Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Stated Positions of Jewish Denomination on Halachic Authority: A Look at the Statements of Movement Principles Issued by Various Institutions and Leaders of the Major Jewish Denominations

As the Inclusionist ("One Law") movement takes shape before our eyes, I'd like to pause to review all stated positions of Jewish denominations on halachic authority and then, perhaps, propose an articulation of the Inclusionist position on halachic authority.


From the Columbus Platform ("The Guiding Principles of Reform Judaism"):

"Reform Judaism recognizes the principle of progressive development in religion and consciously applies this principle to spiritual as well as to cultural and social life....Revelation is a continuous process, confined to no one group and to no one age...Being products of historical processes, certain of its laws have lost their binding force with the passing of the conditions that called them forth."

Isaac M. Wise, founder of the Reform movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Hebrew Union College, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, wrote the following principles of the Reform movement:

[1] It is therefore our principle of reform:  'All forms to which no meaning is attached any longer are an impediment to our religion, and must be done away with."
[2] Another principle of reform is this:  'Whatever makes us ridiculous before the world as it now is, may safely be and should be abolished,' for we are in possession of an intelligent religion, and the nations from our precept and example should be led to say, 'This is a wise and intelligent people.'
[3]  A third principle of reform is this, 'Whatever tends to the elevation of the divine service, to inspire the heart of the worshipper and attract him, should be done without any unnecessary delay,'...
[4] A fourth principle of reform is this, 'Whenever religious observances and the just demands of civilized society exclude each other, the former have lost their power;' for religion was taught for the purpose 'to live therein and not die therein;' our religion makes us active members of civilized society, hence we must give full satisfaction to its just demands.
[5] Last, or rather first, it must be remarked, the leading star of reform must be the maxim, 'Religion is intended to make man happy, good, just, active, charitable, and intelligent.'"


From "On Changes in Judaism" by Zecharias Frankel:

"...Judaism does indeed allow changes.  The early teachers, by interpretation, changed the literal meaning of the Scriptures; later scholars that of the Mishnah and the post-talmudic scholars that of the Talmud.  All these interpretations were not intended as speculation.  They addressed themselves to life precepts.  Thanks to such studies, Judaism achieved stabilization and avoided estrangement from the conditions of the time in various periods..."

From Rabbi Mordecai Waxman:

"Reform Judaism has asserted the right of interpretation but it rejected the authority of legal tradition. Orthodoxy has clung fast to the principle of authority, but has rejected the right to significant reinterpretations. The Conservative view is that both are necessary for a living Judaism. Accordingly, Conservative Judaism holds itself bound by the Jewish legal tradition, but asserts the right of its rabbinical body, acting as a whole, to reinterpret and to apply Jewish law," (Rabbi Mordecai Waxman Tradition and Change: The Development of Conservative Judaism


The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College states ( the following position:

Reconstructionism diverges from Conservative Judaism in terms of priorities. We believe that the basic tenets of Judaism need to be re-examined and restated for our age. We see this as a more pressing priority than the particulars of Jewish law. Jews need to know why they should be Jewish at all before they worry about how to change details of observance. Concerning observance, we differ specifically on the issue of how far one may go in amending Jewish law and who has the right to be involved in that process. We believe that rabbis and scholars should work together with committed lay members of the Jewish community formulating guides to Jewish practice for our time. These guides should reflect a desire to protect and preserve tradition as well as an openness to creativity and evolution as we face a new age in Jewish society.


"Therefore, like Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism we recognize that the new circumstances of the modern world require adaptation in traditional practices." (MJRC Standards) 
"As Messianic Jews we affirm the special precedence given to Scriptural law in Rabbinic Halakhah. However, we also affirm the Scriptural character of the Apostolic Writings. While the Torah is foundational in relation to the teaching of Yeshua and the Shelichim (Apostles), the writings that record that teaching (the New Covenant Scripture) are also inspired, and they offer us an entirely reliable guide to the meaning and intent of the Mosaic Torah.
In principle, Scripture always has highest authority in the halakhic process. However, in practice other sources play as significant or a more significant role. While all Halakhah is rooted in Scripture, the text usually provides limited information on how the mitzvot are to be lived out and how they are to be adapted to new circumstances. In order to add concrete substance to halakhic decision making, we must have recourse to the way the mitzvot have been understood and observed by Jews throughout history and in the present," [MJRC Standards] 


To be continued...

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