Classic Judaism

Classic Judaism

Classic Judaism or classical Judaism represents a theology comprising a unique set of discernible styles, modes, forms, and content prevalent from the year 70 until the 19th century, styles rooted in classical Jewish thought as found in classical rabbinic literature and given authoritative expression in classical Jewish law or classical halakha. During this period, despite radical differences in interpreting and applying the classic corpus, Jews loyal to this halakhic tradition found themselves part of a common community. Following the Enlightenment, classic Judaism, especially in Ashkenaz (the Germanic countries of north-central Europe), fragmented into a plethora of denominations. Classic Judaism therefore denotes the halakhic (Jewish legal) forms, modes and substance that preexisted the modern denominational labels; that is to say, before the "movements" entered the scene.[1] These classic halakhic patterns of approach are being claimed by many contemporary Jews.


Substance: Styles, Modes, Form and Content

View of Halakha (Jewish Jurisprudence)

Classic theology is intertwined with a commitment to halakha, the cohesive element in classic Judaism. This theological core predicates a belief in a divine, eternally valid, unchanging Torah (Torah min ha-shamayim), conceived of as a great tree of life (eitz hayim) extending between earth and heaven, in whose shade all questions (sh'eilot) can be adjudicated by each generation's rabbis steeped in Torah learning and observance.[2] Answers to these questions cover all aspects of life, ritual, civil, criminal, and even moral and ethical issues—the latter being subjects explicitly not covered by modern secular law.[3] As Ernst Simon summarizes, "Classical Judaism hardly knows...a neutral sphere."[4] Although the specifics of halakha are derived from Torah (the Written Law), the adjudicating rabbi (poseik) needs to consider the entire chain of Jewish jurisprudence from Torah until the present (the Written and the Oral Law).[5]

As the existing halakha is analyzed to determine how it applies to new situations, the results might be proclaimed in a t'shuva (a decision given in response to a halakhic question), but this would not imply that the t'shuva enacted something that had not previously been valid. "I know of no classical halakhic source," writes David Novak, "where change per se is mandated or even defended."[6] Conceptually, the classic halakhic process neither "enacts" nor "changes" the law.[7] Rather, through a procedure that is primarily judicial, the halakhic process "uncovers what the law is found to be."[8] While the process itself cannot formally recognize and admit any given decision as progress, the judicial chain of interpretation affords gradual natural development within the system, allowing a history of halakhic application to be observed and tracked by subsequent adjudicators (pos'kim).[9]

A specific t'shuva by any given rabbinic authority depends upon the acceptance of the law-abiding Jewish community, for halakha answers the question, "What does God require of the Jewish people?"[10] That is, halakha attaches itself to every Jew by virtue of one's membership in the Jewish community.[11] Moreover, classic halakha regards “one who is commanded and does” to be superior to “one who does” without being commanded (B. Talmud, Kiddushin 31a; Baba Kama 38a, 83a). That is to say, society needs to be able to depend upon the proper actions of others, not leaving morality to individual whim or rationalization. In the classic Jewish society, halakha becomes the means to strive toward and perpetuate a more moral and holy society, and in the process, presumably bringing redemption to all.[12]

The judicial chain of interpretation rests upon what facts of a present case the rabbinic adjudicator will determine to be similar to some precedent.[13] Of import is what the current rabbi, viewing the law as a consistent whole, judges as the decisive characteristics, not what some earlier rabbi may be presumed to have intended.[14] Traditionally, “the rabbinic judge is regarded as a partner with the divine in the creation of the world, kol daiyan she-dan din emet…shutaf l’hakadosh barukh hu b’ma-asei b’reishit” (B. Talmud, Shabbat 10a; and see, Joshua Falk, D’risha, Hoshen Mishpat 1:2). Given the wide latitude in the selection and application of sources, classic halakha thus contains an inner dynamic enabling it to stay relevant for some 1700 years.[15] This frequently means that the language of the law remains constant while the meaning of the words gradually evolves through interpretation.[16] Yet, even while the adjudicator can uncover what he sees as the applicable links, he and the community can at the same time rest assured conceptually that he is upholding the continuity of the sacred law, a law that is consistent, dependable, and fair.[17]

The section below elucidates additional dynamic tools within the inner mechanism of the law, the application of which in each case also follows the precedents of the past.

Additional Halakhic Components

Aggada (Jewish Thought) In classic Jewish thought, halakha and aggada constitute two sides of the same coin. "Study aggada—you will thereby come to know the Holy One, Praised be He, and hold fast to God's ways"; that is, halakha (Sifrei, D’varim 49). For most classic Jewish thinkers, identifying the meaning behind our customs and laws enhances observance,[18] and several aggadic constructions intertwine with and support the classic halakhic system:

  • God: God is the one and singular who created the world, revealed the law, and will redeem the world.[19]
  • Chosen People/Election/Covenant: A view of history centered upon the chosen people of Israel, transforming an ordinary member of the community into one who accepts the covenantal responsibility of God’s commandments (mitzvot).[20]
  • Rapprochement: Passages recalling the sacrifices, having the power to sweep one up to the ancient Temple, through which one brings oneself to God and receives expiation.
  • Talmud Torah (learning): "Learning finds a central place in a classical Judaic tradition because of the belief that God revealed his will to mankind through the medium of a written revelation, given to Moses on Mount Sinai, accompanied by oral traditions taught in the rabbinical schools. ...Through the school," Neusner stresses, "classical Judaism transformed the Jewish people into its vision of the true replica of Mosaic revelation (B. Talmud, Hullin 10a)."[21] The life-long study of the divine revelation was seen as a means to the formation of a noble character.[22] In most times and places, such study normally included secular learning as well (Maimonides in Ein Yakov, intro).[23]
  • In the World:Holiness” was seen not as denying the world, a sage on a mountaintop, but as living in the world successfully and meaningfully, contributing to society (bein adam l'haveiro and or la-goyim) through the commandments (mitzvot).[24]
  • Ethics: Striving, in God’s presence, to conduct one's business affairs and interrelationships between Jews and between Jew and non-Jew (mipnei darkhei shalom) faithfully, treating others with dignity and respect (k'vod ha-briyot), and maintaining exemplary ethical and moral standards as embodied in halakha.[25]
  • Rhythms: Time was understood to be imbued with cosmic meaning and sanctity through the day cycle, week cycle, month cycle, year cycle, and life-cycle: prayer, tefillin, kashrut, Shabbat, family purity (taharat ha-mishpaha), festivals, and life moments repeated from generation to generation—each newborn male was brought into the covenant manifested in the generative organ; each wedding couple met the challenge and destruction of the past with hopes for beginning a new world; and at death, each person ritually was washed, purified, and dressed in white, prepared to come before the Holy One in judgment.[26]
  • K’lal Yisrael (the community of Israel): God was seen to forge a covenant with the People of Israel, shaping the people as a group, proclaiming its laws, calling the people to holiness, and transforming difference into a common destiny.[27]
  • Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel): In the words of Neusner, “Jews sustained the hope of returning to the homeland, and the very heart of their Messianic belief...[was] shaped by that hope. Some Jews always remained in the land of Israel, but all Jews until the nineteenth century expected to assemble to witness the resurrection of the dead there. Judaic Messianism was...invariably supposed to be a political phenomenon. For this reason, the early reformers found traditional Messianism an embarrassment.”[28]
  • S'khar v'onesh (reward and punishment)/Judgment: The human being was seen to be always forewarned (adam mu-ad l'olam), and, therefore, each human being bore one's own individual responsibility for one's acts.[29]
  • Purpose/Redemption: Standing between revelation and redemption, the Jew was understood to have a purpose: fulfilling God's law, halakha, and thus helping to bring about the expected national redemption. "Among the elements of the [essential] structure of classical Judaism, the messianic hope, made concrete in the figure of the Messiah, son of David and king of Israel, stands forth everywhere and dominates throughout."[30]

