Jewish Law is central to Jewish life. In Hebrew it is known as Halacha – meaning ‘the path’ or ‘the way’. It touches on all aspects of our life – whether at home, in the street, at the market, the workplace, the house of study or in the synagogue. Many Jews see themselves as bound by this law, and look to it for inspiration and for guidance.
In spite of the centrality of Jewish Law, to many people the sources of the Law are a great mystery. According to our tradition – two Torahs were given to Moses at Sinai – a Written Torah and an Oral Torah. The Written Torah plays a big role in our ritual lives – we regularly read from the Torah in the synagogue – children start their Jewish education learning the stories of the Torah. The Oral Law is seen as the preserve of Rabbis – and is barely known to most Jews.
Although all Jewish life in based on the Torah – Jewish law is more intimately connected to the Oral Law: the teachings and the traditions of the Rabbis from time immemorial. There is a chain of tradition from the earlier Rabbis and their Oral traditions, through the Mishna, the Talmud and subsequent generations of Halachic decision makers – the Geonim, the Rishonim and the Achronim.
The purpose of this blog is to connect our everyday questions of Jewish practice to this tradition. In each post I will answer one question about Jewish practice. I aim to go back to the sources: the Torah, The Mishna and the Talmud and the many Rabbis who have interpreted these texts and made legal decisions. I hope that those who follow my answers will become familiar with these sources and the way that Rabbis think when they approach Halachic questions.
I have made an effort to make these posts as accessible as possible. I have tried to provide references where possible to lead the reader back to the original sources. I have avoided adding complicated footnotes, and to enable everyone to enjoy these posts, I have avoided using Hebrew characters and have explained Jewish legal terms as I come across them.
I have tried to be as objective as possible in my answers. I have used standard sources and have tried to represent the mainstream of Rabbinic opinion – even when I disagree with it. These posts are aimed at everyone.
The blog provides the opportunity for readers to comment on the answers and to ask questions. I look forward to reading these questions and providing further clarification where things are unclear. I will be able to provide more specific advice through my answers to reader’s questions and where appropriate say where I stand on any given question.
I hope you enjoy these posts and look forward to reading your feedback.
Rabbi Chaim Weiner