Halakha

Halakha is the collective corpus of religious law in Judaism. Jewish law comes from the Torah, the Talmud, and established rabbinic decisions, as well as Jewish customs and traditions. Each halakhic commandment is termed a mitzvah (plural mitzvot). According to the Talmud and rabbinic tradition, there are 613 mitzvot given in the Torah, and there are also a number of rabbinically mandated mitzvot. The 613 mitzvot—known collectively as the Law of Moses—are comprised of six different law codes set forth in the Torah, including the Ten Commandments. Many mitzvot only apply under certain criteria, such as if one is a priest, a woman, or if one is in the Holy Land. During the Diaspora, many Jewish communities enforced halakha as their civil law. Once Jews were granted greater freedom to take part in the societies in which they lived in the nineteenth century, following halakha became voluntary as new Jewish denominations adopted differing views on Jewish law.
Halakha has shaped Jewish life and culture throughout most of the history of the tradition. Today, different views on halakha are what separate Judaism’s denominations and give each its own culture. Orthodox Judaism holds that halakha remains binding; Conservative Judaism also believes halakha to be binding but suggests it can evolve with historical developments and modern insights; Reform Judaism largely dismisses halakha as non-binding. Variations in the content of halakha also serve to differentiate the different ethnically based strands of Judaism that developed during the Diaspora, such as found among Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrahi Jews. Halakha is still used civilly in certain areas of family and personal law in Israel that fall under the authority of rabbinic courts.
 
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