Halakha (/hɑːˈlɔːxə/; Hebrew: הֲלָכָה, Sephardic: [halaˈχa]; also transliterated as halacha, halakhah, halachah, or halocho) (Ashkenazic: [haˈloχo]) is the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from the written and Oral Torah. Halakha is based on biblical commandments (mitzvot), subsequent Talmudic and rabbinic law, and the customs and traditions compiled in the many books such as the Shulchan Aruch. Halakha is often translated as "Jewish Law", although a more literal translation might be "the way to behave" or "the way of walking". The word derives from the root that means "to behave" (also "to go" or "to walk"). Halakha guides not only religious practices and beliefs, but also numerous aspects of day-to-day life.
Historically, in the Jewish diaspora, halakha served many Jewish communities as an enforceable avenue of law – both civil and religious, since no differentiation exists in classical Judaism. Since the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah) and Jewish emancipation, some have come to view the halakha as less binding in day-to-day life, as it relies on rabbinic interpretation, as opposed to the pure, written words recorded in the Hebrew Bible. Under contemporary Israeli law, certain areas of Israeli family and personal status law are under the authority of the rabbinic courts, so are treated according to halakha. Some differences in halakha are found among Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Sephardi, Yemenite, Ethiopian and other Jewish communities who historically lived in isolated communities.
The word halakha is derived from the Hebrew root halakh – "to walk" or "to go".:252 Taken literally, therefore, halakha translates as "the way to walk", rather than "law". The word halakha refers to the corpus of rabbinic legal texts, or to the overall system of religious law. The term may also be related to Akkadian ilku, a property tax, rendered in Aramaic as halakh, designating one or several obligations.
Halakha is often contrasted with aggadah ("the telling"), the diverse corpus of rabbinic exegetical, narrative, philosophical, mystical, and other "non-legal" texts. At the same time, since writers of halakha may draw upon the aggadic and even mystical literature, a dynamic interchange occurs between the genres. Halakha also does not include the parts of the Torah not related to commandments.
Halakha constitutes the practical application of the 613 mitzvot ("commandments") in the Torah, as developed through discussion and debate in the classical rabbinic literature, especially the Mishnah and the Talmud (the "Oral Torah"), and as codified in the Mishneh Torah and Shulchan Aruch. Because halakha is developed and applied by various halakhic authorities rather than one sole "official voice", different individuals and communities may well have different answers to halakhic questions. With few exceptions, controversies are not settled through authoritative structures because during the Jewish diaspora, Jews lacked a single judicial hierarchy or appellate review process for halakha.
According to the Talmud (Tractate Makot), 613 mitzvot are in the Torah, 248 positive ("thou shalt") mitzvot and 365 negative ("thou shalt not") mitzvot, supplemented by seven mitzvot legislated by the rabbis of antiquity.
This division between revealed and rabbinic commandments may influence the importance of a rule, its enforcement and the nature of its ongoing interpretation. Halakhic authorities may disagree on which laws fall into which categories or the circumstances (if any) under which prior rabbinic rulings can be re-examined by contemporary rabbis, but all Halakhic Jews hold that both categories exist and that the first category is immutable, with exceptions only for life-saving and similar emergency circumstances.
A second classical distinction is between the Written Law, laws written in the Hebrew Bible, and the Oral Law, laws which are believed to have been transmitted orally prior to their later compilation in texts such as the Mishnah, Talmud, and rabbinic codes.
Commandments are divided into positive and negative commands, which are treated differently in terms of divine and human punishment. Positive commandments require an action to be performed and are considered to bring the performer closer to God. Negative commandments (traditionally 365 in number) forbid a specific action, and violations create a distance from God.
A further division is made between chukim ("decrees" – laws without obvious explanation, such as shatnez, the law prohibiting wearing clothing made of mixtures of linen and wool), mishpatim ("judgements" – laws with obvious social implications) and eduyot ("testimonies" or "commemorations", such as the Shabbat and holidays). Through the ages, various rabbinical authorities have classified some of the 613 commandments in many ways.
A different approach divides the laws into a different set of categories:
Within Talmudic literature, Jewish law is divided into the six orders of the Mishnah, which are categories by proximate subject matter:
However, Talmudic texts often deal with laws outside these apparent subject categories. As a result, Jewish law came to be categorized in other ways in the post-Talmudic period. In the major codes of Jewish law, two other main categorization schemes are found. Maimonides' Mishneh Torah divides the laws into 14 sections. The codification efforts that culminated in the Shulchan Aruch divide the law into four sections, including only laws that do not depend on being physically present in the Land of Israel.
