Yadin YadinIntroductionWhat do we mean by Halacha?A Halacha of ChaplaincyIntegral Halacha


1. Fascination. There is no other way, I think, to describe a Jewish traditional mind thinking in Hebrew.

The Hebrew titles of the four sections of the Shulchan Arukh fascinate. These names were assigned by the Tur:

Orekh Chay’im עוֹרך חיים A Structured Life
Yoreh Déa יוֹרה דעה Incisive Opinion
Eben Ha’Ezer אבן העזר The Basis of Aid
Choshen Mishpat חוֹשן משפט Sensitivity & Judgement

The English titles are mine, and there’s a problem with them: each of them is incorrect.

Hebrew can only ever be interpreted in English. Some languages translate with some precision, Hebrew is not one of them, and even those that do translate are subject to the Italian pun that “the translator is a traitor” (il traduttore è un traditore). Every translator knows this, yet Hebrew differs fundamentally, a handicap not encountered when translating Romance or Germanic languages to English: interpretation requires, I think, that we betray one language (Hebrew) to lie in another (English).

My interpretations of the arba turim (four rows — or does tur mean “column”?) are based on what I think an adequate English thought is, not on what analog the Hebrew words might have in English. I’ll confine the remainder of these remarks to the interpretation of Yoreh Déa.

The interpretation “Incisive Opinion” fits Yoreh Déa’s context, I think, but it’s important I stress this: how the title is understood in Hebrew is irrelevent to how we understand it in English. The Hebrew noun yoreh is based on a shoresh (root) which nourises two separate verbs: “to shoot” and “to instruct”.

What can we learn from the relationship of marksmanship ( לירות ) to scholarship ( להורות )? Both, I think, trust the path — halacha. Shooting an arrow, shooting a gun, every marksman ultimately relies on the wind to ensure his (her) shot hits true. Teaching a science, teaching an art, every scholar ultimately relies on what (or how) the learner thinks. Thoughts, I think, are the tradewinds of the mind.

And that is the fascination of Hebrew.

2. The separation of ideas into discrete rubrics is a western preference which, I think, does not express itself the same way in Jewish tradition. Law is law to the western mind, ethics are ethics, and there may be an ethic of law but there is no law of ethics. This is Jaberwocky to an eastern mind, and the Jewish traditional mind is eastern: halacha is the Dao, not the Law. A sea of strong currents, halacha is ethics, law, religion, spirituality, each flowing in and out of the other.

What is the Dao? It is another Hebrew fascination: דאִיָה means “glide”. You were expecting, maybe, a Chinese metaphysical explanation? No. But I will leave you with this comparison: the Chinese Dao expresses “flow”, and are we to suggest that gliding is not related? Can one glide without when the air doesn’t flow? Interpretation is obligated to art, not to science, and so I merely note your objection of my flawed method.

I have no idea what we mean by halacha. This, however, is what I think.

Built on the Hebrew verb “to walk”, halacha is the path we take to a worthwhile destination. We oft-speak of “owning” an aspiration in English. Halacha is not aspirational, it is not the objective, it is the goal: it is not something to own, it is something already owned. If so, why do Jewish traditional movements define themselves by their attitudes to halacha?

They don’t. Orthodox Judaism defines Jewish traditional movements this way, the other movements are content to be so defined, and life goes on. It’s ridiculous, I think, and I’m not content to let the matter alone. The Jewish traditional trends we call “liberal” or “progressive” have failed to innovate halacha because that was something the Orthodox did — except that it isn’t. Modern Orthodox Judaism has defined itself by not innovating halacha. In consequence?

A tragedy.

Rabbis in the Orthodox movements won’t take risks with halacha, rabbis in other movements don’t know how  to take risks with halacha, and so we all have mitpalelim groping about in the dark because their rabbis don’t know how to turn on the light.

It ends here.

Do we need a halacha of chaplaincy? If halacha is law, no; I hope I’ve established that halacha is not law? Chaplaincy deals with tremendously complex moral and ethical issues. This is so now and it has likely always been so. We need a halacha of chaplaincy to guide us.

