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The Center for Jewish Law and Values works to make the Mechon Hadar's ideas and learning more widely accessible.
Uniting Jews with their Torah in the modern world requires a halakhic discourse that is deep, honest and transparent. We need a discourse that highlights the full range of our opinions in our tradition, that articulates the values that lie behind those opinions, and that gives Jews halakhic language and direction for their struggles, questions and practices. The Center for Jewish Law and Values, directed by Rabbi Ethan Tucker, aims to meet this need.
While the Center will produce material on a wide range of topics, a number of areas are in crucial need of honest and learned engagement:
Gender and Sexuality. Contemporary Jews live in an increasingly gender-equal society that increasingly eschews gender-stereotypes of the past and complicates standard theories of sexuality that dominated all traditional cultures. How should we address, affirm and confront this reality?
Jewish Identity and Status. Jewish demographics have become dramatically more complicated in a modern society with few boundaries and high rates of intermarriage. New articulations are needed for old questions: Who and what is a Jew? How are the children of Jews and Gentiles to be viewed by contemporary halakhah? How do we think about conversion and apostasy as processes that potentially take Jews in and out of the Jewish community?
Food. Kashrut has always been a defining staple of Jewish observance. How do traditional food practices accommodate to and critique contemporary social and commercial realities? Food practices often serve as a barrier within communities and families. How and when should people be able to eat together and when ought food practices be a sharp dividing line?
Shabbat. Shabbat is perhaps the most distinctive and regular traditional Jewish practice. We need a halakhic discourse around Shabbat that is simultaneously rigorous, intelligible and plausible in the contemporary world. How do we live in an increasingly automated world on Shabbat? How do we interact, on Shabbat, with other Jews who do not observe as we do? What is the compelling narrative of Shabbat that will attract moderns desperate for a meaningful day of rest?
Living in A Varied Jewish Community. The modern world presents us with Jewish communities of varied and uneven Jewish practice. More than ever before, Jews committed to Jewish practice need ways to navigate that life of commitment in the midst of others who define their Jewish practice differently. How can Jews share community together when they practice differently? Should we be involved in one another’s religious decisions, and if so, how?
Interactions between Jews and Gentiles. Such interactions are now at an unprecedented level in the 21st century Diaspora. While many areas of interaction revolve around food and Shabbat, there are also questions of religious boundaries and communal activities and celebrations that require fresh application of ancient sources on this topic.
The Center’s goal is to produce material that lays the groundwork for a deeper values-based conversation. Shared discourse that can lead to thoughtful, concrete decisions is much more important than reaching specific conclusions. Materials include research papers that comprehensively address each topic, source packets that compile all relevant sources, designed to facilitate further learning, and a short video/audio presentation that makes each topic area highly accessible and compelling. A book on academic Talmud study, Reconstructing the Talmud, by Jason Rogoff and Josh Kulp, was recently published by the Center. You can order the book from Amazon or from our website.
Ever wanted to know the answer to some deep and challenging questions in halakhah (Jewish law)? Join Rabbi Avi Killip interviewing Rabbi Ethan Tucker with questions sent in by Yeshivat Hadar alumni and others on all sorts of details of Jewish law. Have a halakhic question you'd like answered on the show? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a voice mail at 215-297-4254. Have some feedback for our show? Please send an email to our email@example.com.
Responsa Radio is a product of Mechon Hadar's Center for Jewish Law and Values and is produced by Open Quorum.
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