History of the Talmud XV:

Emancipation gave rise to Reform Judaism, which rejected many traditions, even including biblical laws which were considered ancient and unsuited to modern life. A more moderate approach to adjustment of Jewish faith and practice to modern life was the development of Conservative Judaism, which tries to maintain many of the elements of Jewish tradition. From Reform through Conservative, to Modern Orthodox forms of Jewish practice, Judaism in the modern world, especially in America, encompasses an entire spectrum of Judaism in all of its variations.

64. The Talmud plays a significant role in modern Jewish life. Traditional and Conservative Judaism still retain strong ties to Talmudic law and practice in many areas of life, particularly in the domain of domestic relations. Orthodox Judaism, which maintains a large affiliation in Jewish communities the world over, certainly guides its life by Talmudic Law. And the laws of the Talmud are referred to in many cases where problems arise, whether in civil cases, where litigants refer their disputes to courts of Jewish Law, or matters of life and death, where individuals will appeal to Talmudic judges, authorities on the Talmud, to give them advice and guidance in important matters.

64. Talmudic Law is appealed to in modern times, especially by Orthodox Jews, when confronted with a problem which requires adjudication and legal decision. This is frequently the case when Jews have a disagreement concerning the interpretation of the terms of a contract. Instead of engaging attorneys and taking their case to the civil courts of the state or municipality, they may turn to the rabbinic court in their community. The judges of these courts are rabbis who are expert in the laws of contracts according to Jewish Law. They will hear testimony, examine the documents in the case, consult the laws that are relevant to the case, and render their decision. In some jurisdictions; for example, in California, the rabbinical court is recognized as a Court of Arbitration, and its decisions are binding on the litigants. Preceding the hearing, the litigants have signed a document declaring that they will accept the decision of the rabbinical court. The advantages of going to the rabbinical court of arbitration rather engaging attorneys and going to the civil court are many. One is the savings in legal fees, which may be considerable. Perhaps more important is the fact that these cases can be settled in a very short period of time.

65. Two cases that were widely publicized in recent years were settled by appeal to a rabbinical judge and the decision that he rendered. One concerned the problem of artificial insemination by a couple of Orthodox Jews who went to one of the leading rabbinic scholars for his opinion. After taking all the factors in the case into consideration and consulting the rabbinic legal texts, he decided that in this case artificial insemination was to be permitted. The couple were encouraged by his decision, went through with the procedure, and were delighted with the birth of a child.

66. Another, more serious case, involved a pair of Siamese twins who were born with one heart shared by the two. The team of physicians who examined the children realized that only one could survive if they decided to separate them. The alternative was not to do anything, in which case both would die. The chief of the surgical team was Dr. C. Everett Koop, who later achieved fame as the Surgeon General of the United States and who started a campaign against smoking. At the time he was head of the team of surgeons at the Philadelphia hospital where the twins were to be treated. But the family would not agree to any procedure until they had consulted the rabbinical authority whom they trusted to give the correct decision. Dr. Koop stated that he had to wait until the rabbi had rendered his decision. Rabbi Mosheh Feinstein, known throughout the world as the wisest and most authoritative interpreter of Jewish Law, was the one to whom they had turned for his decision. After considering all the facts and basing his decision on precedents in the Talmud, he rendered his decision. The surgeons should proceed with the operation. It was completed, the heart went to one, the other died as result. No other outcome was possible.

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