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Evolving Halakhah

A Progressive Approach to Traditional Jewish Law

Rabbi Dr. Moshe Zemer

only available as an eBook


An essential reference work for any thinking student of religion.
Innovative and provocative, Evolving Halakhah affirms the system of traditional Jewish law, Halakhah, as a developing and moral structure, flexible enough to accommodate the changing realities of each generation. In this accessible analysis of Halakhah, Moshe Zemer issues a clarion call to follow the ancient and modern principles of evolving Halakhah, which demands ethical deeds, the discovery of holiness in the Commandments, a critical approach to the Tradition, and responsibility of the entire Community of Israel. These principles are viewed as the framework in which the other commandments are applied.
To Jews who sometimes see no choices but those of fundamentalist rigidity on the one hand, or total rejection of tradition on the other, Zemer argues instead for awareness of the inherent flexibility of the halakhic system. Halakhah, he argues, has had many voices, and has changed to meet every generation’s needs. Equipped with this view, liberal Jews can reclaim their tradition from a conservative rabbinic establishment that all too often—especially in Israel—has seen the voice of strictness as more authentic than the voice of lovingkindness.
The product of Zemer’s thirty-five years of work in the Israel Movement of Progressive Judaism, Evolving Halakhah includes chapters on matters ranging from personal status, especially marriage and conversion, through the “political” Halakhah of a response to the intifada. It shows that the traditional framework for understanding the Torah’s commandments can be the living heart of Jewish life for all Jews—including Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox.
“For those of us who have argued that the traditional Halakhah [Jewish law] is far more open, pluralistic and compassionate than it has been made to be, Dr. Zemer now provides a detailed documentation of that position ... an indispensable resource for understanding the core of Jewish tradition.”
Dr. Neil Gillman, professor of Jewish philosophy, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America
“In its own right, an important link in the chain of liberal Halakhah ... deserving of assessment and respect as a collection of responsa.”
Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D., president, Hebrew Union College–Jewish
Institute of Religion
“Through this scholarly yet accessible book, Zemer challenges those who have allowed Halakhah to become rigid and callous. Zemer brilliantly demonstrates that justice and compassion provide the basis for authentic halakhic decisions and demands acceptance for his progressive approach.”
Rabbi David Teutsch, president, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
“Grounded in the tradition of adaptation and renewal, Zemer’s voice is vital to our survival today.”
Rabbi Naamah Kelman, coordinator, Beit Midrash, a Liberal Yeshiva, Jerusalem
“Finally, a text for liberal Jews enabling us to encounter Halakhah as a significant and meaningful structure in our lives.”
Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, vice president, Jewish Renaissance and Renewal, United Jewish Communities
“An extraordinary achievement, for it both projects deep respect for Halakhah and contributes to its development. Rabbi Zemer searches for traditional precedents that allow for flexibility and reflects a Halakhah that walks in the footsteps of Hillel rather than of Shammai.”
Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, editor, The Torah: A Modern Commentary
“ [Zemer’s] point is that the traditional Orthodox approach to Halakhah has been and can be flexible and morally sensitive ... thoughtful Orthodox Jews should take a careful look at this book ... Commands respect for its learning, its moral sensitivity, its careful argument, and its moderate and reasonable tone.”
The Jerusalem Post magazine
“Provocative…. Sure to be controversial, this book will help all Jews understand why they believe—or don’t believe.”
Library Journal
Rabbi Dr. Moshe Zemer is founding director of the Freehof Institute of Progressive Halakhah in Tel Aviv, where he lives. A congregational rabbi for over thirty-five years, he is one of the rabbis who established the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, and serves as president of its Rabbinical Court. Zemer has edited a series of books on Jewish law and published many articles about Halakhah, and is currently senior lecturer in Rabbinics at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem.


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