Judaism regards the violation of the commandments, the mitzvot, to be a sin. The generic Hebrew word for any kind of sin is aveira ("transgression"). Based on the Hebrew Bible Judaism describes three levels of sin:
Judaism understands that the vast majority of people, aside from those who are termed Tzadikim and those termed Tzadikim gemurim (Hebrew: צדיק, "the righteous" and "the completely righteous"), will succumb to sin in their lives. A sin or a state of sin does not condemn a person to damnation; a road of teshuva (Hebrew: תשובה; repentance, literally: "return") is always present. For some classes of people, this is exceedingly difficult, such as those who commit adultery, as well as those who slander others.
In earlier days, when ancient Jews had a functioning court system (the beth din and the Sanhedrin high court), courts were empowered to administer physical punishments for various violations, upon conviction by extremely high standards of evidence, far stricter than those required in western courts today. These punishments included execution, corporal punishment, incarceration, and excommunication. However, since the fall of the Second Temple, executions have been forbidden. Since the fall of the autonomous Jewish communities of Europe, most other punishments also have been discontinued.
Today, then, one's accounts are reckoned solely by God. The Talmud says that although courts capable of executing sinners no longer exist, the prescribed penalties continue to be applied by Providence. For instance, someone who has committed a sin punishable by stoning might fall off a roof, or someone who ought to be executed by strangulation might drown.
The Seven Laws of Noah, also referred to as the Noahide Laws or the Noachide Laws, are a set of imperatives which, according to the Talmud, were given by God as a binding set of laws for the "children of Noah" – that is, all of humanity.
The development of halakha in the period before the Maccabees, which has been described as the formative period in the history of its development, is shrouded in obscurity. Y. Baer (in Zion, 17 (1951–52), 1–55) has argued that there was little pure academic legal activity at this period and that many of the laws originating at this time were produced by a means of neighbourly good conduct rules in a similar way as carried out by Greeks in the age of Solon. For example, the first chapter of Bava Kamma, contains a formulation of the law of torts worded in the first person.:256
The boundaries of Jewish law are determined through the Halakhic process, a religious-ethical system of legal reasoning. Rabbis generally base their opinions on the primary sources of halakha as well as on precedent set by previous rabbinic opinions. The major sources and genre of halakha consulted include:
In antiquity, the Sanhedrin functioned essentially as the Supreme Court and legislature (in the US judicial system) for Judaism, and had the power to administer binding law, including both received law and its own rabbinic decrees, on all Jews—rulings of the Sanhedrin became halakha; see Oral law. That court ceased to function in its full mode in 40 CE. Today, the authoritative application of Jewish law is left to the local rabbi, and the local rabbinical courts, with only local applicability. In branches of Judaism that follow halakha, lay individuals make numerous ad-hoc decisions, but are regarded as not having authority to decide certain issues definitively.
Since the days of the Sanhedrin, however, no body or authority has been generally regarded as having the authority to create universally recognized precedents. As a result, halakha has developed in a somewhat different fashion from Anglo-American legal systems with a Supreme Court able to provide universally accepted precedents. Generally, Halakhic arguments are effectively, yet unofficially, peer-reviewed. When a rabbinic posek (literally, "he who makes a statement", "decisor") proposes an additional interpretation of a law, that interpretation may be considered binding for the posek's questioner or immediate community. Depending on the stature of the posek and the quality of the decision, an interpretation may also be gradually accepted by other rabbis and members of other Jewish communities.
Under this system there is a tension between the relevance of earlier and later authorities in constraining Halakhic interpretation and innovation. On the one hand, there is a principle in halakha not to overrule a specific law from an earlier era, after it is accepted by the community as a law or vow, unless supported by another, relevant earlier precedent; see list below. On the other hand, another principle recognizes the responsibility and authority of later authorities, and especially the posek handling a then-current question. In addition, the halakha embodies a wide range of principles that permit judicial discretion and deviation (Ben-Menahem).
Notwithstanding the potential for innovation, rabbis and Jewish communities differ greatly on how they make changes in halakha. Notably, poskim frequently extend the application of a law to new situations, but do not consider such applications as constituting a "change" in halakha. For example, many Orthodox rulings concerning electricity are derived from rulings concerning fire, as closing an electrical circuit may cause a spark. In contrast, Conservative poskim consider that switching on electrical equipment is physically and chemically more like turning on a water tap (which is permissible by halakha) than lighting a fire (which is not permissible), and therefore permitted on Shabbat. The reformative Judaism in some cases explicitly interprets halakha to take into account its view of contemporary society. For instance, most Conservative rabbis extend the application of certain Jewish obligations and permissible activities to women (see below).
Within certain Jewish communities, formal organized bodies do exist. Within Modern Orthodox Judaism, there is no one committee or leader, but Modern US-based Orthodox rabbis generally agree with the views set by consensus by the leaders of the Rabbinical Council of America. Within Conservative Judaism, the Rabbinical Assembly has an official Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.
