Contemporary Jews and Halakhah

Jews of different stripes differ greatly with respect to their assessment of the role Jewish law should play today?and each camp has much to learn from the others.

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Yet despite these clear differences, Jews across the denominational spectrum share aspects of each of the above. We are all beholden to the great rabbis of each generation for interpreting the past in light of the present. We are all influenced by local rabbis and scholars, who contextualize and array the choices for us. The Talmud itself contains the statement that “ein ha-Torah nikneit eleh b'havurah”--the Torah and its teachings can only be acquired through a community. And clearly, the individual, endowed by our Creator with remarkable faculties for thought and perspective and choice, looms large in any approach to halakhah. 

The Talmud speaks of the Torah's seventy faces (shivim panim laTorah).  In the context of contemporary Jewish pluralism, serious, Jews of all stripes have the opportunity to learn from the multiple approaches of other communities--going beyond what some have called the “sacred envy” of appreciating the strengths of movements other than one’s own, keeping the process of halakhic development alive, and uncovering more of the Torah’s richness of meanings.

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Rabbi Fred Dobb

Fred Scherlinder Dobb, Rabbi of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, Maryland, serves on the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, Shalom Center, Religious Witness for the Earth, and Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light.