Modern Responsa An Anthology of Jewish Ethical and Ritual Decisions

About the Book

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November 2024

An original anthology of modern responsa (Jewish ethical and ritual decision-making) by rabbinic authorities, men and women, across movements (Conservative, Orthodox, Reform), geographic locales, and ethnicities (Ashkenazic, Sefardic, Mizraḥi), Modern Responsa engages readers in understanding how rabbis expert in Jewish law apply principles, precedents, and rules from Judaism’s legal tradition to real-life issues.

Responsa on ten topics—personal and business ethics, ritual, personal status, women, LGBTQIA+ people, medical ethics, the COVID-19 pandemic, relationships with the other, the modern State of Israel, and Jewish life in the United States—showcase how the rabbinic decisors who wrote them handle modern quandaries for their communities. Pamela Barmash’s translations open up most of these original Hebrew texts to English-speaking readers for the first time. Sometimes the decisors disagree—but other times they rule similarly, despite differing ideological commitments. Clear explanations of how the decisors build their arguments along with historical background, decisor biographies, implications, and a glossary enable general adult and teen readers as well as scholars to grasp the finer points of Jewish ethical and ritual decision-making.

Ultimately, Modern Responsa illuminates the dynamic nature of Jewish law, the creativity of Jewish legal writings, and the multidimensionality of the Jewish experience in modernity.

“An exemplary achievement—an original, sophisticated, topical, and accessible contribution to the field of Jewish law in general and the responsa literature in particular.”—Rabbi David Ellenson, chancellor emeritus, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion
“The brilliance of Modern Responsa’s idea and structure is matched only by the author’s skill in executing it. Barmash enables readers to experience the range of Jewish approaches to profound moral questions—and our tradition’s ability to respond to changing circumstances.”—Rabbi Jan Uhrbach, associate editor of Siddur Lev Shalem for Shabbat and Festivals
“A splendid book by a master educator offering broad, brilliant insight into Jewish society and different types of Jewish legal thinking.”—Marc Zvi Brettler, Bernice and Morton Lerner Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies, Duke University

Pamela Barmash

Pamela Barmash is a rabbi and a professor of Hebrew Bible and Biblical Hebrew at Washington University in St. Louis, as well as chair of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. She is the author of Homicide in the Biblical World and The Laws of Hammurabi: At the Confluence of Royal and Scribal Traditions.

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