Should We Change Jewish Law?

A convert to Orthodox Judaism, Orthodox rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo writes:

I teach Jewish Philosophy. I am confronted daily with countless young Jews who search for an authentic Jewish religious way of life, but are unable to find spiritual satisfaction in the prevalent halakhic system as practiced today in most Ultra or Modern-Orthodox communities. For many of them, typical halakhic life is not synonymous with genuine religiosity. They feel that halakha has become too monotonous, too standardized and too external for them to experience the presence of God on a day-to-day basis. Beyond “observance”, they look for holiness and meaning. Many of them feel there is too much formalism in the halakhic system, and not enough internal meaning; too much obedience and not enough room for the individualistic soul, or for religious spontaneity. More and more sincere young people express these concerns, and many of them are deeply affected by their inability to live a conventional halakhic life.

Here’s a response in lecture form by Rabbi Ari Kahn.

Rabbi Ari Kahn: “I don’t trust him [in diagnosing] the symptoms, I don’t trust the diagnosis and I don’t trust the cure.”

“Over 60% of Jews in the world don’t step inside a synagogue. Way over 60% of Jews in the world have never been to Israel.”

Rabbi Kahn says there are not a large number of non-observant Jews who are yearning to observe a more flexible form of halacha (Jewish law).

“A rabbi friend of mine gave a lecture to a group of non-religious Jews. At the end of the lecture, he asked, how many people want to become more spiritual? All of them raised their hands. He then asked, how many of you want to become more religious? None raised their hands.”

“The vast majority of people that I’ve met, 99%, who move from observance to non-observance do so not out of philosophical reasons but for lifestyle reasons.”

“Rabbi Cardozo admits that if you were to go to a posek and analyze this according to Jewish law, everything he is about to say is wrong. He says he’s writing this, not as a halachist but as a Jewish philosopher… It’s not within the realm of halacha.”

Who decided that the Shulchan Aruch would be the accepted code of Jewish law? Who decided that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein would be the great decider of Jewish law of his time? The Jewish people.

Rabbi Cardozo writes: “Over the last five hundred years, famous rabbinic leaders have called to limit the overwhelming authority of Rabbi Josef Karo’s Shulhan Arukh and Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah. They felt that these works do not reflect authentic Judaism and its halakhic tradition. The reason is obvious. Both these great codes of Jewish Law are very un-Jewish in spirit. They present halakha in ways which oppose the heart and soul of the Talmud, and therefore of Judaism itself. They deprived Judaism of its multifaceted halakhic tradition and its inherent music. It is not the works themselves which are the problem but the ideology which they represent: The ethos of codifying and finalizing Jewish Law.”

Rabbi Ari Kahn: “Rabbi Cardozo considers himself Orthodox and an important voice within Orthodox Judaism. This paragraph is arrogant and simplistic.”

Is the goal of the Talmud to determine the halacha or not to determine the halacha? Rabbi Cardozo says not to, Rabbi Kahn (and everyone else I know) says the purpose is to establish halacha.

Rabbi Kahn: “I believe this is a very dangerous essay. It may have many nice soundbytes but it doesn’t have a leg to stand on [from an Orthodox perspective].”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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