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Rav Shmuel Klitsner

By Yoni Feldman Greene

As part of our first Shabbaton with The Nachshon Project, we had the privilege to learn from Rav Shmuel Klistner, a modern Orthodox thinker and teacher at Midreshet Lindenbaum. Over the course of the Shabbaton about Jewish identity, we heard from speakers from multiple denominations including Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, and Chasidic. We were able to hear how a member of each denomination viewed their Jewish identity, the role of Jewish law in their lives, and how they related to their denominations. Rav Klistner represented a more progressive side of Modern Orthodoxy and gave a fascinating Shiur on how his community relates to halakha (Jewish Law) and how halakha can be adapted when necessary. Rav Klistner talked about the relationship between Jewish tradition and the realities of the modern age. He taught that sometimes when these two aspects of Jewish law become out of touch, there becomes a need to look for ways to innovate Jewish law. This innovation is possible as long as it is established within the parameters of the system of Jewish law. Rav Klistner’s model of halakhic innovation allows for a system that can evolve when necessary. An example of this that Rav Klistner provided was the case of a missing Israeli submarine and the status of the wives of the missing Jewish sailors. In this case, because of the modern reality of new technology, a halakhic precedent was reinterpreted to prevent a situation where the widows could not remarry if they wanted. This understanding of Jewish law is crucial to Rav Klistner’s Jewish identity and forms the basis of how he interacts with Jewish law. As future leaders in different communities, it is important for us to understand the different philosophies of the different denominations. Many of us will be working with many types of Jews and as leaders it is important to fully understand our constituents and understand how their relate to their Judaism. We cannot lead our communities without first understanding that there exists many different ways to understand Judaism and relate to Jewish tradition. This understanding is critical to any attempt to create spaces for Jews of all backgrounds in our communities and spaces where these different beliefs and understandings can interact.