Judaism On The Worth Of Every Person

By Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein


One of Judaism's principal affirmations is that man is created "in the image of God," and therefore of inherent dignity and value. That is why man was created in the single form of Adam and Eve rather than in a community, say the Rabbis. For the Bible is trying to teach us that all people stem from the same mold and have the same ancestry; all are, therefore, equal. Regularly, we reaffirm this concept of the inherent value and equality of all people through such practices as the Sabbath, burial rites, and many more.

Human life is regarded of such immense inherent value that with the exception of circumstances involving the cardinal sins of idolatry, sexual immorality and murder, we are commanded to transgress the laws of the Torah in order that we may live and affirm life.

These central Jewish affirmations have been challenged by many over the years but never as radically as they were in our century by the Nazis. For them, a Jew's life was of no inherent value. Indeed, only after death did Jews assume any positive value, for then bodies could be used for soap and chemicals, their skin for art canvasses, and their hair for pillows. Even the decision to gas rather than shoot Jews was made simply on the basis of financial factors. Cyclone B gas was a much cheaper, albeit more excruciating and agonizing, way to kill off the Jews than the one cent it would have cost for a bullet.

But, in the Nazi view, man had no inherent absolute value. Human worth was measured in utilitarian terms by what a person could produce, even in death. While we in our American society today are, of course, not engaging in practices that are even remotely similar, we do tend to measure peoples' worth and dignity not so much on the basis of their intrinsic value, but on the kind of career they have, amount of money they make and so on. And so, we too must be wary of the dangers involved in ascribing dignity, value and worth on the basis of who they are rather than what they have or what they do.

While Judaism and Christianity both affirm this doctrine of the inherent value and equality of all human life, they do have different views of man. Christianity maintains that all men after Adam are inherently sinful and in need of God's enabling grace in order to be good. Sin, in other words, is part and parcel of the human condition.

Judaism, by contrast, affirms that,

  1. man is inherently pure and good,
  2. sin is an inclination or deed, and,
  3. man has the ability to resist sin and initiate his own return to God Who, in turn, responds with grace.

Be that as it may, both Christians and Jews have a duty to strongly affirm that society be girded with these fundamental tenets of the uniqueness, equality, inherent dignity, and absolute value of each individual. For all people are created in the image of God.


Source: International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.