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 on Adam and Eve? Did innocent people drown in the flood? How could the brothers be so mean to Joseph? Can a blessing bestowed on the wrong person be effective? Why are only two women mentioned among those who entered Egypt? What is the role of beauty in Judaism? And much much more.
The entry on Chayei Sara (this week’s Torah portion) is especially interesting. It discusses the “signs” that Eliezer had asked of God in order to determine whether Rebecca was Isaac’s predestined bride, and the significance of the order in which they played out. There is also a discussion on the propriety of Eliezer, Rebecca, and/or the camels all sharing the same drinking vessels.
Rabbi Engelberg does not hesitate to raise uncomfortable questions that leaves readers thinking about how they would react in the same circumstances. Questions are asked on each of the episodes that are discussed, and different resolutions and approaches from various different sources are cited. In most chapters, there is more than one episode from the weekly reading that is addressed.
There are also eight valuable appendixes that deal with some very interesting ethical and halachic topics. They are: understanding the concept of darkei shalom, chessed, hunting, work ethics, the mitzva to live in Israel, repentance, and honesty and lying in Judaism.
Although the content of the book is great, the book reads somewhat in the discourse of yesteryear (not to mention the old-style translation of biblical passages) that may unfortunately lessen its appeal. I hope that the deciphering reader will see past these deficiencies in order to benefit from the book’s quality content.