spectrum of values and reduce it to a dichotomy composed of two groups of statements: unconditional and conditional. I do this for the purpose of clarifying the definitions of moral and instrumental values. Morality belongs to the first group, and instrumental values belong to the second. Instrumental values are usually manifested in law or customs, even if the conditions for the evaluation of an action are not fully described for a given situation. That is why a judge often makes his own judgment by taking into account other circumstances in a given case in order to form the fully conditional values.

I would like to make one more comment concerning the spectrum of the conditionality of values that is explored in the Torah. It concerns the linkages between the degree of conditionality and the strength of judgments. The Figure 5.1 speaks for itself.

Ethics, in my mind, deals with meta principles of developing the spectrum of values. With this in mind, ethics refers to a meta conception that encompasses the numerous factors on which morality and instrumental values are based. It also integrates values of varying degrees of conditionality employed in diverse situations.

There are many different ethical principles, and we might even talk about meta-ethical principles with the aim of elaborating upon ethical principles, but that is beyond the scope of this book.

A whole trend in sociology has appeared that looks upon social processes such as those of exchange (see for example R. Hinger and D. Willer, 1979), processes that could form ethical principles.

The Torah mentions an ethical principle that is based on exchange in a broad sense:


And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbor; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.  (Leviticus 24:19-20).

Advocating fair exchange, the Torah prohibits any type of exchange that results in only gain for one party and only loss for another. At the same time, the Torah abounds with stories of people being blessed for good deeds they have done to their neighbor.

Later, another principle has challenged this one. Several religious ideologies, and Confucianism in particular, have stressed the ethical principle “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” The notable Jewish thinker Hillel (60? B.C.–10 A.D.) believed that this principle is the major characteristic of Judaism, and he remarked that everything else is mere commentary (Talmud, Tract. Sabbath, 31a). Eventually, this principle became known as the Kantian imperative.

Global and Local Social Values

Generally speaking, to support social interactions among participants, it is sufficient to have endogenous values for each individual (local endogenous values). However, the process of human interaction exhibits global exogenous values, which embody the environment in its totality.  That is, these values characterize the holistic features of a given system. Such values belong to the domain of morality. In this system it is possible for individuals to operate in a way that conforms to the requirements of the whole. Prices (global exogenous values) in an economic field, along with utilities of individuals (local endogenous values) are an analogy of the aforementioned features of human social interactions.

Moreover, along with endogenous local values and exogenous global values, an individual maintains the endogenous global moral values known as conscience.  This interpretation of conscience is reflected in language.[64] The Latin conscien­tia is composed of two parts: con, communality, and scientia, knowledge ema­nating from the environment.  The same is true of English, con-science, French, con-science, German, Ge-wissen, Greek, sun-esiz, and Russian, so-vest (sovest').  It would be interesting to examine the etymology of this word in other languages. The theory that emerged during the Renaissance that regards man as a microcosm is a manifestation of the notion that the universe is mirrored in the individual.[65] This theory forms the basis for the recognition of human personality.

The concept of conscience expresses the notion that the awareness of other people's feelings is imbedded in an individual's self-awareness. A person may, under certain conditions, make the best possible choices by using global and local endogenous values and, without recourse to the exogenous system of values, consider the interests of other members of society. Taking into account the role of conscience, we could say that a living creature's behavior is based on the Tetra principle, meaning that it includes, along with the initial components (the physical characteristics of an object) and their local endogenous and global exogenous values, a fourth component: conscience, which is composed of endogenous global values.

Biblical Hebrew does not contain a special term for conscience. It seems that the Hebrew word נוקצמ (matspun), a relevant word for conscience, appears only in medieval times. Still, the Torah explicitly contains the first three components of the Tetra principle, and it implicitly contains the category of conscience. So, in translations under the supervision of Jewish authorities, this term is expressed, for example, as the “simplicity of my heart” (The Holy Scriptures, Genesis 20:5). Meanwhile, in one of the general translations of the Torah, the New International Version (1990), the term conscience is used explicitly in the same verse, Genesis 20:5:

Did he not say to me, 'She is my sister,' and didn't she also say, 'He is my brother?' I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.