Note that Takkanot, the plural form of Takkanah above, in general do not affect or restrict observance of Torah mitzvot. (In common parlance sometimes people use the general term takkanah to refer either gezeirot or takkanot.) However, the Talmud states that in exceptional cases, the Sages had the authority to "uproot matters from the Torah". In Talmudic and classical Halakhic literature, this authority refers to the authority to prohibit some things that would otherwise be Biblically sanctioned (shev v'al ta'aseh, literally, thou shall stay seated and not do). Rabbis may rule that a specific mitzvah from the Torah should not be performed, e. g., blowing the shofar on Shabbat, or taking the lulav and etrog on Shabbat. These examples of takkanot which may be executed out of caution lest some might otherwise carry the mentioned items between home and the synagogue, thus inadvertently violating a Sabbath melakha. Another rare and limited form of takkanah involved overriding Torah prohibitions. In some cases, the Sages allowed the temporary violation of a prohibition in order to maintain the Jewish system as a whole. This was part of the basis for Esther's relationship with Ahasuerus (Xeres). For general usage of takkanaot in Jewish history see the article Takkanah. For examples of this being used in Conservative Judaism, see Conservative halakha.
The antiquity of the rules can be determined only by the dates of the authorities who quote them; in general, they cannot safely be declared older than the tanna (from Aramaic, literally, "repeater") to whom they are first ascribed. It is certain, however, that the seven middot (literally, "measurements", and referring to [good] behavior) of Hillel and the thirteen of Ishmael are earlier than the time of Hillel himself, who was the first to transmit them.
The Talmud gives no information concerning the origin of the middot, although the Geonim ("Sages") regarded them as Sinaitic (given by God to the people of Israel at the time of the Sinai presence). Modern historians believe that it is decidedly erroneous to consider the middot as traditional from the time of Moses on Sinai.
The middot seem to have been first laid down as abstract rules by the teachers of Hillel, though they were not immediately recognized by all as valid and binding. Different schools interpreted and modified them, restricted or expanded them, in various ways. Akiba and Ishmael and their scholars especially contributed to the development or establishment of these rules. Akiba devoted his attention particularly to the grammatical and exegetical rules, while Ishmael developed the logical. The rules laid down by one school were frequently rejected by another because the principles that guided them in their respective formulations were essentially different. According to Akiba, the divine language of the Torah is distinguished from the speech of men by the fact that in the former no word or sound is superfluous.
Some scholars have observed a similarity between these rabbinic rules of interpretation and the hermeneutics of ancient Hellenistic culture. For example, Saul Lieberman argues that the names of rabbi Ishmael's middot (e. g., kal vahomer, literally, a combination of the archaic form of the word for "straw" and the word for "clay" – "straw and clay", referring to the obvious [means of making a mud brick]) are Hebrew translations of Greek terms, although the methods of those middot are not Greek in origin.
Orthodox Judaism holds that halakha is the divine law as laid out in the Torah (five books of Moses), rabbinical laws, rabbinical decrees, and customs combined. The rabbis, who made many additions and interpretations of Jewish Law, did so only in accordance with regulations they believe were given for this purpose to Moses on Mount Sinai, see Deuteronomy 17:11. See Orthodox Judaism, Beliefs about Jewish law and tradition.
Conservative Judaism holds that halakha is normative and binding, and is developed as a partnership between people and God based on Sinaitic Torah. While there are a wide variety of Conservative views, a common belief is that halakha is, and has always been, an evolving process subject to interpretation by rabbis in every time period. See Conservative Judaism, Beliefs.
Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism both hold that modern views of how the Torah and rabbinic law developed imply that the body of rabbinic Jewish law is no longer normative (seen as binding) on Jews today. Those in the traditionalist wing of these movements believe that the halakha represents a personal starting-point, holding that each Jew is obligated to interpret the Torah, Talmud and other Jewish works for themselves, and this interpretation will create separate commandments for each person.
Those in the liberal and classical wings of Reform believe that in this day and era, most Jewish religious rituals are no longer necessary, and many hold that following most Jewish laws is actually counter-productive. They propose that Judaism has entered a phase of ethical monotheism, and that the laws of Judaism are only remnants of an earlier stage of religious evolution, and need not be followed. This is considered wrong, and even heretical, by Orthodox and Conservative Judaism.
Humanistic Jews value the Torah as a historical, political, and sociological text written by their ancestors. They do not believe "that every word of the Torah is true, or even morally correct, just because the Torah is old". The Torah is both disagreed with and questioned. Humanistic Jews believe that the entire Jewish experience, and not only the Torah, should be studied as a source for Jewish behavior and ethical values.