At the same time, classic halakha includes a general principle: one does not learn [specific] halakha from aggada (J. Talmud, Peah 2:6 [17a], codified by Hai Gaon (Otzar HaG'onim to Hagiga, p. 59). However, the principle is far from universal. It is not repeated in the Babylonian Talmud, and there are numerous exceptions.[31]

Minhag (Jewish Custom) It has been said, "Custom is to society what law is to the state."[32] In classic Jewish thought, both custom and law were regarded to be of one mutual piece.[33] In rare cases of dissonance, some rabbis believed that minhag m’vateil halakha—that is, that the hold of custom (minhag) on the people can be greater than the hold of the law (halakha). “Go out and see what the people do,” they would say, or “ha-eidna, nowadays, the expectations are otherwise.” Others of course, in fact most others, held the contrary, that customary behavior is subordinate to the law.[34]

Midrash (Jewish homiletic interpretation) Midrash was regarded as one of four rabbinic methods of biblical exegesis (and, secondarily, of other authoritative texts): p'shat (literal commentary), remez (allusion), d'rash (homiletic interpretation) and sod (esoteric explanation). Whereas halakhic discussion required eventual group consensus and obedience, d’rash required no such consensus. One d'rash could contradict another and both remain on the level of personal opinion, offering philosophical truths, but no one literal truth. In classic Judaism, midrashic hermeneutics can be employed not just for aggadic purposes, but also for halakhic purposes.[35]

Takkana/G'zeira (communal enactments/prohibitions) In classic Judaism, rabbis or communities frequently enacted corrective ordinances that were deemed to further the purpose of halakha, either to protect the people from an unfair application of the law, or to protect the law from violation by the people.[36]

Ma-aseh (the conduct of a rabbinic sage may yield legal norms) The master knew Torah, imbibed Torah and was Torah. In classic halakha, as long as no objections were raised, a sage's actions or a happening in his presence could yield an example to be followed (J. Talmud, Peah 2:6 [17a]).[37]

Sevara (legal norms derived from reason by a rabbinic sage) In classic Judaism, as long as no objections were raised, the master thoroughly immersed in Torah logic could on occasion, through the application of his own reason, intuit valid legal norms.[38]

Mumhim (outside experts) In certain instances, outside experts may bring testimony to clarify factual matters surrounding a case; the rabbinic adjudicator (poseik) determines halakhic applicability.[39]

Equity (broad ethical principles within halakhic adjudication) In classic Judaism, the purpose of Torah study was not just to become knowledgeable, but to become a better human being. To that end, the classic halakhic process includes some broad principles often classified as “equity.” Some examples are as follows:[40]

  • lifnim mishurat ha-din—the system encourages one to act in the spirit as well as the letter of the law.
  • midat ha-rahamim—one is encouraged to act with mercy.
  • v'asita ha-yarshar v'ha-tov—one is encouraged to do that which is right and good, even going beyond the letter of the law.
  • l'ma-an teilekh b'derekh tovim, v'orhot tzadikim tishmor—one is encouraged to walk in the way of the good and to keep the paths of the righteous, even going beyond the letter of the law.
  • hesed and midat hasidut and mishnat hasidim—one is encouraged to act with benevolence, even in cases not required by the law, and thereby to avoid resentment.
  • ze nehene and kofin—in situations where a person incurs no loss thereby, the court should coerce him not to insist on standing on his rights but instead to accede to the other's request.
  • darkhei noam—in cases of multiple potential interpretations, one should decide in accord with the interpretation that best comports with pleasantness and peace.
  • mishum eiva—one should interpret so as to prevent ill-feelings between individuals, groups and peoples.
  • mipnei darkhei shalom—one should interpret in a way that will promote peace and harmony among individuals, groups, and peoples.
  • mipnei k'vod tzibur—one should interpret so as not to disrupt communal harmony.
  • mishum k'vod ha-briyot—one should interpret so as not to detract from the standing of others.
  • mipnei tikun olam—one should interpret in a way that will contribute to making the world a better place.
  • mipnei kiddush haShem and mipnei hillul haShem—concern that the reputation of the Jewish people reflects positively on God and not negatively.
  • shaat hadahak and tzorekh gadol"—emergency measures ordinarily forbidden but permissible due to the extreme circumstances of moments in great need.[41]
  • haTorah hasa al mamonam shel yisrael—in certain Jewish ritual matters, the Torah allows leniency to avoid financial hardship.[42]
  • mipnei sakanat n'fashot—in certain ritual matters, the Torah allows leniency to avoid danger to life.
  • siyag la-torah—one should not test the limits of the law but should rather establish a fence before one gets to the precipice, and more.


Providing we are aware that classic Judaism is the product of thousands of personalities, with as many variations in thinking, spanning some 1700 years, one Eliyahu ben Sh'lomo Zalman, better known as the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797), can serve as a paradigm for classic Judaism. The Gra, as he is also called, was a prolific author, non self-conscious about critically examining the Talmud and classic rabbinic literature using philological scientific tools.[43] In his beit midrash, the curriculum included Hebrew Bible, Hebrew grammar, Mishna, Midrash, Tosefta, the Minor Treatises of the Talmud, and even the Jerusalem Talmud, sources which had long been neglected by scholars addicted to pilpul (the task of reconciling "apparently" contradicting halakhic authorities).[44] Faithful to his own predilections, he also encouraged his students to study secular sciences, maintaining that “as one lacks knowledge of the sciences, one correspondingly lacks hundredfold a knowledge of Torah.”[45] After his death, the leaders of the Haskalah movement would appropriate his emphasis on p’shat over pilpul, his engagement with Bible and Hebrew grammar, and his interest in textual criticism of rabbinic texts. Remembering his teachings, a number of his followers settled in the Land of Israel, where still today their descendants use minhag haGra, innovations he introduced into the siddur according to his own understanding of prayer.[46] He believed "The perfection of character is the essence of religion, and the Torah is the only medium through which this purpose can be achieved.[47]


Periodization is not a settled science.[48] Nevertheless, for most authorities, the biblical and intertestamental periods precede the classic period, which is usually seen as commencing with the destruction of the Temple and grounded in the early Tannaitic (70-210 C.E.) and later Amoraic (210-500) literature of the Talmud and midrash.[49] In an unprecedented re-conceptualization, the developing halakha (Jewish jurisprudence), codified in the Mishna (3rd century C.E.), was made to replace the decimated national government, creating out of the chaos a transportable civil society for Jews wherever they might then find themselves.[50] The classical Jewish period is traditionally subdivided into the periods of the Tannaim (rabbinic scholars from the destruction of the Temple to the compilation of the Mishnah, 70 C.E. to around 210), Amoraim (210-500), Saboraim (500-650), Gaonim (650-1038), Rishonim (1038-1563) and Ah'ronim (1563-1800).[51]