Modes of the Presentation of Morality

Morality could be presented by various modes, via verbs and nouns,[66] depending on the scope of the components that have to be taken into account. First of all, it can be represented via verbs that reflect possible actions (like killing, murdering, or stealing) between human beings, between children and parents, and so on. As soon as these actions are evaluated, even in the dichotomist way of the Ten Commandments, they become rules for interactions that are either forbidden or permitted. That is, they become moral statements.[67] Such an approach is typical of the ethics expounded in some religions, and explicitly expressed by early Christian Evangelists.[68] Judaism also uses the presentation of moral statements via nouns. For example, the increase of material wealth is combined with proper relational components. That is, it is combined with the means to attain wealth and the way in which wealth is used, for example, to help other people. Here, the formula for evaluating an individual's moral stature is formed as a sum of properly-weighted material and relational components.

Now, I will better clarify the conditions that determine the presentation of a moral predisposition using verbs and nouns. The use of a verb in describing a moral predisposition takes place when the number of conditions that accompany an action is relatively small, and the verb encompasses all of them. For example, consider such actions as killing and murdering. In both cases, the material components (nouns) are the same: a living body has been “transformed” into a dead one. In both cases, the individual responsible for this transformation has damaged his or her psyche (noun) because the action has ruined the deep instinct to avoid killing members of the same group. The difference between the verbs kill and murder reflects such relational components (nouns) as intentions. In certain ethical systems, like the Judeo-Christian one, murder presumes that the intention of the person who does the killing is to take the life of a person who does not have the intention to destroy the life of the killer. Such judgments are applied to bandits, terrorists, and so forth. In some ethical systems, like communism and racism, the extermination of people who do not have any intentions to kill others is justified as a precondition for making all of mankind happy, and it is carried out in the name of improving the well-being of a certain class (the proletariat within the framework of the communist ethics) or a certain race (as in Nazism).     

In Judaism, if killing is treated as a response to people who are recognized as murderers, then the "perpetrators" are not regarded as murderers. This applies to soldiers, executioners, and individuals exercising self-defense. In certain ethical systems, for example, some sects in India, any act that takes the life of another person is considered immoral.

Inconsistencies between Moral Statements

There are many assertions in the Torah that relate to morality in accordance with my definition. The Ten Commandments hold a place of particular importance among other moral statues. There are other sections of the Torah that contain many unconditional statutes, for example Exodus Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Chapter 19 of the book of Leviticus involves such unconditional statutes as “Neither shall ye deal falsely, nor lie one to another” (11); “Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling-block before the blind” (14); “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor favor the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor” (15); “Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (18)


There are some inconsistencies in the unconditional evaluations presented in the Torah, and even the Ten Commandments contain inconsistencies.

For instance, the commandment "Honor thy father and thy mother" may come in conflict with another commandment "Thou shalt not murder" if parents order their child to murder. It seems to me that the inconsistencies among unconditional evaluations can be studied by using the following approach: a three-level hierarchy between God and Man. This is consistent with my previous statements about the contractual relationship between God and Man, for Man is free to choose whether or not to follow the proposed agreement. A two-level hierarchy would include God and Man. A three-level hierarchy would include another force besides God and Man, a force that a given Man would also have to obey. I am speaking about parents. The Torah prescribes that a given Man must obey not only God's statutes, but that he also must obey those of his parents. One commandment explicitly states "Honor thy father and thy mother" (Exodus20:12).

With a two-level hierarchy, the priorities among the commandments are set directly. For instance, the Ten Commandments have higher priorities than the other unconditional statements that are mentioned in the Torah.  A three-level hierarchy yields to other methods of resolving conflicts between the commandments. This becomes significant for resolving the conflict between, for example, "Honour thy father and thy mother" and other commandments. According to one method, the commandments bequeathed by God extend directly to all levels, i.e. the principle "my vassal's vassal is also my vassal" is at work. In this case, a son or a daughter must disobey the orders of parents if they conflict with another commandment.

The responsibility for violating the commandments rests with the offspring. This construct presupposes that the people involved possess a high level of culture that instills in every individual competence and responsibility for his actions. Another principle that operates within the same paradigm is based upon a situation in which the first level delegates all the power to the second level, and the second level, in turn, bears complete responsibility for determining the reward or punishment that is to be received by the third level. This does not rule out the possibility of the first level considering the complaints of the third level about the second level.