Despite its internal rigidity, halakha has a degree of flexibility in finding solutions to modern problems that are not explicitly mentioned in the Torah. From the very beginnings of Rabbinic Judaism, halakhic inquiry allowed for a "sense of continuity between past and present, a self-evident trust that their pattern of life and belief now conformed to the sacred patterns and beliefs presented by scripture and tradition". According to an analysis by Jewish scholar Jeffrey Rubenstein of Michael Berger’s book Rabbinic Authority, the authority that rabbis hold “derives not from the institutional or personal authority of the sages but from a communal decision to recognize that authority, much as a community recognizes a certain judicial system to resolve its disputes and interpret its laws.” Given this covenental relationship, rabbis are charged with connecting their contemporary community with the traditions and precedents of the past.
When presented with contemporary issues, rabbis go through a halakhic process to find an answer. The classical approach has permitted new rulings regarding modern technology. For example, some of these rulings guide Jewish observers about the proper use of electricity on the Sabbath and holidays. Often, as to the applicability of the law in any given situation, the proviso is to "consult your local rabbi or posek". This notion lends rabbis a certain degree of local authority; however, for more complex questions the issue is passed onto higher rabbis who will then issue a teshuvot, which is a responsa that is binding. Indeed, rabbis will continuously issue different opinions and will constantly review each other's work so as to maintain the truest sense of halakha. Overall, this process allows rabbis to maintain connection of traditional Jewish law to modern life. Of course, the degree of flexibility depends on the sect of Judaism, with Reform being the most flexible, Conservative somewhat in the middle, and Orthodox being much more stringent and rigid. Modern critics, however, have charged that with the rise of movements that challenge the "divine" authority of halakha, traditional Jews have greater reluctance to change, not only the laws themselves but also other customs and habits, than traditional Rabbinical Judaism did prior to the advent of Reform in the 19th century.
Orthodox Jews believe that halakha is a religious system whose core represents the revealed will of God. Although Orthodox Judaism acknowledges that rabbis have made many decisions and decrees regarding Jewish Law where the written Torah itself is nonspecific, they did so only in accordance with regulations received by Moses on Mount Sinai (see Deuteronomy 5:8–13). These regulations were transmitted orally until shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple. They were then recorded in the Mishnah, and explained in the Talmud and commentaries throughout history up until the present day. Orthodox Judaism believes that subsequent interpretations have been derived with the utmost accuracy and care. The most widely accepted codes of Jewish law are known as Mishneh Torah and the Shulchan Aruch.
Orthodox Judaism has a range of opinions on the circumstances and extent to which change is permissible. Haredi Jews generally hold that even minhagim (customs) must be retained, and existing precedents cannot be reconsidered. Modern Orthodox authorities are more inclined to permit limited changes in customs and some reconsideration of precedent.
The view held by Conservative Judaism is that the Torah is not the word of God in a literal sense. However, the Torah is still held as mankind's record of its understanding of God's revelation, and thus still has divine authority. Therefore, halakha is still seen as binding. Conservative Jews use modern methods of historical study to learn how Jewish law has changed over time, and are, in some cases, willing to change Jewish law in the present.
A key practical difference between Conservative and Orthodox approaches is that Conservative Judaism holds that its rabbinical body's powers are not limited to reconsidering later precedents based on earlier sources, but the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) is empowered to override Biblical and Taanitic prohibitions by takkanah (decree) when perceived to be inconsistent with modern requirements or views of ethics. The CJLS has used this power on a number of occasions, most famously in the "driving teshuva", which says that if someone is unable to walk to any synagogue on the Sabbath, and their commitment to observance is so loose that not attending synagogue may lead them to drop it altogether, their rabbi may give them a dispensation to drive there and back; and more recently in its decision prohibiting the taking of evidence on Mamzer status on the grounds that implementing such a status is immoral. The CJLS has also held that the Talmudic concept of Kavod HaBriyot permits lifting rabbinic decrees (as distinct from carving narrow exceptions) on grounds of human dignity, and used this principle in a December 2006 opinion lifting all rabbinic prohibitions on homosexual conduct (the opinion held that only male-male anal sex was forbidden by the Bible and that this remained prohibited). Conservative Judaism also made a number of changes to the role of women in Judaism including counting women in a minyan, permitting women to chant from the Torah, and ordaining women as rabbis.
The Conservative approach to halachic interpretation can be seen in the CJLS's acceptance of Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz's responsum decreeing the biblical category of mamzer as "inoperative." The CJLS adopted the responsum's view that the "morality which we learn through the larger, unfolding narrative of our tradition" informs the application of Mosaic law. The responsum cited several examples of how the rabbinic sages declined to enforce punishments explicitly mandated by Torah law. The examples include the trial of the accused adulteress (sotah), the "law of breaking the neck of the heifer," and the application of the death penalty for the "rebellious child." Kaplan Spitz argues that the punishment of the mamzer has been effectively inoperative for nearly two thousand years due to deliberate rabbinic inaction. Further he suggested that the rabbis have long regarded the punishment declared by the Torah as immoral, and came to the conclusion that no court should agree to hear testimony on mamzerut.