The consensus of historians sees the period of classic Judaism as ending with the coming of the nineteenth century.[52] When two new dynamic social forces, the British Industrial Revolution and the French Enlightenment, combined in a slow but inexorable march around the globe, beginning first in Germany and then in Eastern Europe,[53] the effect was to cut the ground from under traditional societal structures[54]—the Jewish along with all others. In Neusner's words, "Traditional religious values were undermined; new values and ideals, which took their place, tended to separate the Jew from the classical tradition, but to provide him with no certain ideals at all."[55] What would be Judaism's response? Pour the identical catalyst into a series of beakers, each containing a different solution, and each beaker will yield a different reaction. So, too, the same forces acting upon the traditional political, social and economic mixtures of differing societies will yield differing reactions.[56] German Jewry responded by saying that the way to preserve Judaism in the face of these dominant social forces was to denationalize halakha, westernize it, and re-position its role. Thus, Reform Judaism, in Neusner's words, "began as an effort to effect a reformation of the classical tradition."[57] In Eastern Europe, the response was that the way to preserve Judaism was to freeze halakha.[58] Thus, when the Hatam Sofer (1762–1839) said in 1830 that “hadash asur min ha-torah, anything new is forbidden by Torah,” Orthodoxy was born.[59] Like other anti-modern movements, the negative reaction was new, a response both to the forces of the time and to the reformers.[60]

Classic Judaism had never been monolithic. The texts had been interpreted in varied ways. In the Middle Ages, for instance, Judaism knew homiletic interpretation (Rashi, 1040–1105), rationalist interpretation (Abraham Ibn Ezra, 1089–1164, and Maimonides, 1138–1204), and mystical interpretation (Nachmanides, 1194–1270, and Yosef Karo, 1488–1575). In the late Middle Ages, Judaism knew Hasidism with its charismatic pietism (Baal Shem Tov, 1698–1760), the anti-Hasidic mitnagdim with their scholasticism (Vilna Gaon, 1720–1797), and, at the edge of the period, the anti-scholastic Musar Movement with its ethical corrective (Israel Lipkin Salanter, 1810–1883). Authorities could and did disagree, often vociferously, over matters of philosophy and even over the correct halakha in a given instance.[61] Throughout, Judaism knew, in addition, regional differences between Ashkenazic (northern European countries), Sefardic (countries of the Mediterranean basin) and other communities. Nonetheless, what in all cases had bound them together as classic Jews was their devotion to halakha.[62]

The world of classic Judaism was now upended. Never before was there a movement in Judaism that said halakha must be consciously changed, and never before was there a movement in Judaism that said any novelty is forbidden.[63] By contrast, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, known as the "Rav" to his students, writes, "Halakhic man is a man who longs to create, to bring into being something new, something original. The study of Torah, by definition, means gleaning new, creative insights from the Torah (hiddushei Torah)."[64] Thus, on both sides, the new denominationalism skewed halakha.[65] What previously had been the glue was now the object of contention.[66] With the breakdown of classic Judaism, various competing manifestations and combinations of Reform, Orthodoxy, Conservative Judaism, Jewish secularism, Jewish socialism, Zionism, Reconstructionist Judaism, and multiple other forms of Judaism rapidly proliferated.

The Modern Period: Reaffirmation

Classic Judaism is not a contemporary phenomenon lying somewhere on the scale between Orthodox and Conservative; Classical Judaism is a historical phenomenon that precedes the Orthodox and Conservative denominations, the soil out of which the denominations grew. Yet, according to Ludwig Lewisohn, while "Classical Judaism" is the "Judaism of the ages," when Jews "find our way back" it can become the "Judaism of today."[67] Indeed, many contemporary groups want to claim it: On the one hand, in so far as Orthodoxy professes not to change, Orthodox Jews believe themselves to be the continuation of classic Judaism.[68] On the other hand, some, including Orthodox Jews, claim that those Orthodox who admit no development in halakha have already changed,[69] leading many in the Conservative camp to assert that only the Conservative approach authentically recaptures the modes and forms of pre-denominational classic halakha (however the substance might evolve). "To effect this plan," writes Seymour Siegel, "is not to break with traditional Judaism, but to return to it."[70] Yet, subsequent deliberate movement in the Conservative camp toward “tradition and change,”[71] with an emphasis on "change," has led many, even within the Conservative movement, both on the left and the right, to question Conservative Judaism's commitment to classic halakha.[72] Classic Judaism did evolve, not by purposely setting out to change, but by consciously working the system from within. As the noted philosopher of halakha, Eliezer Berkovits, puts it, "The task is not to change, but to apply Halakha to situations to which it has never been applied before."[73] Still, it has to be pointed out that both Orthodox and Conservative Judaism have infinite variations, among them in each case, a version that, from a perspective inherent to each one's respective approaches, remains steadfast to classic pre-denominational Judaism.

Modern Exemplars

Because certain center Orthodox and halakhic Conservatives retain the pre-denominational modes and forms, three modern-day representatives chosen from each can be singled out as exemplars of classic pre-denominational Judaism. All six are regarded as paragons of piety noted for their scientific textual scholarship, and all six sought to render halakhic decisions free, for the most part, from denominational politics. Samson Rafael Hirsch (1808–1888),[74] David Hoffmann (1843–1921),[75] and Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935),[76] from the Orthodox side, and Louis Ginzberg (1873–1953),[77] Saul Lieberman (1898–1983),[78] and Louis Finkelstein (1895–1991),[79] from the Conservative side, each working from a position intrinsic to his own respective movement, demonstrate what it means to re-embody an evolutionary halakha as per classic pre-denominational Judaism. When, for instance, Lieberman was described as "one of the leaders of the Conservative movement," he wrote an indignant reply, "I teach Torah to the Jewish people and I don't understand much about politics"[80]

That portion of Sefardic Judaism that is yet to come under the influence of denominationalism also provides a contemporary window into classic Judaism. For instance, discussing the issue of redeeming captives, Hayim David HaLevi (1929–1998), born in Iraq and later Sefardi chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, wrote, “Whoever thinks that the halakha is frozen..., errs greatly. On the contrary, there is no flexibility like that of the halakha.”[81]

Modern Substance: Renewing the Classic Styles, Modes, Form and Content

"In classical Judaism, who is the Jewish [person]?" Neusner asks. And he answers, "He is an ordinary, natural [Jew] who lives within an [essential] structure."[82] That is to say, classic Judaism today is orthoprax in the proper sense of the word, to do right; that is, teaching, absorbing and practicing halakha. Robert Gordis adds, "Halakhah is far more fundamental in Judaism than haggadah, for ideas are volatile, but practices endure. If Jewish practice goes, virtually nothing remains."[83] Going back to the glue that held disparate approaches together, classic Judaism was always more praxis than doxology.[84] For the contemporary scene, classic halakha entails the following:

