New Article: Kaye, Eliezer Goldman and the Origins of Meta-Halacha

Kaye, Alexander. “Eliezer Goldman and the Origins of Meta-Halacha.” Modern Judaism 34.3 (2014): 309-333.



Eliezer Goldman (1918–2002) had a significant, though seldom recognized, impact on the way that contemporary religious Jews deal with the implications of modernity. Perhaps his most far-reaching contribution was his philosophy of halacha. Goldman was hardly alone among religious thinkers in proposing halachic responses to the constitutional, technological, and ethical dilemmas posed by the establishment of the State of Israel. He was, however, distinctive in two respects. First, he was one of the few Jewish thinkers in the mid-twentieth century who mapped out the basics of a halachic jurisprudence in a Western idiom. To be sure, others had described certain aspects of Jewish law in Western terms. However, Goldman was rare in that he articulated a broad philosophy of halacha in an attempt to explain the mechanisms of halachic change. To do so, he showed that halacha is made up not only of concrete rules but of abstract principles that guide its development. To describe these principles, he invented the term “meta-halacha,” that continues to enjoy great currency among contemporary Jewish thinkers.2 Second, Goldman was unusual among religious Zionists in that his thought was deeply influenced by streams in twentieth-century American thought. In particular, his theology and his halachic jurisprudence drew heavily on American philosophical pragmatism and legal realism. This gave Goldman’s writing an idiosyncratic twist and contributes to its ongoing resonance with the contemporary reader.

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