CONF: “Progressive Halakhah” Conference at Harvard Law School (December 19-20, 2018)

Menachem Butler Discussion

The Julis-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law at Harvard Law School is proud to announce an upcoming international academic conference, “Progressive Halakhah,” to be held in Austin Hall North (Room 100) at the Harvard Law School (1515 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138), on December 19-20, 2018.

“The debate over whether Halakhah evolves is evergreen. But among those who accept its evolution, there remains a deep set of descriptive and normative questions about how halakhah changes over time. Is halakhah changed by conscious effort or unconscious development? May we seek to shape the direction of halakhah? If so, according to what values? Can we retain fidelity to the practice of halakhah (assuming that is desirable) while seeking concord with values drawn from outside the Jewish tradition? Does the contested value of “progress” fit the halakhic process, and if so, how? This conference seeks to address these questions from multiple standpoints, historical and normative, and across the full range of possible attitudes toward halakhah and its binding or guiding character. In this day and half long conference, our goal is to generate conversations that will help map the full contemporary scene of halakhic thought and also enable thoughtful exchange about the normative questions that pervade the realm of thinking around halakhah.”

Conference Program:

Wednesday December 19- Thursday December 20, 2018

Day 1 (December 19, 2018) – Austin Hall North – Room 100, Harvard Law School

12pm: Noah Feldman (Harvard Law School), Opening Remarks

12:30- 3:00pm:
Session I: “Communal Boundaries I: Who or What is a Jew?”
Toba Spitzer (Congregation Dorshei Tzedek), “Beyond Halakhah: Identity, Status, and the Value of Inclusion”
Seth Farber (ITIM), “Conversions in the State of Israel: Past, Present, and Future?”
Michael J. Broyde (Emory University School of Law), “Half Breeds? Zera Yisrael, Jewish Souls and Conversion after Intermarriage”
Hannah Kehat (Givat Washington Academic College), “Judaism as a Choice: The Case of Religious Feminism”

3:00-3:15pm: Break

Keynote: Ethan Tucker (Mechon Hadar), “Incremental Change and Paradigm Shifts: Pathways Forward for Progressive Halakhah”

3:45-4:00pm: Break

Session II: “Roundtable on Contemporary Challenges: Gender, Sexuality and Beyond”
Emily Blake (certified mohel), “Adapting a Centuries Old Tradition of Circumcision to Our Ever Evolving Times”
Lisa Fishbayn Joffe (Hadassah-Brandeis Institute), “Agunah Activists: Perspectives on Halakhic Change”
Carrie Bornstein (Mayyim Hayyim), “Welcoming Fluidity: Exploring Transgender Empowerment at the Mikveh”
Steve Greenberg (Eshel), “Envisioning an Orthodox Gay Wedding Ritual: An Inquiry Into The Meanings Of Marriage”

6:30pm: Dinner for conference participants and guests

Day 2 (December 20, 2018) – Austin Hall North – Room 100, Harvard Law School

9:00am: Noah Feldman, Opening Remarks

Session III: “Movements and Post-Movements”
Benay Lappe (Svara), “A Queer Take on Halakhah from a Traditionally Radical Yeshiva”
Shaul Magid (Indiana University), “Is ‘Post-Halakhah’ Averah Lishma?”
Devorah Zlochower (Yeshivat Maharat), “The Role of the Questioner in the Halakhic Conversation”

11:45am-12:00am: Break

12:00pm – 1:15pm:
Lunchtime Discussion: “Kashrut: Do Jewish Ethics Matter?” with Morris Allen (Beth Jacob Congregation) and Moshe Taub (Buffalo Vaad of Kashrus), moderated by Barry Shrage (Brandeis University)

1:15pm-1:30pm: Break

Keynote: Sharon Cohen-Anisfeld (Hebrew College), Jane Kanarek (Hebrew College), Ayalon Eliach (Lippman Kanfer Foundation)
“Teaching, Learning, and Living Halakhah in a Pluralistic Context: A View from the Hebrew College Rabbinical School”

2:00-2:15pm: Break

Session IV: “Progressivism, Zionism and Messianism”
Don Seeman (Emory University), “Secular Apostasy and the Limits of Progressive Law: The Case of the Feres Mura Jews in Israel”
Ronit Irshai (Bar-Ilan University), “Religious Feminism, Trapped between Halakhah, Essentialism and Nationalism”
Yehudah Mirsky (Brandeis University), “Reflections on Teleology, Change, and the Nationalization of Halakhah in the State of Israel”

3:30 – 3:45pm: Break

3:45pm – 5:45pm:
Session V: “Communal Boundaries II: Who or What is an Orthodox Rabbi?” moderated by Adam S. Ferziger (Bar-Ilan University)
Lila Kagedan (Walnut Street Synagogue), “The View from a Congregational Rabbi, Ethicist, Poseket: Wearing Several Hats”
Leonard Matanky (Rabbinical Council of America), “Engagement and Boundaries: The RCA and the Ordination of Women”
Lisa Septimus (Yoetzet Halakhah), “Yoetzot Halachah: Playing by the Rules or Reinventing Them?”
Rahel Berkovits (Pardes Institute), “Freedom of Thought: Orthodoxy in Modern Israel”
Ezra Y. Schwartz (Yeshiva University), “Moving Forward Traditionally, Without Paralysis”

5:45 – 6:00pm: Noah Feldman, Closing Remarks

The “Progressive Halakhah” conference is free of charge, and open to the public, but please rsvp to (, and for further details, see our Program’s website ( or contact me directly (

Menachem Butler
Program Fellow in Jewish Legal Studies
The Julis-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law
Harvard Law School

1545 Massachusetts Avenue
Langdell 175G
Cambridge, MA 02138

Tel: 617-495-5358