Reflections on the challenges confronting the philosophy of Halakhah

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The gap between the role that Halakhah has played throughout the history of the Jewish people and its standing in classic and modern Jewish thought is one of the more puzzling paradoxes in the history of ideas. Unquestionably, Halakhah has been the main arena for the expression of the religious, moral, and practical achievements of the Jewish people. As the complex of norms binding on Jews, Halakhah also reflected the fundamental perceptions of the Jewish people in all aspects of life, at least until Emancipation. It was the ethics and metaphysics of the Jew. Halakhah, not philosophy, was the mainstream course through which Jews oriented themselves to the world, and it also dictated to them what was worthy and unworthy, forbidden and allowed. It provided them with the perspective through which they shaped their attitudes toward others and toward the outside, gentile world. Halakhah delimited for Jews the borders of their expectations – it restrained utopian messianic tension and directed them to life in this world. It placed before them the constant challenge of using halakhic norms to improve the present as is, and it closed off the option of otherworldly, utopian illusions. Indeed, Jews arrived at their image of God through Halakhah. God is perceived as the supreme legislator, as a moral entity whose virtues should be imitated, as a merciful father attentive to those who seek him. Since Halakhah is not philosophy, these views were not necessarily articulated thematically and explicitly.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of Jewish Philosophy
Subtitle of host publicationThe modern era
EditorsMartin Kavka, Zachary Braiterman, David Novak
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge: Cambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic): 1-316-18317-3
ISBN (Print)9780521852432
StatePublished - 2012

RAMBI Publications

  • RAMBI Publications
  • Jewish law -- Philosophy
  • Jewish law -- History
  • Jewish philosophy, Modern


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