A Grim Teaching

August 31, 2010

by Yehuda Mirsky

Every first-year law student knows that hard cases make bad law. In Israel, a particularly hard case lies in the ongoing controversy around an inflammatory Hebrew-language volume of Jewish religious law (halakhah) that offers justifications for violent treatment of non-Jews in general and of Israel’s foes in particular. The debate has highlighted longstanding divisions within Israeli society; now that the courts and the police have gotten into the act, it has also highlighted the difficulties of drawing meaningful lines between free speech and incitement.

The volume in question, Torat Hamelekh (“The King’s Torah”), was published last fall. Its authors, Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur, teach at a yeshiva in a settlement in Samaria known for its hard-line ideology and its tense relations with both local Arabs and Israeli authorities. Like all treatises of Jewish law, their book buttresses its arguments with citations of talmudic texts and the interpretations and decisions of later rabbinic authorities.
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The Evolution of a Halakhah

August 30, 2010
Innovation in Jewish Law

Innovation in Jewish Law

by Gil Student

I. Does Halakhah Change?

Halakhah, Jewish law, has a static core whose applications and many details vary based on time, place, circumstance and authority. This dichotomy is often overlooked. Academics tend to emphasize the exceptional cases which do not reflect the larger corpus while traditionalists reactively focus on the unchanging center. In truth, there is natural and uncontroversial development that occurs throughout Jewish law.

Occasional guest blogger Rabbi Michael J. Broyde’s recent book, Innovation in Jewish Law: A Case Study of Chiddush in Havineinu, studies the rule rather than the exception. The book is remarkably broad while still narrowly focused, conducting a vertical study of a specific halakhah that is thorough but unconnected to the larger corpus of Jewish law. In doing so, R. Broyde is able to conduct his work without concern for polemic or politico-historical speculation. The results of his study are clear and persuasive.
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Review of The Book of Psalms in Plain English

August 29, 2010
The Book of Psalms

The Book of Psalms

by Israel Drazin

The biblical book of Psalms is a reservoir of solace, encouragement and comfort for Jews and Christians facing crisis and despair. It is the core of their liturgy. It is a masterpiece of poetry, but like all poetry it is not always easy to understand, especially since it was composed more than two thousand years ago by many writers with different styles, and some illusions, metaphors and other beautiful figures of speech are no longer part of modern thought.

This problem is intensified for non-Hebrew speakers and even those who know only Modern Hebrew, because the psalms are written in ancient Hebrew and some words are now obscure and others have a different, sometimes contrary meaning in Modern Hebrew. Thus, people who want to understand the psalms need either a competent commentary or a translation that takes these problems into account.
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Post-Labor Day Blues: early school, early shul, early teshuva

August 27, 2010
Who By Fire, Who By Water

Who By Fire, Who By Water

by Alan Jay Gerber

Imagine: Selichot before Labor Day. This is what we will be experiencing this year.

School begins earlier this year as well so as to enable our youth to learn the relevant laws and lore of this most sacred of seasons. After all, there has to be a break between the pool and the shul, and the yeshivas and day-schools provide an appropriate spiritual venue.

So, the Bookworm, too, will devote the next few columns to the literature of the season for your spiritual and educational enrichment.
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Review of Innovation in Jewish Law: A Case Study of Chiddush in Havineinu

August 26, 2010
Innovation in Jewish Law

Innovation in Jewish Law

Innovation in Jewish Law: A Case Study of Chiddush in Havineinu
By Michael J. Broyde
Urim Publications, 2010

Reviewed by Francis Nataf

In spite of the many years our students are exposed to halacha, very few are able to explain how this complicated system actually works. Moreover, when they hear the clearly fallacious notion that halacha never changes, many don’t even flinch. The problem is that even if we often teach the subject very well and in great detail, we rarely expose our students to the theoretical basis of halachic methodology. It is a case of too much “it” and not enough “about it.”

Rabbi Michael Broyde’s latest work, Innovation in Jewish Law: A Case Study of Chiddush in Havineinu may well be the answer to this problem. While most of the book consists of a very nicely presented but otherwise unremarkable halachic study, it is his masterful introduction and conclusion about halachic methodology – focusing on how and under what circumstances halacha changes – that give the book its importance.
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Review: For the Love of Israel and the Jewish People

August 25, 2010
For the Love of Israel and the Jewish People

For the Love of Israel and the Jewish People

by Israel Drazin

This volume contains 58 essays, studies, and lectures delivered over several years by the well-known and respected rabbi who is the founder and dean of the David Cardozo Academy, which is dedicated to recapturing the ideals of Judaism based on classical Jewish sources. The rabbi spices his writings with modern writers, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

He recognizes, among a host of other things, that while Jews were exiled from the Land of Israel, the land integrated, became part of the Jews, and remained with them wherever they traveled throughout the world. He quotes Heinrich Heine who recognized that Jewish survival occurred because the Jews had a “portable fatherhood.” When they were exiled from Israel, they carried with them a spiritual item that assured their survival, the Torah. Thus Jews survived because of the land and the Torah within them.
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Review: Innovation in Jewish Law

August 24, 2010
Innovation in Jewish Law

Innovation in Jewish Law

by Israel Drazin

Michael Broyde demonstrates that Jewish law changes over time either through finding new interpretations of the wording of the original law, the requirements of new technologies, or alterations in social or economic conditions demand new rules. These are the same factors effecting changes in American constitutional law. Broyde offers a case study to prove his point, the recitation of the prayer Havineinu, a word meaning “grant us.”

According to an old tradition, there was a large group of scholars called Men of the Great Assembly, headed by the biblical Ezra in the fourth or fifth century BCE, who functioned as political and religious leaders of the Jewish community for either a short period or some centuries. There is no proof that such an institution existed since there is no mention of it in biblical and post-biblical literature until well into the Common Era. The issue of the existence of the Assembly is discussed in a scholarly manner by the historian Sidney B. Hoenig in his Sanhedrin.
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