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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Sep 9, 2013 / 5 Tishrei, 5774

Darwin's conundrum: Where does compassion come from?

By Jeff Jacoby


Darwin




http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Charles Darwin struggled with a paradox: If evolution is a struggle for survival, how could generosity, compassion, and other altruistic virtues have spread through natural selection?

Darwin could see the clear evolutionary benefit to groups that inculcated ethical values in their members. Imagine, he wrote in The Descent of Man, two competing primitive tribes, equally matched — except that "one tribe included a great number of courageous, sympathetic, and faithful members, who were always ready to warn each other of danger, [and] to aid and defend each other." There was little doubt that tribes highly endowed with such virtues "would spread and be victorious over other tribes."

But there was a problem: How did any tribe evolve such ethical qualities in the first place? Brave individuals who risked their lives for others "would on average perish in larger numbers than other men." It hardly seemed possible, Darwin conceded, that "such virtues … could be increased through natural selection, that is, by the survival of the fittest."

Darwin's paradox has generated a vast literature in evolutionary psychology and sociobiology. Scientists have demonstrated that humans have a hard-wired moral capacity; we are born with an aptitude for empathy and fairness that is built into our biology. Recent neurological experiments, for example, demonstrate that an act of generosity, such as donating to charity, triggers a pleasurable response in the brain.

Of course, having a capacity is not the same as using it. The human brain is hard-wired to learn multiple languages, too, but how many of us ever master more than one? Our moral sense may be genetically encoded, but we aren't robots. We have free will. Each of us must choose to be decent or indecent. And there is no denying that indecent choices can also convey rewards.

Thus did Darwin put his finger on what Sir Jonathan Sacks calls "the central drama of civilization: Biological evolution favors individuals, but cultural evolution favors groups.… Selfishness benefits individuals, but it is disastrous to groups, and it is only as members of a group that individuals can survive at all."

Sacks, who retired this week after 22 years as Britain's Orthodox chief rabbi, is the author of, most recently, The Great Partnership, an eloquent argument about the interdependence of religion and science.

(Buy it in KINDLE edition at a 59% discount, just $11.99 by clicking here)

In the book he writes that Abrahamic monotheism has provided the most enduring solution to Darwin's conundrum. "Religion … creates altruism, the only force strong enough to defeat egoism."

As Jews celebrate the Days of Awe, that message will be renewed.

In the Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashana marks more than the start of a new year. It is the day when the Divine sits in judgment over mankind, weighing each person's deeds and misdeeds, deciding who will live and who will die, whose year will be tranquil and whose tormented. More than at any other time in Jewish life, the 10 days from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, reinforce the conviction that everything we do is seen and recorded, and that we are called to account for our choices.


STIMULATION AND INSPIRATION

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Yet the Divine is not immovable. Over and over, the High Holiday liturgy stresses the power of repentance to overturn a harsh decree. And repentance is achieved not just through prayer but through acts of charity, goodness, and honesty — through behavior changed for the better.

You don't have to be Jewish, or even a believer, to be grateful for such moral reinforcement. "I want my attorney, my tailor, my servants, even my wife, to believe in G0D," declared Voltaire, a notorious religious skeptic, "for I think I shall then be robbed and cuckolded less often."

However cynical, Voltaire was right. Human beings are more likely to do the right thing if they think they're being watched, which is why speeding drivers slow when they see the flashing lights of a police cruiser, and why visible security cameras reduce shoplifting. Surveillance changes behavior. Even the illusion of surveillance — a cardboard police officer, a poster of staring eyes — can make people more honest. Religious believers know that they are being watched not by an inanimate camera or a poster, but by an all-knowing G0D who calls us to love our neighbor, feed the hungry, and pursue justice.

"G0D sees. Therefore we are seen," writes Sacks. That is a powerful spur to improve our deeds; to take right and wrong seriously; to be honest and ethical even when others aren't. Our genes may be selfish. We can aspire to something higher.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

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