The Jewish Family Ethics Textbook


The Jewish Family Ethics Textbook

Rabbi Neal Scheindlin

JPS Essential Judaism Series

382 pages


October 2021


$30.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

October 2021


$30.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

October 2021


$30.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

2021 National Jewish Book Award Finalist for Con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish Life and Practice

Judaism offers us unique—and often divergent—insights into contemporary moral quandaries. How can we use social media without hurting others? Should people become parents through cloning? Should doctors help us die?

The first ethics book to address social media and technology ethics through a Jewish lens, along with teaching the additional skills of analyzing classical Jewish texts, The Jewish Family Ethics Textbook guides teachers and students of all ages in mining classical and modern Jewish texts to inform ethical decision-making. Both sophisticated and accessible, the book tackles challenges in parent-child relationships, personal and academic integrity, social media, sexual intimacy, conception, abortion, and end of life. Case studies, largely drawn from real life, concretize the dilemmas. Multifaceted texts from tradition (translated from Hebrew and Aramaic) to modernity build on one another to shed light on the deliberations. Questions for inquiry, commentary, and a summation of the texts’ implications for the case studies deepen and open up the dialogue.

In keeping with the tradition of maḥloket, preserving multiple points of view, “We need not accept any of our forebears’ ideas uncritically,” Rabbi Neal Scheindlin explains. “The texts provide opportunities to discover ideas that help us think through ethical dilemmas, while leaving room for us to discuss and draw our own conclusions.”

Author Bio

Rabbi Neal Scheindlin is an adjunct lecturer in rabbinics and biblical commentaries at Hebrew Union College–Los Angeles and the Ziegler School at American Jewish University. For eighteen years he taught and developed curriculum in Jewish law and ethics at Milken Community Schools.


"The Jewish Family Ethics Textbook is an excellent work for anyone looking for an introductory text in Jewish ethics."—Rabbi Rachel Esserman, Reporter

"Scheindlin has provided us with a gift to continue to look at ourselves and those we are close to, whether family or friends, and to engage in a continual learning process by linking our contemporary lives to the ethics and values of our rich tradition."—Stephen G. Donshik, Jerusalem Post

“In this thoughtful and thorough work, Rabbi Scheindlin brings traditional Jewish texts directly into conversation with contemporary Jewish voices, managing to both honor the tradition and the values of our day. Rabbi Scheindlin does not shy away either from the aspects of the tradition that seem most remote from—or offensive to—our own social mores or from the thorny real-life dilemmas of our experience in twenty-first-century America. This guide speaks directly to our most difficult questions. It is an extraordinarily useful resource for all those who seek to teach the tradition—whether in a synagogue, school, or home—and all those who seek to live an ethical life rooted in Jewish tradition and responsive to contemporary life.”—Rabbi Rachel Timoner, senior rabbi, Congregation Beth Elohim, Brooklyn, New York

“This is the book we have been waiting for! For inquisitive high school students and adults of all ages and streams of Jewish life who are eager to wrestle with questions of ethics, this creative book by an esteemed teacher grounds the most urgent moral issues of our time in eye-opening texts. The Jewish Family Ethics Textbook is sure to generate lively conversations from the classroom to the dinner table.”—Rabbi Judd Kruger Levingston, director of Jewish studies, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and author of Sowing the Seeds of Character: The Moral Education of Adolescents in Public and Private Schools

“Neal Scheindlin’s book is a gold mine for educators. Distilling decades of wisdom from a master teacher, this rich trove of important Jewish texts bears on challenges that teenagers, families, and schools grapple with every day.”—Rabbi Joshua Cahan, educator, Leffell School, Westchester, New York

“This is a most important book introducing students to the profound depth of Jewish Family Ethics found in classic Jewish literature.”—Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, president, Academy for Jewish Religion, California

“A richly rendered, sensitive, and nuanced volume. As a beloved teacher of Jewish studies in a pluralistic Jewish high school, Scheindlin presents cutting-edge issues that loom large for today’s youth with warmth and empathy toward his audience and a reverence for Jewish tradition.”—Elliott Rabin, director of thought leadership at Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, New York City