  • Halakha is once more recognized to have a history that can be observed and tracked, presupposing an evolving legal system.[85]
  • God requires of every Jew an array of responsibilities (mitzvot), and one is not free to select what one will and leave the rest. "To the classical Jew, Torah means revealed law, commandment, accepted by Israel and obeyed from Sinai to the end of days."[86]
  • When questions arise concerning what those requirements are, cases are adjudicated by individual rabbinic experts (pos'kim) in each age and clime, not legislated by the vote of a committee. Instead, ratification for individual decisions comes in the breadth of acceptance by the law-abiding Jewish community.[87]
  • Cases deal with specific questions that arise from within actual situations, rarely with broad issues of policy. Neither do general propositions determine concrete cases. Rather, one decision is the precedent for another: similarity is discerned between a prior case and the new one; then the rule inherent in the earlier case is applied to the new case.[88]
  • Simply because some halakha can be shown to have developed over the centuries is not a precedent for any given case unless one can link to an explicit judicial chain of interpretation relevant to the case at hand.[89]
  • Where it can be, halakha is inclusive, for example toward women; but, in all cases, the rabbi answers the sh'eila, or halakhic question, on its merits as part of an interlinked halakhic process and not on some predilection for stringency or leniency.[90] Therefore, responses do not try to satisfy all positions.[91]
  • Applied appropriately, all the tools once operative within halakha (aggada, minhag, midrash, takkana, g'zeira, ma-aseh, sevara, mumhim, and equity) are again available to the adjudicator (poseik).
  • As always, a definitive co-active aggadic hashkafa (worldview) supports halakha:
  • God: Ernst Simon invokes classical Judaism, making the connection between God and halakha, "We cannot help but being drunk when we come near to God. Yet classical Judaism has always insisted that this intoxication be kept within the limits of sobriety. ...Halakhah is Judaism's means of maintaining the delicate balance between sobriety and God-intoxication."[92] David Novak calls for a different kind of Conservative Judaism, one that bases itself on the permanent in the covenant, "the word of our God which endures forever" (Isaiah 40:8).[93]
  • Chosen People/Election/Covenant: Novak prioritizes the age-old concept of the covenant as an essential prerequisite to accepting the responsibility of a life of mitzvot, "Covenant designates the relationship between God and Israel of which Torah (and within it the mitzvot) is the authoritative expression."[94]
  • Rapprochement: For the contemporary classic Jew, just as bringing a sacrifice was in Second Temple times the means to draw near to God and achieve expiation, so too heartfelt recalling the sacrifices now embodies these ends. Soloveitchik personalizes the concept for us, saying, "Repentance, according to the halakhic view, is an act of creation—self creation."[95]
  • Talmud Torah (learning): The classical ideal of Jewish learning includes, on the one hand, the long-standing insistence that one be as at home in learning Torah as in all other subjects, and on the other, the classic acceptance of scientific observations. Neusner sets the standard, recalling, ”The masses of every age could read the Hebrew Bible in the original language, recite their prayers and understand the meaning of the Hebrew and Aramaic original, read a book of Jewish thought, broadly construed, and look respectfully upon those who wrote it.”[96]
  • In the World: Soloveitchik is explicit, writing, "When halakhic man pines for God, he does not venture to rise up to Him but rather strives to bring down His divine presence into the midst of our concrete world."[97] The contemporary application of classic Judaism is a Judaism that strives to continue to be an essential part of the world, a Judaism that sees itself not only with nothing to fear from engagement with other religions and ideas, but also as having a dynamic contribution to make to contemporary society, a Judaism that, as of old, can interrelate with contemporary society and still maintain its uniqueness, able, within the confines of modesty, to wear contemporary garb and to make use of the vernacular.[98]
  • Ethics: The contemporary classic Jew sees one's Judaism as supporting the need to live ethically and morally among Jews and non-Jews in accord with the abiding dignity of every human being and the continuing imperative for peaceful relations with Christianity and Islam.[99]
  • Rhythms: "The [essential structure of Jewish reality]...finds expression not only in the synagogue liturgy, but especially in the concrete, everyday actions, or action-symbols, deeds that embody and express the fundamental mythic life of the classical Judaic tradition. In classical Judaism, the table at which meals were eaten was regarded as the equivalent of the sacred altar in the Temple. The classical Jew keeps the Sabbath. In the myth of classical Judaism, at the New Year men are inscribed in the heavenly books for the coming year, and on the Day of Atonement the books are sealed. To be a classical Jew is to...shape every hour by the paradigm of Torah. The day with its worship morning and evening, the week with its climax at the Sabbath, the season marked by nature's commemoration of Israel's sacred history--these shape life into rhythms of sanctification."[100] Again Soloveitchik personalizes the big picture, writing, "Man's task is to 'fashion, engrave, attach, and create' and transform the emptiness in being into a perfect and holy existence, bearing the imprint of the divine name."[101] In the mind of the contemporary classic Jew, this enduring task is realized through preserving, teaching and spreading the traditional, three-times-daily worship at the properly appointed times as a primary road to a life of meaning and spirituality, a life invigorated by long-established acts of commitment (kashrut, tefillin, taharat ha-mishpaha, and Shabbat), by the yearly rhythm of holidays, and by significant life-cycle events that bring one face-to-face with the divine.
  • K’lal Yisrael (the community of Israel): Classical Judaism, although always having spoken in many, even contradictory, voices (rationalism, mysticism, etc.), never lost sight of the fundamental unity of the Jewish people under an eternally valid covenant with God, its leaders of all stripes always being willing to engage each other. Soloveitchik has little patience for religious infighting, saying bluntly, "A religious ideology that fixes boundaries and sets up dividing lines between people borders on heresy."[102]
  • Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel): Tying past and present together, Neusner says, "In classic Judaism, the sanctity of the land, the yearning for Zion, the hope for the restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple cult--all these are symbols by which the redemption of the past is projected onto the future. The classical Messianic language...was taken over by the Zionist movement."[103] For the contemporary classic Jew, prayer for the peace and welfare of the Jewish state, and work for the long-anticipated in-gathering of the Jewish people in the land of Israel, is seen as part of a messianic process in which the people of Israel have a central role.[104]
  • S'khar v'onesh (reward and punishment)/Judgment: "All the classical sources of Judaism," notes Louis Jacobs, "teach that virtue is rewarded by God and vice punished. ...[God] has made us so that for good or ill our deeds have their influence on the lives of others. ...Is not this fact a constant reminder that God wants man to belong to his fellows and possess a strong sense of responsibility to them?"[105] So acts are seen to have consequences, the human being is always forewarned, and each human being bears one's own individual responsibility for one's acts. The commandments (mitzvot) are there to keep one on the right path, and repentance (teshuva) is there to help one return when one strays.
  • Purpose/Redemption: One’s actions are once again seen by the contemporary classic Jew as part of a purposeful enterprise designed to bring about redemption, that time-honored messianic dream that someday justice will prevail and things will be better. Alfred Jospe, having already connected classical Judaism, speaks about a "conviction" when we act "for the sake of the world, indeed, for the sake of life itself. This sense of purpose and mission," he says, "is born of a consciousness that you have to stand for something greater than yourself."[106] Joseph Soloveitchik summarizes, "His [the halakhic man's] time is measured by the standard of our Torah, which begins with the creation of heaven and earth. Similarly halakhic man's future does not terminate with the end of his own individual future at the moment of death but extends into the future of the people as a whole, the people who yearn for the coming of the Messiah and the kingdom of God."[107]

Process entails purpose; for always, for one who sees oneself as a classic Jew, religious goals remain intertwined with halakha: to imitate God; to rise above the mores of the time; and, following God's halakhic compass, to become a better human being.[108] With such an approach, Judaism presumably becomes more than mechanical observance,[109] more than antiquarianism.[110] Put another way, the law is practiced, not merely obeyed.[111] For the classic Jew, this returns a growing halakhic relationship to the center of every aspect of living—physical and intellectual—and with it, a sense of authenticity. "I try to spell out the substance of the theological structure of classical Judaism," writes Neusner, "the halakhah cannot be divorced from the theological conceptions of Judaism. That is why the halakhah constitutes the sole authentic, truly normative mode of practical discourse in Judaism."[112]

