Jewish Religious Law: A Progressive Perspective

Jewish Religious Law: A Progressive Perspective

Jewish Religious Law: A Progressive Perspective

Jewish Religious Law: A Progressive Perspective


This is the first major work on the interrelationship between Liberal Judaism & Rabbinic law to have been produced in Britain & in Europe since the 19th century. It represents a plea for a positive yet critical approach to a variety of topics.


'A nd now, Israel, what does the Eternal One your God require of you?' (Deut. 10: 12). From a Jewish religious point of view that is the most important of all questions. For how, from such a point of view, can there be anything more desirable than to know how God wishes us to live, and therefore how to make the best possible use of our abilities and opportunities?

The great achievement of the Pharisees and their successors, the Rabbis, was that they addressed themselves to that question with unremitting dedication, generation after generation, and so produced a prescription forJewish living of the most amazing comprehensiveness and detailedness.

However, they did so on the basis of assumptions, such as the inerrancy of Scripture, which, for those who accept modern liberal values, have lost their credibility and which, in any case, made it inevitable that the system would become increasingly rigid in the course of the centuries, so that today it is in many ways antiquated.

To this system, called Halachah, there have been among Progressive Jews two opposite attitudes. Some, without questioning the system, have simply gone along with it when it suited them and ignored it when it did not. Others have explicitly or implicitly rejected it as something that belongs to Orthodoxy but has no place in Progressive Judaism.

When I became active in Britain's Liberal Jewish movement, it was predominantly rejectionist. Words like Halachah and Mitzvah were rarely heard; all talk was about 'beliefs' and 'observances', with much emphasis on the former and little on the latter. To redress the imbalance, I wrote a little book, The Practices of Liberal Judaism, which was first published in 1958.

Then, in the 1960s, I spent two years as a Graduate Fellow at the Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, where I steeped myself in Rabbinic literature and began to understand the great merits -- but also the serious defects -- of the Halachah; and when I returned to Britain I found myself teaching the subject at Leo Baeck College for the next thirty years.

Gradually it became clear to me that what Progressive Judaism needs to do is neither to accept nor to reject the Rabbinic Halachah but to reconstruct it consistently with its own principles. That conviction became a . . .

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