The aforementioned inconsistencies are not resolved in the Torah itself. A consistent system of priorities calls for a holistic, deductive model to be constructed. But, it seems that such a model defies construction, since it is impossible to determine the true criterion of human development for infinity (or for a sufficiently long period of time) and link it with all the events. So, although the conflicts between unconditional commandments are not resolved in the Torah itself, they are subsequently resolved in the interpretation of the Torah. The solution is based on the idea that any claim to fulfill a commandment that violates other commandments is not allowed. As a matter of fact, a rule has also been established that specifies who is responsible for violating a commandment. In the case under discussion, the person who executes the murder will be responsible.

Such an approach to solving the problem of responsibility for murder has a very important application in military procedure. In many armies, a soldier must obey an officer's orders even if they conflict with the law. Only afterwards may a soldier file a complaint about the officer's order.  In the Israeli army, if a soldier follows an order that violates the law, he will be punished for violating the law, even though he was commanded to do so. The officer who issued the unlawful order will be punished as well, but to a lesser extent.



Murder and Killing 

For human society, development lacks a clear direction. Even when a direction is chosen, a great diversity of situations arises. Thus, the whole spectrum of values will be applied. We must admit that we do not know the true direction of the development of mankind. After all, one such course of development might entail humanity's disappearance, so it is not even possible to prove that human society should exist. When we admit this, human values become fully unconditional, and in that case, with respect to people, anything is permissible.

I will now elaborate on the degrees of conditionally of social values with respect to the commandment "Thou shalt not murder."

There are exceptional cases of fully unconditional values of a human being under the assertion that a value of any single individual's body is not essential. This is indeed seen in certain tribes of New Guinea, where murder is considered insignificant. The spirit of the murdered person remains, and the members of the tribe (family) may communicate with it during nightly visits (Lundqvist, 1958).

When society evaluates human life in a particular way – for instance, when a person is condemned to death for committing certain acts under certain conditions – we are dealing with fully conditional values. Between these two extremes of fully conditional and fully unconditional values, there are also intermediate stages of conditional, semi-conditional, and unconditional values. Each stage is determined by which premises (or which part of a premise) are selected from among those that are required for the formation of fully conditional or unconditional values.

In further investigation of the problem of morality, I would like to focus on unconditional and semi-conditional values. A comparison of these last two is of special interest and plays a great practical role.

It can be assumed that the Ten Commandments are primarily semi-conditional values. Indeed, I could propose a corresponding commandment that displays unconditional values for the majority of them. For example, the semi-conditional directive “Thou shalt have none other gods before Me” corresponds to an unconditional “Thou shalt not accept authority.” “Thou shalt not murder” is semi-conditional; “Thou shalt not kill” is unconditional. The same is true of the pairs: “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not take the property of others,” i.e., the commandment not to steal reproves theft, but not the acquisition of secrets from an enemy.

So, murdering and the respective negative evaluation of the act are semi-conditional and are unlike an unconditional demand not to kill. According to the principle that prohibits murder, a man who has killed an innocent person is judged negatively and is considered a criminal; a soldier who has killed an enemy soldier is considered a hero. At the same time, any act of manslaughter may be judged negatively within some ethical code and thus receive an unconditional evaluation.

All known civilizations consider the necessity of human society to be axiomatic. This is justified by the inherent will to live (the difficulty one finds in committing suicide), and it is justified by the propagation of the human race. Thusly, the valuation of people belongs to the positive octant and the life of each individual is invaluable. This means that, despite our inability to say anything definite about the specific value of an individual person, we can say that each person is valuable in an unconditional way. Operationally, it follows that there is a leveling with respect to people's value. Thus, people strive toward an ideal of unconditional valuations that are concentrated in the positive octant, rather than striving toward fully unconditional valuations. This gives rise to social doctrines that suppose that it is not permissible to improve conditions for some people at the cost of making them worse for even one person (i.e., the condition of Pareto-optimality). Even if these doctrines are not put into practice, their influence is felt in the idea that each person is equal before the law.

There are serious difficulties in applying the idea that all people are of an equal value when it concerns the distribution of scarce resources, because not all people are equally productive. Under these conditions, the differentiation of people according to their importance begins as soon as the question of distributing resources arises. This differentiation can be done under various degrees of completeness of conditions. If the conditions involve only rules of interaction between people, one deals with semi-conditional values. An example of this type of values is the attempt to evaluate soldiers, officers, and generals based on their ability to act independently from the boarding conditions and the algorithms of military performance in the realm of established rules of interaction.

