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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q18.3.1 TOC Q18.3.3 >

Question 18.3.2:
Reform's Position On...The authority of Talmud?


[Based on material in Contemporary American Reform Responsa by Rabbi Walter Jacob, publ. by CCAR]:

Reform Judaism views the rabbinic past as a historical development. The "Oral Law" is not seen as divinely given at Sinai, but rather as a reflection of Judaism's historic development and encounter with G-d in each succeeding generation. In this, Reform follows Zunz, Geiger, Frankel, Graetz, and others in viewing G-d working through human agents. Reform believes that each generation has produced capable and religiously inspired teachers (this means that Reform rejects the often expressed view that assigns greater holiness to those who lived in the past). Some individuals of our generation may equal or exceed those of the past.

Historical and sociological studies of the rabbinic literature during the last two centuries have illuminated it. Reform Judaism view this vast literature as the product of human reaction to varying needs motivated by religious thought and the divine impulse. Reform Judaism feels no necessity to justify each segment of the literature in terms of every other portion as done through hidushim and pilpul. Reform sees the differences among Talmudic and later authorities as reflections of particular points of view, different understandings of the divine mandate, as well as the needs of specific groups within their Jewish communities.

When Reform Judaism analyzes each period of history, it discovers different strands in the halakhah. These appear both in the decisions and underlying philosophy. Traditional Judaism has chosen a single path and rejected the others, but we recall the existence of the other paths and the fact that they were suggested and followed by loyal Jews in the past. Reform Judaism feels that diversity has always been the hallmark of our literature and our people. Thus, when Reform finds itself facing new situations, it turns both to the mainstream of rabbinic thought as well as its divergent paths for halakhic guidance. In Reform's view, the halakhah is a vast repository whose old debates are often relevant to new situations.

Sometimes the solutions of Reform Judaism may parallel those of past generations. On other occasions, Reform diverges from them. Through this effort, Reform Judaism seeks solutions for generations living in lands distant and distinct from those of the ancient Near East or medieval Europe.

Reform Judaism recognizes that not every question can be resolved by reviewing the rabbinic literature; in some instances, totally new legislation is appropriate. That may be buttressed by rabbinic precedent.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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© (c) 1993-2002 Daniel P. Faigin <>