THE ISRAEL FOUNDATION
Contemporary Jewish Law
Although every person who is born to a Jewish mother or who converted to Judaism in accordance with Jewish Law is Jewish, many Jews throughout the world are spiritually distant from HaShem. The reasons for this spiritual distance are many. Two of the more common reasons are a lack of Jewish education and a lack of responsiveness by rabbinical authorities to the needs and concerns of Jews who have been labeled as “non-observant.”
Although Judaism is a monotheistic religion, Jewish Law is not monolithic. The Torah, in a manner similar to a constitution, sets forth general principles and provides few details. Rabbinic law, in a manner similar to secular legislation, provides the details.
Jewish Law, which is composed of both the Written Torah and the Oral Tradition, can be found in the various — and often conflicting — statements of rabbinic law. Differences of rabbinic opinion, and thus differences in Jewish Law, can be loosely analogized to a country that has a constitution and which is composed of several states.
The Torah, like a constitution, provides the general principles that are to guide the Jewish nation. Within the bounds of these general principles, Jews whose ancestors came from, for example, Spain, the Middle East, or North Africa, may follow one set of rabbinic laws, while Jews whose ancestors came from, for example, Europe, may follow a different set of rabbinic laws. Both sets of rabbinic laws are in accord with the Torah, and thus valid, while still containing some very significant differences. So too it is with a nation that has a constitution and several states. Each state may, and indeed must, make its own laws which are in accord with that nation’s constitution. Nevertheless, the laws of each state may differ significantly.
Most rabbinic laws, like most secular laws, are not, or at least should not be considered as being, unchangeable. While it is usually not wise to change laws, whether rabbinic or secular, without a thorough and thoughtful consideration of the circumstances under which a law was enacted, as well as thorough and thoughtful consideration of whether those circumstances continue to justify the law, laws that no longer are in the best-interest of the people to whom they apply should be changed.
The Israel Foundation endeavors to provide Jews with information on Jewish Law that is relevant to them, responsive to their needs, and which will assist them in developing a closer relationship with HaShem.