Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Human Dignity

R. Aharon Lichtenstein writes about the halakhic application of the concept of human dignity as follows (link - RTF):

Several decades ago, I wrote (though have yet to publish) of the sparse practical use of this principle by halakhic scholars. I speculated then that this in large measure results from the fact that we deal here with a very broad "mattir," and consequently, it carries the danger that those searching for "wholesale" halakhic loopholes will utilize this principle to allow whatever they so desire. "So-and-so will be insulted, this one will be hurt, and so kevod ha-beriyot overrides it." As a result, contemporary halakhic authorities shy away from applying this principle.

Contemporary poskim find themselves in glass houses, and this gives rise to their caution (at times subconscious) in applying this principle, out of the concern that their conclusions will be abused for needs other than those intended. They therefore ensure not to open new channels of "heter" (halakhic permission) that could be understood as granting wholesale license to do away with halakhic prohibitions. This yields the conservative and frugal approach with which the concept of kevod ha-beriyot is applied in halakhic decision-making. So strong is this concern that in modern-day responsa literature one hardly finds an instance in which a prohibition - even a rabbinic one - is overridden by kevod ha-beriyot.
Proof of the need for concern: see here and here.

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