Monday, May 27, 2013

Modernity impacts halacha when 1)government intervenes 2) people rely on their own judgment

Dr. Jacob Katz (Changing Position and Outlook of Halakhists in Early Modernity) The beginnings of modernity, as we all know, can be dated in relation to the phenonmenon the history of which we wish to trace. The attempt to fix time when the position of the rabbis, the official bearers of halakhic authority, changed, eliciting as a result an alteration in their outlook as well, may well be facilitated by observation of two corresponding proceses. One of these was the growing intervention of the respective governments in the  affairs of the Jewish communities, undermining the autonomy upon which the authority of the rabbis depended. The other was the emergence of a group of people within the communities who, relying on their own judgment contested the prerogative of the rabbis to control the religious conduct of  their congregants. The two phenomena are not independent of each other.  The tendency of the modern state to appropriate functions formerly the domain of religious institutions and the endeavor of individuals to exempt themselves from religious authority are both an expression of the expanding spirit of rationalism in the course of the eighteenth century.


  1. I heard there is a gemara on the phrase used in Sefer Shoftim, "everyone would do as is right in their own eyes", which says this is in fact the ideal state - i.e. people will have enough knowledge and autonomy to choose how to apply halacha to their own lives.

    1. can't find such a gemora - do you have any idea where it is?

      Sotah(47b)When there multiplied [judges] who said ‘I accept your favour’ and ‘I shall appreciate your favour’, there was an Increase of Every man did that which was right in his own eyes;28 common persons were raised to eminence, the eminent were brought low, and the kingdom [of Israel] deteriorated more and more.

      Avoda Zara (25a):  R. Samuel b. Nahmani said: It is the Book of Judges, which is here called the Book of Jashar, because it contains the verse, In those days there was no King in Israel; every man did that which was Jashar [‘right’] in his own eyes.23

      Zevachim (117b): The master said: ‘But the Sages maintain: Whatever the community offered in the Tent etc.’ What is the reason of the Rabbis? — Scripture saith, Every man whatsoever is right in his eyes:9 only a man may offer voluntary sacrifices and not obligatory ones; but a community can offer obligatory [sacrifices] too.

      Chullin (57b):  He [R. Simeon b. Halafta] said: I shall go and find out whether it is true that they have no king. He went at the summer solstice,8 and spread his coat over an ant-hill. When one [ant] came out he marked it, and it immediately entered and informed the others that shadows had fallen,9 whereupon they all came forth. He then removed his coat and the sun beat down upon them. Thereupon they set upon this ant and killed it.10 He then said: It is clear that they have no king, for otherwise they would surely have required to obtain royal sanction!11 R. Aha, son of Raba, said to R. Ashi: But perhaps the king was with them, or they had royal authority,12 or it was during an interregnum [when they were under no law], as it is written: In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes!13 Rather must you take the word of Solomon for it.

    2. I actually heard it in a shiur many years back, but didnt see it inside the Gemara. I took issue with the Rav, since I argued that it says the exact opposite of the book of Judges.
      As far as I can recall it was in Chullin.


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