An Israeli approach to Cross-Cultural ethics: Correction and Elucidation?

- Frank J. Leavitt, Ph.D.

The Lord Immanuel Jakobovits Centre for Jewish Medical Ethics, Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, P.O.B. 653, 84105 Beer Sheva, ISRAEL.

Eubios Ethics Institute Newsletter 3 (1993), 3.

A small but important error crept into my essay, "What is an integrated cross-cultural approach to bioethics?", in the September issue of the Newsletter (2: 58-59). On p59, line 2, it should read "Noah" rather than "Moses". My intention, in fact, was to distinguish the Mosaic commandments, which bind only the people of Israel, from others which bind all mankind. A full Scriptural explanation of this distinction would require exegesis too lengthy to carry out here. But I shall summarise some central points from Maimonides's Law of Kings IX, 1: X, 7: X, 9.

God commanded mankind through Adam to sanctify God and not to worship strange gods, not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to steal, and to establish a system of justice. Noah received the additional commandment not to eat flesh from a living animal (with obvious implications as to cruelty to animals). Further commandments, which were given in later generations, apply only to specific nations. Thus the commandment of circumcision, which God gave to Abraham, applies to Abraham's seed alone, i.e. to Jews, who descend from Abraham through Isaac, and to Arabs, who descend from Abraham through Ismael. Most of the commandments which God gave through Moses, however, such as certain dietary restrictions, for example, apply only to the people of Israel. But there are, among the Mosaic commandments, many which may be performed by anyone as an act of voluntary supererogation. And it is very praiseworthy to do so.

I have mentioned these distinctions in order to clarify something of the background of the differences between universal moral principles which apply to all mankind, and specific culture-relative moral principles which may be adopted by individuals and societies.

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