Abstracts of Lectures

The Human Dignity of Women:
Laws of Marriage and Divorce and Eliezer Berkovits’ Vision of Halakha

Jordanna Cope-Yossef, Advanced Talmudic Institute for Women, Matan Women’s Institute for Torah Studies in Jerusalem

Berkovits understands halakhic Judaism as Torat hayyim—A Living Torah in which halakha applies Law to life–to the daily realities of human existence at a particular time in history. Berkovits sees the innovations in halakha required to address women’s status with dignity as a part of the overall process of redeeming Jewish law from its “survival mode” and restoring it to its original status.  Rather than calling for a revamping of the system “from the outside” he utilizes the tools and openings offered by the halakha itself. We will elucidate a number of his examples and suggestions on critical issues of personal status and note to what extent and why these have or have not been recognized by the rabbinic establishment. Letters and anecdotes will provide insight into the extent to which Berkovits promoted his halakhic vision.

Eliezer Berkovits on Conversion:
An Inclusive Orthodox Approach

David Ellenson, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

Eliezer Berkovits stood out among his Orthodox peers as an advocate of an inclusive and embracing halakhic approach to conversion. This presentation will begin by describing the significant role his person played in in inspiring the “Denver Conversion Experiment” of the 1970s — an experiment where Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbis joined together to promote a unified communal approach to conversion — and will then present the teachings he authored on conversion that informed his posture in light of his overarching approach to Jewish religious tradition and thought.

Eliezer Berkovits’ Halakhic Vision for the Modern Age

Marc Shapiro, University of Scranton

Eliezer Berkovits’ dynamic halakhic approach diverges from that of other Orthodox halakhists in modern times. In ways which come very close to Conservative approaches to halakhic analysis, he calls for a reevaluation of certain norms, a questioning of codification, and the use of moral considerations in halakhic decision-making. While in some ways he follows the tradition of his teacher, R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, he diverges from him in others. Excerpts from Berkovits’ unpublished correspondence with Weinberg will shed light on his mindset.

Eliezer Berkovits on Evil and the Holocaust

David Hazony, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

In the wake of the rise of post-Holocaust theology in the 1960s and 1970s, which sought to redefine the man-God relationship in the wake of ultimate horror, Eliezer Berkovits was the only Jewish thinker who attempted a sustained defense of the traditional view of divine history in the face of the Holocaust’s most searing questions. This talk will explore Berkovits’ approach to evil and theodicy, as well as his notion of “Job’s brother” as the model for future religious thinking about radical evil in history, and evaluate its success in light of its ambition.

Eliezer Berkovits on the Priority of the Ethical

David Shatz, Yeshiva University

One of the central contentions in Eliezer Berkovits’ thought is that Halakhah reflects “the priority of the ethical.”  Ethics, he argued, is central to both the goals of Halakhah and its method. He asserted that ritual laws have, as one aim, disciplining the body on a regular basis so as to prepare it for ethical challenges; and he maintained, using many examples, that Halakhah  must incorporate ethical values into legal decisionmaking. This paper assesses Berkovits’ arguments for these views, taking into account contemporary debates about the nature of morality and its place in Jewish law.

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