Halachah, Jewish law, evolves but only in a limited way. It has a static core whose applications and many details vary based on time, place, circumstance and authority. This dichotomy is often overlooked. Academics tend to emphasize the exceptional cases which do not reflect the larger corpus, while traditionalists reactively focus on the unchanging center. In truth, there is a natural and uncontroversial development that occurs throughout Jewish law. Rabbi Michael J. Broyde, associate professor of law at Emory University and a dayan in the Beth Din of America, studies the rule rather than the exception. He selected the mini-prayer called Havineinu, about which there are numerous apparent contradictions within the Talmud. Who can recite it instead of the standard Shemoneh Esrei prayer? Under what circumstances? Through Rabbi Broyde’s analysis, we see the changes in halachah that occur in the normal course of Torah study, as commentators debate the merits of different interpretations and rule accordingly.
Rabbi Gil Student writes frequently on Jewish issues and blogs at TorahMusings.com.