Modern Responsa


Modern Responsa

An Anthology of Jewish Ethical and Ritual Decisions

Pamela Barmash

JPS Anthologies of Jewish Thought Series

436 pages
1 glossary, index


November 2024


$40.00 Pre-order

About the Book

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.

Author Bio

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.


“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

Table of Contents

Introduction: Understanding Responsa
How to Use This Book
Notes on Translation
1. Personal and Business Ethics
Text 1.1. Cardin and Reisner, “On the Mitzvah of Sustainability”
Text 1.2. Leff, “Whistleblowing: The Requirement to Report Employer Wrongdoing”
Text 1.3. Weiss, “About Commercial Encroachment”
Text 1.4. Somekh and Al-Ḥakam, “On Commerce in the Markets of Malabar”
Text 1.5. Barmash, “Veal Calves”
2. Ritual
Text 2.1. Sofer, “On Using the Vernacular in Prayer”
Text 2.2. Halevi, “What Are the Chances That Our Prayers Are Answered by God?”
Text 2.3. ccar Responsa Committee, “A Sex Offender in the Synagogue”
3. Personal Status
Text 3.1. Oshry, “The Case of a Mamzer Rabbi”
Text 3.2. Spitz, “Mamzerut”
Text 3.3. Mesas, “A Pesak Din in a Matter of Mamzerut”
Text 3.4. ccar Responsa Committee, “Patrilineal and Matrilineal Descent”
Text 3.5. Yosef, “On the Status of Ethiopian Jews”
Text 3.6. Barmash, “The Status of the Ḥeresh [Deaf Mute] and of Sign Language”
4. Women
Text 4.1. Lauterbach, “Shall Women Be Ordained Rabbis?”
Text 4.2. Herzog, “Takkanot on Marriage and Yibbum”
Text 4.3. Roness, “When Staining Renders a Woman Niddah”
Text 4.4. Rembaum, “Regarding the Inclusion of the Names of the Matriarchs in the First Blessing of the Amidah”
Text 4.5. Barmash, “Women and Mitzvot”
5. lgbtqia+
Text 5.1. Roth, “Homosexuality”
Text 5.2. Dorff, Nevins, and Reisner, “Homosexuality, Human Dignity and Halakhah”
Text 5.3. ccar Responsa Committee, “Same-Sex Marriage as Kiddushin”
Text 5.4. Sharzer, “Transgender Jews and Halakhah”
6. Medical Ethics
Text 6.1. Sternbuch, “A Woman Suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease Whose Husband Wishes to Divorce Her”
Text 6.2. Mevorakh, “Eating on Yom Kippur When a Person Is Suffering from an Eating Disorder (Anorexia)”
Text 6.3. Waldenberg, “On Abortion in General”
Text 6.4. Waldenberg, “On the Abortion of a Fetus with Tay-Sachs Disease”
Text 6.5. Grossman, ‘“Partial Birth Abortion’ and the Question of When Human Life Begins”
7. The covid-19 Pandemic
Text 7.1. Co-chairs, Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, “Halakhic Guidance from cjls about Coronavirus”
Text 7.2. ccar Responsa Committee, “Virtual Minyan in Time of covid-19 Emergency”
Text 7.3. Iggud Ḥakhmei ha-Ma’arav be-Eretz Yisrael, “On a Seder via Zoom”
Text 7.4. Schachter, “Washing on Tisha b’Av” and “Regarding the Rule of ‘God Protects the Simple’”
Text 7.5. Barmash, “Ethics of Gathering When Not All of Us May Attend in Person”
8. Relationships with the Other
Text 8.1. Shapira, “Engaging in a Public Fast in Sympathy with German Jews”
Text 8.2. Weinberg, “On the Burial of a Person Converted by Liberal Rabbis”
Text 8.3. Halevi, “Transcendental Meditation”
Text 8.4. Hirsch and Rapport, “Yoga as a Jewish Worship Practice: Chukat Hagoyim or Spiritual Innovation?”
Text 8.5. Hammer, “The Status of Non-Jews in Jewish Law and Lore Today”
9. The Modern State of Israel
Text 9.1. Goren, “The Siege on Beirut in Light of Halakhah”
Text 9.2. Halevi, “The Law of ‘the One Who Comes Forth to Kill You, Kill Him First’ in Our State Affairs”
Text 9.3. Friedman, “A Responsum on the Issue of ‘the Greater Land of Israel’ and Halakhah”
Text 9.4. Yosef, “Ceding Territory from the Land of Israel When There Is Pikku’aḥ Nefesh”
Text 9.5. Yisraeli, “Ceding Territory because of Pikku’aḥ Nefesh”
10. Life in the United States
Text 10.1. Committee on Responsa of the Committee on Army and Navy Religious Activities, “Responsa in War Time”
Text 10.2. Feinstein, “American Thanksgiving”
Text 10.3. Kalmanofsky, “Participating in the American Death Penalty”
Source Acknowledgments

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