“This is an essential study guide for parents, educators, young adults, and teens seeking to clarify and deepen their understanding of and relationship to Jewish ethics. Educators will appreciate this well-curated collection of cases and texts as a valuable compass to navigate explorations with teens about challenging essential questions of our day. In an era when opinions are so often shaped by influencers and soundbites, this book provides substantive Judaic source material to ground student learning about ethical dilemmas in our tradition in our times.”—Miriam Heller Stern, national director, Rhea Hirsch School of Education, Los Angeles

Table of Contents

How to Use This Book
Using the Book in a Classroom Setting
Using the Book without a Teacher
Theories of Ethical Decision Making
How Jews Approach Ethical Problems
Works and History of Classical Jewish Literature
Text 1—Deut. 17:8–11
A Brief Jewish Lexicon
Text 2—Eiruvin 13b
Classical Literature as Understood by Modern Jews
1. Parents and Children
Case Study #1: Who Chooses Where to Go to College?
Case Study #2: Caring for a Parent with Dementia
Case Study #3: Distancing from an Abusive Parent
Text Study #1: Children’s Twin Obligations to Parents—Honor and Reverence
Text 1a—Exod. 20:12
Text 1b—Deut. 5:16
Text 2—Lev. 19:3
Text 3—Mekhilta, Massekhta de-BaHodesh 8
Text 4a—Kiddushin 30b
Text 4b—Kiddushin 30b (continued)
Text 5—Kiddushin 30b–31a
Text Study #2: The Mitzvot Children Owe to Parents
Text 6—Kiddushin 31b
Text 7a—Shulḥan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 240:21
Text 7b—Rashi on Lev. 19:3
Text 7c—Mishneh Torah, Laws of Rebellion 6:11
Text 8a—Shulḥan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 240:4–5
Text 8b—Mishneh Torah, Laws of Rebellion 6:12
Text 8c—Golinkin, “Institutionalizing Parents with Alzheimer’s Disease”
Text 9a—Kiddushin 31a–b
Text 9b—Mishneh Torah, Laws of Rebellion 6:9
Text 9c—Mishneh Torah, Laws of Rebellion 6:10
Text 9d—Mishneh Torah, Laws of Rebellion 6:11 (continued)
Text 10a—Midrash Tanhuma Eikev 3
Text 10b—Kiddushin 31b
Text 11a—Dorff, Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
Text 11b—Diamant, Choosing a Jewish Life
Text Study #3: Parents’ Responsibilities to Children
Text 12a—Kiddushin 29a
Text 12b—Nevins, “Between Parents and Children”
Text 13—Kiddushin 29a–b
Text Study #4: Problems in the Parent-Child Relationship
Text 14—Shulḥan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 240:18
Text 15—Dratch, “Honoring Abusive Parents”
Text 16a—Jacob, “Responsibility of Children to Their Parents”
Text 16b—Nevins, “Between Parents and Children”
2. Honesty
Case Study #1: Cheating on an Exam
Case Study #2: Potential Plagiarism
Case Study #3: Withholding Part of the Truth from a Prospective Employer
Text Study #1: Truth Telling and Its Limits
Text 1a—Exod. 20:13
Text 1b—Exod. 23:7
Text 1c—Lev. 19:11
Text 1d—Mecklenburg, HaKetav VeHaKabbalah on Exod. 23:7
Text 2—Ketubot 16b–17a
Text 3a—Yevamot 65b
Text 3b—Bava Metzia 23b–24a
Text 3c—Mishnah Nedarim 3:4
Text Study #2: Whistleblowing and Rebuke
Text 4—Tosefta Bava Kama 7:3
Text 5a—Leff, “Whistleblowing”
Text 5b—Lev. 19:17
Text 5c—Mishneh Torah, Laws of Personal Qualities 6:7
Text 5d—Lev. 19:14
Text 5e—Sifra Kedoshim 2:14
Text 6—Shulḥan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat 388:9
Text 7—Mishneh Torah, Laws of Robbery and Lost Objects 11:3
