Halakha is derived from the Hebrew root, ‘to walk;’ the implication being that Halakha, usually translated as ‘Jewish law,’ prescribes a path which a Jew chooses to walk on throughout his/her life. The path of Halakha consists of two parallel paths: one that advocates behavioral practice, and the other which embraces meaning within the law. The department of Halakha appreciates both elements of the halakhic system: ritualized practice, as well as mining the moral value-concepts that inform halakhic observance.
Zecharias Frankel (1801-1875), the spiritual father of Masorti (Conservative) Judaism in Germany captured this notion with eloquent insight: “It is clear that man can apprehend the highest ideas meaningfully, only by means of sense data. Frequently, in the whirl of life, these ideas are entirely lost to the mass of men. Abstraction and mere contemplation are not enough. The soul must have experience of sensation and reverence; the idea must clothe itself in a body, else it is lost to man.” Simply put, spiritual impulses are conveyed through ritual deeds and ethical behavior. Both together are signposts leading to refinement in a Jew’s relationship to God and to other human beings. The path of Halakha, then, leads to a life in which holiness – evidence of divine activity – is found in all facets of existence.
It is to these ends, that students undertake immersion in the study of the major sources of the rabbinic tradition, intrinsically linked to the culture of halakhic Judaism over the past two millennia: Mishnah, Tosefta, Talmud, Midrash Aggadah, Midrash Halakha, Tosafot, representative illustrations of Code literature (e.g., Isaac Alfasi, Maimonides, Jacob ben Asher, Joseph Caro, Moses Isserles) and Responsa literature drawn from the archives of the Conservative/Masorti movements in America and Israel.