The Ethics research team, led by Sara Labaton, addresses how truth feeds into and animates many of the contemporary conversations that we are having in this country at this moment. A president who flaunts the truth and the epithet “fake news,” rumors about the current pandemic some of which are based in fact and some of which are not. Truth is not, of course, a new topic of thought and reflection. The midrash considers the tension between truth and peace. Aaron sacrifices truth for peace. The rabbis try to construct a method by which truth can be arrived at in legal proceedings—while wondering whether truth or compromise is preferable. Over the course of this years meetings, the Ethics team has engaged these topics head on—by, for example, looking at the history of philosophical debates about truth—and in an oblique way—by confronting mass incarceration as a by-product of legal thinking in western and Jewish sources, and seeking a solution which is more interested in healing than truth.
The Ethics team has addressed a number of topics, some of which assumed different notions of truth, and deployed sources, ranging from Kant and Hume to the Tzitz Eliezer and the Lubavitcher Rebbe and encompassing a wide spectrum of genres.The truth claims of science generated, on the one hand, analyses of Hasidic approaches to secular education and, on the other, examinations of halakhic accommodations and reactions toward new scientific discoveries. Alternatively, the domestic lies of the patriarchal families in Genesis led to the broader question of deception in the service of greater ends. The terminology and legal construct of doubt in rabbinic literature yielded an inquiry into the ethics of uncertainty for the rabbis. Future topics include Hannah Arendt, vaccination, and ethical questions related to COVID-19.