Moving forward, the classic Jew expects, according to Alfred Jospe and Joseph Soloveitchik, to regain rootedness (to reserve regular times to study and debate issues of Torah morality), immediacy (to transform oneself into a disciplined doer of God's presumed will), and a sense of common Jewish destiny (to work toward the kingdom of God in today's empirical world of facts).[113] Here Neusner raises doubts, questioning whether a period once over, a period that was lived in the moment, can ever be reclaimed, since the reclamation presumes a conscious intent that those living in the moment never had.[114] The problem is given immediacy by a growing cadre of contemporary Jews (whether answering to the title “Orthodox,” “Conservative,” or any other) who see themselves defined by classic pre-denominational Judaism. Reasoning with Jospe and Soloveitchik, everyone lives with some degree of self-consciousness. Neusner, himself, speaks of periods when Jews exhibited unprecedented self-awareness.[115] While a new cycle is never the same as the preceding and is often transformative, as long as memory is alive, striving toward historical authenticity remains possible. So, reading according to Jospe and Soloveitchik, those classic Jews who endeavor to incorporate afresh a dynamic, non self-conscious halakhic life, a natural observance free from fear of mistakes or the militancy of advocacy, could conceivably attain their own immediacy. Neusner himself writes, "To be a classical Jew is to live a way of life, a life so whole, integrated, complete, that no aspect may be singled out and called ‘ritual,’ ‘ethics,’ ‘theology,’ ‘culture,’ or ‘religion.’”[116]

