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Today's Moralists all too often come and promote values from the Christian Bible - but has America considered listening to other sources for information? "Defending the Human Spirit: Jewish Law's Vision for a Moral Society" is a look at the Jewish Law's vision for a more moral society, one with a more optimistic view of the human spirit, and has been ahead of the curve on human rights before, and with ideas still fresh and new to western law. Deftly written and composed by the lead Rabbi of South Africa, "Defending the Human Spirit: Jewish Law's Vision for a Moral Society" is highly recommended for community library Judaic studies collections and with a crossover to law shelves.
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The message of the book is that Judaism, with its concern for the powerless, which the author refers to as the "Vulnerability Principle", has shown the way, and only now is Western society catching up with Jewish law. It deals with four areas, political power, oppression of women, criminal justice and finally, poverty and the law. It is seriously misleading in all four areas.
I have space only for one illustration of the partial nature of what we are told and have chosen the section on the oppression of women. There is a good summary of the condoning within Western Society of the vile crime of rape in marriage. To the credit of Judaism this has always been a crime in Jewish law. Likewise, Judaism bans the pornographic depiction of women because men should be sexually interested only in their wives. Throughout, Rabbi Goldstein cites the distinguished American feminist MacKinnon as though she would be a fellow spirit, and remarks
"In many examples of sexual repression, including pornography and sexual harassment, the views of Jewish law depart from those of Western law and converge with those of modern feminists. The vulnerability principle again forms the basis of a useful explanation of the unusual convergence of "radical" feminism and Jewish law."
There is nothing about the history of asymmetry in Jewish marital law. Nor is there mention of Agunot, the refusal of Judaism to allow a woman a divorce if her husband refuses to grant it. A Jewish woman may have been beaten mercilessly daily by her husband, she may have obtained a civil divorce under a proper legal system, and yet under current Jewish law she is not allowed to remarry.
It seems sad that what might have been an instructive work is fatally flawed because the author has repeatedly allowed his zeal to override his judgment.