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From Kant to Jewish Sexual Perspectives, Essay Contest Reflects Depth of Thought in Jewish Ethics 

The Center for Jewish Ethics, affiliated with the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, sponsors an annual essay contest to encourage innovative thinking on contemporary Jewish ethics. The prize was established in 2004 through the generosity of Bruce Whizin, philanthropist with an abiding interest in Jewish ethics. Rabbinical students and graduate students are eligible.  

This year, The Center for Jewish Ethics has recognized two essays that together demonstrate the vitality and breadth of the field of Jewish ethics. 

One of the winners is Rabbi Ariel Root Wolpe, who was ordained from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, part of American Jewish University in Los Angeles, shortly after learning that her essay was selected. Wolpe’s essay, titled “Pornography: An Investigation of Jewish Sexual Perspectives,” offers guidelines for contemporary Jews to develop healthy, moral, spiritual relationships to their sexuality, specifically around the use of pornography. Acknowledging that pornography has never been more accessible than it is today, Wolpe draws both on scientific research and on traditional Jewish texts as she encourages her readers to make choices guided by such values as health and human dignity. This is an essay that is bold and relevant. 

The other winner is Vincent Calabrese, a doctoral student at the University of Toronto focusing on Jewish philosophy and theology. Calabrese’s essay, “Kantian Themes in the Work of Michael Wyschogrod,” addresses a central and enduring question in modern Jewish thought: What is the relationship between religion and ethics? In a tone that is as erudite as it is accessible, Calabrese explores the profound influence of Immanuel Kant on modern Jewish ethics, arguing that even the most outspoken critic of Kantian ethics is nevertheless indebted to Kant’s account of moral conscience.  

Rabbi Mira Wasserman, Ph.D., who directs the Center for Jewish Ethics, noted that the institution is proud to award the Whizin Prize to two thinkers who join breadth of knowledge with fresh insights. Winners were chosen by a panel of three scholars who judged entries in a double-blind process. Submissions were judged on such criteria as writing quality, use of sources and contemporary relevance.  

The winning essays from this year and past years can be found at www.reconstructingjudaism.org/center-jewish-ethics/whizin-prize-essays 

The Reconstructionist Network