The UC San Diego Jewish Studies Program presents:

Dinner and Talk: How Rabbinic Law Adapts Itself to Changing Times, from the Middle Ages till Today

by Joel Roth
Louis Finkelstein Professor of Talmud and Jewish Law, Jewish Theological Seminary

Description: The Jewish legal system repeatedly reflects two patterns by which authorities modify or even abrogate enshrined precedent, based on perceptions of new or changed realities. We will look at this process, from the Middle Ages through the present. Our analysis will focus on how these patterns work, consequences for the legal system as a whole, and implications vis-à-vis the place of subjectivity within the decision-making process.

Summary Of Past Event:
Joel Roth is a prominent rabbi in the Rabbinical Assembly and a former member and chair of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) which deals with questions of Jewish law and tradition.

In his talk Prof. Roth discussed the pliability of the Jewish legal system, the Halacha. This legal system, like every other in the world, has had to grow and develop, in order to survive as a viable guide for behavior. Development occurs mainly by modifying or abrogating prior laws. Roth presented two key patterns of modification that have been utilized by decisors of Jewish law, from the period of the Talmud until our very day.

His first example came from the classical literature: The Mishnah says “clapping is forbidden on Shabbat.” The Gemara defines the motivations that prompted the prohibition: “it may lead to the construction of a musical instrument on the Shabbath”. The medieval additions to Rashi's commentary, the Tosafot, say that in their time this prohibition no longer applies. However, the Tosafot must explain on what grounds it is no longer applicable: “Back in those days people were expert in the construction of musical instruments. Nowadays we are not, and therefore it no longer applies”. According to Roth, this pattern of modification claims that when the original justification for a law is the only defensible rationale for its continuance— if it no longer obtains, the norm can be modified or abrogated.

To illustrate a second main pattern, Prof. Roth gave the following example: The Mishna prohibits Jews to do business with non-Jews during three days prior to pagan holidays. When one would be involved in business with an ancient Greek, one could not say to that Greek, “I will swear in the name of God, and you in the name of Zeus!” The difficulty is invoking the name of a non-deity, just as though it were a deity. A few pages later, however, the Talmud contains a story about Rabbi Judah Nesi'ah, who argued that this principle may be violated if its observance would create animosity between Jews and Gentiles.  Judah Nesi’ah gave this argument of animosity because he understood that compliance with the norm might be more detrimental than non compliance. This is another way that Jewish law allows norms to be modified or abrogated.

Sunday, November 15th, 2015
5:00 pm Dinner, 6:00pm Talk
Faculty Club
UC San Diego
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Joel Roth

Joel Roth is Louis Finkelstein Professor of Talmud and Jewish Law at The Jewish Theological Seminary. An expert in halakhah, Dr. Roth was appointed to the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards in 1978 and served on it until December 2006, including a period of eight years as chairman. In addition to articles and responsa for the committee, Rabbi Roth has written The Halakhic Process: A Systemic Analysis and Sefer ha-Mordecai: Tractate Kiddushin.