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  1. ^ As an example, in a book meant as an introduction to Judaism, Jacob Neusner, referring to this period, interchanges “classic Judaism” (p. 19), “classical Judaism” (pp. 7, 14, 20, 24, 30, 39, 42, 53, 87, 88), “classical Jew” (pp. 25, 27, 32, 89), “classic Judaic tradition” (p. 48), “classical Judaic tradition” (pp. 25, 33, 36), “classical tradition” (pp. 42, 55, 66, 75, 77, 89), “classical Jewish sources” (p. 90), “classical Judaic view of reality” (p. 8), “classical Judaic experience” (p. 15), “classical faith” (p. 43), and “classical messianic language, (p. 73), all of which are “set forth” in halakha (pp. 25-26) (Jacob Neusner, The Way of Torah: An Introduction to Judaism [Belmont, California: Dickenson, 1970]. For just a few further examples, regarding the same period, see also, Jacob Neusner, The Mind of Classical Judaism: From Philosophy to Religion [Rowman & Littlefield, May 1997] and Tzvi Freeman, Absolute Time in Classic Jewish Thought). Similarly, Eliezer Berkovits refers to "Halakhic Judaism" paralleling it with the "classical period of the Halakha" (Not in Heaven [New York: Ktav, 1983], pp. 1, 98). The term has been expounded negatively by Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, and even in a rant ( Others referencing classic Judaism are cited throughout the article, including Ernst Simon, David Novak, Ludwig Lewisohn, Louis Jacobs, Barry Holtz, Nahum Glatzer, David Schnall, Manfred Gerstenfeld, Louis Ginzberg, Zvi Kurzweil and Alfred Jospe.
  2. ^ Neusner, The Way, p. 25. Joseph Soloveitchik, The Halakhic Mind (New York: Seth, 1986), p. 101. The rabbi who receives, interprets and promulgates halakha has a role to play as a "partner" in what Emanuel Rackman calls the “continuous flowering of the Law” (Modern Halakhah for our Time [Hoboken: Ktav, 1995], pp. 32, 73).
  3. ^ "Classical Judaism...stands first of all for Torah. Under the law, all aspects of life are important; there is no artificial separation between a 'sacred' and a 'secular' realm of life" (Nahum Glatzer, The Dynamics of Emancipation [Boston: Beacon, 1965], p. 87). See also Isaac Herzog, "Moral Rights and Duties in Jewish Law," Juridical Review, 41 (1921), pp. 60-61; and Ben Zion Bokser, "Morality and the Law," in Jewish Law in our Time, ed. Ruth Link-Sallinger (New York: Bloch, 1982), pp. 77-98.
  4. ^ Ernst Simon, "Law and Observance in Jewish Experience," in Tradition and Contemporary Experience, ed. Alfred Jospe (New York: Schocken, 1970), p. 223.
  5. ^ >Zvi Kurzweil, The Modern Impulse of Traditional Judaism (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1985), p. 89. Neusner, The Way, p. 35. A good analogy is found in American law where a constitutional question is not decided based on the constitution alone but also on the accumulated precedents that constitute a linked chain going back to the constitution.
  6. ^ David Novak, Halakhah in a Theological Dimension (Chico, California: Scholars Press, 1985), p. 6.
  7. ^ "To affirm a changeable source of authority is to commit the moral outrage of making those who change the law the final authorities. To do this is to affirm the principle of tyranny, Novak, Halakhah, p. 7.
  8. ^ Jonathan Sacks, “Creativity and Innovation in Halakhah” in Moshe Z. Sokol, ed., Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy (New Jersey: Jason Aronson, 1992), p. 142.
  9. ^ Aaron Kirschenbaum, Equity in Jewish Law: Beyond Equity (New York: Yeshiva Univ Press, 1991), pp. xxxviiif.
  10. ^ Moshe Koppel, Meta-Halakhah (New Jersey: Aronson, 1997), pp. 88-90.
  11. ^ Herzog, p. 61; Berkovits, p. 47.
  12. ^ Neusner, The Way, pp. 25, 35. Although when the world redemption is used in an eschatological context, as it is here, it is generally synonymous with salvation, in this article redemption is used technically to distinguish the Jewish corporate eschatological concept from the Christian personal eschatological concept of salvation. Christians also have a corporate concept in the idea of the second coming.
  13. ^ Immanuel Jakobovits, "Jewish Law Faces Modern Problems," in Studies in Torah Judaism, ed. Leon D. Stitskin (New York: YU & Ktav, 1969), p. 335.
  14. ^Ain lo la-daiyan ella ma she-einav ro-ot, a rabbinic judge must rule on the basis of what his eyes see” (B. Talmud, Bava Batra 130b, Sanhedrin 6b, Nida 20b). See Berkovits, pp. 53-57.
  15. ^ Kirschenbaum calls this “the central role of the rabbis in mediating between formalism and flexibility” (“Subjectivity in Rabbinic Decision-Making” in Moshe Z. Sokol, ed., Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy [New Jersey: Jason Aronson, 1992], p. 61).
  16. ^ Sacks, pp. 141-142. Louis Jacobs in his A Tree of Life (London: Littman, 2000) tracks wide-ranging legal innovation in classic Judaism.
  17. ^ Sacks, p. 142.
  18. ^ A whole classic genre of taamei hamitzvot (meaning behind the commandments) exists.
  19. ^ Neusner, The Way, pp. 8-12.
  20. ^ David Novak, Halakhah, p. 117.
  21. ^ Neusner, The Way, pp. 36, 39.
  22. ^ Cecil Roth, "A Millennium in Europe," in Great Ages and Ideas of the Jewish People, ed. Leo W. Schwarz (New York: Random House, 1956), p. 276.
  23. ^ For instance, many of the noted Jewish doctors of the law during the Middle Ages were also great Jewish physicians; many of the Babylonian teachers of Torah were also astronomers and men of other trades and professions (Neusner, The Way, p. 79).
  24. ^ Classic Judaism never established monasteries or venerated a sage on a mountaintop. Joseph B. Soloveitchik writes, "Holiness means the holiness of earthly, here-and-now life" (Halakhic Man (Philadelphia: JPS, 1983), p. 33).
  25. ^ Soloveitchik writes, "The Halakhah declares that any religion that confines itself to some remote corner of society, to an elite sect or faction, will give rise to destructive consequences that far outweigh any putative gains" (Halakhic Man, p. 43).
  26. ^ Neusner, The Way, pp. 7-8, 13-15, 20-21, 27-34, 43.
  27. ^ Alfred Jospe, Tradition & Contemporary Experience (New York: Schocken, 1970), pp. 138-139.
  28. ^ Neusner, The Way, pp. 72.
  29. ^ ”The emphasis was always on an individual’s duties rather than on the rights of other persons against him” (Rackman, p. 22, italics added).
  30. ^ Neusner, The Way, pp. 7, 24. See also, Jospe, Tradition, p. 138; Roy Tanenbaum, Rinat Dodim (Toronto: Lort, 2000), p. 94.
  31. ^ For example, a woman wracked with pain and for whom her physicians have no therapy begs her husband and sons to pray for her to find rest. The question comes before Hayim Palaggi (Greece, 1788-1869) who cites an aggadic report about Rabbi Y’huda’s maidservant who, sensing what others did not, threw a pitcher from the roof, startling his well-wishers from their prayers and allowing her master’s suffering to end (B. Talmud, K’tubot 104a) as a material precedent in his decision to allow the poor woman’s relatives to stop praying for her health and to pray instead for a surcease from suffering (Hik’kei Lev, I, no. 50).
  32. ^ P. J. Fitzgerald, ed., Salmond on Jurisprudence, 12th ed. (London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1966), p. 191.
  33. ^ Aaron Kirschenbaum, Equity in Jewish Law: Halakhic Perspectives (New York: Yeshiva Univ Press, 1991), p. 36.
  34. ^ Joel Roth, The Halakhic Process (New York: JTS, 1986), p. 229.
  35. ^ Halakhic midrash as distinguished from aggadic midrash. See, Kirschenbaum, Halakhic Perspectives, pp. 36-37.
  36. ^ Kirschenbaum, Halakhic Perspectives, pp. 34-35; Berkovitz, p. 45.
  37. ^ Kirschenbaum, Halakhic Perspectives, p. 10.
  38. ^ Neusner, The Way, p. 36; Rackman, pp. 157-163; Berkovits, pp. 3-8.
  39. ^ Joel Roth, p. 232.
  40. ^ For the classic work on this subject see the above noted two volumes by Aaron Kirschenbaum, Equity in Jewish Law: Halakhic Perspectives, and volume two, Equity in Jewish Law: Beyond Equity.
  41. ^ Berkovits, p. 108.
  42. ^ Joel Roth, pp. 26-27.
  43. ^ The Vilna Gaon wrote glosses on the Babylonian Talmud and Shulhan Arukh, insights on the Pentateuch, commentaries on the Mishnah and even on Proverbs and other books of the Tanakh as well as, despite his opposition to Hasidism, on various Kabbalistic works. Neither did he shrink from attempting, through emendation, to establish the proper text for these transmitted classics. The mathematical work Ayil M'shulash ("A Ram in Three Parts,") is generally attributed to him; and, to properly understand Mishnah Seder Z'raim, he had his student, Barukh of Shklov, translate Euclid's geometry into Hebrew. (See Louis Ginzberg, "The Gaon, Rabbi Elijah of Vilna," in Understanding Rabbinic Judaism, ed. Jacob Neusner [New York: Ktav, 1974], pp. 123, 125-126.)
  44. ^ He held that as the Talmud is part of a vast literature, the whole is indispensable for the understanding of the part. Furthermore, one's interpretation of the Torah must be based on reason and not authority, downplaying the authority of the Shulhan Arukh and post-talmudic codifiers and interpreters (pos'kim). "Use your own eyes," he said, "and not the spectacles of others." (See Ginzburg, pp. 126, 124-125, 120.)
  45. ^ So Barukh of Shklov quotes his master in the introduction to his translation of Euclid.
  46. ^ Mendell Lewittes, Principles and Development of Jewish Law (New York: Bloch, 1987), pp. 171-173.
  47. ^ When, for example, the Board of Jewish Charities in Vilna decreed that no one should be able to solicit contributions, all of which should instead go through the central body, the Gaon nullified the decision saying that the needy must be spared the humiliation of appearing before the officers of the community. Ginzberg, p. 126.