Under particular circumstances, a semi-conditional valuation is introduced with respect to the value of human life (see Jeffrey Williamson, 1984). It is employed by insurance companies and by engineers when they are evaluating the dangerous aspects of new technologies. A particular war situation can serve as an example of the fully conditional values of a certain human being: an officer has to make a decision about whose life should be sacrificed in order to achieve a goal.

As one might imagine, the spectrum of human values is vast. Integrating it presents a task of incredible difficulty.

Murder and Killing (continuation)

Previously, I presented the attitude toward murder that is held by some tribes in New Guinea as an example of fully unconditional values. Now, I would like to focus on the relation between unconditional and semi-conditional values as they are applied to the taking of life.The difference between these two approaches is clearly manifested in the various translations of the Torah. For instance, The Holy Scriptures (1955), a new translation based on the masoretic text, translates the commandment as “Thou shalt not commit murder.” In The Holy Bible, commonly known as the authorized (King James) version (1983), this commandment is translated as “Thou shalt not kill.”

Jeffrey Tigay (1996) examines this difference and sternly notes that such a translation of the commandment is too broad. Indeed, חצור  (ratsah), the Hebrew word for murder is distinct from killing, for which there are other terms, such as גדה (harag) and  מ התז (hemit). Kill obviously has the widest range of meanings and involves any taking of a human life. If interpreted widely, it may be applied to all living creatures. Not attempting a specific definition of murder, I will only note that the concept demands, at the very least, that the taking of life be a willful act aimed at improving one's own situation or that of another party.

In literature, the condemnation of murder goes far beyond disapproving selfish motives. As far as I recall, the gifted Soviet historian Leonid Batkin once noted that perhaps Shakespeare's work is a response to the views of Machivelli, which were widely known in England at the time. Shakespeare exposed how the use of bad means in the struggle for power, and murder in particular, can lead to the downfall of the victors. Perhaps the strongest statement of this principle is Shakespeare's drama "King Lear" in which foul means led to the spiritual collapse of a person when he is left alone with his conscience.

In The Queen of Spades, Alexander Pushkin condemns Herman, the leading protagonist, for murdering an old woman whose secret he wanted to use to ennoble his family. Impressed with Pushkin's concept, Dostoevsky develops it further in Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky denounces the idea of murdering an old woman who is a pawnbroker for the sake of giving her money to hundreds of widows with starving children. The Brothers Karamazov takes this idea even further. It condemns the possibility of sacrificing a newborn child so that its body can be used as the foundation of a crystal palace whose inhabitants would be happy for all eternity. Still, Dostoevsky believed it was necessary to help Serbs kill Turkish soldiers in the Slavs' struggle for independence from the Muslims. It seems that the argument between Dostoevsky and Tolstoy is largely over the interpretation of the commandment in question. Tolstoy was opposed to killing of any kind. It is not by chance that he was close to Gandhi and that they even carried on a correspondence. It would be hard to imagine Dostoevsky in the same role!

Allow me to continue to analyze the difference between unconditional and semi-conditional evaluations using example of “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not murder.” In an extreme case, one who follows “Thou shalt not kill” will allow himself to be killed before he kills another. These views are held by one of the Hindu sects in Sri Lanka (the former Ceylon). To the best of my knowledge, the former prime minister of Ceylon, Solomon Bandaranaike (1899-1959), belonged to this sect. He did not allow himself to kill an attacker and was murdered. As he lay bleeding to death, he did crawl over to the murderer and knock the pistol from his hand before it could be used against his wife, Sirimavo Bandaranaike. She later became the prime minister of Ceylon-Sri Lanka. The reader will note justifiably that this view of killing is fine when one believes in reincarnation. Under that belief, the soul moves on to another body after it is released from the present one, and the better it is preserved, the better its next body will be. Eventually it reaches nirvana, and merges with the universal absolute, escaping the suffering that inadvertently accompanies joy.

But, what about the case where a person belongs to modern Western civilization and attaches significant value to his body? Well, killing can still be avoided, as is manifested in nonviolence resistance movements.

