Sefer Ha-Hayim Blog
Monday, May 09, 2005
Human Dignity
The Right and the Good: Halakhah and Human Relations
Buy it now

Chapter 14 of R. Daniel Z. Feldman's The Right and the Good: Halakhah and Human Relations discusses human dignity (kevod ha-beriyos) and when it overrides rabbinic, and sometimes biblical, prohibitions. But what slight to human dignity is sufficient to override a prohibition? R. Feldman (p. 200) writes:
R. Naftali Amsterdam, in a letter to R. Yitzchak Blazer (also know as R. Itzeleh Peterburger), writes that to qualify for the classification of k'vod habriyot the matter must be one of objective degradation for at least the majority of individuals.[19] In this respect, the dignity referred to is that of mankind, rather than of any individual. Along these lines, R. Shimon Gabel[20] explains that it is for this reason that one is not asked to dispense with one's dignity for the sake of the mitzvah; no single person can make that decision. R. Blazer, responding to R. Amsterdam in one of a lengthy series of responsa on this topic,[21] writes to prove the existence of a subjective standard.[22] Nonetheless, R. Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, argues that an observable, albeit individual, humiliation must be present; one's internal, emotional biases may be halakhically relevant, but under other categories.[23]

[19] See also Responsa Divrei Malkiel, ibid.
[20] Sofrei Shimon, Berakhot 20a.
[21] The two rabbis were among the foremost students of R. Yisrael Lipkin (Salanter).
[22] Responsa Pri Yitzchak 1:53, 54. See also R. Yisrael Meir Kagan, Mishnah Berurah 13:12, and R. Baruch Weiss, Birkhot Horai 32:66.
[23] Responsa Binyan Av 2:56. See also R. Shepansky, pp. 223-225.
About whose dignity are we discussing? From p. 199:
It should also be noted that according to many authorities, human dignity is not to be interpreted as Jewish dignity; all human beings merit this prioritization, as the phrase itself suggests. R. Shimon Sofer[10] considers this to be the opinion of the Rambam in his Mishneh Torah[11] and rules accordingly, as does R. Aharon Lichtenstein.[12] R. Yisrael Shepansky[13] and R. Dov Rosenthal[14] ntoe that this conclusion is the logical extension of the fact that concerns of dignity stem from the creation in the Divine image,[15] a fact true of all of mankind.[16] R. Natan Leiter[17] and R. Yitzchak Sternhill[18] also consider this possibility, although they do not rule conclusively.

[10] Responsa Hitor'rut Teshuvah 1:39.
[11] Hilkhot Sanhedrin 24:9.
[12] In the journal Machanayim (new series) 58:8-15. Note his extensive discussion of this detail, and his analysis of various types of dignity.
[13] Ohr HaMizrach, ibid., p. 228.
[14] Divrei Yosher to Pirkei Avot 1:12.
[15] Note R. Malkiel Tannenbaum, Responsa Divrei Malkiel 1:67 and 3:82.
[16] As per Tiferet Yisrael and Tosafot Yom Tov, Avot 3:14. Note also Ramban, in his commentary to Chumash, Deuteronomy 21:22, and R. Moshe Rosmarin, D'var Moshe, Pirkei Avot 3:140. See also R. Avraham Geiser, in the journal Derekh Eretz Dat U'Medinah, pp. 159-165.
[17] Respnsa Me'orot Natan 97.

<< Home

2023 ©