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Law and Spirituality: Defining the Terms

Harav Aharon Lichtenstein


Rabbi Adam Mintz, from the Introduction to Jewish Spirituality and Divine Law, The Orthodox Forum Series, October 2003, in which this article appeared:

In the first essay of this volume, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein defines both the values and the risks of spirituality and law. He utilizes Maimonides’ distinction between law, which relates to the public sphere, and spirituality, which is highly personal, as the basis for his understanding of the terms. According to Rabbi Lichtenstein, while we must abandon neither, we also must achieve the proper balance between the two. Spirituality provides expression for the halakhah while halakhah prescribes necessary forms and constraints to our spiritual impulses. We have to prevent our commitment to the minutiae of law from robbing our actions of meaning and feeling just as we must be careful not to allow our desire for spirituality to cause us to ignore those laws considered non-spiritual.

Rabbi Lichtenstein concludes his paper with an analysis of the contemporary Jewish scene. He sees the risks inherent in the move toward excess spirituality both in the realm of prayer and Torah study. He writes, “I’m afraid, however, that votaries of current spirituality often tend to erode the status of yirah (awe); and, together with it, the status of the very essence of yahadut: kabbalat ol malkhut shamayim (acceptance of the yoke of heaven) and kabbalat ol mitzvoth (acceptance of the yoke of commandments).” Is this fear reasonable or is this critique of contemporary spirituality too harsh?


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