Joshua Berman’s “What Is This Thing Called Law?” has much to commend it. As opposed to the rather simplistic declarations typically heard on the subject, Berman offers a serious discussion about what halakhah is, what it should be, who decides it, who decides who decides it, and what role it ought to fill in Israeli and Jewish society—Orthodox and otherwise. In so doing, he draws much-needed attention to the social as well as textual forces that shape halakhic decision-making, and to the conflicts between Orthodox doctrine and the inner life of many committed Jews.
The Paths Not Taken
There have been two moments in the last 150 years when the assumptions behind Jewish law seemed poised to change. Nothing happened. Is today different?