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    Mishpat & halachah: the differences – Mishpatim

    Hebrew has several words for law. From this week’s Torah reading we derive the term mishpat; from many other places in the Torah we get the word halachah.

    Halachah, based on the verb halach (“to go”), is the path which the believing Jew makes into a way of life.

    Occasions (e.g. Shabbat and the festivals), activities (e.g. eating kosher food), spiritual patterns (e.g. prayer), intellectual duties (e.g. Torah study) and moral attitudes (e.g. generosity) are all part of halachah. We live by and with them because that is the will of God.

    In a sense we could translate halachah as progress. Life according to halachah is true progressive Judaism because it brings us closer to the Almighty.

    Mishpat (civil and criminal law) is part but not all of halachah. Religious believers regard it as a duty to God to live by the Jewish legal code but some people regard mishpat in secular terms. They say “Do not steal” is a national Jewish ethic, but religious believers say it is law because it comes from God.

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