Responsa

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Was a printed bill of divorce get valid, since the Talmud speaks of a written document? Do printed copies of the Bible enjoy the same sanctity as a band written text?

The Epistle Concerning Yemen

Since printing was unknown in Talmudic times no direct guidance on these questions could be forthcoming from the Talmud. Similarly, when electricity was discovered and harnessed to human needs, the question arose of whether switching on an electric light constitutes making fire and is therefore forbidden on the Sabbath.

This, too, was considered by the Respondents by an examination of the Talmudic definition of making fire. In addition to their importance for Jewish law, the Responsa collections of which around two thousand have now been published are not only important for Jewish law but serve historians as a rich source for the study of the social life of Jews reflected in them—a particularly reliable source since the details are mentioned in an incidental manner.

Among questions to which contemporary Respondents address themselves are: artificial insemination; riding in an automobile on the Sabbath; autopsies; heart transplants; and switching off a life-supporting machine.

SemGrama - Responsa

It has to be appreciated that Respondents were not appointed by any kind of official body. A Rabbi was qualified to act as a Respondent simply because his peers looked upon him as a reliable authority. Needless to say, Respondents often differed in their decisions, so that there are to be found debates between Respondents, often conducted with vehemence: for example, on the question of whether machine manufactured matzah can be used for Passover or whether it must it be baked by hand.

Responsa have been published not only by Orthodox Rabbis but also by Conservative and Reform Rabbis whose Responsa reflect their particular philosophy. Comprised of the Mishnah and the Gemara, it contains the opinions of thousands of rabbis from different periods in Jewish history.

Self-Care the way it should be.

Jewish Law. During this time Babylonia was the spiritual and political center of Diaspora Jewry, and Jewish communities looked to the Geonim for authoritative teachings on halachic matters. Halacha, from the Hebrew word for "walking" or "path," is the rabbinic interpretation of Jewish law. What principles and practices can prevent abuses of power in the future? How do we balance the dignity of someone who has been accused with the imperative to protect the vulnerable? We did not always find clear answers to these questions, and in some cases, we found compelling arguments that pulled in opposing directions.

Responsa Radio - Jewish Public Media

We bring a diversity of views together in the hope of expanding and deepening communal conversation about the ethical principles that are at stake in addressing and preventing harassment and abuse. Responsa are a traditional form of Jewish guidance: historically, when Jews encountered new situations that presented ethical dilemmas, they would turn to rabbis for guidance, sending questions that trusted authorities would answer by letter. The writing of Responsa persists to this day in traditional and liberal streams of Judaism, and we also continue to pursue this kind of careful, scholarly engagement with classical sources, even as we are developing new approaches.

Crowd-sourced Responsa reimagine the nature of authority and expertise, inviting us to discover ethical wisdom in a breadth of contemporary voices, culled from the press and social media.

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The questions and responses that we gather and curate express ethical wisdom that emerges from communal conversation and from lived experience. We invite you to consult this wisdom, and to add to it.


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May truly be a year of transformation so that heightened attention to harassment and abuse brings real and lasting change. Collectively and individually, may we discern ethical principles and practices to guide us in the pursuit of justice and compassion.


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  4. Thank you Mira for gathering and producing this responsa on the MeToo experiences. After countless years decades, centuries of choking on the words that would convey our experiences and validate those of others — because we were not permitted to speak or were not listened to when we did — women are speaking up.

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