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Bless Peter Singer

Rabbi Avi Shafran

Bless Peter Singer's immortal soul (whether he acknowledges it or not).

Singer, of course, is the Princeton philosopher who made his name by advocating for animal rights as equivalent to human rights, and, then, given that humans are no better than animals, encouraging euthanasia for severely handicapped infants and the elderly. Now, to round out the equivalency between man and beast, he has endorsed the idea of meaningful human intimate relations with animals -- what Slate writer William Saletan deems "the love that dare not bark its name."

Professor Singer, who heads the university's improbably named Center for Human Values, made his case in a recent essay where he reiterates his suggestion that there is no inherent difference between humans and animals, and characterizes the latter as essentially the moral equivalent of human infants. The logical extension of that worldview, he then proposes, is the acceptance of cross-species intimate congress as entirely legitimate.

The professor deserves our blessing -- well, at least our gratitude -- for showing clearly, cogently, and conclusively, the sort of interesting places to which societal rejection of the concept of "morality" inexorably leads. He has done an immeasurable service by providing limitlessly "tolerant" minds everywhere with gaping grounds for pause.

Recent decades have not been kind to the bedrock concept of morality -- the idea that human beings are inherently special, that we carry a spark of holiness within. It has been unceremoniously dumped out the window, like some handicapped baby in a Singerian world, with the bath water of intolerance. To imagine, though, that when our nation's founding fathers envisioned a republic independent of any church, they meant to reject the concept of morality itself, is to flirt with delirium.

Even the most secular-minded of the men who midwived these United States would have undoubtedly considered a society where unwanted babies, the severely handicapped and the elderly were efficiently dispatched, and where men married horses, as nothing less than a vision of hell.

Which should lead us to consider how they might have regarded (and, more importantly still, how we should regard) seemingly less outrageous immoralities, like abortion on demand, assisted suicide and homosexual or adulterous relationships.

Singer's gift to us is - intentionally or not - forcing those issues, and identifying the crux of the matter: morality.

The only conceivable reason for considering animal-human intimate relations (or, presumably, matrimony) as unworthy of societal sanction, Professor Singer cogently observes, is the belief that human beings are inherently special. That indeed is the belief of Judaism, and Singer, with his own air of superiority, summarily rejects it. "We are," he writes, "animals."

Most of us, however, who choose to wear clothes (Professor Singer presumably does too; you'll have to ask him why) and subscribe to an ethical system more sublime than "dog eat dog" or "survival of the fittest," consider humanity special, even hallowed.

Which must in turn lead to the question of what responsibilities our special status as choosing beings places upon us. Judaism is rather clear on the subject and, despite transparent attempts by some to obscure the issues, considers most abortions, the hastening of human beings' deaths, and the misuse of the holy power of sexuality, wrong.

Taking the stance that those "moral issues" must be ignored by enlightened Americans is setting off on a shorter-than-you-might-think journey to Singerland.

And the Professor would agree that the only alternative is the embrace of the vision that Judaism bequeaths, of a society where children, no matter what, are cherished, where fragile life is protected, where the elderly are venerated and where human intimacy is considered a holy and meaningful expression, limited to men and women, in relationships duly consecrated by marriage.


Rabbi Avi Shafran serves as director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.



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