The observance of mitzvot is an essential element in Jewish religious identity.
The Halacha establishes the content of the mitzvot and associated normative
behaviors. In the first part of this project, the author investigates the
attitudes of religious young people to the Halacha on two levels. The first
level is the intellectual-conceptual: how do religious young people understand
the concept ‘Halacha’? The second level is the emotional-dispositional: How do
young people feel about the Halacha in general or about halachic particulars.
Here the focus is primarily on the negative reactions that young people commonly
experience in identifying with the halachic normative system.
The conceptions and feelings are drawn from three sources: verbal conversations
with religious youth, questionnaires distributed to formerly religious youth,
and verbal conversations with a number of teachers.
Ideas influence and inspire emotions. In this part of the project, the author
points out some of the ways that this takes place. He then discusses some
conceptions of the Halacha through which emotional alienation from the Halacha
can be moderated and identification to it increased.
In the second part of the project, the author focuses on the multiple meanings of
the term ‘Halacha’ and the diverse ways in which it is used. This analysis has
an educational goal – to enable teachers to engage with their student’s
alienation from the Halacha. The meanings of ‘Halacha’ vary greatly and in some
cases even contradict one another, such that difficulties that arise from one
meaning may be irrelevant when the Halacha is considered under a different
The diverse interpretations of the ‘Halacha’ reflect partial meanings that are
founded on a central and essential notion of the Halacha. According to this
notion, the Halacha is a legal system that includes all of the normative content
The study continues with a discussion of the commonly accepted notion that the
Halacha is “everything written in the Shulchan Aruch”. The author shows that in
one respect, this understanding of the Halacha is too broad, as the Shulchan
Aruch (and other halachic works) includes normative instructions without
distinguishing between levels of normative force. These include teachings that
despite the fact that they merely describe superrogatory virtues, or moral
invocations, are phrased in language of the highest normative force (“forbidden”
or “obliged”). The understanding of the Halacha that can arise from this
phenomenon is liable to impact upon one’s level of identification with the
halacha, as described in this study. For this reason, the author recommends
that educators indicate the normative force of any halachot that are taught.
In a different way, the notion that the Halacha is “everything written in the
Shulchan Aruch” is very close to the essential notion of the Halacha, yet this
is not brought to the fore in practical halachic education. Generally, halachic
education focuses on ritual law, while obscuring the halachic concern for
interpersonal relations. This focus is liable to induce the some of the
above-mentioned difficulties and the author suggests that halachic education
must emphasize the breadth of the halachic system, that includes interpersonal
law and morality.