  48. ^ "History proceeds by the interpretation of evidence" and interpretation depends upon the particular historian's own time and biases (a subjective rather than objective reality), whether or not he has "reflected on [the experience of historical thinking]." R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History" (New York: Oxford, 1956), pp. 8-10, 173-175.
  49. ^ When talking about classic Jewish texts, some scholars include the biblical period (Barry W. Holtz, Back To The Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts), but most distinguish the two (Glatzer, Hillel the Elder: The Emergence of Classical Judaism). Neusner talks about "the Pharisaic rabbis, who created classical Judaism" (The Way, p. 88). See, too, David J. Schnall, By the Sweat of Your Brow: Reflections on Work and the Workplace in Classic Jewish Thought (NY: Michael Scharf Publication Trust—Yeshiva University, 2001). For another example, see "Chapter Five: Additional environmental motifs in classical Jewish literature, I. Classical Judaism’s views on God, man and the environment," in Manfred Gerstenfeld, Judaism, Environmentalism and the Environment (Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies and Rubin Mass, 1998).
  50. ^ Ellis Rivkin, A Hidden Revolution (Nashville: Abingdon, 1978), p. 309.
  51. ^ See Jacobs, A Tree, pp. 258-262.
  52. ^ Both the Shahak citation and the rant in note 1 above include contemporary Orthodoxy as part of classic Judaism, but, even as the term classic in Classic Coke, Classic Frito-Lay potato chips, and Classic Pantene shampoo distinguishes the original product in question from newer varieties, so too most scholars expound classic Judaism to apply to pre-enlightenment halakhic forms as distinguished from later denominational varieties. For instance, Ginzberg speaks of the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797) as the last great theologian of "classical Rabbanism" (pp. 126, 128). See also, Kurzweil, p. xi.
  53. ^ Arcadius Kahan, "The Transition Period," in Economic History of the Jews, ed. Nahum Gross (New York: Schocken, 1975) p. 80.
  54. ^ Peter N. Stearns, "European History and Culture," The New Encyclopædia Britannica (Chicago: Enclyclopædia Britannica, 1994), vol 18, pp. 685:1a-686:2b.
  55. ^ Neusner, The Way, p. 55. For Judaism, a second challenge was continuity, how, as a minority, to maintain the distinct tradition in the face of a welcoming and acculturating general society. See, Kahan, p. 82.
  56. ^ Arnold Toynbee, abridged by D. C. Somervell, A Study of History (New York & London: Oxford, 1947), p. 3. Although criticized as Anglocentric to the point of minimizing the influence of the French Enlightenment on western civilization and as Christian moralist and supercessionist to the point of discounting any Jewish influence, Toynbee has been praised as a stimulating historical theorist with an eye for the vast continuity of history and its patterns.
  57. ^ (Neusner, The Way, p. 66).
  58. ^ These reactions mirrored what was happening in the general society. Referring to the same period, Peter N. Stearns writes, "Europe was now divided between the liberal west and a conservative centre and east." Stearns, p. 689:1a.
  59. ^ Moses Sofer (Schreiber), Responsa Hatam Sofer, Orah Hayyim 1:28. “Hadash asur min ha-torah” was a witty wordplay on a talmudic principle concerning grain products, but it became the rallying cry for the movement led by Hillel Lichtenstein, Haim Sofer (no relation to the Hatam Sofer) and Akiva Yosef Schlesinger--all Hungarians whose recent influence has been greater than might have been expected since many Hungarian Jews survived the holocaust and moved to Israel from which they have influenced Orthodox Judaism the world over. And what was the big issue for the Hatam Sofer, moved from Germany to Hungary? The arrangement of sanctuary furniture! All this, despite the fact that classic Judaism celebrates a whole body of literature called hidushim, legal novelties derived from harmonizing “contradictory” views or from making new “distinctions” read into older laws (See Neusner, The Way, p. 37; and see Michael K. Silber, "The Emergence of Ultra Orthodoxy: The Invention of a Tradition," in The Uses of Tradition, ed. Jack Wertheimer [New York: JTS, 1992], pp. 23-84). For the life and thought of the Hatam Sofer, see Jacob Katz, "Toward a Biography of the Hatam Sofer," in From East and West: Jews in a Changing Europe, ed. Francis Malino and David Sorkin (London: Blackwell, 1990, pp. 223-266. See also, Moses J. Burak, The Hatam Sofer [Toronto: Beth Jacob Synagogue, 1967]).
  60. ^ For Orthodox Judaism as a recent phenomenon, see Jacob Katz, "Orthodoxy in Historical Perspective," in Studies in Contemporary Jewry, vol. II (1986), pp. 3-17, and Moshe S. Samet, "The Beginnings of Orthodoxy," in Modern Judaism, 8 (1988), pp. 249-269. Neusner remarks, “Orthodoxy is a creation of the Reformation [of Reform Judaism], for only in response to the reformers did traditionalists self-consciously formulate what they regarded as orthodox about Judaism. ...In a more congenial situation, it might have found the grounds for affirming natural change as within the spirit of the Torah” (The Way, pp. 67-68).
  61. ^ "Being the culture of our community rather than the creed of a church, Judaism never found it necessary to make uniformity of belief its central cohesion" (Morris Adler, May I Have a Word With You? [New York: 1967], p. 85). The Talmud is characterized by multiple disagreements on every page.
  62. ^ Rashi wrote a commentary on the Talmud; Maimonides wrote the Mishne Torah, a code of Jewish law, and Sefer HaMitzvot, an iteration of the 613 Torah commandments; Nachmanides composed halakhic treatises; and Karo compiled the Shulhan Arukh, the major code of Jewish law. Christians, Karaites and later Doenmeh, Frankists and other Shabbatean groups, who denied halakha, are generally held to be outside the bounds of classical Judaism; whereas notwithstanding the bitter opposition to the reforms brought in by the Hasidic movements particularly in the prayer book (siddur), because they otherwise followed halakha, they are generally included within.
  63. ^ Speaking about the latter, Neusner writes, “We can find only a few premodern examples of such paralysis in the face of need to update legal doctrines. ...The sectarianism of both Reform and Orthodox groups, their abandonment of the ambition to struggle with all Jews for the achievement of universal goals within a single, united community, constitutes a failure of nerve in the face of the diversities and inconsistencies of the modern situation” (Neusner, The Way, pp. 70-71).
  64. ^ Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, p. 99.
  65. ^
  66. ^ Eliezer Berkovits, Orthodox scholar, decries the fragmentation within the Jewish community and calls for overcoming the psychological impediments of denominationalism (pp. 106-108).
  67. ^ Ludwig Lewisohn, What Is This Jewish Heritage (New York: Schocken, 1967), pp. 37, 42.
  68. ^ J. David Bleich, who represents this approach, writes, "Let it be stated unequivocally: Jewish law does not change" ("Halakhah As an Absolute," Judaism, 29.1 (Winter, 1980), pp. 31-32.
  69. ^ Michael K. Silber calls it the invention of tradition, p. 23.
  70. ^ Seymour Siegel, Conservative Judaism and Jewish Law (New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 1977), p. xiv (italics added). See also, Samuel Chiel, “Conservative Judaism” in Benjamin Efron, ed., Currents and Trends in Contemporary Jewish Thought (New York: Ktav, 1965), p. 47, and Jacobs, A Tree, p. xxiv.
  71. ^ See, Mordecai Waxman, ed., Tradition and Change (New York: Burning Bush, 1958).
  72. ^ On the right, the Union for Traditional Conservative Judaism separated and became the Union for Traditional Judaism claiming that Conservative Judaism had lost its way and become non-halakhic. On the left, Neil Gillman, a professor of philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary, proclaimed that Conservative Judaism, like Reform (which regards itself as “classic” in the sense that it bases itself on the ethical monotheism of the biblical prophets), should admit to being non-halakhic.
  73. ^ Eliezer Berkovitz, (p. 94).
  74. ^ As a 19th century German rabbinic leader, Hirsch, with the conviction that knowledge would yield assent, met the challenge of modernity by stressing study of Torah. Moreover, as a means to understanding Torah more clearly, he advocated Torah im derekh eretz, traditional studies combined with general knowledge. Judaism, he held, encompasses all of life, at home, in the natural world, and in the market place. With some detectable hesitancy, Hirsch welcomed emancipation if it permitted “the spirit of the Law to pervade our entire being, the realization of an ideal life.” In accord with the German reformers, to Hirsch, the mission of Israel included the “redemption of mankind” (Nineteen Letters of Ben Uziel, 16th letter. Hirsch was not a supporter of the national ideal (Kurzweil, p. 18). See also, Neusner, The Way, pp. 69-70. Kurzweil (P. 29) credits Hirsch with the "rehabilitation" of classic Judaism. (Emancipation as used in this context refers to the time when, as a consequence to the Industrial Revolution and Enlightenment, Jews are accepted into civil society and granted the vote.)
  75. ^ As the leading rabbinic adjudicator (poseik) of German Orthodoxy in the first two decades of the twentieth century, Hoffmann faced the challenges of modern technology, a secular environment, the interface with Christianity that came with emancipation and the rise of Reform Judaism. In so doing, he consistently invoked five basic principles: precedent, “a time of emergency,” trying not to make things worse, avoiding financial hardship, and a concern for the sanctification of the Holy Name (Jonathan M. Brown, Modern Challenges to the Halakhah [Chicago: Whitehall, 1969], pp. xiii-xiv).
