The advantage of similarly religious orientated people living in proximity gave rise to Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities. For example, until about 1945 Crown Heights was a mixed neighborhood of mainly secular Jews and non-Jews living together. Over a period of some five years the community took on a strong Jewish tone and Lubavitch, which once was a minor player in the neighborhood, became a growing force with which to contend. Ten years later Crown Height became home to many Jews, Afro-Americans and Chassidim. By the 1980’s Lubavitch was a dominant factor in Crown Heights.
By living together in a single community, power was once more restored in its fullest to the Rabbi. Not unlike the situation that existed in Europe for centuries. Whole cities arose- Squaretown and Kiryat Yoel are two examples of towns in the USA where virtually the entire population is made up of OrthodoxJews. The town council and administration are functionaries of the Rebbe (Rabbi) – not unlike political bigwigs in any major urban city. And the laws follow the religious dictates of the Rebbe. In short they called the shots and require that you play with their ground rules.
GENERAL vs. SPECIFIC
The Torah is eternal. It’s for all times and all kinds of situations (social, economic etc.). For the past, present and future. But how can that be?
If we were talking about specifics then the Torah would not only be a gigantic, unmanageable document but it would also be a book that deals with the future, including events that have not yet occurred.
Therefore, according to our Sages the Torah presented generalizations and then gave man the responsibility of deducing the particulars. This is found within the concepts of the Torah ‘not [being] in heaven’ and ‘the Torah was not given to Angels’ (Baba Metziah 59b).
The task of applying the infinite wisdom of the Torah to the practicalities of everyday life was given to man. Man with his weaknesses and his prejudices. Man who is subject to influences and pressures. Man with his human attributes of differing degrees of compassion, understanding and intelligence.
Even more specifically, the Torah directs us to inquire from the ‘Judges of your era’. Thus the door was opened for varying opinions at different times and we are blessed with a range of opinions and the probability of similar events being evaluated from different points of view.
The underlining principle in this magnanimous gesture to empower mere, mortal, fallible man is contained in the phrase ‘and you should do the right and the good in the eyes of God’. (Deuteronomy 6:18)
On this the Ramban comments: Initially God said to keep His statues and testimonies which He commanded. Now He adds elements that He didn’t command you as well. Do what is right and good in God’s eyes – because it is impossible to list every possible permutation of conduct between man and man. But from those specifics that are mentioned we should be able to figure out which is the proper path to follow.
The Maggid Mishnah (a commentary on Rambam) continues in this vein (Yad Hachazaka, Hilchot Shechainim 14:/5) The Torah is for all times and for all subjects. Since human conduct and qualities change with time, helpful principles are noted to form the basis of particular types of conduct.
The fact that man is in effect a ‘partner’ with God introduces the human and humane aspect to Torah law. This is not to say, God forbid, that the Torah’s laws are not humane, but rather that the interpersonal element between the party who poses a question and the Rabbi who is asked plays a role.
As with all responsibilities, there are those who sometimes exceed their authority and present ideas and practices that they feel is the direction that others should follow
as being the law. This is not really the law but the way this person chooses to think or act.
In many cases this more extreme step has not taken into account the human/humane element that is so important in halachah.
ALL ASPECTS OF LIFE
Jewish law prescribes the proper conduct for Jews in each and every aspect of their life. There are laws between man and God, man and man, man towards himself, his family, to the living and to the dead, man towards his community, towards strangers, towards his partners as well as his business competitors, towards other nations, man and animal and man towards his environment. In fact there is no area of life that does not fall within the precincts of Jewish law (halachah). Therefore, a Rabbi and/or communal leader has to be aware of all the factors involved before rendering decisions. He has to take into consideration what is happening within the family, the community, and where relevant, what affect such decisions will have vis-a-vis relationships with the gentiles.
About the Author: Chaim Burg was born in New York and was strongly influence by the teachings of Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik and Rabbi Z.D. Kanotopsky. A graduate of Cooper Union, Burg spent most of his active business career as a communications consultant for major U.S. and international corporations. A well regarded author and lecturer, he mainly deals with thought provoking views on the evolution of Halacha. Burg made aliya in 1975.
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