In the following responsa, Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin shows the way Jewish law grapples with modern ethical and legal dilemmas.

In January 1990, while I was serving as Scholar-in-Residence at Congregation Bnai Shalom in Olney, Maryland, a Jewish journalist published a sarcastic review of two volumes of the Steinsaltz translation of the Babylonian Talmud in The Washington Post Magazine (January 28, 1990, p. 7). The journalist claimed that the Steinsaltz translation of the Talmud was totally irrelevant to modern ethical and legal dilemmas.

I wrote a reply that was subsequently published on the op-ed page of The Washington Post (February 17, 1990, p. A29). In my reply, I explained that Jewish law has been constantly updated since talmudic times through commentaries to the Talmud, codes of Jewish law and the responsa literature, in which rabbis have answered over 300,000 individual questions. I then proceeded to answer some of the ethical questions posed by the reviewer.

Hershel Shanks, the Editor of Moment magazine, read my article and asked me if I would like to write a column in Moment entitled "Responsa", which would show the way Jewish law grapples with modern ethical and legal dilemmas. I readily assented and the column appeared in Moment magazine a few times a year between 1990-1996. Some of the questions were asked by the editors of Moment, some were questions that I had answered within the framework of the Va'ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, and one was asked by a reader of Moment.

It is my hope and prayer that these responsa will encourage Jews, regardless of their background and current level of observance, to study the responsa literature and to allow our tradition to guide them when confronted by modern legal and ethical dilemmas.

David Golinkin
Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies
Jerusalem
13 Sivan 5760


 

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