In “The Narrow Halakhic Bridge – A Vision of Jewish Law in the Post-Modern Age”, Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth has explored opinions from many halakhic authorities on topics such as: the essence of Halakha, its evolution, and the halakhic decision-making process. Along with reviewing varied opinions, he has attempted to offer a clear path on a “Narrow Halakhic Bridge” which straddles the various methods, a delicate path which is most well-suited to address the challenges of our times.
In the first part of the book, Rav Ronen addresses fundamental questions about the nature of Halakha such as:
- What is Halakha, and does it represent absolute divine truth?
- Who is entitled to decide Halakha and what are the boundaries of their authority?
- Why are there so many disputes in Halakha and how can we find the one right way among so many opinions?
- What is the validity of Daat Torah and is there an obligation for unqualified adherence to rabbinical authorities in our times?
- What affects halakhic rulings — the written text or reality? The ruling principles or the discretion of the posek?
- What is kula (leniency) and what is chumra (stringency)?
- When should we walk the ”golden path” and when should we fear the “slippery slope”?
- What is the difference between communal rulings and public rulings?
- Are there any meta-halakhic considerations that affect rulings?
In the second part of the book, Rav Ronen reviews how Halakha has evolved since the day it was given to Moshe Rabbenu at Mount Sinai, by asking questions such as:
- What has changed in the halakhic system between the First Temple and the Second Temple, and how did it evolve over two thousand years of exile?
- How have cultural, scientific, and technological shifts affected the progress of Halakha?
- What is the halakhic validity of the minhagim (customs) and traditions that have evolved over many generations?
- What has changed in the hierarchy of halakhic rulings?
- What are the implications of the establishment of the State of Israel for Halakha?
- Is there room in Halakha for modern values such as freedom and equality?
- What about the far-reaching social changes in the status of women?
- And how do the evolution of technology and the information revolution affect the ways that halakhic rulings are issued?
In the last chapter of the book, Rav Ronen presents examples of halakhic rulings on various relevant and pressing issues. These rulings demonstrate some practical ways in which the principles discussed in the book are being used in Israel today. He concludes by suggesting a vision for future generations, based on the major themes discussed in the book.
Rabbinic leadership has historically been courageous, visionary and inspirational, dealing with the problems of the time fearlessly and offering relevant halakhic responses. However, over the years as a result of social changes and political factors the pursuit of vision has waned, and in some areas unfortunately, rabbinate has become synonymous with an establishment solely providing rabbinical supervision and religious services. I believe that it is essential in our times to switch from a ‘supervision’ mindset to a spiritual leadership with a ‘super-vision’ for the future of Halakha and Judaism. A broad perspective and an insight into the future may give us the tools to deal with the challenges of Halakha in the postmodern era.
Rav Ronen Neuwirth hopes that this book will provoke a broad discourse of issues within Modern Orthodoxy; a discourse that is critical to the continuity and eternity of Halakha and the Torah.