Questioning within the Boundaries
Volume 1 , Issue 4 (June, 1988 | Tammuz, 5748)
In Judaism, it seems that a certain odd pleasure is derived from postulating as many answers as possible to any particular question. Even ?correct? answers may be explained several different ways. In the Talmud, minutiae is debated by a multitude of rabbis and scholars, with ?final? answers or conclusions arrived at by myriad brains over several centuries. A single Mishnaic phrase and its resultant effect on Jewish law can be debated for pages in any given Talmudic tractate.
So too, modern Jewry has provided its own fora for debate: not satisfied with traditional Orthodoxy, Reform Judaism was born in the mid- I800's to provide a supposedly more ?contemporary? approach to the religion. Observance of halakha, or Jewish law was now made secondary to the need to ?fit in? or assimilate to the culture of the times. Some early 20th century Jews, disillusioned with the extent to which the Reform had left their version of Judaism barren of its laws and tradition, but themselves striving for something they perceived to be more ?alive? or dynamic, began the Conservative movement, once again believing they were the only ones enlightened enough to question traditional Judaism.
Seemingly, though, throughout this history, the debates going on all along within Orthodox Judaism have been ignored. Responsa through the ages have always sought to apply halakha to modern problems. Situations not conceived of in Talmudic times were solved through analogy, much the way the judiciary in our courts applies the law to situations not discussed during the legislative process. Sometimes it almost seems that a ?Founding Fathers? interpretation is applied to difficult questions --?what would Hillel have said...??
Confused by the labels assigned to one side or the other by participants in the fray, even the Orthodox community has almost forgotten that questioning and reexamina?tion result in clearer explanations: that reinterpretation within guidelines provides for a respected dynamism within the religion, not dilution of halakha or necessarily laxness; and that rigidity masking fear of a prospective answer must not substitute for well-reasoned responses couched in modem terms.
Oftentimes, a need to ?build a fence around the Torah? and preserve halakha (as the Mishnah suggests) in times of greater assimilation has resulted in continuing reinterpretation of the law-- clearly at times, in a more stringent way. But, where the ?right? and the ?left? have diverged is in the relative need they have felt to explain the ?whys? and ?hows? in contemporary terminology.
The Jewish Review sees itselfas providing a new forum for those interested in learning, questioning,examining and applying halakha to the contemporary world within the Orthodox framework.We hope, without being presumptuous, to teach those who wish to learn more about Judaism and to enlighten those who are open-minded enough to see divergent points of view. We can succeed only if our readers participate in the debate: are theretopics you'd like to see covered? Did something in an issue of The Jewish Review disturbyou? Let us know we look forwardto hearing from you and growing together.
Harris Z. Tilevitz