Conservative Halakhic Texts

The Conservative Movement's legal texts represent a contemporary attempt to make halakhah relevant and meaningful in a changing world.

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Still others note that the prohibition against marrying a Jew-by-choice is based on a worldview that sees all non-Jewish women as promiscuous. Today, we no longer make such assumptions about non-Jews.

Other Texts

Beyond teshuvot, there are a few key texts that Conservative Jews tend to use in their halakhic practice. The best known of these is Isaac Klein's A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice. This guide offers basic information about Jewish practice and incorporates decisions made by the Law Committee (of which Klein was a member) prior to the book's publication in 1979.  

Conservative rabbis generally rely on the Moreh Derekh, a handbook for rabbis that includes material for lifecycle ceremonies, copies of key documents, and instructions for other areas of rabbinic practice. Rabbis and laypeople charged with leading services also frequently consult the United Synagogue Luach (calendar). This luach, which is published yearly, notes the Torah readings for each day; additions or changes to the service for Rosh Hodesh, holidays, and other times of the year; and other instructions for conducting services.

The United Synagogue book service also offers pamphlets and books on kashrut, individual holidays, conversion, and other lifecycle events. These publications tend to blend practical law with discussions of the origins and meanings of the traditions in question.

Two other recent Conservative movement publications seek to integrate legal discussions into everyday Jewish life. The Etz Hayim Humash, a Torah commentary published in 2001, includes halakhic commentary together with more literary or historical discussions. These halakhic comments highlight laws that emerge from the biblical text. The Or Hadash, a 2003 commentary on the Sim Shalom siddur incorporates instructions for prayer into its commentary on the text of the liturgy.

Other books consider the meta issues that guide the development of Jewish law. Rabbi Elliot Dorff, who will be the chair of the Law Committee beginning in 2007, has published several reflections on the nature and practice of Jewish law. A Living Tree (written with Arthur Rosett) examines the sources, techniques, and forms of Jewish law while also paying attention to the philosophical and ethical issues that influence the development of law. The Unfolding Tradition focuses on the ways in which Conservative legal scholars have understood and interpreted Jewish law. 

Jewish law is constantly changing and developing to address new circumstances and new questions. The Conservative Movement's engagement with Jewish law represents a contemporary attempt to make Jewish law relevant and meaningful in a changing world. 

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Rabbi Jill Jacobs

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. She previously served as the Rabbi-in-Residence for the Jewish Funds for Justice.