Very informative in this respect is the story of the village of Le Chambon in south of France. During World War II, the inhabitants of this village, led by their priest André Trocmé, professed nonviolence but still succeeded in saving thousands of people who were persecuted by the Nazis, notably the Jews. Philip Hallie's wonderful book (1979) details how this movement did not resort to violence, though there seemed to be no other way to resolve the movement's objectives. The great force perpetrating this evil included the Gestapo as well as French collaborationists from the Vichy government. Moreover, the inhabitants of Le Chambon had to deal with maquis who considered violence to be the only way to deal with the German occupation force and the French collaborationists. Hallie shows all the hardships that are associated with the actual implementation of the nonviolence ideology. The book reveals the incredible preparatory work that was performed by the village priest and the predisposition on the part of the people of this village to heed his words. Hallie's book presents a convincing case that the implementation of nonviolence in such extreme situation is indeed possible!

However, what happens in other less-localized situations when violence cannot be avoided?  In order to answer this question, let us first compare the actions of various tribes of North American Indians. Some Iroquois tribes were followers of the principle “do not kill.” If they were attacked by an enemy tribe, they tried everything in their power to avoid war. If this was not possible, and they were backed into a corner, they would fight. Since they were a powerful people, they usually won. Following a victory, they would sit in the forest and ask the gods to forgive them for spilling the blood of their own people and of the enemy. It is interesting to compare the behavior of these Iroquois tribes to that of other tribes under the same circumstances. After defeating attackers, the victorious tribe would celebrate their success with drums, the enemies' scalps, etc.

While Judaism is dominated by semi-conditional moral directives, it also takes into account the unconditional values of these directives. For example, in The Passover Haggadah (1969), Ernst Goldschmidt notes that pouring a little wine from the cup at the mention of each plague, which looks like deliberate waste, was originally intended to avert ill fortune by safeguarding against immoderate rejoicing.

Goldschmidt further notes that Samson Hirsh and Eduard Beneth interpret “this custom as a symbolic tempering of the joy of the evening, in order to show sympathy to the misfortune of the Egyptians” (pp. 40-41). As Irving Greenberg (1988) mentions, on the first two days of Passover, the complete Hallel (a part of the Jewish religious service, consisting of Psalms 113-118) is fully recited.

 Thereafter, part is omitted—as a mark of mourning for the Egyptians who drowned in the Red Sea. The Egyptians were vicious task masters, yet their pursuing army consisted of sons of Egyptian mothers and fathers. Later generations of Jews felt empathy with the pain of their parental loss. The death of any human being is a sorrow. (p. 58)

Furthermore, the Kohen who has killed – even accidentally – cannot officiate in the Temple (Talmud, Tractate Berakhot, 32b).

The Relationship Between Moral and Instrumental Values  

It seems reasonable to assume that instrumental values preclude the need for moral claims. Numerous discussions with theologians have led me to believe that they see moral claims only as providers of initial guidelines for evaluating the vast body of behavioral patterns. Moral claims guide the development of conditional social values for actions, which are so numerous that it is easy to get caught up in appraising them.

In my mind, the role of unconditional values is twofold. They can play, as was already mentioned, the role of generic values that determine the sphere of variegating conditional values, and they can function as constraints that have a value in and of themselves. That is, moral claims provide strategic (global) constraints when one deals with a tactical (local) problem. Unconditional values prove especially important in cases where the outcome is unclear and where people are tempted to pursue short-term success. Pragmatists maintain that the individual's first priority is to achieve success. If the means used is going to have only distant, negative consequences, then those consequences are of secondary importance for a pragmatist. The pragmatic approach hinges only on whether or not a constraint from the current values mentioned in law or custom is violated.

As soon as strategic constraints are introduced, their implementation has to be enforced by a reward-punishment (r-p) system. The r-p system might extend over a brief period of time, or it might even persist after the death of an individual. The particular methods of an r-p system may vary between different cultures. In a culture that believes that the body and soul are distinct entities and that a soul leaves the body to enter the afterlife, a future r-p system can be administered through such institutions as hell/heaven, reincarnation, or nirvana. The concept of a soul and afterlife in the Torah is a subject of very strong discussions. The books by Alan Dershowitz (2000) and Steven Nadler (2001) bring up an interesting observation about these discussions. I share the opinion of the proponents of the absence of afterlife, even though the term sheol exists in the Torah. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the term sheol is interpreted

as the place where those that had died were believed to be congregated.  Jacob, refusing to be comforted at the supposed death of Joseph, exclaims: I shall go down to my son a mourner unto sheol (Gen. 37: 36)

Even if we accept this interpretation of the term sheol, the concept that sheol is the afterlife is irrelevant to the Torah itself.  The types of funerals mentioned in the Torah confirm this thought. In religions like that of the ancient Egyptians, the belief in an afterlife was supported by putting into the grave different things that might be needed for it, but nothing like this kind of ritual can be found in the Torah. 

