Page 76 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
ward suicide. Few themes which become major concerns of our
society for any period of time will long be neglected by con­
temporary Jewish authors. A corollary aspect of this develop­
ment has been the flourishing of a more popular literature in
which Jewish religious guidance is given people facing one or
another problem of contemporary life like overcoming addic­
tion or being an effective parent.
This surge of publication has been most impressive in the
area of bio-ethical issues, medicine in particular. As technology
has opened staggeringly disturbing issues and easy answers, ra­
tional or paternalistic, have increasingly seemed unworthy of
thoughtful and mature adults, the search for significant guid­
ance has become a dominant theme of our intellectual lives —
and no sooner have we come to terms with one set of problems
than another is troublingly set before us. At this juncture, the
millennium plus tradition of Jewish law comes to the aid of
inquiring Jews. For Jewish tradition has long had an intimate
concern with healing as an adjunct of the sanctification of life
and human relationships. While technology and knowledge
have changed the particulars of the problems we face, it is re­
markable how many of them have direct analogies to living ex­
periences of the Jewish past and thus lend themselves to con­
temporary halakhic adjudication. It should be no surprise then
that Orthodox Jewish writers — physicians as well as scholars
— have tended to dominate this burgeoning field of publication.
However, this has, in turn, stimulated others to enter the field,
albeit not often with book-length publication. The motive for
this development is the clash which often characterizes the fun­
damental interests of classic Jewish law and those that remain
operative for most modern Jews. The
halakhah
speaks with au­
thority and expects that those who inquire of a sage will abide
by the decision rendered, God’s authority being behind it. In
contrast, moderns still have great respect for the individual con­
science, connecting an ethical decision with one’s personal con­
viction that a given position is ethically compelling. How to
blend the objectivity of the tradition with modernity’s esteem
for autonomy has become a major theoretical problem in this
field, one already generating a new area of ethical publication.
To some extent one may see this in the books which begin to
explore rather systematically what it might mean to speak of
“Jewish ethics” in our time. Yet it is as likely to arise in the