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How Does The Practice Of Jewish Law And Tradition Change Over Time?

1708 words - 7 pages

In looking at the laws and traditions of the “Jewish people” over time, one notices a significant lack of consistency among the practices. This inconsistency can be attributed to several historical factors, namely the intense faith placed in the God-given laws and the diasporic nature of the religion, as well as the temporal factor of cultural paradigm shifts. All these factors culminate in the idea that while Halakhic laws are never changed, the situations in which they are applicable are. The diasporic nature of Judaism refers to the geographical spread of the religion and its members from a concentrated epicenter to a large area of the world. As Jews encountered and eventually became part of different kingdoms, countries, and cultures, they required a form of Judaism separate from the Israelite religion that would allow for the continuation of the religious practices in concert with the adaptation to many different geographical and cultural situations. Rabbinic Judaism was the consequence of this diasporic nature, and fulfilled this requirement through its portability and adaptability due to its emphasis on Takkanot, or Rabbinic laws, in addition to the Written and Oral Torah. Essentially, Rabbinic Judaism established a component of practical human authority (the Rabbis) in a religion that was historically centered on divine authority. In doing so, the Rabbis were able to interpret the God-given laws of Halakha and make informed decisions regarding the application of those laws to various situations that Jews around the world encountered, on a case-by-case basis. Examples of changing the applicability of Halakha abound, and can be separated into several categories: adaptations to geographical change, adaptations to political change, adaptations to social change, and adaptations to technological change.
The early Jewish diaspora resulted in Jews living in diverse locations, from Europe to Asia. Ignoring the extreme cultural differences across this large area, the mere geographical differences brought up significant questions of application of Jewish law, the most important of which being, how do Jews living in various geographic locations adhere to Jewish laws that are based on the time zone and climate of Israel? Regarding the time zones, questions arose involving the first and last days of Jewish holidays. In Rabbinic Judaism, the first and last days of multi-day holidays often have different rules and practices associated with them, not to mention that some holidays start as others end, such as the relationship between Sukkot and Shemini Atseret/Simchat Torah. Although the implementation of modern time zones didn’t come until much later, the time differences between different locations were well documented, but not perfected. As such, diasporic Jews were uncertain of when to begin and end their multi-day holidays. To remedy this, the Rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud instituted a system in which the last day of multi-day holidays would be...

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