Halacha in Jewish Life, Israel, Discussed by Halachic Experts

Three leading authorities on halacha from Britain, the United States and Israel, participated in a symposium on halacha (religious law) in Jewish life and particularly in the modern State of Israel here today The symposium took up the first day of the meeting of the board of trustees of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. Dr. Nahum Goldmann, who presided, said the event was not simply an intellectual exercise but an attempt to provide some guidance to the most perplexing problem in present-day Jewish life.

The participants were Dr. Immanuel Jakobovits, Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth; Rabbi Emanuel Rackman of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue in New York; and Prof Ephraim Urbach of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The three panelists were in agreement that observance of halacha and participation in modern life were not mutually exclusive. Dr. Jakobovits pointed out that “there are many Jews who combine Torah and modern knowledge and lead a strictly traditional Jewish existence.” He said that “halacha never ceased developing; it never lost its elasticity.” He said, however, that there was a tendency to overlook the importance of halacha in efforts to close the social gap in Israel, to the struggle against permissiveness and the problem of abortions.

Dr. Jakobovits thought”the time has perhaps come for a separation of religion and politics” in Israel. He observed that informal consultations between Israeli and diaspora rabbis on halacha would be beneficial.

DANGER OF SCHISM

Rabbi Rackman said that halacha always was Jewish life and not just something within Jewish life. He warned that there is a danger of a split between halacha Jews and other Jews, a schism between these two parts of Jewry on the lines of the schism between Roman Catholics and Protestants.

Rabbi Rackman said that halacha was needed today as the only way to improve the quality of Jewish life. He said there was too much stress by present day halachists on previous authorities and too little stress on the sense of Jewish needs. But Jewish needs, he observed, must prevail. When they are met, it is still possible to prove afterwards that halacha has been complied with, he said. Rabbi Rackman said that what was needed was an institute of Jewish law for research into halacha and for the preparation of material to shape Israeli law out of Jewish law.

Prof. Urbach observed that even a government and Knesset composed exclusively of halachists could not solve all the problems of running a modern state while still observing halacha. There is a search going on in Israel for a means of cooperation between administrators and the strict halachists, Prof. Urbach noted, adding that in Israel, Orthodox heads of great enterprises have succeeded in living according to their religious lights and still operating their enterprises successfully by reducing deviations from the strict letter of halacha to a minimum and retaining the spirit of halacha.

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