Halacha (Jewish Law) can be defined, literally, as “the way of walking” or “the path.” This single word defines Judaism’s unique legal system. Some paths are straight, others bend. So too, most aspects of Jewish law are defined by strictly objective reasoning, while others are determined by employing elements of subjectivity in their implementation.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines subjectivity as “Proceeding from or taking place in a person's mind rather than the external world.” One way in which this is reflected in halacha is in the importance of intention. For instance, if one has recited the blessing for an apple (fruit - boray p’ri ha’etz), it is a question of intent whether the blessing must be repeated if a pear is eaten five minutes later. If the person intended to eat both fruits when the blessing was recited, then it is not repeated. If, however, the person intended only to eat the apple, but found that he/she was still hungry, a second boray p’ri ha’etz is recited.
With intent, comes the more challenging question of being honest with one’s self. Thus, if one eats pizza intending it only to be a snack (and eats a limited amount), a m’zo’note blessing for grains may be recited. But, if it is intended as a meal, ha’mo’tzee (for bread or a meal) is said.
One’s sense of honesty comes into play in many contexts. On a minor fast day, the fast may be broken if one feels ill. But what does that mean? Who can measure another person’s discomfort? One has to be honest that they aren't feeliing ill just because they do not wish to fast. (In that same vein, an ill person needs to accept the fact that he/she is not fulfilling a mitzvah by fasting if his/her health is at risk.)
Jewish law is not just a civil legal code for managing society, but a way of life to allow each person’s soul to truly flourish.
Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.