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How to Do Good & Avoid Evil

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How to Do Good & Avoid Evil

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How to Do Good & Avoid Evil
A Global Ethic from the Sources of Judaism
By Hans Küng and Rabbi Walter Homolka
Translated by Rev. Dr. John Bowden
Skylight Paths Publishing, 2009, 202 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1-59473-255-3
ISBN-10: 1-59473-255-8

Reviewed by Israel Drazin - December 30, 2009

If we could achieve the goals of this fine book, or even some of them, we would be living in a better world, with more joy, meaning and purpose; we would be in paradise.

In 1993, the Council of the Parliament of the World’s Religions issued a Declaration Toward a Global Ethic composed by Roman Catholic priest and theologian Hans Kung. The conference comprised about two hundred scholars of many world religions. The Declaration begins with an introduction stating, "The world is in agony. The agony is so pervasive and urgent that we are compelled to name its manifestations so that the depth of this pain may be made clear. Peace eludes us – the planet is being destroyed – neighbors live in fear – women and men are estranged from each other – and children die! This is abhorrent."

The world, as the Declaration states, is mired in the mud of mistrust. However, if people would examine their religion, they would find that it encourages the behaviors and attitudes that could bring about world-wide ethical behavior. For every human of every religion faces the same primal questions: where they come from, where are they going, how can they cope with suffering and guilt, what is the meaning of life and death? All religions agree that human beings have inestimable worth.

"There is a need for a worldwide exchange (of ideas) between the religions, between worldviews in general." Kung and Rabbi Homolka, the rector of the Abraham Geiger College in Germany, wrote this book as one of the steps toward their goal, "to make this potential for a universal ethic clear from the sources of Judaism."

The book discusses six major principles of the Global Ethic Project. It presents a selection of several pages from a significant Jewish writer followed by about a dozen and a half pages of shorter frequently poignant Jewish statements from ancient and modern Jewish sources. While the sources are Jewish, they reflect the concerns and opinions of people of all faiths.

The six basic principles are:

  1. Every human being must be treated humanely.
  2. Do not do to others what you would not want done to you.
  3. Commit to a culture of nonviolence and reverence for all life,
  4. to justice and just economic order,
  5. to tolerance and a life of truthfulness, and
  6. to a culture of equal rights and equal partnership between men and women.

The clash of cultures and religions, Kung writes, needs to stop. It is time to come to terms with traumatic historical memories, misunderstandings and hostile images. It is time to establish peace.

Humans have two duties, the ancient Jewish philosopher Philo wrote, "duty to God as shown by piety and holiness" and "duty to men as shown by humanity and justice."

People, the philosopher and rabbi Abraham J. Heschel wrote, must remember that every human being, without exception, "partakes of an unearthly divine sort of being."

"Be concerned about your own soul and your neighbor’s body," the mystic Menachem Mendel of Kozk wrote, "not about your own body and another’s soul."

People cannot, indeed dare not, ignore this Global Ethic program. We must spread the word.


Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of seventeen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides. The Orthodox Union (OU) and Yeshiva University publish weekly chapters of Drazin and Wagner's book Let's Study Onkelos on www.ou.org/torah and on www.yutorah@yutorah.org. His website is http://booksnthoughts.com.

The views expressed in this review/article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Eye.
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