"Rabbi, do you mean to tell me that God actually cares whether I say Shema at 9:22... or 9:23?!"
"Rabbi, do you really think it makes a difference to God whether I drink 5.2 fluid ounces of wine per cup at the seder... or 5.3?!"
These questions and others like them are common amongst adolescents and adults exploring halakhah for the first time and amongst those deeply and critically reflecting on their own practice for the first time. The common theme is the detail and precision which is characteristic of almost all areas of Jewish Law and which, at times, can seem rather trivial or perhaps even absurd.
This was the question we explored last Sunday at the annual Kohelet Yeshiva High School Beit Midrash Yom Iyyun. We started with group learning sessions in which we used the case of the 35 foot menorah as a launching point and then proceeded to look at the size requirements for a mikvah and then the famous case of a baby pigeon in which R' Yirmiyah asks a question that gets him expelled from the study hall. You can access the source sheets here.
After half an hour of group learning led by our Beit Midrash fellows, we came back together, synthesized the sources, and then looked at the way in which both Justice Moshe Silberg and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (sources for which you can find here argue that this feature of Jewish Law reflects fundamental and essential values upon which the halakhic system is predicated.
Below is a video of the presentation.
(I want to thank Professor Haninah Ben Menahem of Hebrew University for first introducing me to this approach several years ago.)
CEO of the Ades Family Foundation. Founding Head of School of the Jewish Leadership Academy. Fascinated with the Jewish future.