The Art of "Halakhah"

Why Jewish law is more a set of guidelines than of rules.

From Mishneh Torah Master of the Barbo Missal, c.1457. Photograph © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, for Michael and Judy Steinhardt, by Ardon Bar-Hama.

From Mishneh Torah Master of the Barbo Missal, c.1457. Photograph © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, for Michael and Judy Steinhardt, by Ardon Bar-Hama.

In his fascinating article on law in Judaism, Joshua Berman divides post-talmudic halakhic authorities into roughly two schools: those who follow a codified or statutory-law approach and those who adopt a common-law approach. As against this, I would contend that everyone—even the codifiers—approaches the task of halakhic decision-making through a unique mix of common and statutory law. If the results sometimes convey an impression of arbitrariness or inconsistency, the fault lies in a misunderstanding of the system by which those results have been reached.

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More about: Common law, Jewish identity, Joshua Berman, Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, Neoconservatism, Shulhan Arukh, Talmud