Cover image for Evolving halakhah : a progressive approach to traditional Jewish law
Evolving halakhah : a progressive approach to traditional Jewish law
Zemer, Moshe, 1932-
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Halakhah shefuyah. English
Publication Information:
Woodstock, Vt. : Jewish Lights Pub., 1999.
Physical Description:
xxiv, 440 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Rev. translation of: Halakhah shefuyah.
Format :


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BM197 .Z4613 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Innovative and provocative. Affirms the system of traditional Jewish law, halakhah, as a developing and moral structure, flexible enough to accommodate the changing realities of each generation.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Evolving Halakhah, originally published in Hebrew in 1993 and now updated and revised, is the result of Rabbi Zemer's 35 years of work in the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. In this collection of the author's essays and responsa (answers to questions of Jewish law and observations), Zemer examines the ideological split between the fundamentalist view of halakhah and the so-called nonfundamentalist view, saying that halakhah has been an evolving process that deals with the changing reality of each generation. He discusses such subjects as marriage and divorce, illegitimacy, conversion, Israel and Gentiles, the status of women, the role of ultraorthodox Jews, medicine, and burial. Zemer's liberal approach to halakhah is intended for what he calls progressive Jews--Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist--but anyone interested in Judaism will find this a thoughtful and studious work. --George Cohen

Library Journal Review

In this provocative new edition of a work originally published in Hebrew, Zemer, founding director of the Freehof Institute of Progressive Halakhah in Tel Aviv, presents his view of Halakhah, or traditional Jewish law, as an evolving system founded on the core ethical values of Judaism rather than on a rigid reading of custom and tradition. By internalizing the Commandments, he takes a critical approach to Halakhah and calls for the individual conscience to explore the laws and traditions behind such issues as marriage and divorce, conversion, the role of gentiles in the land of Israel, Halakhah and the Infigada, "Halakhic" justification for murder, the status of women, the ultra-Orthodox, medicine, euthanasia, death, and burial. Sure to be controversial among traditional Jews, this book will help all Jews understand why they believeÄor don't believe. Highly recommended for collections of Judaica.ÄMarcia Welsh, Guilford Free Lib., CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Zemer, a rabbi and the director of the Freehof Institute of Progressive Halakhah in Tel Aviv, presents the product of some 35 years of his scholarly work. The book is a collection of responses and essays (previously published) which are "rejoinders to halakhic (Jewish law) rulings by Orthodox rabbis" or "answers to questions on topical matters...." Over many years of careful reading and study, Zemer's intent has been to show that the halakhah is not "inflexible and the antithesis of progress," nor "antiquated and outmoded." Zemer's writings do reflect a criticism of many of the "rulings of the established Chief Rabbinate [of Israel]." The book is divided into the following sections: "Foundations" (ethical principles), "Marriage and Divorce," "Conversion," "Israel and Gentiles," "Status of Women," "Ultra-Orthodox," "Medicine," and "Burial." This book has been called "a text for liberal Jews." And indeed it is. It certainly fulfills the goal stated by the publisher: "to stimulate thought ... engage (and) ... inspire." Highly recommended, though it is sure to be controversial in its effort to show that "the traditional Orthodox approach to halakhah has been and can be flexible and morally sensitive." All readership levels. T. M. Pucelik; Bradley University

