Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Halachic Argument for Evolving Halacha

Moses's final act as the leader of the Israelites (other than his long review speeches in Deuteronomuy) is to make an explicit change in halacha, in the name of both God and justice, without consulting God. This is contained in two separate stories involving the Daughters of Zelophechad and inheritance law. (See Num. 27:1-11 and Num. 36:1-12.) The straightforward interpretation of this story (maybe even at the peshat level) is that Jewish law, or halacha, is not a static set of rules, but instead evolves over time, like common law. Laws can change, new laws can be imposed, and old laws can be removed, provided that the demands of justice require this change.

This interpretation runs directly counter to the contemporary Orthodox understanding of halacha, although I have not seen a traditional explanation of these stories that explains them in any other way. It also supports a Conservative understanding of halacha, although I have never seen this story offered as a proof text for modifications of halacha.

The first story is contained in this week's parsha, and I blogged about this last year. This blog has quite a few more readers this year than last year. Rather than repeat the post, I simply link to it here. Take a look. (If you leave a comment, please leave it in last year's post rather than in this post.)

blog comments powered by Disqus