Public and Private Rulings in Jewish Law (Halakhah): Flexibility, Concealment, and Feminist Jurisprudence

in Journal of Law, Religion and State
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Jewish law includes two parallel systems of halakhic ruling: public and private. There is often a significant gap between what halakhic authorities proclaim publicly and what they are willing to say, on the same topic, in private.

The ability to deviate from the original ruling in order to solve concrete problems answers one of the central demands of feminist critics of the law. It enables flexibility and creativity on the part of the decisor and avoids the characteristic pitfalls of the generalized nature of the law, which, according to feminist critics, affect primarily women. On the face of it, halakhah works in this flexible mode. However, the selective concealment mechanism built into the halakhic system prevents this benefit from being felt, primarily by disadvantaged populations. In its absence Jewish law may be capable, at least in principle, of instituting a halakhic model which responds to inherent problems within the two parallel systems of halakhah as well as to feminist sensibilities.