The Tur’s division of halacha into arba turim “four rows” remains the norm almost 700 years later. The Tur, I think, had two reasons in devising this elegant system: he wanted to classify halacha categorically, thus restoring an intent of the Mishna ignored by the Gemara; and he wanted to give guidance as to when rabbinic intervention was required. Let’s look at his structure:

Do We Need A Rabbi?
Orekh Chay’im Jewish observance based on she’hazman gerama, e.g., rooted in time. Prayer, holy days, and social ethics. עוֹרך חיים Minimal rabbinic intervention.
Yoreh Déa Jewish observance not based on she’hazman gerama, such as mourning, palliation, kashrut, brit mila, conversion to Judaism, and many others. יוֹרה דעה Rabbininc intervention is generally assumed.
Eben Ha’Ezer Marriage, divorce, and sexual conduct. אבן העזר Rabbinic intervention is not required with respect to marriage, but is now generally assumed. Specific expertise is essential with respect to divorce.
Choshen Mishpat Tort law, criminal law, judicial procedure. חוֹשן משפט Rabbininc intervention is generally assumed in our time. Expertise is essential with respect to torts and criminal law.

The halacha of chaplaincy is found in Yoreh Déa, the only one of the four turim that assumes rabbinic intervention is required.

It is helpful, I think, to define chaplaincy. It’s difficult to find guidance from traditional Hebrew, which only offers komér – כּוֹמר – and that simply will not do. Modern Hebrew must guide us. Two words in Ivrit Modernit work for us, I think — mid’rakh – מדרך – and mevar’ékh – מברך. A chaplain first offers, I think, a foothold (מדרך) on the steep mountainside we call G!d’s Will. Only later, and only if asked, does a chaplain offer blessing (מברך). This brings us to a general definition of chaplaincy.

Chaplaincy is, I think, the use of particular religious education to address general spiritual distress. Particular religious education? Someone trained in a specific religious tradition: a rabbi, cantor, priest, minister, imam, elder, whatever. Chaplaincy? The transconfessional application of a particular religious education. Rabbis teach Judaism, generally this is useful only for Jews, but chaplains apply it: a Jewish chaplain uses his (her) Jewish lived experience to address the universal distress people encounter when they are in spiritual pain. How are we to do this without standards of care and practice?



Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Zits”al, taught us a new vocabulary of tradition. Reb Zalman oft-spoke of paradigm shifting with respect to Judaism. A paradigm is a structured way to think conceptually. Everything associated with a concept — assumptions, perspectives, methodologies, and accepted worldviews — is considered within a collaborative framework. The appropriate Hebrew is, I think, תבנית.

I understand תבנית to be rooted in boneh – בּנה – “construct”, an idea from which Hebrew derives the verb – להבין – “to discern”. The inyan of integral halacha is, according to Daniel Siegel, a process that links “the needs of the moment to the precedents of the past”. We discern what we now know, if I understand Reb Daniel correctly, based on what we once knew. Reb Daniel has succinctly re-stated a spiritual premise I’m fond of: “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door upon it”. Reb Zalman’s most significant interpreter, Reb Daniel must be placed among important contemporary Jewish teachers.

But is integral halacha a paradigm shift? I think not, but age may play a part: Reb Daniel describes himself as a “neo-chasid” and sees his Judaism as part of New Age spirituality. I am perhaps 10 years younger, I generally ignored New Age concepts, and there is nothing “neo” about my chasidut. I experience a wild field with diverse fruiting trees while Reb Daniel experiences a constantly shifting landscape of Judaisms. This needs its own unique rubric.

A wild field with diverse fruiting trees

Paradigm shifting is built into Jewish tradition. Mishna Makot, for example, instigates a paradigm shift with respect to capital punishment. Makot develops strong ethical ideas as it concerns itself in part with what we now term “retributive justice”. Makot 1:10 will establish capital punishment as legal, set a minimum legal burden before capital punishment may be considered, and announce an ethic that makes judicial execution all but impossible.