There are many formal codes of Jewish law that have developed over the past two thousand years. These codes have influenced, and in turn, have been influenced by, the responsa; History of Responsa thus provides an informative complement to the survey below. The Torah and the Talmud are not formal codes of law - they are sources of law.
The major works in the codification of Jewish law:
“Just as science follows the scientific method, Judaism has its own system to ensure authenticity remains intact,” said Rabbi Zalman Abraham of JLI’s New York headquarters.
Chazal or Ḥazal (Hebrew: חז״ל), an acronym for the Hebrew "Ḥakhameinu Zikhronam Liv'rakha" (חכמינו זכרונם לברכה, "Our Sages, may their memory be blessed"), refers to all Jewish sages of the Mishna, Tosefta and Talmud eras, spanning from the times of the final 300 years of the Second Temple of Jerusalem until the 6th century CE, or c. 250 BCE – c. 625 CE.Conservative halakha
Conservative Judaism views halakha (Jewish law) as normative and binding. The Conservative movement applies Jewish law to the full range of Jewish belief and practice, including thrice-daily prayer, Shabbat and holidays, marital relations and family purity, conversion, dietary laws (kashrut), and Jewish medical ethics. Institutionally, the Conservative movement rules on Jewish law both through centralized decisions, primarily by the Rabbinical Assembly and its Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, and through congregational rabbis at the local level. Conservative authorities produced a voluminous Responsa literature.
Conservative Jewish thinkers take the position that halakha can and should evolve to meet the changing reality of Jewish life. Conservative Judaism, therefore, views that traditional Jewish legal codes must be viewed through the lens of academic criticism. As Solomon Schechter noted, "however great the literary value of a code may be, it does not invest it with infallibility, nor does it exempt it from the student or the rabbi who makes use of it from the duty of examining each paragraph on its own merits, and subjecting it to the same rules of interpretation that were always applied to Tradition".Conservative Judaism believes that its view of Jewish law as evolving and adaptable is indeed consistent with Jewish tradition. (See also, the various positions within contemporary Judaism as regards halakha and the Talmud.)Criticism of Conservative Judaism
Criticism of Conservative Judaism is widespread in the Orthodox Jewish community, although the movement also has its critics in Reform Judaism and in other streams of Judaism. While the Conservative movement professes fidelity to Jewish tradition, it considers Halakha (Jewish religious law) to be a dynamic process that needs reinterpreting in modern times. The criticism by Orthodox Jews and traditionalists within the movement itself revolves around the following:
Conservative Judaism, or some of its decisions and positions does not follow halakha, according to many Orthodox Jews, because:
The legal analyses of its rabbinate deconstruct or manipulate religious obligations, rather than being faithful to and fostering respect for them;
It hoists certain historical or cultural assumptions onto a law, then disavows the assumption, granting itself license to disavow the law itself;
It issues "emergency decrees" in the absence of legitimate emergencies, rather than following a legitimate, faithful, or reverential approach to halakha;
Its decisions consistently lead to more lax, rather than stringent or balanced observance;
It generally makes communal decrees through a council of (often lay) leaders, rather than relying exclusively on Talmudic scholars, resulting in decisions reflecting popular opinion rather than scholarship; and
Accommodating the values and likeness of the broader society has taken precedence over a dedication to the internal integrity of halakhic sources.Critics also claim that the legal analysis of the Conservative movement tends to be ideologically-driven, resulting in intended outcomes to such an extent that it is outside the bounds of traditional halakhic analysis.Halachic state
Halachic state (Hebrew: מדינת הלכה, Medinat ha-Halakha) is the idea of a Jewish state governed by Halakha, Jewish religious law.Khumra (Judaism)
A khumra (Hebrew: חומרה; pl. חומרות khumrot; alternative transliteration: chumra) is a prohibition or obligation in Jewish practice that exceeds the bare requirements of Halakha (Jewish laws). One who imposes a khumra on oneself in a given instance is said to be makhmir (מחמיר). The rationale for a khumra comes from Deuteronomy 22:8, which states that when one builds a house, he must build a fence around the roof in order to avoid guilt should someone fall off the roof. This has been interpreted by many as a requirement to "build a fence around the Torah" in order to protect the mitzvot.
An obligation or prohibition can be adopted by an individual or an entire community. Early references to khumrot are found in the Talmud, and the understanding and application of them has changed over time.
Most often found in Orthodox Judaism, khumrot are variously seen as a precaution against transgressing the Halakha or as a way of keeping those who have taken on the stringency separate from those who have not.