To the best of my knowledge, only the Torah claims for the r-p of an individual to be carried out via future generations:

...visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation... as well as the rewards also given out in the name of God ..unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. (Exodus20:5-6; repeated in Deuteronomy, 5:9-10)

Jeffrey Tigay (1996) explained this phenomenon in a following way:

This view of divine retribution as extending to descendants corresponds to the concept of family solidarity that was felt strongly in ancient societies, especially those with a tribal background. This view was progressively modified in the Bible in the direction of the principle that individuals should be rewarded and punished only for their own deeds.” (p.66)

There is a solid basis for this point of view. Many ancient peoples living in that region, Persians and Macedonians among them, would execute a criminal's family along with him. In recent history, a similar position was taken toward those declared state criminals under totalitarian regimes, most notably in the U.S.S.R. under Stalin. Vengeance against the family of a state criminal apparently was also dictated by the fear that the relatives might seek vengeance for the death of a family member whom they consider innocent. At first glance, the r-p system after death that is presented in the Torah contradicts the ethical principles in the Torah that assume that the guilt of a father does not extend to his children and vice versa:


The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin (Deuteronomy, 24:16).

However, there is no real contradiction between the responsibility of the children and their father. A father's actions primarily affect those who are close to him. Those directly affected are the father's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren (i.e., three or four generations). They are in a position to absorb the most sin through the imitation of their father's behavior. On the other hand, a father is in a position to witness three or four generations. Perhaps, it id necessary for three or four generations to pass before the aftermath of a bad deed on the part of the father, even if it is not brought up, dies out completely. After that, the memory of it should have no affect upon future generations. Jeffrey Tigay (1996), making ample reference to authorities on Judaism, writes,

Living to see three or four generations of descendants is as long as one could naturally live. Thus God extends punishment only to descendants the guilty are likely to see in their own lifetimes. This indicates that the suffering of the descendants is intended as a deterrent to, and punishment of, their ancestors, not a transfer of guilt to the descendants in their own right. (p.66)

The prestige associated with a name of the one who has done good deeds may carry over to his descendants and the fact that they belong to an honorable family may play a significant role in their lives. Among the variations of the form of punishment for violating strategic constraints, there is the violation of personal dignity. This is a destruction of the fertile structures that were developed in the course of evolution, and that, in the long run, aid further development. In this case, a person who has violated moral constraints must not justify his actions. He should repent, so that his character will not be further violated. A moral approach focuses on repentance for breaking a moral directive.

The moral approach can be easily derided, because the concept of “sin and repent, sin and repent” is comical. Morality is not expressed in a single act of repentance, but in the general dynamic of behavior. The morality of a person will be reflected in the first derivative of his behavior function. To put it more simply: To what extent will his transgressions of moral directives decrease over time? A reasonable appraisal of human behavior will look at the dynamics of a person's transgressions, and not at the state of the person's character.

This approach can be applied to many of the phenomena that are the subject of pointed discussion in the Western world: questions such as the admissibility of abortion, euthanasia, the suspension of extraordinary medical treatment, etc. The discussions usually deal in extremes. One group justifies abortion or euthanasia, the opposing group condemns it. It seems to me that these arguments may be redirected. Repentance for taking a human life is of paramount importance. Justifying such an act destroys an individual's biological values, of which the preservation of life is a powerful component. If pragmatic considerations push one to such actions, they should not be justified. Rather, they should be viewed as an evil that is unavoidable in the given situation. If this concession to pragmatic considerations involves an expense, it should be covered by the individual who is breaking the moral directive, by a charitable organization, or by other means that do not involve government funds.

