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Tuesday, January 11

Morality and Judaism

I ran across an interesting concept while browsing the section in Judaism 101 about Halakhah ("Jewish Law"). Halakhah is made up of mitzvot ("commandments"), gezeirah, and some other types of rules and customs that I don't want to get into here. The idea that interested me was the gezeirah.

A gezeirah is a law instituted by the rabbis to prevent people from accidentally violating a Torah mitzvah. For example, the Torah commands us not to work on Shabbat, but a gezeirah commands us not to even handle an implement that you would use to perform prohibited work (such as a pencil, money, a hammer) without a good reason, because someone holding the implement might forget that it was Shabbat and perform prohibited work.

Many of our current laws seem to be established because following them is thought to prevent people from being more likely to do bad things. For example, drug laws are supposed to prevent people from using certain drugs partly because drug use is thought to contribute to people doing bad things (drive recklessly and with slower reflexes, neglect or abuse their family members, act aggressively, etc.) Some people believe this is the wrong approach. They would argue that some people who use drugs do no harm to other people and so are innocent and that it is only actual harm which should be addressed. If you're single and you smoke a joint in your on home, go to bed, and the effects have worn off by the time you get in the car to go to work the next morning, then why should anyone have the right to stop you?

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