Aged

The Jewish tradition teaches us to value age. Seniority is perceived as inherently valuable, as it brings with it maturity and wisdom: Age commends itself; advanced years teach wisdom (Job 32:9). In Hebrew 'the elderly' and 'elders' are the same word (zekenim), as the life experience of older people enable them to educate and mentor others. The Biblical book of Proverbs (16:31) declares that Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life and Job (12:12) rhetorically asked: Is not wisdom found among the aged? Ds not long life bring understanding?

Moreover, Judaism demands that we show outward respect to the aged. The Bible (Leviticus 19:32) urges us to Rise in the presence of the aged and show respect for the elderly. The great sage Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, the Talmud (Kidushin 32b) relates would rise when an elderly person passed by, whether Jewish or not. He explained Just consider how many events this person has experienced. The Talmud similarly relates how the greatest of its teachers were renowned for their friendliness and supportiveness to the aged, offering them a smile, a helping hand or material assistance. Maimonides (Mishne Torah, Talmud Torah 6:9) codifies Jewish law mandating that one must stand before a person of advanced years and must greet them and offer them a supportive hand, whether or not a scholar and regardless of their ethnicity or religion. It is therefore essential that we raise young people to have respect for those who are elderly and to display that respect in tangible ways. A most obvious and simple way of putting this value into practice is to rise to give up one's seat on a bus or train for an elderly person.

While there are signs of public transport vehicles urging us to do this, regrettably this seems to have lost its unquestioned status and is all too often ignored. This is a great shame. We owe a great deal to the generations that preceded us; they toiled to build much of what we currently enjoy. All too often the elderly are ignored by the rest of society, leaving them feeling lonely and rejected. Having spent their lives contributing to society by creating a family and working hard, we then fail to show them the affection and respect they deserve. A broad smile, an outstretched arm and the occasional offer of help would bring comfort and happiness to people as they enter their twilight years. If we are fortunate enough, we will all one day be old. How would we wanted to be treated?

 
Ageing Enrichment

Judaism has a rather realistic assessment of what it means to age. It admits that it can be a difficult and problematic process. Some rabbinic comments on the topic are pointed and frank about how a person's latter years can be devoid of dignity and purpose.

A life of development and learning results in continued maturing of character into old age, irrespective of the typical enfeeblement of physique. In contrast, a person whose life is devoid of such a higher focus finds that he deteriorates along with his body.

Ageing is not viewed in Judaic traditional texts as a unified construct. Jewish teachings distinguish between different types of ageing. Whilst often the way ageing affects us is entirely beyond our control, the rabbis claim that those whose latter years are filled with meaning and purpose experience ageing differently from those who are idling it away. Modern professional studies on ageing have increasingly recognised the concept of 'ageing well'. Haifa Chief Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen writes, "Our sages highly praised the virtue of longevity… old age is a merit that someone should aspire to, pray for and be worthy of."

By contrast, old age can easily become a burden to the person and to his or her surroundings. Barzilai Hagiladi in 2 Samuel (19:35) bitterly summed up what ageing can be like: "I am now eighty years old. Can I tell the difference between what is good and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats and drinks? Can I still hear the voices of men and women singers? Why should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king?"

In this vein, the Talmud (Sota 46b) describes a city where people never die, but when the elderly find their mind is no longer functioning properly they go out of the walls of the city to die. We find a similar tale in the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Ekev 871) about a woman who grew very old and had become tired of life. These and other passages from Judaic classical texts are quite open about the travails of ageing.

To ensure that old age is the 'crowning glory' (Proverbs 16:31) and a great blessing (Exodus 20:12), it has to be infused with meaning and purposeful activity. In the famous aphorism of our sages (Mishna Kanim, end cited earlier): "The elders of the sages, as they get older, their minds mature; whereas the elders of the ignorant, as they get old, their minds become more confused." The rabbis were highlighting that for old age to be a positive experience it also has to be meaningful.

When referring to Abraham and Sarah reaching old age, the Bible uses the expression 'coming on in days', which has been interpreted to mean that they were not merely old, but that their days were full and worthwhile.

