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The Jurisprudence and Halachic Decision Method of Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch

Mon, December 17, 1:15 to 2:45pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Federal 2 Complex

Abstract

Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch, dean of Yeshivat Birkat Moshe, and founding member of the rabbinical court GIYUR KE-HALACHA for the conversion to Judaism of gentiles rejected by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, has long been known as one of the rabbinical world’s most lenient contemporary POSKIM. At the same time, Rabinovitch is best known to the Israeli public as an “extremist” opponent of the return of any land to Palestinians, or the uprooting of any Israeli settlement in Gaza and the West Bank.
In this paper, I will “complicate” Rabinovitch’s image by focusing on his consistent tendency towards leniency as a halachic decisor. I will begin, however, by explaining the halachic grounds upon which Rabinovitch bases his views regarding the politically fraught issue of “trading land for peace,” thereby demonstrating that it is consistent with the broader jurisprudential leniency that characterize his two best known volumes of response: SHEELOT U-TESHUVOT MELUMADEI MILCHAMAH, and SHE’ELOT U-TESHUVOT SIAH NAHUM. The former consists almost solely of responses to queries by members of the IDF regarding practical halachic problems that are unique to religious soldiers as they negotiate maintaining their values and religious practices as members of a “society” (the IDF) consisting overwhelmingly of secular members. The latter consists of responses pertinent to all four major sections of the SHULCHAN ARUKH. Both works are notable for a consistent commitment to finding leniencies whenever possible. The paper will explore the principles that underlie Rabinovitch’s approach and methodology when dealing with new halachic challenges. There are three foundational principles: dismissal of the relevance of the theory of the ”decline of the generations” to the pragmatic decision-making process which Rabinovitch replaces with an adoption of the modern idea of historical progress; rejection of any notion that earlier halachic decisions enjoy the status of “STARE DECISIS” (binding precedence); a strong, nationalist commitment to enabling religious and secular Jews to live in harmony which requires minimizing the divisive effects of the more stringent approaches to halacha.
I will conclude by examining closely selections from five important TESHUVOT that are paradigmatic of Rabinovitch’s juridical theories and the application of his radical halachic leniency.

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