Table of Contents

Justice Haim H. Cohn
Acknowledgmentsp. xv
Forewordp. xvii
Introductionp. xxi
I. Foundationsp. 1
Chapter 1 Halakhah as an Evolving Ethical Systemp. 3
The "Language of the Common Folk" and the Purification of Mamzerim
Leniencies in the Sabbatical Year
An Emergency Wedding on the Sabbath
"Something That Was Unknown to Earlier Generations"
"Uprooting a Provision of the Torah"
Rabbinic Regulations That Permit Leniency
"Where There Would Be Suffering"
"To Prevent Enmity"
"For the Sake of Peace"
"On Account of a 'Chained' Woman"
Annulling a Marriage
Conditional Marriage
Chapter 2 Maimonides and the "Lesser Evil"p. 23
Takkanat Hashavim (the Provision for the Penitent)
"It Is Better for Him to Eat the Gravy and Not the Fat Itself"
"It Is A Time to Act for the Lord; They Have Violated Your Torah"
The Beautiful Captive
The Verdict
"The Lesser Evil" as a Hermeneutic Principle
Chapter 3 The Essence of Evolving Halakhahp. 37
The Source of Halakhic Authority
The Principles and Criteria of Progressive Halakhah
Halakhah Is an Evolutionary Process
Halakhah Is Pluralistic
Halakhah and Ethics
The Commandments Embody Holiness
Internalizing the Commandments
The Critical Approach to Halakhah
The Major Thrust of the Tradition
The Call of Individual Conscience
Responsibility to the Covenant Community
The Rationale for the Commandments
Why We Need These Principles
II. Marriage and Divorcep. 59
Chapter 4 Yibbum and Halitzahp. 61
The Halakhic Background
The Situation Today
Chapter 5 Marriages Forbidden to a Kohenp. 73
A Kohen and a Divorcee
The Status of Kohanim, in Antiquity and Today
The Status of Divorcees, in Antiquity and Today
A Kohen and a Convert
Chapter 6 Mamzerut (Halakhic Illegitimacy)p. 87
The Mamzer in the Classical Sources
What is a Mamzer?
"... Shall Not be Admitted into the Congregation of the Lord"
The Duration of the Ban
Mamzerut Today
The Scope of the Problem
The Approach of the Religious Establishment in Israel
Early Rabbinic Solutions
Marrying a Female Slave to Cleanse One's Children
The Fetus Spends Twelve Months in the Womb
Mamzerut and "Assimilation"
Modern Responsa on the Purification of Mamzerim
The Husband Who Didn't Die
Four Generations of Mamzerim on the Island of Corfu
The Child of the Eunuch's Wife
A Mamzeret in Egypt
The Proxy Betrothal of a Yemenite Girl
Civil Divorce without a Get
Annulling the Conversion of the First Husband
Chapter 7 Marriage Blacklists: "All Families Are Presumed to Be Fit"p. 113
III. Conversionp. 121
Chapter 8 Rabbi Goren's Reform Conversionp. 125
Acceptance of the Commandments
Marriage of a Female Convert to a Kohen
Token Circumcision
Conversion under Duress
An Express-Lane Conversion
The Lesser of Two Evils
Chapter 9 Ambivalence about Conversionp. 143
Conversion for an Ulterior Motive
The Negative Attitude toward Converts
In Praise of Proselytes
The Mitzvah of Accepting Converts
An Eternal Ban on Conversion
The Ambivalent Chief Rabbi
The Affimative Approach to Conversion
Chapter 10 Disqualifying Jews from India to Ethiopiap. 157
Must the Ethiopian Immigrants Be Converted?
The Lenient Approach: Rabbis Hildesheimer and Kook
The Stringent Approach: Rabbis Herzog, Nissim, and Goren
Does Conversion Remove the Taint of Mamzerut?
Conversion under Duress Is Not Halakhic Conversion
A Solution Is Found
The B'nai Israel of India
The Successful Struggle by the B'nai Israel
Chapter 11 You Shall Not Oppress the Strangerp. 171
Afterthought on Conversions
IV. The State of Israel and Gentilesp. 177
Chapter 12 The Sabra and Shatilla Massacrep. 181
Our Relations with Non-Jews
Our Leaders' Responsibility for the Tragedy
Our Leaders' Obligation to Investigate
Chapter 13 Demolishing Houses in the Territories: A Halakhic Perspectivep. 187
Individual Responsibility Precludes Collective Punishment
"Resident Gentiles" Must Receive Fair Judicial Treatment
Why Was the Policy of Demolishing Houses Reinstituted?
Chapter 14 Halakhah and the Intifadap. 193
The Attitude toward Individual Members of a Hostile Population
Territory for Peace
Who Is Authorized to Decide?
A Flimsy Foundation
Chapter 15 The Attitude toward the Enemyp. 205
Justifications for Harming Women and Children
Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli
Rabbi Shimon Weiser
Rabbi Lt. Col. Avraham Avidan
