Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It's The Interpretation

From a distance, halacha, Jewish law, appears to be black and white. In reality, however, much of Jewish law is left to the interpretation of experts. A person with a legal question (such as how to attend a business lunch in a non-kosher establishment) asks his/her rabbi who either paskens (renders a legal decision) or refers the question to someone of greater learning and authority.

The variations on halachic interpretations are referred to as chumrot and kulot, stringencies and leniencies. Chumrot, on the whole, are created in order to protect people from transgressing the halacha. For instance, the custom of not eating gebrakhts (matzah that comes in contact with liquid on Passover) is a well established chumrah instituted to ensure that no leven is eaten on Passover.

While such chumrot can be found throughout Jewish law, there are many times when a decisor of law needs to look for a different perspective, one of leniency. Indeed, wisdom often tells us that it is preferable to find a way in which to permit an activity rather than to restrict it. An example of a kula would be allowing the use of government supervised milk in place of Chalav Yisrael (Jewish supervised milk), because the government would prevent the mixing of cow’s milk with the milk of a non-kosher animal.

Of course not all of halacha has variant opinions. Eating a slice of ham is prohibited by any interpretation of the law. Many chumrot and kulot are decided by the total community (such as the Passover example above), while others are based on individual circumstances.

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