A New Post-Coronavirus Era of Halachah?

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by R. Gil Student

The beautiful flow of Jewish life was tragically diverted by Coronavirus. The pandemic altered our experiences of communal worship, celebrations, mourning and the plethora of daily rituals that constitute a major part of Jewish life. Many people were traumatized to varying degrees by the disruptions caused by the pandemic, without even discussing the great suffering and loss of life. These changes impacted halachah in ways that are both obvious and less evident—changes that are not revolutionary but perhaps express a sign of significant evolution.

Halachah represents the lived faith of the Jewish people, the practical application of our beliefs that strengthens our faith by incorporating sanctity into our daily lives. Even when we are under stress and duress, we need halachah in order to function spiritually. Halachah contains built-in mechanisms to address unusual circumstances when health concerns require alternative religious behavior. We observed that process working robustly, as, for example, people prayed at home rather than with a minyan, sold new kitchen utensils rather than immersing them in a mikveh when the kelim mikva’ot were closed, and arranged with their rabbi for the sale of their chametz over the phone rather than in person.[1]I thank the many respondents over Twitter who offered these and many more examples.

However, major shocks to a system often cause change and realignments, as Torah leaders are forced to adjust common practice for the unusual times, and these adjustments leave an imprint going forward. Based on what we have experienced so far in this pandemic, what will—or should—halachah look like going forward after the crisis? I would like to divide this discussion into four sections: specific halachot, attitudes within halachah, the overall halachic process and the question of whether we have entered a new era of halachic history.

Continued at Jewish Action: link


1I thank the many respondents over Twitter who offered these and many more examples.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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