New Book Explores the Evolution of Jewish Law

By Sam LewisInnovation in Jewish Law (cover image)

CSLR Senior Fellow Michael J. Broyde’s new book, Innovation in Jewish Law (Urim Publications, 2010), addresses questions about how Jewish law allows for innovations while remaining consistent with Jewish religious values.

Changes in the laws of Judaism take place incrementally, Broyde explains, due to evolving social realities, technological developments, or growth in the ways of thinking.

“Jewish law requires that its adherents study Jewish law faithfully, and many great minds have devoted their whole lives to the perfection of their understanding of Jewish law. Jewish law, with its large corpus of texts and a long history of study, requires explanations and clarifications,” he writes in the introduction.

When technology advances it sometimes presents new possibilities in Jewish law. One example is smoking on the intermediate days of festivals. This practice has been permitted because it is seen as enjoyable, but as science continues to advance, it becomes more apparent that smoking is a health risk. People of 200 years ago could not have foreseen this development. Whereas halachic law may have permitted smoking before, it may not now and in the future.

Jewish law also evolves due to change in social and economic conditions, with social realities of the times, such as poverty, placing pressure from the outside onto Jewish law.  This kind of change, Broyde explains, is less authentic because it isn’t organic change from within. “Organic change gives yield to new understanding in the best way possible,” he says.

Broyde, who travels the world to lecture about matters of Jewish law, particularly bio ethics and other controversial issues, writes this book out of both personal interest as well as a desire to answer questions.  He says that it is a book written for Jews seeking answers about the evolution of Jewish law but also a good resource for those outside of the Jewish tradition.

From The Emory University Center for Law and Religion

The original article may be found here.

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