Styles of Halakhic Ruling: A Mapping in Light of Joseph Schwab's Philosophy of Education

May. 26, 2007

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 73, Issue 2 , pages 81 - 106


As the author views the Jewish Law (halakha) as primarily an educational text, he argues that it should be understood and analyzed by using tools of educational philosophy. Thus, he makes use of the principal ideas of the educational philosopher, Joseph Schwab (Chicago 1909-1988), on how to structure a curriculum to examine how Schwab's intuitions and insights can contribute to an understanding of the components and formation of halakhic decision-making.


Schwab argues that the educational theoretician must take into account four foci or commonplaces when he attempts to structure a curriculum. These foci are:

  • the teacher
  • the material under study
  • the student 
  • the milieu in which the student is learning and into which we want to initiate him.


The author uses these foci in presenting an analysis of different genres of halakhik ruling:

• The Printed Responsa
• Oral Responsa
• and Internet Rulings 

He shows how the halakhah and its analysis parallel Schwab's curriculum development model and how, in general terms, the model can be cited in critically analyzing the various genres of halakhic writing. However, near the end of the article, he points out one critical point that limits the degree of correspondence between Schwab's model and the halakhic process.


This article, serves as an opening shot in the wide-ranging study needed to examine the research of meta-halakhah on the premise that the halakhic determination is also—if not primarily—an educational determination. At the same time, the educational considerations can clarify anew the process of halakhic decision making for the decisor and redefine the nature of the halakhic material, which includes within it all four of the commonplaces identified by Schwab.

Updated: Jul. 24, 2008