Text Study #3: Crediting Others for Use of Their Intellectual Property
Text 8—Tanhuma Bemidbar 22
Text 9a—Gittin 10b
Text 9b—Berakhot 5b
Text 9c—Tosefta Bava Kama 7:3
Text 10a—Deut. 19:14
Text 10b—Bava Batra 21b
Text 11a—Shulḥan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat 203:1
Text 11b—Arukh HaShulḥan, Hoshen Mishpat 212:3
Text 11c—CCAR Responsum, “Copyright and the Internet”
3. Social Media
Case Study #1: Social Media Insults
Case Study #2: Online Privacy
Text Study #1: Permitted and Forbidden Speech
Text 1a—Lev. 19:16
Text 1b—Rashi on Lev. 19:16
Text 2—Arakhin 15b
Text 3a—Mishneh Torah, Laws of Personal Qualities 7:2
Text 3b—Hafetz Hayyim 1:8
Text 3c—Hafetz Hayyim 3:3
Text 4—Yoma 4b
Text 5—Hafetz Hayyim 10:1
Text 6—Student, “A Torah Guide for the Digital Age”
Text Study #2: Privacy
Text 7—Mishnah Bava Batra 3:7; Bava Batra 60a
Text 8a—Kurshan, Comments on Bava Batra 2a–b
Text 8b—Dorff, Love Your Neighbor and Yourself
Text 8c—Samlan, “The Ten Commandments of Social Media”
4. Sex and Intimacy
Case Study #1: Four Ideas about Jewish Sexual Ethics
Case Study #2: LGBTQ Orientations
Text Study #1: The Two Inclinations
Text 1a—Gen. 1:31
Text 1b—Ramban, Iggeret HaKodesh
Text 2—Genesis Rabbah 9:7
Text Study #2: Sex within Marriage
Text 3—Mishnah Ketubot 5:6; Ketubot 62b
Text 4—Nedarim 20a–b
Text 5a—Eiruvin 100b
Text 5b—Shulḥan Arukh, Even HaEzer 25:2
Text Study #3: The Power of Sexual Desire
Text 6—Kiddushin 81a
Text 7a—Mishnah Kiddushin 1:1
Text 7b—Yevamot 61b
Text 7c—Gittin 81b
Text 7d—Mishneh Torah, Laws of Marriage 1:4
Text Study #4: Sexual Values
Text 8a—Birkat Eirusin, Betrothal Blessing from the Wedding Ceremony
Text 8b—Blessing Six of the Wedding Ceremony
Text 9a—Novak Winer, Sacred Choices
Text 9b—Salkowitz, “Reform Jewish Sexual Values”
Text 10—Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai
Text Study #5: LGBTQ Sexuality
Text 11a—Lev. 18:22
Text 11b—Lev. 20:13
Text 12—Sanhedrin 54a–b
Text 13a—Shulḥan Arukh, Even HaEzer 24:1
Text 13b—Bayyit Ḥadash on Even HaEzer 24:1
Text 14a—Nedarim 51a with Rashi’s commentary
Text 14b—Torah Temimah on Lev. 18:22
Text 14c—Havrelock, “Acharei Mot: Boundaries of Rituals: The Sanctuary and the Body”
Text 15—Mishneh Torah, Laws of Intercourse 21:8
Text 16—Berakhot 19b
Text 17—Dorff, Nevins, and Reisner, “Homosexuality, Human Dignity and Halakhah”
Text 18—Reconstructionist Commission on Homosexuality, “Homosexuality and Judaism”
Text 19—Litman, “‘Bisexual’ Identity: A Guide for the Perplexed”
5. Medical Ethics at the Beginning of Life
Case Study #1: Who Counts as a Parent?
Case Study #2: Choosing Single Parenthood
Case Study #3: Surrogate Motherhood
Case Study #4: Parenthood through Cloning
Text Study #1: The Mitzvah of Procreation
Text 1—Gen. 1:27–28
Text 2—Yevamot 63b
Text 3—Mishnah Yevamot 6:6
Text 4—Dorff, Matters of Life and Death
Text 5a—Jacob, “Jewish Marriage without Children”
Text 5b—Panitz, “Must a Jew Have Children? A Conservative Answer”
Text Study #2: Assisted Reproductive Technologies
Text 6—Hagigah 14b–15a
Text 7—Mishneh LaMelekh on Mishneh Torah, Laws of Matrimony 15:4
Text 8a—Ramban on Lev. 18:20
Text 8b—Waldenberg, Responsa Tzitz Eliezer
Text 9—Broyde, “The Establishment of Paternity in Jewish and American Law”
Text 10—Grossman, “Choosing Parenthood”
Text Study #3: Surrogate Motherhood
Text 11a—Gen. 16:1–4,15
Text 11b—Gen. 30:1–6
Text 11c—Spitz, “On the Use of Birth Surrogates”
