Tag: Law

Ep. 158 Current Jewish Questions 49 – Reparations for Slavery and Discrimination

Inspired by Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent Atlantic essay The Case for Reparations, Rabbi Yuter addresses this complicated topic through Biblical and Rabbinic sources.

Current Jewish Questions – Reparations Sources (PDF)

Current Jewish Questions – Reparations

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

From the YUTOPIA Archives: An Odd Instance of Intellectual Assimilation – Christian Influences on Nachmanides’ Thought

YUTOPIA's 10 Year Anniversary SpecialOne of the main characters of the movie Footnote is a scholar whose most eminent academic accomplishment was a single complimentary footnote in his teacher’s work. Such recognition indicates that not only has a master in a field read your work, but found your contribution significant enough to disseminate to his larger audience. Aside from earning one’s PhD, this can be the academic equivalent of “getting made.”

The closest I’ve experienced this feeling myself was when I shared a graduate school paper on Ramban / Nachmanides (1194–c. 1270) with my father’s teacher Haham Jose / Yosef Faur in his Netanya house in 2002. In particular, I remember his elated reaction at my discovery that Ramban’s commentary on Deuteronomy 17:11 is nearly identical to the Early Church Father Tertullian’s (c. 160–c. 225 AD) justification of priestly authority. Haham Faur referenced this discovery in his article Anti-Maimonidean Demons p. 28 note 110 in his Horizontal Society (vol 2. p. 188).

I rediscovered the original paper among the same pile of documents as my father’s letter of resignation. I believe I kept the original copy of this paper due to the comments I received from Professor David Berger, which made an indelible impression on me:

This is a very intelligent, well written, vigorously argued but unconvincing, tendentious, one-sided, arbitrary, even biased argument. The suggestion that N.[achmanides] invented a tradition so that he could exercise authority i.e. that he did not believe that there was a Kabbalistic tradition that he had studied is unsupport[ed] and even offensive. I will assign a good grade to this paper because of its stimulating qualities, but what they stimulated in me was a combination of fascination and anger.

Despite Dr. Berger’s personal objections, he gave this paper an A-. There is also much more to be said in comparing Dr. Berger’s affinity towards Ramban and his criticisms of Chabad, but that is for another time. [1. Haham Faur was a fan of Dr. Berger’s book on Chabad, though in discussing my paper he said, “if he is a fan of Ramban, then his book makes no sense.”]

Unsurprisingly, the paper itself could stand to use some editing and a few more revisions. Aside from the typos which should be expected at this point, I can see in hindsight imprecise language if not poor word choices. I suppose one reason to pursue advanced education is precisely to improve such skills. At any rate, for those interested in the subject or Hassidim of Haham Faur who are compelled to collect all related data, I am embedding the paper itself, complete with original typos, mistakes, and comments.

And in case anyone is wondering, despite this being a Revel paper, I did in fact submit the paper on time.

Ep. 100 Current Jewish Questions 22 – Women of the Wall

In his 100th podcast Rabbi Yuter discusses the controversial group “Women of the Wall” and its implications for Halakhah and Israeli society.

Current Jewish Questions – Women of the Wall Sources (PDF)

Current Jewish Questions – Women of the Wall

Ep. 93 Halakhic Process 14 – Rambam’s / Maimonides’ Approach To Jewish Law Part 2

Rabbi Josh Yuter’s halakhic process series moves to the post-Talmudic period with a discussion of Rambam’s / Maimonides’ approach to Jewish law and his own halakhic methodology.

Rambam’s / Maimonides’ Approach To Jewish Law Part 2 Sources (PDF)

Rambam’s / Maimonides’ Approach To Jewish Law Part 2

Ep. 92 Halakhic Process 13 – Rambam’s / Maimonides’ Approach To Jewish Law Part 1

Rabbi Josh Yuter’s halakhic process series moves to the post-Talmudic period with a discussion of Rambam’s / Maimonides’ approach to Jewish law and his own halakhic methodology.

Halakhic Process – Rambam’s / Maimonides’ Approach To Jewish Law Part 1 Sources (PDF)

Halakhic Process 13 – Rambam’s / Maimonides’ Approach To Jewish Law Part 1

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

Why Orthodox Jews Should Not Oppose Legalizing Same Sex Marriage

On May 23 2011 several prominent Orthodox Jewish organizations issued a joint statement declaring their opposition to legalizing same sex-marriage. The brief statement is as follows:

On the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage, the Orthodox Jewish world speaks with one voice, loud and clear:

We oppose the redefinition of the bedrock relationship of the human family.

