In the Torah different terms are used for the concept of law. Originally the concept of law in the Torah is associated with a wide range of legal areas which include both individual, collective, ritual and cultic spheres. Authority was granted to priests, judges, and the king (‘the Law of the King’). However, since many laws of the Torah are stated in an idealistic and general way it is hard to speak about the status of law in the First Temple Era. The Second Tempel Era provides us with more documented material about the law and its development. In the Second Temple period, ritual elements were expanded and made more explicit, elements which can be performed and celebrated both by the individual(s) or in a collective/community. Examples are the Shabbat and Festivals, the dietary laws and prayer. In addition, the laws concerning the temple and the priests were emphasized and developed (including laws on purity and impurity), and the laws about marriage were interpreted in a stricter way as part of a possible new definition of Jewish identity. In the Second Temple Era a learning tradition arose which caused new legislation to flourish, based on new exegetical methods or being legitimated by the (supposed?) ‘tradition of the ancestors’. The period of the second half of the Second Temple Era created the basis for rabbinic Judaism as it is becoming visible to us after the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 CE. The emphasis in Rabbinic Judaism on the halacha as law included a complete legal system, some elements being utopian in character while others had a restorative orientation. Exegesis, logical reasoning and hermeneutics were used to adapt the law to new situations. There was a further shift to a personal religious identity based on rabbinic Halacha as visible in daily life: prayer, blessings, rituals, dietary laws and concrete ethical behavior. In the Middle Ages the Responsa Literature was an important tool for adjusting rabbinic law to new circumstances due to migration and changes in the socio-economical life of the Jewish community and in the surrounding culture. In the modern period, rabbinical authority was weakened and its impact on the personal life of the individual diminished through a process of secularization, integration and assimilation and the urge to reform the halacha by orthodox and non-orthodox denominations. The acceptance of Rabbinical authority became a personal and voluntary choice of the community member. In the twentieth century, the Shoah, the creation of the state of Israel and the rapid technological and social changes, present new challenges for the rabbinic halacha. This led to the emergence of differences between the denominations regarding subjects like individualism, autonomy, women rights and the attitude towards modernity. For the time being, the rabbinic halacha maintains its status – especially in Israel and the United States – as an attractive lifestyle for a growing group of Jews.
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