Imagine you have a needy relative who’s always hitting you up for money. The person’s a nudge, irresponsible, undependable and ungrateful.
Should you keep loaning that person your money?
That scenario has been a hot topic on the Internet for a month. It’s the first “moral dilemma” posed on “The Jewish Ethics Project,” a new Facebook group established by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.
Founded as a follow-up to Rabbi Telushkin’s latest book, “A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 2: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself” (Bell Tower, 2009), the Facebook group (www.jewishethicsproject.netbounce.com) is the first one that offers such interactive moral suasion from a Jewish perspective, the rabbi says.
But it’s open to anyone, and many of the first 500-plus members are not Jewish.
“I wanted to put a renewed emphasis on Jewish ethical teachings,” says Rabbi Telushkin, a prolific author and lecturer. “I want to affect and elevate people’s behavior. You reach people [on Facebook] whom you might otherwise not reach.”
Each week he introduces a particular ethical topic, augmented by a dilemma to which the group’s members respond.
The dilemmas, like the shnorrer relative, are more about intrapersonal issues than current headline topics. “Family resonates,” Rabbi Telushkin.
Georgianna Johnson, a group member from Massachusetts, says she joined after she read “A Code of Jewish Ethics” and did some online research about the rabbi. “The book was addressing some issues I was discussing.” Johnson, who is Catholic, is a student of Scripture. The Facebook group, she says, lets her learn more about “Scripture the way it is taught” in the original Jewish tradition.
“It’s really a nice group,” Johnson says. “It’s really worthwhile to participate.
“I’ve posted a couple of times,” taking part in discussions about one of the rabbi’s moral dilemmas, she says,
Responses to the first dilemma ranged, Rabbi Telushkin says. Stop giving money to a miscreant, some people suggested. Don’t stop, said others.
The rabbi’s own answer?
None, so far. “The message is sometimes there isn’t necessarily a definitive answer to every question.” Sometimes, the rabbi says, he’s more interested in provoking thoughtful discussion than in providing a definitive answer. “This one, I may leave open.”