This will be a short surface analysis of jewish law and how it’s application in progressive judaism may help with handling vinaya.
Halakha is roughly speaking, Jewish law. It deals largely with interpreting and working with the commandments found in the torah. Though it extends a bit further than that.
The word Halakha is an interesting one, this is typically translated as law. When we peel into this we learn it isn’t quite right, rather the correct translation is something like “The way to walk”.
Every Jewish person lives a little bit differently and the application and viewing of Jewish Halakha can vary widely, generally speaking however Halakha acts as a way of guiding Jewish people to living an ethical and spiritually pure life. Many rules deal with what the individual is supposed to do for themselves, but also have a dual function of rules to be observed to act as an example to the community around them both Jewish and non Jewish.
Jewish law and it’s observance is also dealt with by the community, Rabbi’s being the ultimate authority on it.
Judaism when it comes to not only Halakha but to other aspects of the religion also encourages debate and ruthless study of the texts which make up the law and the Jewish canon.
While this allows for great innovation, there’s also Halakhic precedent not to overturn laws after they have been agreed upon by the community. That said, there’s also a principle which observes the authority and responsibility of modern figures. An argument is also had in orthodox and conservative spaces that Halakha is normative and binding.
How then do Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism handle Halakha?
Reconstructionist Judaism takes the opinion that Halakha is normative and binding. But their interpretation is that it also changes and evolves with time in order to meet the needs of the modern jewish community. Though they view Halakha as an evolving construct, they still hold traditional Jewish practices dearly.
“We accept the halakha, which is rooted in the Talmud, as the norm of Jewish life, availing ourselves, at the same time, of the method implicit therein to interpret and develop the body of Jewish Law in accordance with the actual conditions and spiritual needs of modern life.”-Mordecai Kaplan, Founder of Reconstructionist Judaism.
Reform Judaism holds that modern views on how the Rabbinic and Torah law developed imply that the Rabbinic Jewish law is no longer normative and thus not binding on modern Jewish people.
Traditonalist followers of Reform Judaism believe Halakha acts as a personal starting point, ultimately deciding that each person is supposed to interpret Torah, Talmud, and other Jewish works for themselves, resulting in separate commandments for each person.
Both liberal and classical followers believe that many old Jewish laws and rituals are from an earlier stage of evolution in Judaism, and that as such the majority of them are no longer applicable to the modern day and age.
The views in this area can be a bit wide as it can be in any branch of Judaism, but the ultimate view is one of personal autonomy.
Ultimately, both reconstructionist and especially reform Judaism, hold that the ethical asepct of the religion are it’s center function.
A proposal for handling vinaya in early & theravadin buddhism
Those who are more studied in the vinaya than I am will have doubtlessly noticed many parallels in the struggles and questions in regards to religious conduct. The same problems which have haunted Judaism have haunted Buddhism when it comes to vinaya, the ultimate question being…
How do we deal with the vinaya in the modern day and age without losing the tradition?
It is here I would like to point towards the Alagaddupama Sutta, and in particular highlight the watersnake and raft similes. Both of these have to do with not clinging to the dharma.
I would then point towards the Parinibbana sutta and the confusing allowance of doing away with lesser and minor rules, as well as not laying down new decrees.
What follows next will be a rough draft of my thoughts on what would be best to do, with my currently limited vinaya knowledge.
I believe that the best course of action would be to view this from a similar angle between Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism. Rather than viewing the Vinaya as an unchanging thing, we may resolve to see it in the light of something which adapts to the time and place it’s in. This would allow for the vinaya to still be normative and binding, but also give sanghas more leeway in normalizing the ordination procedures of Queer, Intersex and Disabled peoples.
By looking at the vinaya and it’s handling as an evolving structure, I think we uphold the example the buddha gave us; Let the Vinaya be your teacher.