There is a Chassidic tale about a disciple of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi who was offered a blessing for long life. His response: "But only if life be not crass (i.e. spiritually empty)". Worse than a short life is a meaningless one. Enoch was a pious man whom the Bible (Genesis 5:24) says was 'taken' by God. As a pious man living in profoundly impious times, this was seen as a far better fate than the alternative (Rashi, Zohar).

Age is no barrier to achievement! One can and should be productive in every phase of life's journey . We are told about the great sage, Choni Ham'agel, who planted trees when seventy years old. The Midrash (Tanchuma Kedoshim) tells a story of a man who at age one hundred was found planting trees, with evident approval. In the Talmud (Moed Katan 9b) it is told that the wife of

the elderly scholar Rav Chisda was applying cosmetic during the middle days of the festival. A disciple suggested that this would only be permissible for a young woman, for whom presumably such things are important. Rav Chisda objected angrily: "I swear even your mother, even your grandmother, even if she is on the edge of her grave (this is allowed)." At any age a person should have a youthful attitude to life.

 
Animal welfare

Humanity can be judged not by how we treat those who are stronger or equal to us, but by our consideration for those considerably weaker. That is why Judaic teaching places such great emphasis on kindness and compassion towards the vulnerable in society, urging us to see in even the most wretched of being an entity worthy of our sensitivity and empathy. Brute animals may lack the intelligence of humans, but they are living being nonetheless, and treating them kindly is a basic hallmark of a civilised human being. In Judaic literature, there is hardly a more valued attribute than a rachaman, being compassionate, and hardly a characteristic more dislike than being an achzar, a cruel person.

In the Bible, those who care for animals are hers, while those who hunt animals are villains. Jacob, Moses and David were all shepherds, people who cared for animals (Gen. 30; Ex. 31; I Sam. 17). According to Jewish tradition, Moses was chosen as leader because of his attentiveness when caring for his sheep: "The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said 'Since you are merciful to the flock of a human being, you shall be the shepherd of My flock, Israel." Likewise Rebecca was chosen as a wife for Isaac due to her alacrity at watering a stranger's camels (Gen. 24). Cruelty to animals is repeatedly prohibited in the Torah and the Talmud and later codes. The Talmud concludes that cruelty to animals violates a Biblical prohibition. Thus, the Bible grants animals a weekly day of rest (Ex. 20:10), along with humans. It forbids the muzzling of an animal to prevent it from eating while it is working in the field (Deut. 25:4) and prohibits harnessing animals of different species (Deut. 22:10), lest it cause them discomfort. We are required to relieve an animal of its burden (Ex. 23:5) and to send away a mother bird when taking the eggs (Deut 22:6-7), in order to avoid needless distress. It is forbidden in Jewish law to purchase an animal if one cannot afford to feed it and one is mandated to feed one's animals before feeding oneself. Notably, the prohibition against animal cruelty is considered one of the seven Noahide Laws that according to Judaism are incumbent on all humankind. Including a ban on animal cruelty among the seven universal laws suggests that animal welfare is regarded as a core value for a civilised society.

Although hunting is not strictly prohibited in Jewish law, the great eighteenth century Rabbi Ezekiel Landau of Prague captured well the general abhorrence of Judaism towards hunting, suggesting that cruelty to animals in inimical to Judaic values and that people of noble spirit would not cause unnecessary pain to animals. Sensitivity to animals is a frequent motif in Jewish literature. Rabbi Judah the Prince had his thirteen-year illness attributed to a single act of minor insensitivity towards a goat (Talmud, Baba Metzia 85a.)

Jewish teaching endorses the imperative of animal welfare, but it ds not go along with advocates of animal rights. We have an obligation to behave as decent human being, not that animals have a claim on us. Thus, non-cruel use of animals for work or food is permitted. Moreover, the Bible (1:28) states that God instructed Adam and Eve to have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the fowl of the heaven, and over every living things that creeps upon the earth.

Humans are not merely another variety of mammal, just another animal species. The obligation that we have towards animals " an obligation that animals themselves to not have towards us " is precisely because we are not animals! Failure to recognise the unique nature of human moral responsibility by equating humans and animals risks undermining the very ethical basis for the protection of animals. One of the ironies of modern life is the violence against humans meted out by defenders of the rights of animals, echoing the Biblical phrase (Hosea 13:2) "They offer human sacrifice and kiss the calf."