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I was reading a book about Judaism and I noticed that there is a concept called "Gezera" or "Takana", which means an amendment in Jewish law.

According to this book, gezera can occur when the majority of a Jewish community decide that this law should be modified due to social circumstances.

Doesn't this "gezera" lessen the value of the Torah ?

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I think the wording was imprecise vis-a-vis "amendments."

There are the original laws of the Torah, which can never be violated. If the Torah says "thou shalt not", that means "thou shalt not", no matter what! Later laws can be added in the form of new prohibitions or obligations, but they have lesser standing than the original laws of the Torah.

For instance, the Torah clearly allowed a man to have more than one wife. Then a thousand years ago, the rabbis of Europe enacted a takana to ban polygamy.

This ban, however, is of lesser force than a Torah law. For example: if a man and his sister march down the aisle and go through a Jewish wedding ceremony, they are 100% not married because the Torah spells out that brother-sister relationships are incestual. If, however, a married man goes through a marriage ceremony with a single woman who isn't his wife, he has violated the takana of a thousand years ago, but they are now technically married vis-a-vis Jewish law, and she can't marry anyone else unless she undergoes a religious divorce ceremony.

  • The reason that "if a man and his sister march down the aisle and go through a Jewish wedding ceremony, they are 100% not married" is not because "the Torah spells out that brother-sister relationships are forbidden" but rather because the union carries the penalty of kares. Even a marriage prohibited by the Torah is still binding if it doesn't have the severity of a kares prohibition. Examples include a kohen marrying a divorcee, and a normal Jew marrying a mamzer. – mevaqesh Jun 30 '15 at 15:18
  • @mevaqesh yes, thank you; I thought that might be more detail than the questioner here is ready for. I didn't say "because the Torah prohibits" (which would include issurei lavin), but rather "because the Torah deems incestuous" (in an attempt at a simplified reference towards issurei kareis). – Shalom Jun 30 '15 at 15:26
  • Yes. But I felt that the presentation was misleading. It indicated a division between Rabbinic and Biblical law that had nothing to do with rabbinic / Biblical law. A better example might be the power of a beis din to abrogate prior rabbinic legislation, but not to revoke a Biblical law. – mevaqesh Jun 30 '15 at 16:24
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A "Gezere" never makes a leniency, it only has the power to tighten the borders of a commendment.

Best examples are at Shabbos, e.g. according to the Torah one may tear a cloth in Shabbos if they don't have in mind to sew it back better than it was before (דרך קולקל). It's the Rabanan that prohibited it.

The concept of Gezere, is derived from the verse: ושמרתם את משמרתי.

There's only one case where a Takanah made things easier, that's the Pruzbul.

  • A debt that past Shmittah, may not be collected anymore.
  • One may not refrain from borrowing money, when the seventh year is close, with the fear to lose the money.

Hillel Hazakan saw that people break the latter Aveirah. He found a loop-hole in the former. That is, the mitzvah is only given to debts of individuals, but not to Beis Din's debts. Pruzbul is an agreement that passes (theorically) all his debts to a Beis Din.

  • The Torah's law was "relinquish private debts." The enactment was to make most debts public instead. There are plenty more workarounds like that: sell 2% of your pregnant cow to a non-Jew so you don't have to deal with the special laws of the firstborn; gift your estate evenly between your children one moment before death, rather than have fights because the firstborn gets double. In all these cases, we're advising workarounds, but the "thou shalt not" is still in place. – Shalom Jun 30 '15 at 13:56
  • @Shalom Oh, and you forgot the Hetter Iskah. Well, you're right, but I say the same point. What I meant with the Pruzbul, as an offical workaround, though, deserving the name "Takaneh". – Mordechai Jun 30 '15 at 17:17
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Maimonides addresses a similar point here. He asks that the Torah prohibits additions to the Torah. How then is this to be reconciled with the rabbinic takkanot?

He answers that the Torah only prohibited additions that masquerade as Biblical commandments themselves. those that identify themselves as rabbinic are okay.

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