The Torah, which forbids homosexual activity, sanctions only the union of a man and a woman in matrimony. While we do not seek to impose our religious principles on others, we believe the institution of marriage is central to the formation of a healthy society and the raising of children. It is our sincere conviction that discarding the historical definition of marriage would be detrimental to society.

Moreover, we are deeply concerned that, should any such redefinition occur, members of traditional communities like ours will incur moral opprobrium and may risk legal sanction if they refuse to transgress their beliefs. That prospect is chilling, and should be unacceptable to all people of good will on both sides of this debate.

The integrity of marriage in its traditional form must be preserved.

This statement was issued not only by Orthodox institutions considered “right-of center” such as Agudath Israel of America or National Council of Young Israel, but also by more moderate Orthodox organizations such as the Orthodox Union (OU) and the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA).1 Unlike most religious proclamations which are directed towards specific religious communities, this joint statement advocates a political position – though based on religious principles – to the secular world beyond the normal scope of religious influence. To be sure, this joint statement is hardly the first time rabbinic organizations have issued political statements. Across all major denominations, the Orthodox RCA, Conservative Rabbinical Assembly, and Reform Central Conference of American Rabbis have all passed resolutions advocating public polices exemplifying their respective religious beliefs, with few (if any) complaining about the separation of church and state.

But due to the inherent subjective moral arguments against same-sex marriage, I argue that Jews – especially the Orthodox – would be better served in not opposing its legalization.

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

Jewish Law vs. Jewish Policy

One of the most important distinctions to make as a Rabbi is the distinction between halakha or Jewish law, and public policy. The difference is that Jewish Law, defined in terms of obligations and prohibitions, is binding on all Jews at all times. Decisions of Jewish Policy on the other hand are subjective, usually in the hands of community leaders. As such, these decisions cannot be imposed on every Jewish community since not only is there no such authoritative body, but each community will have its own needs and appropriate practices and customs.

If the above seems like an oversimplification, I refer you to my personal hashkafa series, however it should suffice for today’s post. I recently received an email from The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) responding to a recent statement by the Orthodox Union (OU) on the issue of women leading Kabbalat Shabbat services for men. The OU’s statement is simple enough:

With regard to the matter of a woman leading Kabbalat Shabbat services before an audience of men and women, the position of the Orthodox Union is that such practice is improper and constitutes an unacceptable breach of Jewish tradition.

JOFA’s responded in the form of an article by Dr. Debby Koren, available as a PDF here. From the introduction, we notice that Dr. Koren misses the crucial distinction between Jewish Law and Jewish Policy:

Thus it was disquieting to see a recent statement issued by the Orthodox Union as to the impropriety of a woman leading Kabbalat Shabbat when men are present, and interesting to note that the statement did not include any halakhic discussion or analysis. What are the possible reasons that it would be considered improper for a woman to lead Kabbalat Shabbat services with men present, and for such a practice (in the words of the Orthodox Union) to “constitute an unacceptable breach of Jewish tradition”? We address a number of possible concerns below.

Dr. Koren correctly notes that the OU did not include any “halakhic discussion or analysis.” This lacuna is of not only true, but necessary for two important and related reasons. The first is that that OU is itself not a halakhic body, nor to my knowledge does it ever claim to be. Rather, it is the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) which is responsible for determining matters of Jewish Law for the OU. Secondly, the OU’s statement did not employ the objective legal language of “assur” forbidden, but rather that it was “improper” and “unacceptable breach of Jewish tradition.” These statements are inherently subjective viewpoints relating to Jewish Policy, not Jewish Law. In fact, even RCA member R. Michael J. Broyde’s detailed analysis never claimed women leading Kabbalat Shabbat was “forbidden”, but rather concluded that it was a point of confusion. In other words, at no point did the RCA or OU issue a statement regarding Jewish Law, but rather Jewish Policy.

Practically speaking the ramifications are less halakhic than they are social. Even assuming an Orthodox approach to Jewish Law, one could easily justify permitting women to parts of the service for men, as Dr. Koren does in her article. However while the OU does not represent all of Orthodox Judaism, it does represent a non-trivial subset. The OU is not the arbiter of what is considered “Orthodox” but rather what is acceptable for its networked organization of synagogues. As such, the OU is free to set whatever policies it wishes for its member synagogues, and if a community wishes to be a part of this organization it has to consider the interests of the greater membership. Thus any synagogue may allow a woman to lead Kabbalat Shabbat and still be considered “Orthodox”, but it will have to accept the consequence of not being an OU member community.

This is where the distinction of Jewish Law vs. Jewish Policy becomes essential for meaningful dialogue. Dr. Koren’s article, however valid her arguments, is ultimately irrelevant for a discussion regarding inherently subjective organizational public policy.