The Jewish Encyclopedia has an article about ceremonial law which says (emphasis mine):

The issue between Reform and Orthodoxy hinges chiefly upon the view taken of the ceremonial law; the Talmudical conception of the Law knows of no such distinction as is claimed to exist between ceremonial and moral laws. The less important and the more important laws ("miẓwot ḳallot" and "ḥamurot") are rated alike (Yer. Ḳid. i. 61b; Tan., 'Eḳeb, 1). "Ceremonial laws must be obeyed as divine ordinances with unhesitating and unreflective obedience" (Yoma 67b), and "the wilful transgressor of any of the ceremonial laws is considered as a breaker of the law" (Ḥul. 5a). "Be as careful in the observance of the smallest commandment as of the greatest" is the ancient Mishnaic rule (Abot ii. 1). On the other hand, the fact is being more and more recognized that while certain ceremonies fall into disuse and others take their place, as has been the case with the sacrificial and Levitical laws, there are some ceremonies which form distinctive features of Judaism and must be upheld in order to keep it from disintegration.

It turns out that most mitzvas are impossible to keep. The Reformed position (as I understand it) seems simple enough: follow moral laws ("laws based upon reason") and perform ceremonies as possible. But if there's no distinction between ceremonial and moral law, how do modern people atone for failing to observe all laws?

  • If this is a lodishe question, the classic mareh makom is Asvan Deoraisa 13. But I think the questioner had something else in mind... do you think we need atonement for not keeping the commandments that we can't, or that the sacrifices act as atonement, and we're missing those sacrifices? – הנער הזה Apr 30 '14 at 18:57
  • Deuteronomy 22:26 The victim of a rape is not punished because she was forced to do the action. – Double AA Apr 30 '14 at 20:36

The Talmud (Nedarim 27a) writes that אונס רחמנא פטריה "The Merciful One (i.e. God) exempted [from punishment] one who is coerced." Similerly, the sefer HaChinuch, writes with many (if not most!) of the 613 Biblical commandments that they don't apply today for a variety of reasons( the Temple in Jerusalem is destroyed, require ritual purity, etc).

Thus, Orthodox Judaism requires the observance of all commandments. Those that are not possible to observe today are still required in theory, but are not observed in practice and no one is liable for not observing them. They will become practical again when the Moshiach arrives and the liability for not performing them will, at that time, return.

Reform Judaism, on the other hand, does not require the observance of the commandments that they have deemed unnecessary (like the Laws of Shabbat) which are observed and practiced by Orthodox Jews worldwide.

That is why Reform temples have ritual committees to decide which of the mitzvas which can be practiced they choose to observe. For the Orthodox they are all observed!

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In the days of Hezekiah, when the Passover was celebrated in the second month, the Lord purified people who had come unprepared:

For a multitude of the people, many from Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun, had not purified themselves, for they ate the Passover sacrifice not as it is written, for Hezekiah had prayed for them, saying, "May the good Lord atone for anyone who has set his whole heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his forefathers, though [he be] not [cleaned] according to the purity that pertains the holy things." And the Lord hearkened to Hezekiah and healed the people.—II Chronicles 30:18-20

In this case, failing to observe the ceremony was not entirely without fault. Hezekiah declared in the previous chapter:

For our fathers acted treacherously and did evil in the eyes of the Lord, our God and forsook Him, and they turned their faces away from the Tabernacle of the Lord and turned their backs.

Therefore, even though Passover observance had been willfully ignored, the Lord atoned "for anyone who set his whole heart to seek God". The critical division for receiving atonement isn't between "ceremonial" and "moral" law, but the extant a person is seeking God.

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