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Halakhah הלכה‎

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Halakhah הלכה‎

tablets_360 x 270Halakha (Hebrew: הֲלָכָה‎) (Sephardic Hebrew pronunciation) (ha-la-chAH) — also transliterated Halocho (Ashkenazic Hebrew pronunciation) (ha-LUH-chuh), or Halacha — is the collective body of Jewish religious law, including biblical law (the 613 mitzvot) and later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions.

Judaism classically draws no distinction in its laws between religious and ostensibly non-religious life; Jewish religious tradition does not distinguish clearly between religious, national, racial, or ethnic identities. Halakha guides not only religious practices and beliefs, but numerous aspects of day-to-day life. Halakha is often translated as "Jewish Law", although a more literal translation might be "the path" or "the way of walking". The word derives from the Hebrew root that means to go or to walk.

Historically in the diaspora, Halakha served many Jewish communities as an enforceable avenue of civil and religious law. Since the Age of Enlightenment, emancipation, and haskalah in the modern era, Jewish citizens are bound to Halakha only by their voluntary consent. Under contemporary Israeli law, however, certain areas of Israeli family and personal status law are under the authority of the rabbinic courts and are therefore treated according to Halakha. Some differences in Halakha itself are found among Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Sephardi, and Yemenite Jews, which are reflective of the historic and geographic diversity of various Jewish communities within the Diaspora.

The name Halakha is derived from the Hebrew halakh הָלַךְ, which means "to walk" or "to go"; thus a literal translation does not yield "law", but rather "the way to go". The term Halakha may refer to a single law, to the literary corpus of rabbinic legal texts, or to the overall system of religious law.

Halakha is often contrasted with Aggadah, the diverse corpus of rabbinic exegetical, narrative, philosophical, mystical, and other "non-legal" literatures. At the same time, since writers of Halakha may draw upon the aggadic and even mystical literature, there is a dynamic interchange between the genres.

Halakha constitutes the practical application of the 613 mitzvot ("commandments", singular: mitzvah) in the Torah, (the five books of Moses, the "Written Law") as developed through discussion and debate in the classical rabbinic literature, especially the Mishnah and the Talmud (the "Oral law"), and as codified in the Mishneh Torah or Shulchan Aruch (the Jewish "Code of Law".)

The Halakha is a comprehensive guide to all aspects of human life, both corporeal and spiritual. Its laws, guidelines, and opinions cover a vast range of situations and principles, in the attempt to realize what is implied by the central Biblical commandment to "be holy as I your God am holy". They cover what are better ways for a Jew to live, when commandments conflict how one may choose correctly, what is implicit and understood but not stated explicitly in the Bible, and what has been deduced by implication though not visible on the surface.

Because Halakha is developed and applied by various halakhic authorities, rather than one sole "official voice", different individuals and communities may well have different answers to halakhic questions. Controversies lend rabbinic literature much of its creative and intellectual appeal. With few exceptions, controversies are not settled through authoritative structures because during the age of exile Jews have lacked a single judicial hierarchy or appellate review process for Halakha. Instead, Jews interested in observing Halakha typically choose to follow specific rabbis or affiliate with a more tightly structured community.

Halakha has been developed and pored over throughout the generations since before 500 BCE, in a constantly expanding collection of religious literature consolidated in the Talmud. First and foremost it forms a body of intricate judicial opinions, legislation, customs, and recommendations, many of them passed down over the centuries, and an assortment of ingrained behaviors, relayed to successive generations from the moment a child begins to speak. It is also the subject of intense study in yeshivas; see Torah study.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 April 2013 18:33