Appendix 1: Halakhic Principles

Halakha is necessary to apply a commitment to mitzvot in the nitty-gritty of everyday life. Even though the halakhic conversation is a legal discussion, the halakhic process is not necessarily linear or systematic. Halakha has a certain organic dimension which provides for its development over time. There are, however, principles which guide halakhic discourse and application. The following articulates halakhic terminology and discourse which shapes the MJRC’s approach to establishing norms for emerging Messianic Judaism.

While not intending to reinvent halakha, or halakhic categories, the MJRC understands itself as having a responsibility to identify core principles of its halakhic process. As a body of leaders, it is important to be both internally and publicly transparent about the guiding principles and values which helped us come to the decisions we publish and commend.

Prioritizing Mitzvot from Different Sources

Mitzvot d’oraita (commandments derived from the written Torah), mitzvot mashiach (commandments derived from the Apostolic Writings that are not otherwise made explicit in the written Torah), and mitzvot d’rabbanan (commandments instituted by the Sages) are all foundational building blocks of MJRC halakhic decisions. In situations where conflicts may arise, both mitzvot d’oraita and mashiach carry greater weight than mitzvot d’rabbanan. That said, mizvot d’rabbanan may still be regarded as normative halakha in MJRC decisions (partially because there is sometimes question as to whether or not a given mitzvah is d’oraita or d’rabbanan). This position is congruent with the halakhic approach of Jewish tradition, which itself sets standards to safeguard mitzvot d'oraita, even in moments of potential conflict with mitzvot d'rabbanan. This principle establishes a hierarchy to weigh priorities when conflicting values are present. It is not meant to undermine the importance of mizvot d’rabbanan in establishing communal norms.

Acknowledging the Existence of Weightier” and Lighter” Mitzvot

The MJRC recognizes the importance of Yeshua’s claim in Matthew 23:23 (see also Luke 11:42) regarding the halakhic categories of the weightier and lighter mitzvot. In this verse, doing “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (“love of God” in Luke’s account) are declared to be weightier than specifications of tithing. This principle does not deny the authority of “lighter” mitzvot as Yeshua also states that neither weighty nor light should be neglected. Nevertheless, this principle may lead to MJRC decisions deviating from elements of traditional halakha if implementing them would undermine justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

Commitment to Using Halakhic Methods

The MJRC is committed to using traditional halakhic methods to articulate stringencies, leniencies, and exceptions as a matter of remaining faithful to halakhic discourse throughout the centuries. Accordingly, MJRC materials will include definitions and explanations of the technical halakhic terms and methods pertinent to each decision.

Adherence to Universally Accepted Takanot

The purpose of takanot is to ensure that the intention of the Torah is not undermined by continuing practices that, in contemporary circumstances, run counter to that intention. Takanot are decrees rooted in the rights of human leadership to exert authority in such circumstances. Certain takanot directly challenge the normativity of some biblical practices. Examples of this are the ban on polygamy and the ban on owning slaves (both of which are permitted, and even expected, in the written Torah). The MJRC accepts the authority of classical rabbinic takanot universally accepted by subsequent Jewish communities.

Responsibility to be Creative in the Development of Halakhic Standards

The MJRC sees itself as having the authority to develop new specifications of p’shat (literal meaning), gezeirot (fences), and takanot. This principle is not to be used lightly, often, or without reasonable evidence to suggest it is necessary to do so for the sake of preserving core values articulated in Scripture and Tradition. The purpose of this principle is to make it possible for the MJRC to be appropriately responsive to the social and historical context of its communities, promoting a halakhic way of life that invites us to deepen our growth in observance of mitzvot in contemporary life. If halakha is to be a genuinely guiding application of mitzvot in life it must be responsive to the realities of daily life itself.

Engaging with Contemporary Jewish Diversity

This principle reflects acknowledgement that all available halakhic sources are worth consideration in the halakhic process. The MJRC does not align itself with one approach of contemporary Judaism. It is therefore willing to engage with, and may endorse, decisions from many different contemporary halakhic bodies and/or poskim (e.g., Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbinical Council of America, Central Conference of American Rabbis, etc.). The MJRC’s citation of a particular contemporary source in its explanation of a given decision is not demonstrative of acceptance of other halakhic positions presented by that particular source. The MJRC will also remain in respectful interaction with Messianic Jewish communal norms defined by other organizations/institutions, even if it at times they set a different standard.

Listening Ear to Christian Tradition

The MJRC will engage with the wisdom of the Christian Church in developing specifications, gezeirot (legal fences), and/or takanot (decrees rooted in communal authority) especially as they relate to mitzvot mashiach.

Drawing From Other Pertinent Sources of Knowledge

The MJRC will draw upon wisdom from other disciplines in developing its halakhic work (e.g. medicine, sociology, psychology, literary theory, etc.) when issues of halakhic application cross-over directly with elements for which these other disciplines have greater expertise. The MJRC also sees this principle as extending to the ways people know how to act in the world based on societal standards. While halakha invites us into unique ways of being in the world which reflect our covenantal relationship with God and Messiah, our commitments are not meant to cause us to opt out of a robust relationship with the wider world. It is important to be in dialogue with all forms of relevant knowledge to responsibly apply halakha in the contemporary world.

Value for Individual Pesak (Halakhic Decision-Making)

The complexity and variability of life situations mean that MJRC standards do not, and will not ever, provide all that is needed by our rabbis in rendering halakhic decisions. Therefore, MJRC halakhic standards are not the final word on any given issue. MJRC member rabbis are empowered to render halakhic decisions contrary to the written standards in particular moments (not as an ongoing alternative position) if they encounter presenting factors which contraindicate the application of halakha presented in the standards. Of course, any issue which has yet to be addressed in written MJRC standards can be decided by individual rabbis based on their own engagement with the halakhic factors at hand.