One who does not follow the course of justice because he has fled the jurisdiction of the court? When he is returned to the court’s jurisdiction he is not permitted a defence. מִי שֶׁנִּגְמַר דִּינוֹ וּבָרַח וּבָא לִפְנֵי אוֹתוֹ בֵית דִּין, אֵין סוֹתְרִים אֶת דִּינוֹ
When two witnesses come forward to address the Sanhedrin, and each separately establishes that the course of justice was perverted by the accused? He is executed. כָּל מָקוֹם שֶׁיַּעַמְדוּ שְׁנַיִם וְיֹאמְרוּ, מְעִידִין אָנוּ בְאִישׁ פְּלוֹנִי שֶׁנִּגְמַר דִּינוֹ בְּבֵית דִּינוֹ שֶׁל פְּלוֹנִי, וּפְלוֹנִי וּפְלוֹנִי עֵדָיו, הֲרֵי זֶה יֵהָרֵג
The Sanhedrin’s jurisdiction is international. סַנְהֶדְרִין נוֹהֶגֶת בָּאָרֶץ וּבְחוּצָה לָאָרֶץ
A Sanhedrin which executes anyone once in seven years is vain. Rebbe Elazar Ben-Aazr’ya? He said “once in 70 years”. Rebbe Tarfon and Rebbe Aqiva? They said “No one would ever have been executed had we been sitting on the Sanhedrin!” סַנְהֶדְרִין הַהוֹרֶגֶת אֶחָד בַּשָּׁבוּעַ נִקְרֵאת חָבְלָנִית. רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה אוֹמֵר, אֶחָד לְשִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה. רַבִּי טַרְפוֹן וְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא אוֹמְרִים, אִלּוּ הָיִינוּ בְסַנְהֶדְרִין לֹא נֶהֱרַג אָדָם מֵעוֹלָם
Rabban Shimon Ben-Gamliél had this to say: “If so, we must be prepared for increased bloodshed in Israel!” רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל אוֹמֵר, אַף הֵן מַרְבִּין שׁוֹפְכֵי דָמִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל

Rabban Shimon discerns what he knows based on what we once knew, and he knows that capital punishment is no deterrent: his life was spent in hiding after Betar fell; he saw first hand that the pax Romana in Israel was enforced by a lex Romana Hebraicus reliant on crucifixions and indiscriminate judicial executions. He does not, I think, oppose the aspirational ideals of Rebbe Tarfon or Rebbe Aqiva. You may, however, read the Hebrew this way.

Reb Daniel and I would certainly agree, I think, that the Talmud offers a constantly shifting landscape of Judaisms. The testimonies of the Tanna’im are used throughout the Bavli to shift the Mishna’s halachic paradigm. These testimonies, called bara’itot (בּרייתוֹת), are central to the Bavli’s method: deconstruct the Mishna by subjecting it to multiple testimonies. Are the bara’itot, chas ve’chalila, a postmodern methodology used by pre-modern scholars? No.

Jacques Deridda, who for some reason is never thought of as having a traditional Jewish background, recognised the bara’itot as both historical and phenomonlogical. He brilliantly adopted and adapted this pre-modern method. He never assumed, I think, that his notion of deconstruction actually relied on his Jewishness.

Deconstruction is, I think, essential to Jewish traditional well-being. It is here that Reb Daniel and I would likely stop agreeing. The constantly shifting landscape of Judaisms is a journey, it fascinates, but at some point I want to arrive somewhere. The Mishna (Avot 3:7) warns:

Rebbe Eliezer, the leader of Bartota had this saying: Give to G!d what is G!d’s: You and yours. And thus David said (I Ch. 29:14) “Everything is Yours. We are merely a conduit through which it flows.” ז רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אִישׁ בַּרְתּוֹתָא אוֹמֵר, תֶּן לוֹ מִשֶּׁלּוֹ, שֶׁאַתָּה וְשֶׁלָּךְ שֶׁלּוֹ. וְכֵן בְּדָוִד הוּא אוֹמֵר (דברי הימים א כט) כִּי מִמְּךָ הַכֹּל וּמִיָּדְךָ נָתַנּוּ לָךְ
R Shimon cautioned that this perspective does not apply to Torah study when he said: One who walks on the path reviewing a pasuq only to exclaim “What a beautiful tree, what a lovely, productive field!” obligates the soul. רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, הַמְהַלֵּךְ בַדֶּרֶךְ וְשׁוֹנֶה וּמַפְסִיק מִמִּשְׁנָתוֹ וְאוֹמֵר, מַה נָּאֶה אִילָן זֶה וּמַה נָּאֶה נִיר זֶה, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ מִתְחַיֵּב בְּנַפְשׁוֹ

I am a storyteller. A storyteller’s trick is used in this Mishna: “Bartota” sounds suspiciously like a Hebrew pronunication of bara’itot (the plural form of bara’ita). “Ish Bartota” can mean “the man from Bartota”; it doesn’t. It means, I think, “the man who relies on bara’itot”. R Eliezer? He thinks we should constantly plant and plow. R Shimon? He prefers that we harvest. Both want the same effect. This is a disagreement on method, and with good reason: are we are to constantly plow, plant, and let people forage for what grows wildly? How many are even capable of doing so? Utter chaos!

R Shimon prefers cosmos: harvest regularly and replant. I commend this to you as the basis of integral halacha.