The Legal Presentation of Values

In order to achieve explicit results (legal expression), moral statutes usually pass through instrumental values. This is, however, not obligatory. (A detailed investigation of the legal expression of moral norms in Judaism is given in Sonsino [1980].[69]) In cases where a commandment is sufficient to determine the legal consequences, the Torah clearly introduces it as the legal norm of punishment:

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh  His name in vain. (Exodus 20:7)

And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him; as well the stranger, as the home-born, when he blasphemeth the Name, shall be put to death. (Leviticus 24:16)

Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. (Exodus 20: 12)

And he that curseth his father or his mother, shall surely be put to death .(Exodus 21:17)

Meanwhile, these legal norms of punishment have been later modified and corresponding exceptions applied to specific situations. (This is analogous to linguistics in which there are rules and exceptions.) Take, for example, the commandment to observe the Sabbath. The Torah says,

Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of rest to the Lord: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death. (Exodus 35:2)


It took a long time until the fully unconditional punishment for violation of the Sabbath was revised and became partly conditional. The law allowed one to fight enemies on the Sabbath. At first, this was only if the enemies had directly attacked the Jews and later on even if the enemies made direct preparations for attack. There is also an exception for preparing food to treat a sick person, because the preservation of human life prevails over other constraints.

The commandment “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15) does not constitute a general legal norm; the punishment for theft varies with different situations. A series of legal statutes in the Torah deals with specific types of theft and various punishments: 

And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 21:16)

If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. (Exodus 22:1)

If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be an ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double. (Exodus 22:4)

What is the role of conditional evaluations presented in the Torah? I will attempt to answer this question with respect to conditional evaluations that pertain to punishment, and I will answer it within the framework of the systems approach.

 From the functional point of view, conditional evaluations of a guilty party should accomplish the following: a) isolate the criminal from society, b) make the guilty party compensate for the damages, c) deter the criminal from breaking the law in the future, d) discourage other people from taking a chance and breaking the law.

 It is rather difficult in each particular case to pinpoint the role of each of these factors, and more importantly, it is difficult to tie them together in a non-contradictory manner. The fact that the Torah takes all these objectives into account in passing conditional judgments is obvious. One can see in the Torah the employment of some of these reasons in passing judgments. Isolating the criminal from society can take the particular form of subordinating him to a master-owner. Consider the case where a thief lacks the means to make restitution. That is, “if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft” (Exodus 22:3).

At the extreme, isolation from society can take the form of the death penalty. The idea of the criminal providing compensation for the harm he has done is highly developed in the Torah. It is enough to cite the example of corporal compensation. This is in addition to the various material and financial compensations for harm that are frequently indicated in the Torah. It stands to reason that compensations, like isolation from society and capital punishment, can serve to deter crime, particularly when the compensation exceeds the initial value of what is lost. Compare in the Torah the amount of the loss with the amount of the compensation in various cases of theft; the compensation at times far exceeds the loss. For example:

If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. (Exodus 22:1)

If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double. (Exodus 22:4)

From the structural point of view, conditional evaluations specify the circumstances that determine their "severity." For instance, payment for a stolen ox depends on whether this ox was sold or whether it still alive and in the possession of the thief (Exodus 22:14).

From the operational point of view the conditional values emphasize on the necessity to have two or three witnesses in each judicial case. It says in the Torah,

At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. (Deuteronomy 17: 6)

From the operatorial point of view, the principal question regarding conditional evaluations is whether all the conditions that are formalized in the law to determine a punishment are sufficient, or whether there is a need to introduce other considerations that are not stipulated in the judicial code, conditions that belong to the realm of the intuition of the judge and jury. The Torah emphasizes formal methods for determining the extent of the punishment. Subsequent interpretations of the Torah and the development of the judicial system in general introduce additional informal rules to the judicial process. The Talmud provides the deepest expression of these elaborations of the law. The problem concerning the use of formal and informal rules to set punishments is one of the most difficult problems in the Halacha. In isolation, each of these methods suffers from serious flaws. Significant factors can easily be missed if we stick to the formal rules that comprise the judicial code. Although invariants may exist, it is still very difficult to specify all the conditions a priori. On the other hand, if the judgment is based on informal rules, there is the threat of the punishment depending on the grace of the judge and all the arbitrariness that is associated with this approach.

From the standpoint of genesis, conditional evaluations reflect the degree of objectivity in uncovering the violation, for example, whether or not there were witnesses, etc. From the point of view of the genesis are crucial the motives behind violations. For example, the attitude towards intentional and unintentional acts can be quite different: For example, the death penalty for murder is stipulated in Leviticus 24:17, but exceptions are given. The Torah indicates special cities of refuge for a person who has unintentionally murdered someone (Numbers 35:6, 11-15, 25-28; Deuteronomy 19:1-13).[70]



[62] Many thanks to Michael  Levins for his help to elaborate this subject.

