ACCOMMODATION OF THE LAW:
By: Moses Mielziner
An adaptation of laws to circumstances; the mitigation of the rigor of a law in order to reconcile it with the exigencies of life under changing circumstances. Cases of accommodating the law to existing conditionsare mentioned in the Bible as well as in the rabbinical literature. According to Ex. xii. 18, and xiii., the Passover was to be kept annually on the fourteenth day of the first month, at even; but according to Num. ix. 1-14, when the second Passover was celebrated in the wilderness, certain men were prevented from keeping it, owing to their being defiled by contact with the dead. On inquiring what they should do, a later Passover was instituted for the benefit of any one who had been prevented from keeping it at the ordinary time in the first month, and this was to be observed on the fourteenth day of the second month. In conformity with this Accommodation of the Law in peculiar circumstances, King Hezekiah, at the beginning of his reign, celebrated the great Passover in the second month, being unable to complete the sanctification of the Temple at the regular season of the feast (II Chron. xxx.).Debts; 'Agunot.
Another instance is that of Prosbul (derived from the words πρὸς βōυλήν, "before the court I herewith deposit"), instituted by Hillel the Elder (see Abrogation of Laws). Finding, under the changed circumstances of his time, that the Mosaic law, which canceled all debts in the Sabbatical year, had proved disadvantageous rather than beneficial to the poor (since no one would lend them money lest the claim might be repudiated at the approach of the Sabbatical year), Hillel modified the law so that the Sabbath year should not annul the indebtedness, provided the creditor transferred it to the court by a document termed Prosbul. Another example of Accommodation of the Law concerns the evidence of an absent husband's death, intended to permit the wife to remarry, and thus avoid the stigma of being an 'Agunah or deserted wife. In all civil and criminal cases, and in all matrimonial affairs, it was an established rule of the law that everything must be proved by two witnesses (Deut. xix. 15), but in this instance the testimony of a single witness was considered sufficient; even the testimony of near relatives, and of persons otherwise regarded as incompetent witnesses by the rabbinical law, might be admitted to establish the death of the absent husband. The Accommodation of the Law in this case is justified by the rabbis for the reason that "some allowance is to be made in favor of the deserted woman, who, otherwise, would have to remain forever in unhappy widowhood" (Yeb. 88a, Giṭ. 3a).Locomotion on the Sabbath.
The following example will illustrate the mitigation of the rigor of a traditional law in order to adjust it to practical life. From the injunction to the manna-gatherers, "Abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day" (Ex. xvi. 29), rabbinic tradition derived for all future generations the two following prohibitions: (1) No Israelite shall on the Sabbath day go farther than 2,000 cubits from the place of his abode, the so-called Sabbath journey. (2) No Israelite shall carry any object from private to public premises, or vice versa, on the Sabbath. These two restrictive laws led, of course, to great inconvenience in practical life, for, through their operation, almost all freedom of locomotion on the Sabbath was prohibited. In order to lessen the inconvenience caused by these two injunctions, the rabbis introduced certain legal formalities termed 'erube teḥuμin, 'erube ḥaẓerot, and 'erube mebo¯t (connection of boundaries, premises, and approaches), by which a Sabbath journey could be extended to 4,000 cubits, and certain public premises be considered as having been changed into private common premises, from which it was permitted to carry objects to adjoining private houses and vice versa (Mishnah 'Er. i.-iv.).
Again, in fixing the
Although the ancient rabbis were in general very strict where ritual and ceremonial laws were concerned, they did not hesitate to accommodate these laws to times and circumstances. The following are some of the principles they established: Referring to the passage in Lev. xviii. 5, "Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments; which if a man do, he shall live in them," they say, "man shall live in the laws of God, but not die by means of them" (Sanh. 74a; Yoma, 85b). "Where human life is in danger, any laws may be set aside, except those concerning idolatry, incest, and murder" (Yoma, 82a). In cases of illness and in any, even the remotest, danger, a deviation from the strict observance of the precepts relating to the Sabbath is permitted (Mishnah Yoma, viii. 6). "The Sabbath is delivered into your hand, not you into the hand of the Sabbath" (Mek. to Ki Tissa, p. 110, ed. Weiss; Yoma, 85b). "You may desecrate one Sabbath in order to be able to keep many Sabbaths" (Mek., l.c.; Shab. 151b).
Likewise, concerning the fast of the Day of Atonement, though it was regarded as of the utmost importance and consequently observed with extreme strictness, the rabbinical law easily accommodated itself to circumstances. If, for instance, on that day an Israelite be attacked by the disease of (craving hunger), he is allowed to eat even that food which is otherwise strictly forbidden (Mishnah Yoma, viii. 6). In case of illness, too, the patient may break the fast of that day, either when he himself or his physician finds it necessary (Yoma, 83a).
The principle of accommodation is applied also in modern Judaism by the advocates of moderate reform. Under the protection of rabbinical authority they seek by various modifications to accommodate the ritual and liturgical laws to present conditions and circumstances. This endeavor is, however, disapproved by the advocates of strict orthodoxy, who rigorously and tenaciously adhere to every inherited religious form and custom, even though it be incompatible with modern thought and modern needs and conditions. Neither does the principle of accommodation satisfy those who advocate a radical reform of religious laws and institutions. The advocates of moderate reform hold that the principle of accommodation helps to reconcile the present with the past, to harmonize ancestral laws and institutions with the changed conditions of our time; that it prevents a breach of the unity in Israel; and that slowly, but surely, it introduces many essential improvements into Jewish religious life and institutions, thus exercising a wholesome influence upon the development of Judaism.
- Löw, Gesammelte Schriften, i. 17 et seq.