Tag Archives: Halacha

The Conceits of “Consensus” in Halakhic Rhetoric

Introduction

Regular readers of halakhic literature will inevitably encounter appeals to “consensus,” either of a select sample of halakhic decisiors, frequently using the Hebrew idiom “rov poskim,” or of a community’s popular perceptions. 1 The distinguishing characteristic of these appeals to consensus is that the legitimacy or rejection of an opinion is not determined by intrinsic, objective, qualifiable criteria or its merits, but by its adoption by certain people. 2 The primary premise of such arguments is that unanimity or a plurality of agreement among a given collective is halakhically binding on the Jewish population 3 and cannot be further contested or subject to review. 4

Appeals to consensus are common and relatively simply to assert, but those who rely on consensus rarely if ever acknowledge, address, or defend, the assumptions inherent with the invoking of consensus as a source – if not the determinant – of practical Jewish law. As I will demonstrate, appeals to consensus are laden with problematic logical and halakhic assumptions such that while “consensus” may constitute one factor in determining a specific psak, it is not nearly the definitive halakhic criterion its proponents would like to believe.
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Notes:

  1. While in this essay I am focusing on halakhah, similar appeals to consensus are found in discussions of Jewish thought, in particular regarding the status of Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith.
  2. In Brisker terms, this would be a distinction between the “heftza” of a position’s content versus the “gavra” of those who accept it.
  3. This is not to be confused with the use of consensus as a form of colloquial rhetorical flourish. For example, The Talmud records hundreds of claims of “kulei ‘alma,” literally meaning “the whole world” agrees to a particular position. Given the certitude that one can produce a single lone dissenter on the planet to falsify this claim, it seems reasonable to assume that Talmudic sages were conscious of their hyperbole. But even in the Talmudic vernacular, an appeal to “kulei ‘alma” was most often employed to define a point of agreement between specific parties in order to better understand the true point of halakhic contention. See B. Berachot 23a for just one example. These appeals to “the whole world” are not the basis of a halakhic argument – which must be defended on its merits – but instead are descriptive of a certain context, albeit exaggerated, with the intent of advancing a specific point in the discussion.
  4. Alternative or contradictory opinions may be suggested, but only with the caveat they remain theoretical and are not to be implemented in practice.
Posted in Jewish Law / Halakha, YUTOPIA's 10th Year Anniversary. Tagged with , , , , , .

Ep. 138 Kosher Kitchen Crash Course 1 – Theory and Definitions

Rabbi Yuter begins his Kosher Kitchen Crash Course with an overview of the theory of how kashrut works, focusing on examples most relevant for maintaining a kosher kitchen.

Kosher Kitchen Crash Course 1 – Theory and Definitions Sources (PDF)

Kosher Kitchen Crash Course 1 – Theory and Definitions

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Ep. 117 Halakhic Process 24 – Conservative Judaism

Rabbi Josh Yuter’s Halakhic Process series turns towards the Conservative Judaism’s legal hermeneutic, and how it compares to what is often employed by their Orthodox counterparts.

Halakhic Process 24 – Conservative Judaism Sources (PDF)

Halakhic Process 24 – Conservative Judaism

Posted in The Halakhic Process. Tagged with , , , , , , .

Ep. 94 Current Jewish Questions 19 – Gun Control

With the Sandy Hook tragedy reigniting the national debate on gun control, Rabbi Yuter discusses certain rabbinic sources relevant towards formulating a Jewish perspective.

Current Jewish Questions – Gun Control Sources (PDF)

Current Jewish Questions – Gun Control Sources

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Current Jewish Questions 15 – Substance Abuse

With a trend towards legalizing marijuana it is possible that currently illicit drugs may be more widespread in the future. In this class Rabbi Yuter examines Jewish perspectives, attitudes, and primary sources regarding substance abuse.

Current Jewish Questions – Substance Abuse Sources (PDF)

Current Jewish Questions – Substance Abuse

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Ep. 50 Fundamentals of Judaism 5 – Basis for Rabbinic Authority

In this Very Special 50th Podcast, Rabbi Yuter’s Fundamentals of Judaism explores the basis for Rabbinic authority.

Fundamentals of Judaism 5 – Basis for Rabbinic Authority Sources (PDF)

Fundamentals of Judaism 5 – Basis for Rabbinic Authority

Posted in Fundamentals of Judaism, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, The Halakhic Process. Tagged with , , .

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law Class Series

In the Spring Semester of 2011 I had the honor of addressing the NYU Jewish Law Students Association for a weekly series covering Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law. Below are the links to the specific lectures in the order given with audio and PDF source sheets available. As always, comments are welcome. If there is interest in me delivering any of these lectures or the entire series in person, please contact me directly.

  1. Free Market Ethics in Torah
  2. Halakhic Market Controls
  3. Halakhic Labor Laws
  4. Social Welfare Programs
  5. Taxes and Tzedakah (Charity)
  6. The Laws and Ethics of Universal Health Care in Torah
  7. Tikkun Olam
Posted in Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Lectures, Podcasts, Sermons, Lectures, and Divrei Torah. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law Part 5: Taxes and Tzedakah (Charity)

In the fifth installment of his Economics and Social Justice series, Rabbi Yuter explores the relationship between Taxes and Tzedakah (Charity) in Jewish Law and the halakhic implications of one’s perspective.

Econ and Soc Justice in Jewish Law Part 5: Taxes and Tzedakah Sources (PDF)

Economics and Social Justice Part 5 – Taxes and Tzedakah (Charity)

Posted in Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Lectures, Podcasts, Sermons, Lectures, and Divrei Torah. Tagged with , , , , , , .