The Ideological Basis for Animosity toward Arabs
Hostile Opinions in the Rabbinic Classics
Contemporary Xenophobic Ideologies
Rabbi Yaakov Ariel
Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook
The Humanist Approach
The Secular Court's Ruling in the Kafr Kasim Case
Rabbi Shlomo Goren
"The Works of My Hands Are Drowning in the Sea"
King David Was Not Allowed to Build the Temple because of His Cruelty in War
Who Is the Greatest Hero?
Chapter 16 Ransoming Captivesp. 225
Chapter 17 "Halakhic" Justifications for Murderp. 231
Rabbinic Responsibility for a Massacre
The Assassination of the Prime Minister
Pulsa Denura
V. The Status of Womenp. 239
Chapter 18 Is a Woman Permitted to Hold a Public Position?p. 241
Are Women Forbidden to Hold Office?
Does Custom Ban the Appointment of Women?
Should Female Candidates Be Disqualified because "Women Are Frivolous"?
To Preserve Domestic Harmony
Discussions of Secular Matters but Not of Torah
A Mitzvah for Women
Chapter 19 Women and Service in the Israel Defense Forcesp. 249
"In an Obligatory War All Go Forth to Battle"
What Is the Role of Women in War?
Israel Is in a Situation of Obligatory War
Halakhah Does Not Distinguish between Observant and Secular Young Women
Morality and Seclusion in the Home
It Is Forbidden to Use the Torah for Extraneous Purposes
Chapter 20 A "Women's Gallery" in the Cemeteryp. 255
Women "Brought Death into the World"
The Angel of Death Is among the Women
Decisors Who Allow Women to Participate in Funerals
Chapter 21 Delaying a Funeral Until the Daughter of the Deceased Arrivesp. 261
Chapter 22 The Right of Women to Say Kaddishp. 265
Reasons for Permitting a Daughter to Say Kaddish
Reasons to Forbid a Daughter to Say Kaddish
"Something New and Strange"
The Spiritual Basis of the Kaddish
The Recitation of the Kaddish Elevates the Soul of the Deceased
Chapter 23 Is a Woman's Voice Sexually Enticing?p. 275
Are Women Required to Pray?
May a Woman Hold a Torah Scroll?
A Woman's Voice Is Sexually Enticing
Women's Equality
VI. The Ultra-Orthodoxp. 281
Chapter 24 Desecrating the Sabbath in Order to Sanctify Itp. 283
"Zealots Attack Him"
Desecrating the Sabbath to Prevent Desecration of the Sabbath?
"Two Who Laid Hold of a Tallit"
Chapter 25 Religious Violence against a Progressive Congregationp. 291
Chapter 26 The Cult of the Newly Ultra-Orthodoxp. 295
Torah and Labor
Honoring One's Parents
Military Service
Chapter 27 Religious Tolerance among Jews: A Critique of Rulings by Rabbi Moshe Feinsteinp. 301
Non-Orthodox Rabbis Are Heretics
Banning Rabbis through the Centuries
Sa'adiah Gaon
Rabbi Zacharias Frankel
Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer
Rabbi David Zevi Hoffmann
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein
One May Not Accept a Position in a Non-Orthodox Synagogue
One May Not Participate in a Prayer Service in a Non-Orthodox Synagogue
An Orthodox Jew Who Associates with the Non-Orthodox Is in Jeopardy of Leaving Orthodoxy
Where We Truly Differ
May You Teach Us?
Chapter 28 Archaeology as a Mitzvahp. 313
Chapter 29 Circumcising a Corpsep. 317
VII. Medicinep. 321
Chapter 30 A Dialogue on Autopsiesp. 323
Is There a Contradiction between Medicine and the Torah?
There Is No Substitute for Autopsies
Dealing with the Bereaved Family
There Is No Need for Relatives to Consent
Chapter 31 Abortion Is Not Murderp. 335
A Fetus Is Not a Person
The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Politics
Chapter 32 Artificial Inseminationp. 339
Is a Husband Permitted to Provide Sperm?
Is the Child a Mamzer?
The Case of a Non-Jewish Donor
Chapter 33 To Smoke or Not to Smoke: A Jewish Questionp. 345
Danger to Nonsmokers
Danger to Smokers
Chapter 34 "It Is Forbidden to Delay Death"p. 351
VIII. Burialp. 357
Chapter 35 For the Sake of Peacep. 359
Is It Really Forbidden to Bury a Non-Jew alongside a Jew?
Does Halakhah Require the Exhumation of a Non-Jew Buried in a Jewish Cemetery?
Does "For the Sake of Peace" Outweigh Other Principles?
Permissiveness is Preferable
Undesirable Proximity in the Cemetery
Burying the Good next to the Wicked
Chapter 36 Burial and Superstitionp. 373
That Sons Do Not Follow Their Father's Bier to the Cemetery
Burial in Coffins
Afterwordp. 377
Bibliographyp. 379
Notesp. 391
Indexp. 429
About Jewish Lightsp. 441