Dec 5, 2007

A Reflection on Conservative Jewish Halacha

© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

When inherited tradition and modern ethics collide, we might (and I believe should) define Torah according to Rabbi Ellie Spitz, who wrote "Torah is the unfolding narrative of the Jewish people." Our subjective sense of "what is right" IS Torah. And Halacha answers to Torah. So to the question: "if Halacha conflicts with ethics and reason, do we then reject the Halacha?" I respond as Maimonides did (according to Moshe Halbertal's "People of the Book"), by committing to making sure our implementation of the Torah conforms to our understanding of the world.

This is perhaps a reformulation of Rabbi Joel Roth's formulation of Halacha (in his "The Halakhic Process") as resting on the "grundnorm", a concept created by Hans Kelsen, who used the term to denote the underlying basis for a legal system. I believe that our grundnorm is "Torah", by which I mean what Rabbi Spitz meant: That our grundnorm, our basic authority, is the unfolding narrative of the Jewish people. Torah has always been subject to contemporary interpretation, and must remain that way in order for our path, our Halacha to remain alive.

This, I believe, has always been the approach of Conservative Judaism, though not always the approach of the Conservative Movement. It is easier to explain Conservative Judaism than most formulations would have us believe. Ideology by consensus need not be all-inclusive, nor must purposefulness necessitate judgment of those outside decided parameters. Self-definition is prerequisite to relationship with another - and given that our "other" is The Other, definition is a holy command.

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