Toward Critical Halakhic Studies
Current scholarly study of Jewish law concentrates either on a description and analysis of halakhic doctrines, or on the jurisprudential theories underlying the thought of halakhic thinkers. Questions such as: “how halakhic decisions are actually produced?”, and “what are the various constraints operating in halakhic decision-making?”, usually receive very limited attention in the study of Halakha. This paper calls for a shift of focus, from the “theoretical” (whether doctrinal or philosophical) to the “practical”, so that the halakhic process will occupy a central role in the study of Jewish law.
The emphasis on the need to study the halakhic process was also stated by Marc B. Shapiro in idem, Review: “Jewish Obligation and the Modern World: Rabbi Hayyim Hirschenson and His Approach to Modernity” by David Zohar,” Edah 5,1 (2005). (here)
By way of criticism, or better, suggestions for future researchers, let me note that while Zohar’s book is certainly where all future analysis of Hirschensohn’s halakhic thought will begin, there still remains a good deal that Zohar has not examined. Zohar’s interest is primarily in Hirschensohn’s conclusions, but the process whereby Hirschensohn reached his conclusions is also fascinating. The way Hirschensohn is able to work within the halakhic process and his most original method of halakhic argumentation still remain to be analyzed in a comprehensive fashion.