This is the last of a seven-part series on the thoughts of the Mei HaShiloach, the famous and highly unusual work by the Chassidic thinker, Rabbi Mordechai Joseph Leiner of Izbica. In this essay, Yehuda DovBer Zirkind discusses how the ideas of Mei HaShiloach may impact the future evolution of halachah. Many observations by the Mei HaShiloach touch on my opinion that Halacha will have to liberate itself from what we can only call “Defensive Halacha,” which became the norm while the Jewish people were living in exile.
Yehuda DovBer Zirkind
Yehudah DovBer Zirkind grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York and studied at various Chabad Yeshivos around the world before making Aliya in 2006. He is currently a senior research fellow at David Cardozo Academy in Jerusalem. In addition, he is a researcher, writer and lecturer on a wide range of topics in the field of academic Jewish studies. Yehudah is currently a graduate student of Yiddish literature at Tel Aviv University. His forthcoming thesis is entitled “The Sacred, the Secular and the Sacrilegious in the Life and Literary Works of Chaim Grade” His research interests include: contemporary Jewish thought, Yiddish and Hebrew literature, neo-Chassidism, Yiddish music and folklore, and Jewish bibliography.
Recent articles by Yehuda DovBer Zirkind
This is the sixth part of our discussion on the philosophy of the Chassidic thinker, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica, author of the Mei HaShiloach, a most unusual work which in many ways goes far beyond the established norms of orthodox Halacha as we know it today. Yehudah DovBer Zirkind continues to discuss Rav Cardozo’s observations, and adds much important information and insights of his own.
The Mei HaShiloach’s highly unusual teachings are becoming more and more relevant in our days, as we face greater challenges to Halacha and the Jewish lifestyle. Among these challenges are the establishment of the State of Israel, numerous religious crises, and the challenge of modernity. Can Halacha—which can no longer rely on the strict adherence to its rules, but gets more and more dependent on its ideological and spiritual message and spirituality—guide us in the future?
In these trying times, it is of great value to focus on spiritual matters that may move us to a different plain. This will give us comfort, broaden our minds and enlarge our souls, as we carefully follow all the health regulations prescribed by our authorities. Here is the fourth part of Yehudah DovBer Zirkind’s reflections on the ideas of the Mei HaShiloach and my own comments.
The two different approaches to the Torah: the “perfect Torah” and the “evolving Torah” approaches are related to a broader theological question about the nature of the mitzvot: Do the mitzvot reflect God’s ultimate and unconditional will (kvayachol), or do they reflect God’s instrumental will for humanity, providing an instruction manual for how to redeem the world? In other words, is the main purpose of the mitzvot for the sake of God (i.e. that humankind should fulfill God’s wishes) or for the sake of man (i.e. that God’s plan for humanity should be realized)?
The giving of the Torah has radically altered the course of Judaism and we cannot revert to a pre-Torah age. Nevertheless, Rabbi Cardozo believes that the vision and spirit of this formative era, i.e. the vibrancy of an inchoate and incipient Judaism – or to borrow a metaphor from biology, a “stem cell” based Judaism – should be kept alive and maintained as a counterweight against the ethos of textual fixation and rigid Halachic codification which is so prevalent within the contemporary Orthodox Jewish world.
Part 1 of a series discussing the ideas of the Chassidic master, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica, Poland (1800-1854), also known as the Mei Hashiloach, after the title of the book containing his teachings.
In evaluating Rabbi Cardozo’s critique of Rav Yoseph Dov Soloveitchik, it is important to clarify that Rabbi Cardozo criticizes Rav Soloveitchik from the perspective of the burning issues that are important to Rabbi Cardozo (i.e. changes in Halacha, daring theological approaches etc.), and it should not be seen as a general evaluation of Rav Soloveitchik’s philosophical legacy as a whole.