In this responsum I will show that it is permissible to study and teach biblical criticism. I will not endorse a specific school of biblical criticism, but rather the study and teaching of various types of biblical criticism, for the purpose of arriving at the peshat or simple meaning of the Bible. Due to the complexity of the subject, this responsum is divided into nine sections:
Should commandments related to one’s interaction with G-d take precedence over commandments related to interpersonal relations?
This topic is not that important in and of itself, but we can derive from it a number of important things about the development of Jewish law. We shall see how one sentence written by a halakhic authority in 13th century France influenced Jews throughout the world beginning in the 17th century, thanks to the invention of printing and to the widespread circulation of the Shulhan Arukh. We shall also learn that sometimes one Jewish ethnic group adopts a specific law or custom due to the influence of a number of specific halakhic authorities.
Is it permissible for the bride to give a ring to the groom as part of the wedding ceremony? Is it permissible for her to say “harei ata mekudash li” [behold you are betrothed unto me] or another verse or statement?
On April 30, 2018, The Schechter Institute and the Jewish Theological Seminary co-sponsored a very successful academic conference at The Schechter Institute in Jerusalem on the subject listed above. Speakers included Chancellor Arnold Eisen of JTS, Natan Sharansky, Chair of the Jewish Agency and winner of this year’s Israel Prize, MK Rachel Azaria, and many professors from Schechter and JTS. The following is a translation of my Hebrew lecture delivered at the conference.
Question from a rabbi in Jerusalem: I am taking care of “Reuven”’s apartment in Jerusalem, but “Reuven” lives in New York. Reuven asked me to sell his hametz to a non-Jew. But Pesah in Israel ends 31 hours before it ends in New York – a seven-hour time difference plus an additional day of Yom Tov Sheni (the additional day of the Festival in the Diaspora). In other words, the hametz will revert to his possession in Jerusalem when it is still Pesah in New York. How, then, can I sell his hametz?
Question: If a Jew causes the accidental death of another person, what can he or she do in order to repent for that action?
Responsum: In Genesis, Chapter 4, Cain kills Abel in a fit of jealousy. God punishes him by sending him into exile (v. 12 ff). The punishment of exile was later used by the bible to punish accidental homicide. If Reuven killed Shimon by accident, Reuven had to flee to a city of refuge and stay there until the High Priest died. (1) The main purpose of this exile was not teshuvah or repentance, but to prevent the relatives of Shimon from killing Reuven (Numbers 35: 11-12; Deut. 4:42; Joshua 20:3 ff.).
Is it permissible for women to serve as Shohatot (ritual slaughterers)? We shall present the opinions of those who permit, those who limit, and those who prohibit, and then we shall summarize the matter and give a halakhic ruling. In this responsum, we shall repeatedly use the Hebrew words Shehitah [ritual slaughter] and Nikkur [porging of meat in order to remove the forbidden fat and sinews].
We have just begun “the three weeks”, a period of national mourning and introspection between the fast days 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’av. There is a well-known passage in the Talmud (Yoma 9b), which says that the Second Temple was destroyed because of Sinat Hinam – groundless hatred. On the other hand, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kuk said that “if we were destroyed and the world with us due to Sinat Hinam, we will return to being rebuilt and the world with us due to Ahavat Hinam (groundless love) (Orot Hakodesh, III, pp. 323-324). My Uncle, Rabbi Baruch G. Goldstein זצ”ל — a Holocaust survivor who passed away at the age of 94 on Erev Shavuot — lived his life according to the principle of Ahavat Hinam. Therefore, I have decided to share my eulogy for him during the three weeks as an incentive for all of us to practice Ahavat Hinam and Ahavat Hessed (to love kindness) during the three weeks and throughout the year. Yehi zikhro barukh! May his memory be for a blessing!