The Code of Morality
Morality is a doctrine of ethical human conduct, as described in the dictionary.
The code of morality has changed over the years as has our Jewish code of morality. Much has changed for the better and some things have not. When we think of the “sexual revolution” we are appreciative of a number of changes that have occurred. Women have come into their rights as equals; child labor has been outlawed; men do not have to carry the whole burden of supporting their wives and children. On the other hand, there are too many single mothers, resulting in fatherless households, television has replaced parental attention and attendance at houses of worship including synagogues has considerably declined. Since we Jews have three large denominations namely, orthodox, conservative, and reform, there are differences in how morality is viewed. We all still agree, and hopefully follow, or at least believe in, the ten commandments. There are additional beliefs and or strictures that are stressed especially by the Orthodox community. The adherents to orthodoxy consider it immoral if the Sabbath is not celebrated as prescribed; if the kosher laws are ignored, if each holy day is not celebrated as stated, if the funeral rites are not kept. For example, Tachrichim (burial garb), sitting with the body until it is buried, the washing of the corpse, the Shivah, must be followed as well as the mourning period and the recitation of the Kaddish for the year following the death. The morality is prescribed among religious Jews, from birth to death. Not so with Reform Judaism, or with Conservatism. The conservative Jews fall somewhere in between. We stretch our consciences a bit, follow many of the rituals as stated but give ourselves leeway. In other words we do not attach all of the adherence of rituals to our moral beliefs. In the eyes of the truly orthodox among us, we are all immoral and “amratzim”. We have every reason to be happy that there are still orthodox Jews since they are the people among us who keep Judaism alive and are the standard bearers of our religion.
The basics that we all expect regardless of divisions is that we are ethical, honorable, treat each other with understanding, kindness and respect, do righteous deeds, take regard of others, include instead of exclude the old, the poor and others who are needy; give of our material goods and of ourselves, welcome the strangers, visit the sick and do not judge. Morality includes looking at our own shortcomings before we are critical of those of others. The old adage is that we cannot know what another feels unless we have walked in his shoes.
We Jews as most of humanity expect absolute morality from teachers and the clergy. We have a difficult time when we learn of such people not living up to the standards that they have taught us and that they have pledged to uphold. As grownups we recognize that there are no absolutes, that people differ and, learning this, we have finally become adults. When we are disappointed we have to remember that the only people who can uphold our moral standards, our morality, is ourselves, and that each of us individually can be the example for our children, our friends, our neighbors and our fellow Jews.
Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).