A Personal Introduction to Integral Halachah

Affirming the Halachic Process is certainly one of the more difficult things for many of us in ALEPH. Like so many others, we are weighed down by the insistence of our more Orthodox colleagues that Halachah is self verifying and contained due to its Divine origin in the nighttime teachings that the Holy Blessed One imparted to Moshe Rabbeinu after each day’s writing of the written Torah. Each succeeding generation is farther from the origin moment and thus more prone to confusion and increasingly dependent on the rulings of those who have gone before us. Thus, the Halachah of the moment is uncovered by a careful analysis of the texts from the past and each new situation must be comparable to some concept or precedent from that past.

While totally aware of this phenomenon, Reb Zalman z”l was still committed to the halachic process by which we link the needs of the moment to the precedents of the past. He also believed that this was possible only by instituting a new principle which would allow the past to continue to speak to us while also providing a greater degree of freedom in determining our responses to the questions of our time. Thus, what he originally called Psycho-Halachah and which we renamed Integral Halachah was born, a new principle which both included and transcended the past and which acknowledged the paradigm shift in which we are living.

Three years ago, the OHALAH program committee inaugurated an annual Halachah Panel at the conference. Starting with the second of these panels, we began to ask rabbis who had been students in our program to present the t’shuvot which were their final projects in the area of Rabbinic Texts. Each year, now entering the third, we have edited and presented three of these t’shuvot as we also begin to gather them for more public distribution.

And, in the first three years, I gave a short introduction to the panel on the basics of Integral Halachah and why I agreed with Reb Zalman that this was a process to which at least some of us should contribute. I have now edited those three introductions into a single document, my personal introduction to this process, and offer it to you all. I have taken the liberty of adding it as a final chapter to our book Integral Halachah.

Some of you may remember that Reb Zalman wrote in his introduction to the book Integral Halachah: Transcending and Including, that his thoughts on this subject were a beginning and not a final product. Thus, my small contribution can be seen as complementary to what the two of us printed in the book and the student t’shuvot also complement and add detail to the broad strokes of the earlier work.

Blessings to all for a light-filled Hanukkah and with prayers for meaningful decisions from the current climate change meetings in Paris.

Rabbi Daniel Siegel, Dayan

Founding Director: Integral Halachah Institute