Kenneth Cohen

The Loss of Morality

The great Jewish philosopher and Torah scholar, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, in his classic work, Path of the Just, makes a brilliant observation regarding human nature.

The Ramchal, as he is also known, writes of the importance of reviewing and repeating basic and somewhat obvious lessons of human behavior. As obvious as they might be, if people are not reminded of these teachings, they will be forgotten.

An example of such a situation would be how society judges a righteous person. The obvious definition would be to describe an individual who loves and fears G-d, and he occupies his time doing numerous acts of kindness. He would be loved and respected and regarded as a righteous person.

Rabbi Luzzatto explains that if this definition were not repeated on a regular basis, after a while people would forget and a new description of “righteous” would emerge. The new “Tzaddik” would be one who fasts all of the time or immerses himself in a ritual bath of snow, and does other outragous acts of holiness. The true righteous person would now be overlooked as too ordinary.

I fear that we are experiencing a similar situation of forgetfulness in today’s society. Basic concepts that were seen as obvious, because they are no longer emphasized, have become forgotten.

The older generation that I proudly admit to being a part of, were taught basic moral truths. It was a given that when a young man or woman grows up, he or she are expected to marry and raise a family. If a couple would choose to live together before marriage, it was shocking and considered promiscuous. Virginity was something cherished and couples were expected to wait until marriage before engaging in sexual activity.

For whatever reason, such values were not repeated, and were forgotten. The “new morality” replaced the old, and people who held on to these old values were shunned and seen as archaic and out of touch with reality.

What is even more painful is that a basic value as faith in G-d, and trusting that the truths taught in the Bible, still have relevance, has also been forgotten. There have even been numerous articles belittling people who believe in the Bible’s description of creation.

The assumption is that the new values (or lack of them) becomes the norm. The old values are substituted with a repeated mantra of “do whatever makes you feel good.” Or, “if it makes you happy, it has to be right.”

Such views lead to a breakdown of all that is sacred. It creates a society of instant gratification. Marriage is seen by many as too difficult, not to mention the hardships of raising children. There is a lack of appreciation for those who understand that intimacy is sacred. We are not animals that need our lusts satisfied the moment one’s desire is awakened.

We would do well to learn from scholars who understand the world and are able to clarify right from wrong, and holy from profane. We need to study and review over and over again, their sacred teachings. If we don’t, we might be seduced into believing that the “new morality” has validity and represents progress. The reality is that the world is not a better place because of the loss of real morality.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at