Head­lines: Halachic Debates of Cur­rent Events

Dovid Licht­en­stein
  • Review
By – June 5, 2015

Head­lines is true to its name; each of the book’s essays is intro­duced by a news arti­cle appear­ing over the years 2012 through 2014, each out­lin­ing an issue unique to con­tem­po­rary soci­ety. The arti­cles and the essays based upon them are divid­ed into six sec­tions: Soci­ety, Fam­i­ly, Israel, Shab­bat and Yom Tov, Kashrut, and Busi­ness. Some of the top­ics addressed deal direct­ly with aspects of Jew­ish life and Israeli con­cerns; oth­ers dis­cuss recent events, tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ments, and polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions that, while con­tex­tu­al­ly occur­ring with­in gen­er­al soci­ety, nev­er­the­less are con­sid­ered from the per­spec­tive of how these devel­op­ments direct­ly impact the world that obser­vant Jews inhabit.

The tone and con­tents of the essays all assume that the read­er is con­ver­sant with advanced lev­els of Torah learn­ing. Rang­ing in length from four to twen­ty pages, the essays are eru­dite and tech­ni­cal, begin­ning with a def­i­n­i­tion of rel­e­vant Halachic ques­tions that the news arti­cle pos­es, fol­lowed by a broad dis­cus­sion of the impli­ca­tions of a wide vari­ety of pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary Jew­ish sources, and end­ing with a sum­ma­ry of what might be con­clud­ed from the pre­ced­ing analy­sis in answer to the orig­i­nal questions.

Some of the sub­ject mat­ter dis­cussed in Head­lines is at best the­o­ret­i­cal, con­sti­tut­ing elab­o­rate Torah-informed mind games. Liv­ing in a soci­ety com­prised most­ly of non-Jews, gov­erned by sec­u­lar law that val­ues the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state, will inevitably rel­e­gate a tra­di­tion­al­ly obser­vant Jew­ish onlook­er to think­ing how a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion might be adju­di­cat­ed were they liv­ing in a theoc­ra­cy dri­ven by Jew­ish law. The major­i­ty of the book, how­ev­er, is devot­ed to top­ics that direct­ly impact the every­day lives of con­tem­po­rary Jews. Not only the Halachic sub­ject mat­ter and method­ol­o­gy, but also the val­ues that inform the ques­tions and answers with­in these essays are impor­tant emphases to which the read­er will hope­ful­ly become more sen­si­tized while con­sid­er­ing these dis­cus­sions. In addi­tion to spe­cif­ic, unique con­sid­er­a­tions raised in each of the essays in Head­lines, three par­tic­u­lar Jew­ish val­ues that come into play a num­ber of times are avoid­ing Chillul HaShem (the pro­fa­na­tion of God’s name); pur­su­ing Shalom Malchut (a pos­i­tive rela­tion­ship between the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty and the gov­ern­ment present­ly in pow­er); and not being Machzik BeMachloket (know­ing­ly cre­at­ing dis­cord with­in the broad­er com­mu­ni­ty). R. Men­achem Genack’s intro­duc­tion stress­es that the con­tents of this book are intend­ed to stim­u­late thought and inter­est and to serve as a cat­a­lyst for fur­ther analy­sis and dis­cus­sion” rather than as sources for defin­i­tive, final Halachic approach­es to these var­i­ous areas of life. Nev­er­the­less, the fact that val­ues such as these three play such a sig­nif­i­cant role in the author’s over­all approach will hope­ful­ly encour­age read­ers to sim­i­lar­ly apply impor­tant ideas such as these to the sit­u­a­tions they per­son­al­ly encounter while nav­i­gat­ing their own obser­vance with­in the real­i­ties posed by the world in which they live.

Relat­ed Content:

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

Discussion Questions