DO ENDS JUSTIFY MEANS.
Questions. Do the ends justify the means?
Answer. As a general rule, no. On the verse, “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deut. 16:20), Bachya ben Asher says that the doubling of the word “justice” indicates “Justice, whether to your profit or loss; justice, whether in word or action; justice, whether to Jew or non-Jew”. Others say that the verse identifies both the mitzvah and the means, i.e. “Justice – by just means”.
But why should it matter how we get to the right goal? If the destination is correct, why worry about the route?
The issue arises in halachah quite often, and the decision is almost always that means matter as much as ends. If we want to pronounce the blessing over the lulav (an admirable aim), it is not acceptable to steal the lulav in order to make it possible. If we want to benefit a charity it is unacceptable to embezzle the money to make the good deed possible. The Talmud remarks that
“He who steals a measure of wheat and says a prayer over the bread is a blasphemer” (Bava Kamma 94a).
How about what Reinhold Niebuhr calls “moral man and the immoral situation”? May the moral individual ever act immorally – for example, is it permissible to be “gonev min haganav”, “one who steals from a thief”? The Torah seems to allow it. For example, Jacob gains the birthright from his unworthy brother by using some guile. But the commentators are uneasy and are not all convinced that he has acted correctly.
It does, however, seem that an emergency can be an exception to the rule that ends and means must both be upright, but only if it is clear that the whole enterprise is in jeopardy, that no other option is viable, and whatever is at stake is of the utmost seriousness (Norman Frimer, in “Tradition”, vol. 13 part 4/vol. 14 part 1, 1973). Normally, though, just means and just ends are both required.
Questions. What, if any, is the Jewish perspective on beauty contests? I know the Purim story focuses on Esther who, because she won a beauty pageant, became queen of Persia, but are not such contests a mundane exploitation of the physical form?
Answer. Women’s beauty was always appreciated in Judaism. Rachel was “beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance”, whilst her sister Leah had soft, beautiful eyes (Gen. 29:17).
Precious spices and oils figure frequently in the Bible as means of enhancing female beauty and attractiveness (e.g. Shir HaShirim 5:13). Brides in particular would spend a long time beautifying themselves (Shir HaShirim 3:6).
But physical beauty could be over-emphasised. Isaiah has a long, disapproving list of beauty aids: “anklets, fillets, crescents, pendants, bracelets, veils, head-tires, armlets, sashes, rings, nose-jewels, aprons” and so on (Isa. 3:18-23).
King Solomon, whose record suggests a fondness for (presumably beautiful) women, declares that piety and character are what really matter:
“Grace is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who is God-fearing, she shall be praised” (Prov. 31;30).
The Talmud praises the bride who has
“neither paint nor rouge nor hair-dye, yet radiates charm” (Sanh. 14a).
Not only female but male beauty, too, led Judaism to advise caution. In the days of the Greeks whose hellenisation of Eretz Yisra’el eventually led to the Maccabean rebellion the almost idolisation of the (naked) male form was regarded as an emphasis on the wrong things and a breach of modesty and morality.
Which suggests that the simple answer to your question is that beauty contests simply have the wrong agenda from the Jewish point of view and what we should be concerned with is perfecting the mind, soul and character.
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. Now retired and lives in Jerusalem.