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Teachings From My Faith, Values for the Season

By Steven Edelstein

IACO Council Member

I am a representative on the IACO Council from the Jewish community. I have generally affiliated with the Conservative movement of Judaism, created as an effort to preserve tradition while at the same time considering historical developments. I chose a career in Jewish communal work, leading to positions which included nearly 25 years as Chief Executive Officer of three Jewish Federations.

Judaism is based on values and rituals contained in the Torah, and expanded upon by the prophets, writings, oral and written traditions, the Talmud, and rabbinic interpretations down through the centuries. Of particular significance in these trying times are the following:

Pikuach nefesh (Preservation of Life): Nothing is more sacred, and nearly all considerations, including Sabbath observance, fasting and the kosher dietary laws should be put aside if a life is threatened or one needs to be saved. At a time when we are all implored to make sacrifices so others may live, concessions such as social distancing and wearing masks in public should be viewed in context of the principle of pikuach nefesh.

Gemilut chasadim (deeds of loving-kindness): This is a concept broader than tzedakah, which is designated for the poor, and requires a constant attitude of compassion. While it includes clothing the naked, feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, it also applies to how we bury our dead. It is universal, regardless of economic class. Clearly, we need more of this in the world today.

The third and final value I want to cite is the prohibition against lashon ha-rah, literally “evil tongue,” and its even more vile cousin hotzaat shem ra, “spreading a bad name.” The former is speaking negatively about a person without meaning to help them improve, and more insidiously to denigrate them. The latter is simply to lie about a person. As we head into a season when so many may be tempted to violate the dignity of others, we can always pray that these sins will be avoided.

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