Living the Halachic Process
Questions and Answers for the Modern Jew
Edited by Rabbi Daniel Mann
Devora Publishing, 2007, 410 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - December 8, 2009
What law should exist in the modern State of Israel? Eretz Hemdah Institute (its name means "desirable land") apparently prefers that the Israeli laws should be based on what it considers the desirable laws of the Torah ("Torat Hemdah").
The institute has an internet service "Ask the Rabbi" that has answered over 10,000 questions. There are simple inquiries – such as "Can an observant Jew make kiddush, the blessing normally made over wine at the beginning of the Sabbath meal, on grape juice? The answer is, "yes." There are more difficult queries such as "Must a Jewish doctor place a mezuzah on the office doorpost when he/she shares a practice with a non-Jewish doctor?" The answer, "it depends."
Readers – whether Jewish or not - will find many questions rather interesting and thought provoking. For example, would one think that Orthodox Jews would be bothered by whether or not they can give a rattle to a baby on the Sabbath, a day when they believe that adult Jews should not play a musical instrument? Readers may be bothered or intrigued by some of the answers given, as in the case of the rattle: it may not be given to the baby, only placed near the baby's hand.
The book occasionally fails to differentiate between practices based on superstition and those with a firm reasonable religious history. For example, there is a discussion on the efficacy of changing the name for a sick person and a detailed discussion of how it should be done – ten men must be present when the name is changed, the new name must be used in the future in place of the present name, etc. (Historians believe the practice originated in the mistaken notion that when sick people change their names the evil spirit coming to harm the person is unable to identify and hurt the individual. The December 5, 2009 New York Times reported that there are numerologists in India who study birthdates and other numbers and factors of clients who pay him at least ninety dollars an hour. The numerologist suggests changes of names, wardrobes or jewelry that he claims can protect them and improve their fortunes.)
The editor sometimes takes a hard approach when deciding questions. For example, he is asked if Jews will fulfill their obligation to light lights on the Chanukah holiday if they use artistic candelabras that have candles at different heights. He recognizes that there is an opinion saying "no," but that the majority of sources do not prohibit it. Yet, he concludes that people should use decorative candelabras only for decoration. He also states that Jews should not bathe on the Sabbath even in cold water.
However he also offers lenient solutions. For example, he allows the wearing of hearing aids on the Sabbath.
The book is interesting because the editor generally cites different opinions on the subject under discussion so that the reader is able to hear and consider the thinking process of various ancient and modern rabbinic authorities.
Eretz Hemdah is a Jerusalem based institution that offers intensive supplemental training to rabbis who served their obligatory service in the Israeli military and who have a secular education. Their goal is to produce knowledgeable religious judges. These Eretz Hemdah rabbinical courts are not connected to the Israeli secular courts or the government sponsored rabbinical courts, and people are not compelled to use these courts.
The book has a 39 page introduction in which the editor presents his understanding of how the process of halacha, Torah law as interpreted by the rabbis, developed, and Eretz Hemdah's approach to making legal decisions according to halacha.