Text 12a—Gellman, “The Ethics of Surrogate Motherhood”
Text 12b—Freundel, Contemporary Orthodox Judaism’s Response to Modernity
Text 12c—Jakobovits, Jewish Medical Ethics
Text 13a—Jacob, “Surrogate Mother”
Text 13b—Spitz, “On the Use of Birth Surrogates”
Text 13c—Loike and Tendler, “Gestational Surrogacy”
Text 13d—State of Israel Ministry of Health, “Surrogacy in Israel”
Text Study #4: Parenthood through Cloning
Text 14—Sanhedrin 65b
Text 15a—Menachem HaMeiri on Sanhedrin 67b
Text 15b—Ashkenazi, Responsa Hakham Tzvi 93
Text 16—Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5
Text 17—Waldenberg, Responsa Tzitz Eliezer
Text 18—Grazi and Wolowesky, Overcoming Infertility
6. Abortion
Case Study #1: Fetal Reduction of Twins
Case Study #2: Abortion of a Fetus with a Deficit
Case Study #3: When Contraception Fails
Text Study #1: Halakhic Status of the Fetus
Text 1a—Exod. 21:12
Text 1b—Exod. 21:22–23
Text 2—Mishnah Ohalot 7:6
Text 3a—Exod. 22:1–2
Text 3b—Rashi on Exod. 22:1–2
Text 3c—Sanhedrin 73b
Text 4—Sanhedrin 72b
Text Study #2: Two Approaches to Abortion Ethics
Text 5a—Rashi on Sanhedrin 72b, s.v. “If its head came out”
Text 5b—Mishneh Torah, Laws of Murder and Preservation of Life 1:9
Text Study #3: Fetal Personhood
Text 6—Arachin 7a
Text 7—Sanhedrin 84b
Text 8a—Central Conference of American Rabbis, Resolution on Abortion
Text 8b—Agudath Israel of America, National Public Policy Position Paper
Text 9—Feldman, “Abortion: The Jewish View”
Text 10—Bleich, Judaism and Healing
Text 11—Meacham (leBeit Yoreh), Encyclopedia of Jewish Women
Text 12—Waldenberg, Responsa Tzitz Eliezer
Text 13—Feinstein, Responsa Iggrot Moshe
Text 14—Jacob, “When Is Abortion Permitted?”
Text 15—“Israel: Reproduction and Abortion: Law and Policy”
Text 16—Alpert, “Sometimes the Law Is Cruel”
7. Medical Ethics at the End of Life
Case Study #1: Defining Death
Case Study #2: Extending Life at What Cost?
Case Study #3: Physician-Assisted Dying
Text Study #1: Basic Principles of Jewish Medical Ethics
Text 1a—Ps. 24:1
Text 1b—Mishneh Torah, Laws of Proper Conduct 3:3 and 4:1
Text 2a—Mishnah Yoma 8:6–7
Text 2b—Yoma 85b
Text 2c—Yoma 85a
Text 3a—Exod. 21:18–19
Text 3b—Bava Kamma 85a
Text 3c—Mishneh Torah, Laws of Murder and Preservation of Life 11:4–5
Text Study #2: When Death Is Inevitable
Text 4a—Semaḥot 1:1–1:4
Text 4b—Shulḥan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 339:2
Text 5—Avodah Zarah 18a
Text 6—Shulḥan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 339:1
Text 7a—HaLevi, Natural and Artificial Life
Text 7b—Waldenberg, Responsa Tzitz Eliezer
Text 8a—Reisner, “A Halakhic Ethic of Care for the Terminally Ill”
Text 8b—Sinclair, Tradition and the Biological Revolution
Text 8c—Sherwin, Jewish Ethics for the Twenty-First Century
Text 9a—Uniform Determination of Death Act (1980)
Text 9b—Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shabbat 2:19
Text 9c—Mishnah Ohalot 1:6
Text 9d—Rosner, Biomedical Ethics and Jewish Law
Text 9e—Waldenberg, Responsa Tzitz Eliezer
Text 9f—Veatch, “The Evolution of Death and Dying Controversies”
Text Study #3: Suicide
Text 10a—Semaḥot 2:1
Text 10b—1 Sam. 31:3–4
Text 11a—Lev. 19:14
Text 11b—Sifra Kedoshim 2:14
Text 12—Mishnah Gittin 5:9
Text 13—Cahana, “‘Who Shall Live . . . ’”


2021 National Jewish Book Award Finalist for Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice

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