Monday, June 19, 2006

Sociology and the Evolution of Halakhah

R. Aharon Lichtenstein, "Of Marriage: Relationship and Relations" in Tradition 39:2 (Summer 2005), p. 25:

We, for our part, are confronted by a quandary of our own; and it is dual. At one plane, we ask ourselves, within the context of our learning -- it is Torah, and we must learn -- a simple and straightforward question. In light of the predominant evidence we have noted from Hazal and, particularly, its halakhic component, how and why did Rambam, Ramban, and some other rishonim, deviate so markedly from their prevalent attitude?...

The allure of facile historicistic solutions -- in our case, of ascription to Sufi or Scholastic influences, regarding wordliness, in general, or sexuality, in particular -- is palably self-evident. In dealing with giants, however, we strive to avoid succumbing to its alluring temptations.

To be sure, post Hazal gedolim, rishonim, or aharonim may be affected by the impact of contact with a general culture to which their predecessors had not been exposed and to whose content and direction they respond. Upon critical evaluation of what they have encountered, they may incorporate what they find consonant with tradition and reject what is not. In the process, they may legitimately enlarge the bounds of their hashkafa and introduce hitherto unperceived insights and interpretations. No one questions Aristotle's impact upon Rambam or Kierkegard's upn the Rav. In our case, however, we are seemingly dealing with apparent contravention rather than nuanced accretion; hence, while we may assign some weight to the historical factor, this will hardly suffice, and we must entertain other factors as well, seeking resolution in other directions.

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