A second meaning of khumra is simply "a stricter interpretation of a Jewish law (Halakha), when two or more interpretations exist". This meaning is closely related to the first meaning, because people who follow the more lenient interpretation (qulla) believe that their interpretation is the baseline requirement of the law, and that people who observe the stringency are doing something "extra". However, people who observe the khumra, in this sense, believe that they are following the baseline requirement, and to do any less would be to violate halakha entirely. In many cases, a rule followed by the majority (or even totality) of halakha-observant Jews today is a stringency in comparison with more lenient rabbinic opinions which have existed in the past or even today. For example, universal halakhic practice today is to wait at least one hour (and even as much as six hours) after eating meat, before consuming milk. However, Rabbenu Tam, in 12th-century France, ruled that it was sufficient merely to conclude the meat meal by reciting a blessing and removing the tablecloth, and then milk could be consumed immediately. Thus, today's universal halakhic practice of waiting between meat and milk would be considered a khumra in comparison to Rabbenu Tam's ruling.Midrash halakha
Midrash halakha (Hebrew: הֲלָכָה) was the ancient Judaic rabbinic method of Torah study that expounded upon the traditionally received 613 Mitzvot (commandments) by identifying their sources in the Hebrew Bible, and by interpreting these passages as proofs of the laws' authenticity. Midrash more generally also refers to the non-legal interpretation of the Tanakh (aggadic midrash). The term is applied also to the derivation of new laws, either by means of a correct interpretation of the obvious meaning of scriptural words themselves or by the application of certain hermeneutic rules.
The Midrashim are mostly derived from, and based upon, the teachings of the Tannaim.Mishnah Berurah
The Mishnah Berurah (Hebrew: משנה ברורה "Clarified Teaching") is a work of halakha (Jewish law) by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (Poland, 1838–1933), also colloquially known by the name of another of his books, Chofetz Chaim "Desirer of Life".
His Mishnah Berurah is a commentary on Orach Chayim, the first section of the Shulchan Aruch which deals with laws of prayer, synagogue, Shabbat and holidays, summarizing the opinions of the Acharonim (post-Medieval rabbinic authorities) on that work.The title Mishnah Berurah is a reference to the portion in Deuteronomy where Israel is commanded to inscribe God's commandments in large clear writing on a mountainside.
The Mishnah Berurah is traditionally printed in 6 volumes alongside selected other commentaries. The work provides simple and contemporary explanatory remarks and citations to daily aspects of halakha. It is widely used as a reference and has mostly supplanted the Chayei Adam and the Aruch HaShulchan as the primary authority on Jewish daily living among Ashkenazi Jews, particularly those closely associated with haredi yeshivas. The Mishnah Berurah is accompanied by additional in-depth glosses called Be'ur Halakha, a reference section called Sha'ar Hatziyun (these two were also written by the Chofetz Chaim), and additional commentaries called Be'er Hagolah, Be'er Heitev, and Sha'arei Teshuvah.
The Mishnah Berurah's "literary style can be described as follows: In relation to a given law of the Shulhan Aruch, he raises a particular case with certain peculiarities that may change the law; then, he enumerates the opinions of the Ahronim (the later authorities, of the 16th century and on) on that case, from the most lenient to the most stringent ; and finally, he decides between them.... Having displayed what we may call the "leniency-stringency spectrum", [he] actually offers the reader an array of conduct options from which he may pick the one that seems right for him. This choice is not altogether free, since [he] shows a clear inclination to one side of the spectrum - the stringent - and encourages the reader to follow it, but still, the soft language of the ruling suggests that if one follows the other side of the spectrum, the lenient, he will not sin, since there are trustworthy authorities that may back his choice.""Mishnah Berurah Yomit" is a daily study programme initiated by Vaad Daas Halacha and the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation. The study program proceeds either on a 2½-year cycle ("Daf a Day") or a 5-year cycle ("Amud a Day") and includes a focus on each Yom Tov (festival) in the 30 preceding days.Mitzvah
In its primary meaning, the Hebrew word mitzvah (). meaning "commandment", מִצְוָה, [mit͡sˈva], Biblical: miṣwah; plural מִצְווֹת mitzvot [mit͡sˈvot], Biblical: miṣwoth; from צִוָּה ṣiwwah "command") refers to precepts and commandments commanded by God, with the additional connotation of one's religious duty.
It is used in rabbinical Judaism to refer to the 613 commandments given in the Torah at biblical Mount Sinai and the seven rabbinic commandments instituted later for a total of 620. The 613 commandments are divided into two categories: 365 negative commandments and 248 positive commandments. According to the Talmud, all moral laws are, or are derived from, divine commandments. The collection is part of the larger Jewish law or halakha.
The opinions of the Talmudic rabbis are divided between those who seek the purpose of the mitzvot and those who do not question them. The latter argue that if the reason for each mitzvah could be determined, people might try to achieve what they see as the purpose of the mitzvah, without actually performing the mitzvah itself (lishmah), which would become self-defeating. The former believe that if people were to understand the reason and the purpose for each mitzvah, it would actually help them to observe and perform the mitzvah (some mitzvot are given reasons in the Torah).
