Returning to the Oral Tradition

Harvey Hames’ analysis of the role of Halacha in the State of Israel offers an important perspective on this complex historic-religious conundrum (When Democracy and Halacha Collide, February 17). There is, however, another critique of the rabbinic tradition that is overlooked in Hames’ op-ed. Halacha is, in effect, the offspring of an oral tradition, the Torah shebe’al pe. The designation of a so-called “Oral Torah” is not simply a technical matter regarding the method of transmission — oral vs. written. It is a profound appreciation of the organic nature of Torah, that Torah is an ongoing revelation deeply embedded within the life of the human community.

The real challenge for halachic Jews is to move beyond text and to restore that vibrant, ongoing, revelatory quality that is the true legacy of our ancient rabbinic sages. How do we create that human community-based halacha that imbues our modern, contemporary lives with a vital sense of Torah values and sanctity? I would propose that is the way forward, both in Israel and the Diaspora.

Richard C. Lederman
Silver Spring, Md.

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Returning to the Oral Tradition

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