Evolving Halakhah: A Progressive Approach to Traditional Jewish Law

Evolving Halakhah: A Progressive Approach to Traditional Jewish Law

by Moshe Zemer
Evolving Halakhah: A Progressive Approach to Traditional Jewish Law

Evolving Halakhah: A Progressive Approach to Traditional Jewish Law

by Moshe Zemer


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An essential reference work for any thinking student of religion.

Innovative and provocative, Evolving Halakhah affirms the system of traditional Jewish law, Halakhah, as a developing and moral structure, flexible enough to accommodate the changing realities of each generation. In this accessible analysis of Halakhah, Moshe Zemer issues a clarion call to follow the ancient and modern principles of evolving Halakhah, which demands ethical deeds, the discovery of holiness in the Commandments, a critical approach to the Tradition, and responsibility of the entire Community of Israel. These principles are viewed as the framework in which the other commandments are applied.

To Jews who sometimes see no choices but those of fundamentalist rigidity on the one hand, or total rejection of tradition on the other, Zemer argues instead for awareness of the inherent flexibility of the halakhic system. Halakhah, he argues, has had many voices, and has changed to meet every generation’s needs. Equipped with this view, liberal Jews can reclaim their tradition from a conservative rabbinic establishment that all too often—especially in Israel—has seen the voice of strictness as more authentic than the voice of lovingkindness.

The product of Zemer’s thirty-five years of work in the Israel Movement of Progressive Judaism, Evolving Halakhah includes chapters on matters ranging from personal status, especially marriage and conversion, through the “political” Halakhah of a response to the intifada. It shows that the traditional framework for understanding the Torah’s commandments can be the living heart of Jewish life for all Jews—including Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781580236546
Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
Publication date: 07/13/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 480
File size: 826 KB

