Explaining Jewish Attitudes
I wanted to give some guidance on how to answer a very common type of A01 question that comes up in the exam. The question “Explain Jewish attitudes to …” is very common in the ethics paper as that unit mainly deals with moral issues.
Here are some examples:
Explain Jewish attitudes to abortion (3 marks)
Explain Jewish attitudes to the death penalty (capital punishment) (4 marks)
Explain Jewish attitudes to alcohol (4 marks)
Explain Jewish attitudes to contraception (6 marks)
Explain Jewish attitudes to euthanasia (6 marks)
Explain Jewish attitudes to war (3 marks)
Explain Jewish attitudes to the imprisonment of offenders (4 marks)
Explain Jewish attitudes to the care of animals (3 marks)
Explain Jewish attitudes to homosexuality (6 marks)
Explain Jewish attitudes to the use of tobacco (6 marks)
Explain what the Torah teaches about punishment (6 marks) – similar type of question
As a general rule, if the question appears in Part A of an exam then 3-4 marks are on offer. If, however, you get this question in Part B of an exam it is almost always worth the full 6 marks.
What does this question want from us?
Jewish laws cover a wide range of topics from specifically Jewish ideas (like festivals, religious items etc.) to moral issues such as life and death etc. This question wants the candidate to explain what a Jew (who follows the Torah) would think about a certain moral issue that affects all people, not just Jews. It is very likely that Jewish communities have a certain approach to an issue even though not all Jews will subscribe to that way of thinking. When answering this type of question, try to ask the following questions:
What does the Torah say about the issue?
How do Jewish communities behave with regards to the issue?
What is the Jewish approach to the issue?
How to structure an answer
1) Reference your answer
The most important thing here is to reference anything you might consider saying. This basically means that you have to back it up with a source. When sourcing opinions, I don’t think you have to worry about the exact reference but I would try and be as precise as possible e.g.
“In the book of Bereshit, we are told to look after the world and show stewardship”
“The Mitzvah of Ba’al Tachshit obligates us to not waste anything useful”
“Jewish law states that you are not allowed to eat unless you have fed your animals first”
DO NOT write the following:
“My Rabbi says …”
“My JS teacher says …”
2) Use examples following your reference
To really gain marks in these essays, points need to be fleshed out. This means that you should expand on the point giving examples and consequences e.g.
“The Torah instructs us to look after our bodies and our general health. This means that one shouldn’t consume anything that could potentially damage your body such as tobacco or excessive amounts of alcohol.”
“The Torah tells the story of Er and Onan who wasted seed and were punished by G-d. We see from here that Judaism may not approve of contraception as it could be considered to be wasting seed.”
The bits in bold are what give you the extra marks on top of your original point.
3) Refer back to the question and stick to the point.
It is very common for people to go off topic and completely forget about the question they are meant to be answering. Referring back to the question is a nice simple way to close off a point you are making before moving to the next one. It also provides a good structure for your answer as is demonstrates WHY you have included a particular point e.g.
“It says in the Ten Commandments that one is not allowed to murder. Since Jewish Law considers a foetus to be a living being, Jewish perspectives might be opposed to any form of abortion.”
“The Torah has many prohibitions that carry the death penalty so one could say that Judaism would support the use of the death penalty in certain cases.”
Explain Jewish attitudes to alcohol (4 marks)
Jewish attitudes vary with regards to the use of alcohol. The Torah does not prohibit the use of alcohol and the Oral Law even encourages having some alcohol to enhance festivals. On Shabbat, Kiddush is made with wine and on Pesach you have to have four cups of wine to fulfil a Mitzvah. The Torah instructs us to look after our bodies and our general health. This means that once shouldn’t consume anything that could potentially damage your body such as excessive amounts of alcohol. Overall, alcohol is permitted but only through sensible use at the right time.
Explain Jewish attitudes to Euthanasia (6 marks)
Euthanasia is the voluntary ending of a life before it has naturally expired. Jews do not generally favour Euthanasia for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Ten Commandments clearly states “Don’t Murder” and ending someone’s life before its time falls into that category. In certain cases, one is allowed to stop medication that is keeping that person alive. This is a form of passive Euthanasia
Jews believe that illnesses and suffering comes into the world for a variety of reasons even if they cannot be understood. Jews are obligated to turn to medicine in order to heal people who are sick and may permissibly use medicine to reduce or limit the suffering an ill person is experiencing but one can never terminate a life due to excessive suffering.
Jews believe that death is the soul leaving the body. Since the soul is infinite, every living second has infinite value. For this reason, Jews see every second of life as sacred even if it is lived in unbearable pain. The Oral law says that one is not allowed to touch someone who is on the verge of death just in case you unknowingly hasten their death. From this we can clearly see that Euthanasia is forbidden.
Overall, Jews don’t approve of voluntarily ending a life, we see life as a gift from G-d and only He has the right to end it.