Modern Halakhic Texts
While these earlier thinkers largely rejected the authority of halakhah, later Reform thinkers such as Samuel Freehof, Walter Jacob, and W. Gunther Plaut argued that halakhah was still important and should be consulted when formulating Jewish responses to contemporary questions. Consequently the Reform rabbinate has published collections of responsa that are available in print and online. The movement has also published popular guides to religious practice, such as Gates of Mitzvah: A Guide to the Jewish Life Cycle and a guide for rabbis, The Rabbi's Manual.
In 1845, Zecharias Frankel, a leading German scholar of the "Positive-Historical" approach to Judaism, broke away from his Reform colleagues. Rather than completely reject the authority of traditional halakhah, Frankel argued that halakhah was still binding, although historical analysis suggested greater flexibility in deciding halakhah than was currently being demonstrated. This philosophy formed the basis of Conservative Judaism.
Over the years, the Conservative movement, through its Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, has published scores of responsa. Movement institutions, as well as individual rabbis, have also published practical, popular works, the best known being Isaac Klein's A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice.
Orthodox authorities continued to write responsa as well, but unlike the liberal denominations, responsa-writing in the Orthodox community tended to be decentralized, coming from major scholars, and not from institutions. Important Orthodox authors of responsa include, Moshe Sofer (known as the Hatam Sofer), Moshe Feinstein, and Ovadiah Yosef.
Orthodox authorities also continued to write codes, though often they were presented as commentaries. Perhaps the most famous such work was Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan's Mishnah Berurah. Others include the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh and the Arukh HaShulhan. These works stressed the centrality of Caro's Shulhan Arukh--in structure and name--but their very existence highlight the fact that, even in traditional communities, Jewish law is presented anew in every generation.
Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.