Engendering Judaism: An Inclusive Theology and Ethics

By Rachel Adler | Go to book overview
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Chapter 2
Here Comes Skotsl: Renewing Halakhah

For most of Jewish history, the lives of Jewish women have been controlled by a legal system whose categories and concerns they have not helped to shape and from whose authority structure they have been excluded. The rulings of classical Jewish law, halakhah, made women a subordinate group within Judaism. One of the first understandings of modern feminist Jewish theology was that it must delineate a feminist perspective from which to confront halakhah. Some scholars proposed ways to fix halakhah, alleviating its worst injustices toward women.1 Others saw it as unfixable, an intrinsically oppressive structure 2 The only attempt that has not yet been made is to exercise our own covenantal authority to redefine and refashion halakhah fundamentally so that contemporary Jewish women and men can live it out with integrity.3 Yet, if we define halakhah not as a closed system of obsolete and unjust rules, but as a way for communities of Jews to generate and embody their Jewish moral visions, that is exactly what we would do.

Halakhah comes from the root HLKh, to walk or to go. Halakhah is the act of going forward, of making one's way. A halakhah, a path-making, translates the stories and values of Judaism into ongoing action. That makes it an integral component not merely of Orthodoxy, but of any kind of Judaism. Such a definition of halakhah breaks the traditionalist monopoly on the word halakhah but risks some confusion about which system and ground rules I am discussing. In this chapter, therefore, I use the term "classical halakhah" when referring to the traditional system and "a halakhah" when hypothesizing about potential legal systems through which Judaism could be lived out.


Orienting Ourselves Through Stories

In this chapter, I would like to point us toward a potential halakhah. To determine where we ought to go, we must reflect on where we have been. We do this best by storytelling. As individuals, we continually rework and

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