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Their world is as narrow as an ant's

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Question: Publication date: 21-03-2006
Title:   Their world is as narrow as an ant's
Content:   Dear Daat Emet staff,

As a religious student I have to say that you are amazingly knowledgeable about traditional Jewish literature. I have read many of your essays and was very impressed, but I missed a little positive spirit. I have not seen that you wrote anything about the development of halacha and its adaptation to changing reality.


Answer: Publication date: 21-03-2006
Title:   Their world is as narrow as an ant
Content:   Dear Yuval,

There is no doubt that the Jewish communities of the diaspora struggled to survive, physically and spiritually, and so had to maneuver, to contrive, to scheme, and even to innovate to preserve themselves. To their credit it should be said that they did succeed. But all their changes in halacha and even their innovations were minuscule in a world which develops and advances at an amazing pace, both in the technology for human existence and in the world view which champions egalitarianism, freedom, and human liberty.
See, for example, the Guide to the Perplexed and its discussion of the commandment of mezuzah, which seems to show a change in attitude. But this change takes place only within the narrow world of the study hall, whose width is that of the ant's path, the thin line back and forth from its hill.
According to Maimonides, anyone who treats the mezuzah as an amulet which protects from harm is to be considered a fool and idiot (Laws of Tefillin and Mezuzot 5:4), while the sages of France (the Baalei Tosephot) wrote simply and plainly that the mezuzah was intended to protect one form harm (Shabbat 22a).
In the 13th century the Jews of southern France did not put mezuzot at the entrance to their homes, claiming that "a city in which there are swine is exempt from the mezuzah" (Orchot Chaim, Laws of Mezuzah), but today every doorway has a mezuzah, even those which are exempt according to halacha (see what we have written in the essay Mezuzah - Halachic viewpoint). This shows that each generation has its own set of laws, based on their own understanding of the realities of religious customs.
But all these changes are within the narrow halachic framework, and there are no true intellectual and ideological breakthroughs. It is not for naught that the Charedi still act, in this enlightened age, as though darkness still ruled the world. They continue to separate themselves from their surroundings in dress, neighborhoods, and some of them even in language.


Daat Emet

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