In its secondary meaning, Hebrew mitzvah, as with English "commandment", refers to a moral deed performed within a religious duty. As such, the term mitzvah has also come to express an individual act of human kindness in keeping with the law. The expression includes a sense of heartfelt sentiment beyond mere legal duty, as "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). The tertiary meaning of mitzvah also refers to the fulfillment of a mitzvah.Orach Chayim
Orach Chayim (Hebrew: אורח חיים; manner of life) is a section of Rabbi Jacob ben Asher's compilation of Halakha (Jewish law), Arba'ah Turim. This section treats all aspects of Jewish law primarily pertinent to the Hebrew calendar (be it the daily, weekly, monthly, or annual calendar). Rabbi Yosef Karo modeled the framework of the Shulkhan Arukh (שולחן ערוך), his own compilation of practical Jewish law, after the Arba'ah Turim. Many later commentators used this framework, as well. Thus, Orach Chayim in common usage may refer to an area of halakha, non-specific to Rabbi Jacob ben Asher's compilation.
Orach Chayim deals with, but is not limited to:
Washing the hands in the morning,
Tzitzit (ritual fringes),
Torah reading in synagogue.Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism is a collective term for the traditionalist branches of contemporary Judaism. Theologically, it is chiefly defined by regarding the Torah, both Written and Oral, as literally revealed by God on Mount Sinai and faithfully transmitted ever since. Orthodox Judaism therefore advocates a strict observance of Jewish Law, or Halakha, which is to be interpreted and determined only according to traditional methods and in adherence to the continuum of received precedent through the ages. It regards the entire halakhic system as ultimately grounded in immutable revelation, essentially beyond external and historical influence. More than any theoretical issue, obeying the dietary, purity, ethical, and other laws of Halakha is the hallmark of Orthodoxy. Other key doctrines include belief in a future resurrection of the dead, divine reward and punishment for the righteous and the sinners, the Election of Israel, and an eventual restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem under the Messiah.
Orthodox Judaism is not a centralized denomination. Relations between its different subgroups are sometimes strained, and the exact limits of Orthodoxy are subject to intense debate. Very roughly, it may be divided between Ultra-Orthodox or "Haredi", which is more conservative and reclusive, and Modern Orthodox Judaism which is relatively open to outer society. Each of those is itself formed of independent streams. They are almost uniformly exclusionist, regarding Orthodoxy as the only authentic form of Judaism and rejecting all competing non-Orthodox philosophies as illegitimate. While adhering to traditional beliefs, the movement is a modern phenomenon. It arose as a result of the breakdown of the autonomous Jewish community since the 18th century, and was much shaped by a conscious struggle against the pressures of secularization and rival alternatives. The strictly observant and theologically aware Orthodox are a definite minority among all Jews, but there are also numerous semi- and non-practicing persons who are officially affiliated or personally identifying with the movement. In total, Orthodox Judaism is the largest Jewish religious group, estimated to have over 2 million practicing adherents and at least an equal number of nominal members or self-identifying supporters.Ovadia Yosef
Ovadia Yosef (Hebrew: עובדיה יוסף Ovadya Yosef, Arabic: عبد الله يوسف, romanized: Abdullah Yusuf; September 24, 1920 – October 7, 2013) was an Iraqi-born Talmudic scholar, a posek, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1973 to 1983, and the founder and long-time spiritual leader of Israel's ultra-Orthodox Shas party. Yosef's responsa were highly regarded within Haredi circles, particularly among Mizrahi communities, among whom he was regarded as "the most important living halakhic authority".On occasion, Yosef made statements relating to various groups and individuals which were deemed controversial by his critics. In response, supporters of Yosef claimed he was misquoted or his words taken out of context. What has been called "hate speech" on his part has been condemned by the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.Posek
Posek (Hebrew: פוסק [poˈsek], pl. Poskim, פוסקים [pos'kim]) is the term in Jewish law for a "decisor" — a legal scholar who determines the position of Halakha in cases of law where previous authorities are inconclusive, or in those situations where no clear halakhic precedent exists.
The decision of a posek is known as a psak din or psak halakha ("ruling of law"; pl. piskei din, piskei halakha) or simply a "psak". In Hebrew, פסק is the root implying to "stop" or "cease"—the posek brings the process of legal debate to finality. Piskei din are generally recorded in the responsa literature.Rabbinic Judaism
Rabbinic Judaism (Hebrew: יהדות רבנית Yahadut Rabanit), also called Rabbinism, has been the mainstream form of Judaism since the 6th century CE, after the codification of the Babylonian Talmud. Growing out of Pharisaic Judaism, Rabbinic Judaism is based on the belief that at Mount Sinai, Moses received from God the Written Torah (Pentateuch) in addition to an oral explanation, known as the "Oral Torah," that Moses transmitted to the people.
