A common theistic claim is that atheism has no basis for morality, and that a basic morality must be determined by God for it to exist. There are instances in secular fields such as Biological Altruism and Secular Morality which present a morality that seems to coalesce without a divine basis.

What is Judaism's stance regarding morality? the Torah would be a basic moral document provided by God to Man, and before it was given God communicated His will to Man and dealt with morality (See for example Gen. 4 and 6).

Does Judaism believe in the possibility of the development of moral standards found in the Torah, that is different rights and wrongs as defined in the Torah such as not murdering, giving charity etc, independently of God or His Torah?

  • This is like asking "Can morality exist without G-d?" The universe was created with the Torah. Are you asking about what if the Torah was never given? Man is made in the image of Elokim. That means we are born naturally with morality, regardless of our beliefs.
    – ezra
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 4:45
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    you mean if everything is blind accident can there be morality?
    – ray
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 5:31
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    @BabySeal Seems better. Note that you are probably less likely to find classical sources discussing the moral implications of atheism, given that they don't accept the premise. More likely, you will find sources encouraging following one's internal moral compass, which the apologists will claim is predicated on God, while the simple reading might indicate something along the lines of secular morality.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 5:32
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    This question seems off topic. Judaism doesn't generally have opinions about what would be without God (aside from nothingness, and even that is bound to be controversial).
    – Double AA
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 14:00
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    That said the question is already terribly semantically ambiguous. What is "morality"? What are "principles"? What is "Torah"? You're not likely to get anything useful here, as the current answers and comments show.
    – Double AA
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 14:01

3 Answers 3


The Gemara (Eruvin 100b) states:

אמר רבי יוחנן אילמלא לא ניתנה תורה היינו למידין צניעות מחתול וגזל מנמלה ועריות מיונה דרך ארץ מתרנגול

R Yochanan said: Even if the Torah were not given, we would have learnt modesty from a cat, [that it is wrong to] steal from a ant, forbidden relations from a dove, and regular relations from a rooster

The Gemara is clear that a moral code could be developed independent of the Torah. This is not an argument negating the necessity of a Creator, but at least negating the necessity for the Torah to develop those virtues.

  • +1. But do you think this is how the gentiles developed their morale? Did they observe ants and cats and doves? I don't think so.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 17:45
  • @AlBerko Gentiles are no more G-dless than we are.
    – chortkov2
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 17:46
  • G-d fearing you mean? I just showed that idolatrous societies had good moral codes without observing animals. I didn't hear the Greeks say "let's follow doves or ants - how beautiful their morales are".
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 17:51
  • I fear you overstate the argument. he say's if the torah wasn't given - but we have to assume with us still acknowledging Hashem and thus searching in his creation ...
    – user15253
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 12:06
  • @Orangesandlemons 'This is not an argument negating the necessity of a Creator, but at least negating the necessity for the Torah to develop those virtues.'
    – chortkov2
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 13:09

Of course we must believe in our creator. Once we are certain of the creator,

Lets say that we heard Adam or his mesorah through חנוך מתושלח שם נח tell us about him , we live in the ancient times before the torah was given!

So your question is how do we know morality? There's no torah yet!

However before the Torah was given , there was a Torah still! Our mind! The chovos halevovos is a classic example, often bringing proof from logic and שכל, he too brings a חז'ל that say if not for the torah we would learn various middos from specific animals.

" Hashem created us to serve him, he must have shown us how", this is the reason to believe that תורה מן השמים through common sense, however before the torah was given to us, hashem still gave us tools to understand right from wrong because a feeling of morality has been planted in our minds by hashem and we are required to utilise this tool -our mind, for its purposes - serving Hashem. The gemara says regarding הממע'ה למה לי קרא , סברא הוא


Kovetz Maamarim 69 by Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman:

"The holy Chafetz Chaim would say: "if the torah study has stopped then perforce the faith will also stop. And without faith the world cannot endure". This is explained in the verse "only there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife" (Gen.20:11). The intent of "only", is that there is nothing in the world which has the power to hold back the animal in man besides the fear of God. In our times (world war II) where denial of God has spread throughout the world, human beings have become snakes which bite each other, and the proper countries among the nations are those which believe in the holy writings (Tanach)."

another source from the Rambam Yesodei Torah ch.1

"The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of wisdom is to know that there is a Primary Being who brought into being all existence."

(I heard from a lecture of Rabbi Mordechai Becher that the meaning of this is that without God all of our wisdom is meaningless, who cares what an ape thinks.)

  • -1 For taking the quote totally out of context. The passage, at least according to your translation, states "there is nothing in the world which has the power to hold back the animal in man besides the fear of God." This says absolutely nothing about the OP's question of whether morality would exist. It only states that sans God, people would lack the sufficient incentive
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 5:35
  • @mevaqesh correct. without fear of God morality is whatever incentive people choose (ie it is meaningless) and based on the above, the animal in man will eventually decide the incentives.
    – ray
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 5:40
  • But animals exhibit a form of altruism known as reciprocity! They will at times engage in mutual altruism, much like a social contract.
    – Baby Seal
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 5:41
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    @ray That is an interesting idea, but it isn't what R. Wasserman says in your quote.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 5:43
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – Baby Seal
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 6:03

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