Investigating the שלכן ערוך

Oren beat me to this, but I have something to add, so...
Linksim: Ha'aretz, Ha'aretz, Jerusalem Post

It's not clear from these articles, but I get the feeling it is the קיצור שלכן ערוך, not the real שלכן ערוך, which was translated and is now being investigated. The question I have is why should either of these texts have been translated? As I've discussed before, what is needed is needed in so many communities is a contemporary guide to הלכה, not translations of older works which are each problematic in their own right. I'll skip criticizing the קיצור שלכן ערוך — there's no need to beat a dead horse! — and say something about the שלכן ערוך itself.

I'm a rather liberal type when it comes to הלכה: I like leniencies and take a open attitude towards social change and norms. From this sort of the perspective the שלכן ערוך is at the same time wonderfully liberating, and very frustrating. On the one hand, since flexibility in הלכה almost always works only לחומרא, taking the שלכן ערוך as authoritative allows us to reach back before many חומרות were innovated. On the other hand, socially it can be a very outdated precisely because of its age.

Now, in practice, most observant jewish communities don't follow the most socially outdated portions of the שלכן ערוך. There has been a sort of collective judgment against them. Mostly they are simply ignored, going undiscussed. (This is in contrast to operative, but botherworthy הלכות which are the subject of apologetics.) The events in Russia, it seems to me, should remind us of two things: First, though we do not follow certain problematic parts of various texts in practice, we cannot afford to ignore them in our learning; they must be confronted and actively argued against, or they must be embraced — to do otherwise is intellectually and religiously dishonest. Second, there is a real need for contemporary guides to הלכה, available in the vernacular, which are not simply compilations of חומרות that most people can't trust, and which are unnecessarily burdensome if they do; besides satisfying a real need in among jewish communities, such a contemporary guide would likely not prompt the sort of investigation that is going on in Russia, and would require much less explaining away if it did.


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