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A JEWISH CONCEPTION OF HUMAN DIGNITY: Philosophy and Its Ethical Implications for Israeli Supreme Court Decisions

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This paper depicts the meanings of human dignity as they unfold and evolve in the Bible and the Halakhah. I posit that three distinct features of a Jewish conception of human dignity can be identified in contrast to core characteristics of a liberal conception of human dignity. First, the original source of human dignity is not intrinsic to the human being but extrinsic, namely in God. Second, it is argued that the “dignity of the people” has precedence over personal autonomy and liberty, which are core liberal pillars. The third characteristic pertains to the potential conflict between personal autonomy and liberty, and God's commandments. The theoretical analysis of human dignity is then examined in light of several Supreme Court decisions in Israel during the 1990s. I illustrate that Jewish religious and secular-liberal conceptions pull in different directions in the rulings of liberal and religious Justices in Israel.
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Keywords: Israeli Supreme Court; Jewish thought; dignity; human dignity; human rights

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Oxford and Lincoln Colege

Publication date: 01 December 2006

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