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An irony is that the halakhic textbook written by the most distinguished of these yoatzot turns out to be more stringent, and requires consultation with rabbis more often, than halakhic texts written by men

Another irony is that the halakhic textbook written by the most distinguished of these yoatzot turns out to be more stringent, and requires consultation with rabbis more often, than halakhic texts written by men. See Aviad Stollman’s review of Deena R. Zimmerman’s A Lifetime Companion to the Laws of Jewish Family Life in Meorot 6 (2007), p. 5. I can’t imagine that women think that there is an advantage in having halakhic works written by other women if these works actually reduce female autonomy in intimate hilkhot niddah matters and require more consultation with male rabbis.

Marc B. Shapiro, “Answers to Quiz Questions and Other Comments, part 2”, The Seforim Blog (25 March 2012) {http://seforim.blogspot.com/2012/03/answers-to-quiz-questions-and-other.html}


When Observant People Perceive Themselves as Not Observing Something…

I’m always intrigued when individuals or groups of people who are meticulously observant of some law system – particularly Halakhah – perceive themselves as not observing something even though they understand it to be the law. They are quite observant in general and they acknowledge that the particular practice is the law, but they just but just don’t do that practice. Often, I find that if these people are really listened to and empowered with legal language, they turn out to possess some insight into that law. It’s not that they randomly disregard it; it’s that they intuit that the law is being misinterpreted or misapplied, that it shouldn’t actually be understood as the law, and that if the halls of interpretational power had better-constructed avenues of access, such that more diverse vantage points and experiences were represented, communal perception of Halakhah would be much different.

Aryeh Bernstein, “Seclusion, Intimacy, and Power: Taking the Laws of Yichud Seriously”, Jewschool (18 August 2013) {http://jewschool.com/2013/08/18/30760/seclusion-intimacy-and-power-taking-the-laws-of-yichud-seriously/}


The differences between takkanot and gezerot

The institutional nature of the Halakhah found its expression int he terms which are used to refer to it in the earliest sources at our disposal. The halakhot from the period of the Pairs (Zugot) and the early tanna’im are referred to as gezerot and takkanot. The only difference between them is that the latter were regulations intended to correct a situation in a positive manner whereas the gezerah is prohibitive and restrictive. The gezerah is identical to the seyag (fence) in the aphorism attributed to the Men of the Great Assembly, “Make a seyag around the Torah.” There is nothing new in a gezerah, it just places a protective fence, so to speak, around a Torah commandment in order to “keep people from transgressing it” (Berakhot 1:1).
The takkanah, on the other hand, initiates something new and thus it corrects an aberration which has developed.

Ephraim E. Urbach, The Halakhah: Its Sources and Development, trans. Raphael Posner (Ramat Gan: Massada; Jerusalem: Yad la-Talmud, 1986), 7.

Rabbis Interpreting the Law According to the Needs of Those who Lived By It

Rabbis had a number of exegetical methods for expanding the parameters of the law while respecting the integrity of authoritative sources. Practical or inductive reasoning, or simply conjecture, could be used to reinterpret a talmudic passage, suggesting that the text is discussing something other than what it seems. The provenance of a troublesome legal text could be limited to circumstances dissimilar to what a jurist now faced, effectively neutralizing the legal impact of the original case. Precedents could be narrowed or broadened to afford such greater flexibility in dealing with a problem. If the situation was extreme, a text could even be deliberately misinterpreted in the course of developing a line of thought. A jurist had to separate a contemporary case from previous legal thought if he was to follow an independent approach. Hermeneutical methods, however, did not tell Jewish legalists when to attempt a reinterpretation of the law.
Perhaps in a simpler world, halakists could have ignored the comings and goings of daily life and let purely legal considerations shape all legal discussions. Yet, no rabbi could be oblivious to the practical implications of his decisions on individuals or the Jewish community. In each generation and in every locale, rabbis had to interpret the law in light of the needs of those who lived by it while respecting the integrity of a legal tradition that was believed to have emanated from Mount Sinai with all its details and specifications. Any ideal of searching for absolute truth was outweighed by other values and goals.

Edward Fram, “Jewish Law and Social and Economic Realities in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Poland” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1991), 4-5.