  76. ^ Kook, Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Palestine, exhibited in a lifetime of halakhic decisions a profound faith in the value of each and every Jew, saying, “Even from the profane, the sacred may be revealed, and even from libertine freedom the cherished yoke.” This tendency becomes manifest in his propensity to see sparks of holiness among the secular Zionists and to bring them toward Jewish observance with “golden ropes.” Accordingly, he interpreted that the land could be worked during the sabbatical year if it were first sold to non-Jews. In a similar vein, he viewed the democratically elected leaders of Israel as having halakhic status and legitimacy of the biblical king. To lessen the number of illegitimate Jews, Kook held that a civil marriage resulting in a civil divorce indicated that no halakhic marriage was intended and therefore had no halakhic implications. Kook was also one of the first authorities to recognize the Ethiopian Jews as Jewish, and he recognized the Arabs as “resident gentiles” entitled by halakha to own land and buildings (Moshe Zemer, Evolving Halakhah [Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights, 1998], pp. 48, 109, 160, 190, 199, 289).
  77. ^ Ginzberg, professor of Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary, prolific rabbinic adjudicator (poseik) and collector of aggadot held that it was not possible to understand Jewish history and culture without a thorough knowledge of halakha. According to Ginzberg, halakhic changes of the past were of an "unconscious nature" and those who deliberately break with the halakha of the past "are undermining the very existence of Judaism" (Tradition Renewed, ed. Jack Wertheimer, p. 454, n. 70). Instead, Ginzberg argued for a historical Judaism that recognizes the immutability of Torah but that does not confound immutability with immobility, seeing “great vitality and value in the later courses of the stream” (see, Waxman, pp. 132-133). When he was thanked for his assistance in creating The Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book edited by Morris Silverman, he replied, "I wish my counsel would have been more effective. Then the prayer book would have had less omissions and commissions of which I cannot approve" (David Golinkin, Responsa of Professor Louis Ginzberg, p. 69).
  78. ^ Lieberman, though teaching at the Jewish Theological Seminary for over forty years, was highly influential in Orthodox society as one of the foremost talmudists of his generation. Lieberman suggested ways of emending corruptions in the text of the Jerusalem Talmud; published a halakhic compendium of the Jerusalem Talmud that he identified as Maimonidean; wrote extensive commentaries and emendations to the Tosefta; wrote scholarly commentaries on Sifrei Zuta, Midreshei Teiman, and D'varim Rabba; composed a work on the Jewish legends, customs, and literary sources found in Karaite and Christian polemical writings; edited a new critical edition of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah; and wrote two histories in English on the influence of Greek culture on early classic Judaism. Lieberman served in the Rabbinical Assembly as one of its important arbiters of Jewish law (pos'kim), designing the “Lieberman clause” in the k’tuba (marriage contract) relieving the plight of the aguna, the chained wife divorced according to civil law but not Jewish law. See Wertheimer, pp.450-452, and n36.
  79. ^ Finkelstein, president and chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, stated, “We regard the legalism of the rabbis as the finest and highest expression of human ethics.” For Finkelstein, Torah must partake of the vitality, the adaptability, and fluidity of all living organisms, and that this is not “to break with traditional Judaism, but to return to it.” At the same time, he held that deliberate change of halakha is revolutionary, that revolutions can only be justified after the fact, and that he preferred to be with those who stand aside and watch "steadfastly, holding our peace, to know whether the Lord has made their way successful or not" (Wertheimer, p. 458, n. 94; Waxman, pp. 194, 316-317, 320). Accordingly, for him, “The discovery of what is right under complicated conditions is not easy and does not come with intuition. It comes from a discernment born out of continuous concern with precedents established generation after generation by dedicated spirits” (cited by Nahum Glatzer, The Dynamics of Emancipation [Boston: Beacon, 1965], p. 103).
  80. ^ Wertheimer, p. 452, n58.
  81. ^ Hayim David HaLevi, Asei L'kha Rav (Tel Aviv, 1986), 7:54, pp. 234-38. HaLevi is not alone. From the days of the early settlement when Ashkenazi rabbis had pronounced a ban against Moses Montefiore's proposal to found a school for girls, and the Sefardic chief rabbi (Hayim Nissim Abulafia, 1795-1860) found no reason to oppose, to the present, Sefardic rabbinic authorities (pos'kim) have been applying what can only be recognized as classic modes and forms. As a case in point, see the writings of Jose Faur.
  82. ^ Neusner, The Way, pp. 7, 14-15.
  83. ^ Robert Gordis, "Authority in Jewish Law," in Conservative Judaism and Jewish Law, ed. Seymour Siegel (New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 1977), p. 51. See also, Norman E. Frimer, "Laws as Living Discipline: The Sabbath as a Paradigm," in Tradition & Contemporary Experience, ed. Alfred Jospe (New York: Schocken, 1970) p. 257.
  84. ^ Samson Rafael Hirsch, for instance, denied that Judaism is a creedal faith (Joseph L. Blau, Modern Varieties of Judaism [New York: Columbia, 1966], p. 76.
  85. ^ Koppel, pp. 5-6; Jacobs, Tree, p. xiv.
  86. ^ Neusner, The Way, p. 25.
  87. ^ Koppel, p. 90.
  88. ^ Jakobovits, p. 335.
  89. ^ Novak, Halakhah, pp. 6-7.
  90. ^ Emanuel Rackman, speaking about the plight of many Jewish women and the response of the rabbis, writes, “Today they hesitate to be creative in Halakhah simply because it may give comfort to Reform rabbis. But I would rather give them comfort than multiply mamzerim or punish the observant Jewish woman who accepts the yoke of the law” (Rackman, p. 73). See also Sacks, p. 168.
  91. ^ Rackman, pp. 1-16. Rackman concludes, “The very nature of the Halakhah as a legal system makes for a great diversity of opinions as to what rules are binding on Jews committed to it. The diversity itself is the result of many diverse approaches to the development of Halakhah within the framework of its own methodology and the vast sea that are its sources.”
  92. ^ Jospe, p. 222.
  93. ^ David Novak, "Conservative Judaism," in The Seminary at 100, ed. Nina Beth Cardin and David Wolf Silverman (Aviv, 1987), p. 322.
  94. ^ Novak, Halakhah, p. 117.
  95. ^ Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, p. 110.
  96. ^ Neusner, The Way, pp. 79-82.
  97. ^ Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, p. 45.
  98. ^ Numerous illuminations and paintings show Jews from every age and place wearing the contemporary garb. See also, Zvi Kurzweil, p. xii
  99. ^ For the connection between halakha and ethics, see Berkovits, pp. 19-45.
  100. ^ Neusner, The Way, pp. 7, 20, 25, 27, 30, 32.
  101. ^ Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, p. 101).
  102. ^ Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, p. 43.
  103. ^ Neusner, The Way, pp. 19, 73).
  104. ^ While at no time during the classic period was there a sovereign Jewish state in the land of Israel, the coming of the messiah was bound up in the concept of the prayed-for rebirth of the state, and the Rambam speaks of stages, in which the people of Israel are part of the process (Yad, Hilkhot M'lakhim 11:3-4; cf. B. Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a).
  105. ^ Louis Jacobs, A Jewish Theology (New York: Behrman House, 1973), pp. 260, 268.
  106. ^ Jospe, Tradition, pp. 138-139.
  107. ^ Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, pp. 117-118). See, too, Lewisohn, p. 40.
  108. ^ According to Isadore Twersky, "[the Halakha] undertook to give concrete and continuous expression to the theological ideals, ethical norms, ecstatic moods, and historical concepts. ...Halachah itself is, therefore, a coincidence of...charisma and institution, mood and medium, image and reality, the thought of eternity and the life of temporality" (Studies in Jewish Law [New York: Ktav, 1982], p. 146).
  109. ^ Abraham Joshua Heschel, "Toward an Understanding of Halachah," in Conservative Judaism and Jewish Law, ed. Siegel (New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 1977), p. 140.
  110. ^ Novak, Halakhah, p. 10.
  111. ^ "The law is active religiousness, and in active religion must lie what is specifically Jewish" (Siegel, ed., Conservative Judaism and Jewish Law (New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 1977), p. xvii.
  112. ^ Neusner, Understanding Jewish Theology: Classical Issues and Modern Perspectives [New York: Ktav, 1973], pp. 7-8.
  113. ^ Jospe speaking about a reinstated halakhic Judaism identified with classical Judaism, pp. 237, 223; and Soloveitchik, speaking about what he calls Halakhic Man, p. 137.
  114. ^ Neusner, The Way, p. 58.
  115. ^ Such as when Jews not only coexisted among the non-Jewish community but with the non-Jewish community; for example, in Hellenistic Alexandria in the first century, in ninth-century Muslim Baghdad, and later in Spain in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Neusner, The Way, p. 42.
  116. ^ Neusner, The Way, p. 89.

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