Va’etchanan August 1, 2015 / 16 Av, 5775

In this week’s parasha (Torah portion) and repeated again in Deut. 13 is the admonition: “You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish from it….” (Deut. 4:2) This commandment is the basis of the traditional view that commandments are immutable, no matter how much the world may change. And yet, the great sages of our people were given the permission to “build a fence around the Torah,” understood as making new laws to insure that the original ones would be kept properly. In addition, laws could be temporarily abrogated because of some exceptional circumstance. (Maimonides) This verse causes J.H.Hertz, author of the blue Torah Commentary that we have in the sanctuary pews, to assert that “attempts made by revolutionary leaders to ‘accommodate’ Judaism to present-day conditions have all suffered spiritual shipwreck” for acting in defiance of this principle. (p.805) It seems that this was wishful thinking on Hertz’ part, given the success of Reform Judaism and the proliferation of other forms of liberal Judaism today.