The Narrow Halakhic Bridge – new review

Harvey Sukenic ● AJL News and Reviews

Ronen Neuwirth portrays Halacha as the “narrow bridge” between the eternal Torah and the shifting reality, but in need of change to meet the challenges of postmodern society. Neuwirth served as a pulpit rabbi in Israel, rabbi of Bnai Akiva in the US, and founded Beit Hillel, an organization building bridges between religious and secular Israelis. His audience is a modern Orthodox lay readership. In his introduction, he presents those elements of contemporary society which challenge the accep­tance of halacha. He follows with seven chapters tracing the development of the halachic process and an extensive treatment of the basic principles of rabbinic decision making, with over a thousand sources.

Neuwirth traces the “narrow bridge” that halachic interpret­ers travel between leniency and stringency, between absolute truth and rulings acceptable to the community, between rule by great rabbis versus democratic consensus, between adher­ence to tradition and innovation. He shifts in later chapters to the changes brought by modernity, drawing heavily on the decisions of rabbis Moshe Feinstein, Yaakov Yehiel Weinberg, Joseph Soloveitchik, and Aharon Lichtenstein.

In the last section of the book, Neuwirth argues that revival of Jewish life in the State of Israel calls for a revived halacha, centered on life in the Jewish state rather than the diaspora. Heavily influenced by Avraham Yitzhak Kook, Neuwirth sees in the current time a convergence between postmodern dem­ocratic trends and pre-messianic times, requiring a boldness in halachic decision making. In the final chapter he addresses several controversial issues in halacha, including civil marriage in Israel, attitudes towards LGBT Jews, the role of women, and the agunah problem. While his solutions will not be acceptable to all, Neuwirth lays out a methodology for deciding along the “narrow bridge” of Halacha. This book is highly recommended for libraries with collec­tions on modern Orthodox thought.