[63] BELIEF IN G-D: Do Not Worship Idols. The essence of life is to recognize and believe in the Supreme Being, the Creator of the universe, accepting His laws with awe and love.  Remember that He is aware of all our deeds. 2. RESPECT & PRAISE G-D: Do Not Blaspheme. Trust and loyalty are crucial in life. Know that G-d is just, but we humans can't comprehend our Creator, Who is infinite. One shouldn't extend his "freedom of speech" to the extreme of blasphemy. 3. RESPECT HUMAN LIFE: Do Not Murder. The edict against homicide protects us from the violent tendencies that may lie within. (Gen. 9:6) 4. RESPECT FAMILY: Do Not Have Forbidden Relations. Wholesome families are a basis of healthy communities and societies. Immorality leads to inner decay. (Gen. 2:24) 5. RESPECT THE RIGHTS OF OTHERS: Do Not Steal. Since our sustenance comes from G-d, we should seek to earn it honestly, with dignity and not through deceit. Theft is forbidden. 6. RESPECT ALL CREATURES: Don't Eat Flesh Taken From a Live Animal. G-d gave humans dominion over the Earth, but we are also its caretakers. We should respect animals and not be cruel to them.  This law prohibits meat taken from an animal while its heart was still beating. (Gen. 9:3-4) 7. PURSUE JUSTICE: Set Up Courts of Law.  A fair and effective legal system creates a society worthy of G-d's blessing. It brings G-d's ideals for our personal life into a formal order for society, and completes the other six laws. This law encompasses the commandment for education.

[64]. Yury Koriakin drew my attention to this issue, remarking that the Russian word sovest' is composed of two parts: so-vest'.

[65]. Leo Tolstoy said:

Conscience is the memory of society, assimilated by a single individual (Quoted from P. Simonov, 1991, p.168).

[66]. The idea of distinguishing the values based on the use of nouns and verbs has been expressed by some authors. For example:

At the very outset of a theory of value, an important semantic question arises in the consideration of whether the meaning of "value" is to be derived from its noun (or in old fashioned language, its substantive) sense, or from its verb (actional) sense. On the one hand, "value" may designate a property or characteristic of an object; this is what I call the noun sense. On the other hand, "value” may designate an act; this is what I call the verb sense. The common idiom uses the word in either way, but a choice must be made by theory.  I am sure that sometimes the authors of different value theories argue at cross purposes because "value" means to one of them a property and to the other an act. The semantic problem here is not a question of when value is used as a noun and when as a verb in the syntax of a sentence. Such a question is one of grammar, not of semantics. The present problem is one of designation:  if the word in its most general sense—that upon which all specific meanings and derivatives depend—designates an act, then the verb sense is semantically prior; but if the word most generally designates a property or characteristic, and every other meaning depends on this, then the noun sense is semantically prior. This is regardless of what part of speech the word happens to be in the syntax of any particular sentence. To Dewey, for example, the verb sense seems to be basic. He holds the meaning of "value" to be closely connected with some or several of the following words: prizing, desiring, holding dear, or liking, taking interest in, enjoying, or appraising." (Lepley, 1949, pp. 6, 68)

[67]. Such a distinction between actions and rules of interaction is important for systems where the rules of interaction are not given from the outside, for example, a society. In artificial systems, like chess, all possible actions belong to the rules of interaction. All of the moral values behind these rules are implicitly implemented in them.

[68] .  Then said Jesus unto his disciples,

"Verily, I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:23-24; see also Mark 10:24-25 and Luke 18:24-25)

[69]. Rifat Sonsino (1980) proposes a very interesting hierarchical classification of legal formulations found in the Torah. The initial division is two-fold: conditional and unconditional, with the latter also termed apodictic. Each group is classified further:

I. Laws in their conditional form

A. “When/if” form

1. Third person

2. Second person

3. Mixed forms

B. Relative form

1. Third person

2. Mixed forms

C. Participial form

II. Laws in the unconditional form

A. Direct address

1. Positive commands

a) Preceptive imperfect, second person

b) Imperative

c) Infinitive absolute

2. Negative commands

B. Third person jussive

1. Positive commands

2. Negative commands (p. 17).

I focus primarily on other types of classifications. They do not contradict the one cited above and even intersect with it at times.

[70]. Professor Hasan Ozbekhan called my attention to the fact that in some countries