Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A thinking Orthodox Jew's approach to halachic decision making

I'm delighted to see that Dilbert (the blogger, not the cartoon character) has returned, with his intelligent, articulate posts, from a long hiatus. I recommend his Tuesday, June 06, 2006 post, "The importance of context in halachic decision making."

The money quote:

"The halachic data needs to be seen in the context of the surrounding world. Anything else, despite protestations to the contrary from the very right, is a distortion of the true Halachic process, and subsequently a distortion of God's will. Willfully distorting God's will is not the exclusive province of the liberals. The thinking Orthodox should not accept an emperor without clothing."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

-->"The halachic data needs to be seen in the context of the surrounding world

Devil's Advocate:

Why not the reverse?

Wed Jun 07, 10:53:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Even the fervently Orthodox, no matter how insular their communities may be, live in “the surrounding world,” whether they wish to admit it or not.

Unfortunately, I can’t find the post, but a Jewish blogger recently wrote that Modern Orthodox Jews [and, I would add, synagogue-going non-Orthodox Jews, as well] are dependent on Ultra-Orthodox Jews for hand-written items such as sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls), tefillin (phyllacteries), and mezuzot for our doorposts because MO’s tend not to choose the trade of sofer, scribe. A commenter replied that UO’s are equally dependent on MO’s for health care, legal advice, accounting services, etc., because many UO’s refuse to attend college, considering college attendance a bad influence on an Orthodox Jew.

The simple fact is that the surrounding world and halachah influence one another, as well they should. Any Jew who chooses to avoid working on the Sabbath, as halachah (Jewish religious law) demands, is letting halachah influence the surrounding world. But any Jew who insists that the influence be one-way only would do well to remember that the great Torah scholar known as the Rambam (Maimonides) was also a physician.

Wed Jun 07, 09:31:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Noam S said...

shira thanks for the link and the kind words. I tried to comment earlier but blogger was out.

g- the reverse: the surrounding world needs to be seen in the context of halacha? I am not sure what you mean, but I will address the question I think you are asking. The data of the Mishna, gemara,, halachic midrashim, rishonim, shulchan aruch, achronim, on down contain Divine elements. These Divine elements have been interpreted by fallable humans, who, voluntarily or involuntarily, have been influenced by what they saw, heard, learned, felt, and experienced. If, and its a big if, we can seperate the influence from the underlying Divine message, we can better understand the Divine message. If we cant(and in many if not most circumstances this is the case), or its not clear, then its better not to tamper with what we have for fear of losing the Divine message in the tampering.

Of course Halacha has an underlying authority, and in the vast majority of cases we want the Halacha to be controlling on the surrounding world. However, in the cases where the surrounding world has clearly tainted or influenced the halachic decisions, we she see it, acknowledge it, and not neccessarily be bound by the tainted decisions, especially if it involves danger or is not universally accepted.

Fri Jun 09, 09:39:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Dilbert, thanks for the reply. Blogger's been a pain, lately--it took me about six tries to comment on *your* post, too!

I'm afraid you and I are coming from exactly opposite, er, haskafot (?) (viewpoints). That's what I get, I suppose, for having been a member of a dual-affiliated Reconstructionist/Conservative synagogue--I still have half a foot in the Reconstructionist Movement. I think human influence on halachah (Jewish religious law) is not only inevitable, but also, in many cases, necessary and good. In accordance with my own personal hashkafah, I wouldn't even use the word "tainted" in connection with halachah. I would simply say that the interpretation of Jewish law changes with the times, as it always has and always will, and that halachah both does and must take current circumstances into consideration. Otherwise, how could we talk about the halachic implications of organ transplants and stem cell research, neither of which even existed when we were born? From my own perspective, the question is more one of why, not whether, change takes place. Saving lives is a darned good reason.

Sun Jun 11, 03:50:00 AM 2006  

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