Takkanah - Introduction


Classical Jewish law granted rabbinic sages wide legislative powers. There are two powerful legal tools within the halakhic system:

  • Gezeirah: "preventative legislation" of the classical rabbis, intended to prevent violations of the commandments
  • Takkanah: "positive legislation", practices instituted by the rabbis not based (directly) on the commandments as such, e.g. rabbinical mitzvot.

However, the general term takkanah is used to refer to either gezeirot or takkanot.

Takkanot, in general, do not affect or restrict observance of Torah mitzvot. However, the Talmud states that in exceptional cases, the Jewish sages had the authority to "uproot matters from the Torah" in certain cases. In Talmudic and classical halakhic literature, this authority refers to the authority to prohibit some things that would otherwise be biblically sanctioned (shev v'al ta'aseh). Rabbis may rule that a Torah mitzvah should not be performed, e.g. blowing the shofar on Shabbat, or blessing the lulav and etrog on Shabbat. These are takkanot are executed out of fear that some might otherwise carry the mentioned items between home and the synagogue, thus inadvertently violating a Sabbath melakha.

Another rare and limited form of takkanah involved overriding Torah prohibitions. In some cases, the sages allowed the temporary violation a prohibition in order to maintain the Jewish system as a whole. This was part of the basis for Esther's relationship with Ahasuerus. (Sanhedrin)

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