About the Author

Rabbi Dr. Moshe Zemer is founding director of the Freehof Institute of Progressive Halakhah in Tel Aviv, where he lives. A congregational rabbi for over thirty-five years, he is one of the rabbis who established the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, and serves as president of its Rabbinical Court. Zemer has edited a series of books on Jewish law and published many articles about Halakhah, and is currently senior lecturer in Rabbinics at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements xv Foreword by Justice Haim H. Cohn, Deputy President Emeritus of the Israel Supreme Court xvii Introduction xxi I. FOUNDATIONS 1 Chapter 1: Halakhah as an Evolving Ethical System 3 The "Language of the Common Folk" and the Purification of Mamzerim Leniencies in the Sabbatical Year An Emergency Wedding on the Sabbath "Something That Was Unknown to Earlier Generations" "Uprooting a Provision of the Torah" Rabbinic Regulations That Permit Leniency “Where There Would Be Suffering” “To Prevent Enmity” “For the Sake of Peace” “On Account of a 'Chained' Woman” Annulling a Marriage Conditional Marriage Chapter 2: Maimonides and the “Lesser Evil” 23 Takkanat Hashavim (the Provision for the Penitent) “It Is Better for Him to Eat the Gravy and Not the Fat Itself ” “It Is A Time to Act for the Lord; They Have Violated Your Torah” The Beautiful Captive The Verdict “The Lesser Evil” as a Hermeneutic Principle Chapter 3: The Essence of Evolving Halakhah 37 The Source of Halakhic Authority The Principles and Criteria of Progressive Halakhah Halakhah Is an Evolutionary Process Halakhah Is Pluralistic Halakhah and Ethics The Commandments Embody Holiness Internalizing the Commandments The Critical Approach to Halakhah The Major Thrust of the Tradition The Call of Individual Conscience Responsibility to the Covenant Community The Rationale for the Commandments Why We Need These Principles II. MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE 59 Chapter 4: Yibbum and H|alitzah 61 The Halakhic Background The Situation Today Chapter 5: Marriages Forbidden to a Kohen 73 A Kohen and a Divorcée The Status of Kohanim, in Antiquity and Today The Status of Divorcées, in Antiquity and Today A Kohen and a Convert Concubinage Chapter 6: Mamzerut (Halakhic Illegitimacy) 87 The Mamzer in the Classical Sources What is a Mamzer? “ . . . Shall Not be Admitted into the Congregation of the Lord” The Duration of the Ban Mamzerut Today The Scope of the Problem The Approach of the Religious Establishment in Israel Early Rabbinic Solutions Marrying a Female Slave to Cleanse One's Children The Fetus Spends Twelve Months in the Womb Mamzerut and “Assimilation” Modern Responsa on the Purification of Mamzerim The Husband Who Didn't Die Four Generations of Mamzerim on the Island of Corfu The Child of the Eunuch’s Wife A Mamzeret in Egypt The Proxy Betrothal of a Yemenite Girl Civil Divorce without a Get Annulling the Conversion of the First Husband Chapter 7: Marriage Blacklists: “All Families Are Presumed to Be Fit” 113 Summary III. Conversion 121 Chapter 8: Rabbi Goren’s Reform Conversion 125 Acceptance of the Commandments Marriage of a Female Convert to a Kohen Token Circumcision Conversion under Duress An Express-Lane Conversion The Lesser of Two Evils Afterword Chapter 9: Ambivalence about Conversion 143 Conversion for an Ulterior Motive The Negative Attitude toward Converts In Praise of Proselytes The Mitzvah of Accepting Converts An Eternal Ban on Conversion The Ambivalent Chief Rabbi The Affirmative Approach to Conversion Chapter 10: Disqualifying Jews from India to Ethiopia 157 Must the Ethiopian Immigrants Be Converted? The Lenient Approach: Rabbis Hildesheimer and Kook The Stringent Approach: Rabbis Herzog, Nissim, and Goren Does Conversion Remove the Taint of Mamzerut? Conversion under Duress Is Not Halakhic Conversion A Solution Is Found The B’nai Israel of India The Successful Struggle by the B’nai Israel CONTENTS / IX Chapter 11: You Shall Not Oppress the Stranger 171 Afterthought on Conversions IV. THE STATE OF ISRAEL AND GENTILES 177 Chapter 12: The Sabra and Shatilla Massacre 181 Our Relations with Non-Jews Our Leaders’ Responsibility for the Tragedy Our Leaders’ Obligation to Investigate Chapter 13: Demolishing Houses in the Territories: A Halakhic Perspective 187 Individual Responsibility Precludes Collective Punishment “Resident Gentiles” Must Receive Fair Judicial Treatment Why Was the Policy of Demolishing Houses Reinstituted? Chapter 14: Halakhah and the Intifada 193 The Attitude toward Individual Members of a Hostile Population Territory for Peace Who Is Authorized to Decide? A Flimsy Foundation Chapter 15: The Attitude toward the Enemy 205 Justifications for Harming Women and Children Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli Rabbi Shimon Weiser Rabbi Lt. Col. Avraham Avidan The Ideological Basis for Animosity toward Arabs Hostile Opinions in the Rabbinic Classics Contemporary Xenophobic Ideologies Rabbi Yaakov Ariel Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook The Humanist Approach The Secular Court’s Ruling in the Kafr Kasim Case Rabbi Shlomo Goren “The Works of My Hands Are Drowning in the Sea” King David Was Not Allowed to Build the Temple because of His Cruelty in War Who Is the Greatest Hero? Chapter 16: Ransoming Captives 225 Chapter 17: “Halakhic” Justifications for Murder 231 Rabbinic Responsibility for a Massacre The Assassination of the Prime Minister Moser Rodef Pulsa Denura Summary V. THE STATUS OF WOMEN 239 Chapter 18: Is a Woman Permitted to Hold a Public Position? 241 Are Women Forbidden to Hold Office? Does Custom Ban the Appointment of Women? Should Female Candidates Be Disqualified because “Women Are Frivolous”? To Preserve Domestic Harmony Discussions of Secular Matters but Not of Torah A Mitzvah for Women Chapter 19: Women and Service in the Israel Defense Forces 249 “In an Obligatory War All Go Forth to Battle” What Is the Role of Women in War? Israel Is in a Situation of Obligatory War Halakhah Does Not Distinguish between Observant and Secular Young Women Morality and Seclusion in the Home It Is Forbidden to Use the Torah for Extraneous Purposes Chapter 20: A “Women’s Gallery” in the Cemetery 255 Women “Brought Death into the World” The Angel of Death Is among the Women Decisors Who Allow Women to Participate in Funerals Chapter 21: Delaying a Funeral Until the Daughter of the Deceased Arrives 261 Chapter 22: The Right of Women to Say Kaddish 265 Reasons for Permitting a Daughter to Say Kaddish Reasons to Forbid a Daughter to Say Kaddish “Something New and Strange” The Spiritual Basis of the Kaddish The Recitation of the Kaddish Elevates the Soul of the Deceased Chapter 23: Is a Woman’s Voice Sexually Enticing? 275 Are Women Required to Pray? May a Woman Hold a Torah Scroll? A Woman’s Voice Is Sexually Enticing Women’s Equality VI. THE ULTRA-ORTHODOX 281 Chapter 24: Desecrating the Sabbath in Order to Sanctify It 283 “Zealots Attack Him” Desecrating the Sabbath to Prevent Desecration of the Sabbath? “Two Who Laid Hold of a Tallit” Chapter 25: Religious Violence against a Progressive Congregation 291 Chapter 26: The Cult of the Newly Ultra-Orthodox 295 Torah and Labor Honoring One’s Parents Military Service Chapter 27: Religious Tolerance among Jews: A Critique of Rulings by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein 301 Non-Orthodox Rabbis Are Heretics Banning Rabbis through the Centuries Sa’adiah Gaon Maimonides Rabbi Zacharias Frankel Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer Rabbi David Zevi Hoffmann Rabbi Moshe Feinstein One May Not Accept a Position in a Non-Orthodox Synagogue One May Not Participate in a Prayer Service in a Non- Orthodox Synagogue An Orthodox Jew Who Associates with the Non- Orthodox Is in Jeopardy of Leaving Orthodoxy Where We Truly Differ May You Teach Us? Chapter 28: Archaeology as a Mitzvah 313 Chapter 29: Circumcising a Corpse 317 VII. MEDICINE 321 Chapter 30: A Dialogue on Autopsies 323 Is There a Contradiction between Medicine and the Torah? There Is No Substitute for Autopsies Dealing with the Bereaved Family There Is No Need for Relatives to Consent Chapter 31: Abortion Is Not Murder 335 A Fetus Is Not a Person The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Politics Chapter 32: Artificial Insemination 339 Is a Husband Permitted to Provide Sperm? Is the Child a Mamzer? The Case of a Non-Jewish Donor Chapter 33: To Smoke or Not to Smoke: A Jewish Question 345 Danger to Nonsmokers Danger to Smokers Chapter 34: “It Is Forbidden to Delay Death” 351 VIII. BURIAL 357 Chapter 35: For the Sake of Peace 359 Is It Really Forbidden to Bury a Non-Jew alongside a Jew? Does Halakhah Require the Exhumation of a Non-Jew Buried in a Jewish Cemetery? CONTENTS / XIII Does “For the Sake of Peace” Outweigh Other Principles? Permissiveness is Preferable Undesirable Proximity in the Cemetery Burying the Good next to the Wicked Chapter 36: Burial and Superstition 373 That Sons Do Not Follow Their Father’s Bier to the Cemetery Burial in Coffins Afterword 377 Bibliography 379 Notes 391 Index 429 About Jewish Lights 441

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