Rabbinic Judaism contrasts with the Sadducees, Karaite Judaism and Samaritanism, which do not recognize the oral law as a divine authority nor the rabbinic procedures used to interpret Jewish scripture. Although there are now profound differences among Jewish denominations of Rabbinic Judaism with respect to the binding force of halakha (Jewish religious law) and the willingness to challenge preceding interpretations, all identify themselves as coming from the tradition of the oral law and the rabbinic method of analysis.Reconstructionist Judaism
Reconstructionist Judaism (Hebrew: יהדות רקונסטרוקציוניסטית, romanized: yahadút rekonstruktsyonistit or יהדות מתחדשת yahadút mitkhadéshet) is a modern Jewish movement that views Judaism as a progressively evolving civilization and is based on the conceptions developed by Mordecai Kaplan (1881–1983). The movement originated as a semi-organized stream within Conservative Judaism and developed from the late 1920s to 1940s, before it seceded in 1955 and established a rabbinical college in 1967.There is substantial theological diversity within the movement. Halakha, the collective body of Jewish Law, is not considered binding, but is treated as a valuable cultural remnant that should be upheld unless there is reason for the contrary. The movement also emphasizes positive views toward modernity, and has an approach to Jewish custom which aims toward communal decision-making through a process of education and distillation of values from traditional Jewish sources.Rishonim
Rishonim (Hebrew: [ʁiʃoˈnim]; Hebrew: ראשונים; sing. Hebrew: ראשון, Rishon, "the first ones") were the leading rabbis and poskim who lived approximately during the 11th to 15th centuries, in the era before the writing of the Shulchan Aruch (Hebrew: Hebrew: שׁוּלחָן עָרוּך, "Set Table", a common printed code of Jewish law, 1563 CE) and following the Geonim (589-1038 CE). Rabbinic scholars subsequent to the Shulkhan Arukh are generally known as acharonim ("the latter ones").
The distinction between the rishonim and the geonim is meaningful historically; in halakha (Jewish Law) the distinction is less important. According to a widely held view in Orthodox Judaism, the acharonim generally cannot dispute the rulings of rabbis of previous eras unless they find support from other rabbis in previous eras. On the other hand, this view is not formally a part of halakha itself, and according to some rabbis is a violation of the halakhic system. In The Principles of Jewish Law, Orthodox rabbi Menachem Elon writes that:
The Principles of Jewish LawShiur (Torah)
Shiur (, Hebrew: שיעור [ʃiˈʔuʁ], pl. shiurim, שיעורים [ʃiʔuˈʁim] lit. "Lesson") is a lesson on any Torah topic, such as Gemara, Mishnah, halakha, Tanakh, etc.Shulchan Aruch HaRav
The Shulchan Aruch HaRav (Hebrew שולחן ערוך הרב: "Code of Jewish Law by the Rabbi"; also Shulkhan Arukh HaRav) is especially a record of prevailing halakha by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745 – 1812), known during his lifetime as HaRav (Hebrew for "The Rabbi") and as the first Rebbe (Yiddish for "rabbi") of Chabad. Within the Chabad community the work is known as the Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch.Yoreh De'ah
Yoreh De'ah (Hebrew: יורה דעה) is a section of Rabbi Jacob ben Asher's compilation of halakha (Jewish law), Arba'ah Turim around 1300. This section treats all aspects of Jewish law not pertinent to the Hebrew calendar, finance, torts, marriage, divorce, or sexual conduct. (Nevertheless there exists occasional overlap into the excluded areas). Yoreh De'ah is therefore the most diversified area of Jewish law. Later, Rabbi Yosef Karo modeled the framework of his own compilation of practical Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch, after the Arba'ah Turim. Many later commentators used this framework, as well. Thus, Yoreh De'ah in common usage may refer to an area of halakha, non-specific to Rabbi Jacob ben Asher's compilation.
Topics include, but are not limited to:
Permitted and forbidden foods,
Prohibition against charging interest,
Honoring scholars and the elderly,
Sending away the mother bird to take the young,
Eating new grain,
Forbidden mixtures, (such as shatnez.)
Redeeming the firstborn,
Visiting the sick,
Prohibition against tattooing.Yosef Hayyim
Yosef Hayim (1 September 1835 – 30 August 1909) (Iraqi Hebrew: Yoseph Ḥayyim; Hebrew: יוסף חיים מבגדאד) was a leading Baghdadi hakham (Sephardi rabbi), authority on halakha (Jewish law), and Master Kabbalist. He is best known as author of the work on halakha Ben Ish Ḥai (בן איש חי) ("Son of Man (who) Lives"), a collection of the laws of everyday life interspersed with mystical insights and customs, addressed to the masses and arranged by the weekly Torah portion.
Halakha (Jewish religious law)
|Sources of law|