Reading Reform Responsa: Jewish Tradition, Reform Rabbis, and Today's Issues

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ISBN: 978-0-88123-643-9

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By Rabbi Mark Washofsky, PhD
Foreword by Rabbi Joan S. Friedman, PhD

The responsa literature, in which rabbis answer questions about halachah (Jewish law), is a vast treasury reaching back nearly fifteen centuries; Reform rabbis have been writing responsa since the 1800s. In Reading Reform Responsa, Rabbi Mark Washofsky, PhD, presents a deep dive into this literature, boldly arguing that Reform Judaism is indeed a movement fundamentally based on halachah. By inviting and guiding readers to understand Reform responsa with a critical eye, he shows that our movement has always been informed by Jewish law as well as Reform history. A teacher and mentor of generations of students at Hebrew Union College--Jewish Institute of Religion, Rabbi Washofsky gives us a peek inside his classroom, making Reform responsa---and their history, framing, and context---engaging and accessible for all.

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Dr. Washofsky masterfully demonstrates the centrality of responsa for the continued vitality of Reform as an authentic stream of contemporary Judaism. Addressing himself to the everyday Jew-in-the-pew, he explains what halachah is, what responsa are, and what makes "Reform responsa" distinctive. ... More importantly, he draws on his expertise as a scholar both of our tradition and of legal and literary theory to teach the non-specialist reader to become a critical reader of responsa.
--From the foreword by Rabbi Joan S. Friedman, PhD, Chair, CCAR Responsa Committee

Rabbi Washofsky gifts us with a series of informed and sensitive discussions of how Reform Jews should think about and act on specific moral and ritual issues. In doing so, he graphically demonstrates that Reform Judaism's emphasis on personal autonomy is complemented by its insistence that Jewish tradition must play a role in individuals' choices if these decisions are to be not just one's own opinion, but also a recognizably Jewish one.
--Rabbi Elliot Dorff, PhD, Past Chair, Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, Rabbinical Assembly

Rabbi Mark Washofsky offers us a fascinating entry into and analysis of the Reform Movement's engagement with Jewish law, practice, and values. Where responsa analyze the issues and concerns implicit in a question of immediate practicality posed to a Jewish legal authority, Washofsky analyzes the body of over 1,300 Reform responsa promulgated since the early nineteenth century, pointing out the intellectual and ethical approaches employed, as well as the traditional, philosophical, and scientific resources marshalled to arrive at a persuasive answer. A wonderful read in its own right, this book provides an insider's look at modern liberal Jewish religious thought in action.
--Rabbi Amy Scheinerman, author of The Talmud of Relationships

Drawing on his deep mastery of classical halachic literature, Reform religious culture, and modern secular legal theory, Mark Washofsky offers insightful and compelling analyses of some of the Reform Movement's most important responsa. Washofsky's special ability to combine rigorous scholarship with his characteristic dry humor, engaging storytelling, and accessible writing style makes Reading Reform Responsa an essential study companion for anyone---clergy, academics, and laypeople alike---who is interested in learning or teaching Reform Judaism's rich tradition of halachic discourse. By inviting the reader to be not just an observer but also a participant in the reasoning and argumentation of responsa, Washofsky teaches us what it means to think halachically in a uniquely Reform way.
--Rabbi A. Brian Stoller, Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, NY

Those curious about the tradition of responsa in the Reform tradition, or merely about the intersection of Jewish law and modern life, will find much here of interest. A substantial but accessible guide to reading and applying Reform responsa.
-- Kirkus Reviews

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ISBN 978-0-88123-643-9
Copyright © 2024
6"x 9"
Page Count: 288