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The Ethics of Genesis



In spite of the tremendous amount of attention paid to the weekly portion, the question arises whether the behavior of the typical congregant is affected in any way by what he has heard. There is a saying that people talk a lot about the weather, but no one does anything about it. Similarly, we hear a lot about the parashat ha- shavua, but does it change us in any way? Do we just accumulate information, or do we assimilate the values that it means to inculcate?

The Ethics of Genesis addresses the ethical questions that emerge from the stories of the first Biblical book. Many people learn these stories when they are too young to ask about their ethical implications. When we revisit these questions in adulthood, we often find the conventional answers are insufficient or require elaboration.

Rabbi Dr. Abba Engelberg presents original answers, based on traditional and modern sources, to some of the troubling ethical questions raised in Genesis, including:

  • Did innocent people drown in the flood?
  • Would Abraham slaughter his own son after lecturing against child-sacrifice?
  • Was Jacob devious with Esau and his father Isaac?
  • Why did the brothers treat Joseph so brutally?
  • Was Joseph’s behavior as vindictive as it appears?
  • Why are only two women among the seventy who descended to Egypt?

The author also presents in-depth discussions of ethical issues such as:

  • The role of repentance in the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Joseph and his brothers.
  • The Biblical work-ethic as demonstrated by Jacob.
  • The religious attitude toward physical beauty.
  • When lying is permitted.
  • The Biblical attitude toward hunting.
  • Decision-making based on utility, benevolence, and justice.

About Rabbi Dr. Abba Engelberg

Abba Engelberg graduated from Telshe Yeshiva (valedictorian) and Yeshiva University (cum laude), where he received rabbinical ordination. He holds a Ph.D. from New York University in Operations Research, and served as professor at Jerusalem College of Technology for 40 years, where he founded and headed the women’s division. He served as a Reserve Chaplain in the United States Air Force, where he achieved the rank of Colonel. He is the father of four sons and lives in Jerusalem with his wife.

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Rabbi Engelberg does not hesitate to raise uncomfortable questions

Reviewed by Rabbi Ari Enkin. This review originally appeared on TorahBookReviews, November 4, 2015   In his The Ethics of Genesis, Rabbi Dr. Abba Engelberg takes a look at the ethical issues that arise in the fundamental stories in the book of Genesis. Some of these interesting topics include: Was God a little too rough […]

“tackles these and many other ethical puzzles in the Book of Genesis”

The Ethics of Genesis by Rabbi Dr. Abba Engelberg Reviewed by Abigain Klein Leichman, Jerusalem Post, January 8, 2015 Did innocent people drown in the great flood? How could Abraham agree to slaughter his own son? Was Jacob devious with Esau and his father, Isaac? Why did Joseph not initiate contact with his family, and […]

Reviewed! The Ethics of Genesis

A Book Equipping You to Defend G-d and Our Patriarchs The Ethics of Genesis by Rabbi Dr. Abba Engelberg. Kodesh Press, New York, 313 pp. Reviewed by Rabbi Aaron I. Reichel, Esq. The Ethics of Genesis is available here Most of us studied the first book of the Bible when we were little children, and […]

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Hardcover, Paperback

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