An Introduction to the History and Sources of Jewish Law, edited by N.S. Hecht, B. S. Jackson, S. M. Passamaneck, D. Piatelli, A. M. Rabello
For millennia, scholars have engaged, and continue to engage, in the practice and development of halakhah. The academic study of the halakhic practices and contexts of these scholars, on the other hand, is relatively new. Both the rise of the comparative study of national legal systems and the emergence of Zionism contributed to this new discipline, now termed "Jewish law." The fruit of this discipline has primarily been studies of "the" Jewish law or its principles on various topics, as defined by modern legal systems (e.g., "Jewish family law"). M. Elon's monumental Jewish Law is the most recent addition to this trend. The "Jewish law" approach has generally focused neither on the history of Jewish legal development and institutions, nor on introducing neophytes to the sources upon which their conclusions are based. The current book seeks to do both, with mixed results.
This volume contains 16 discrete essays that trace the history of Jewish law from the biblical period to modern day. These essays are: "Biblical Law" (R. Westbrook); "Jewish Law during the Second Temple Period" (D. Piatelli and B. S. Jackson); "Samaritan Halakhah" (M. Corinaldi); "Jewish Law and Hellenistic Legal Practice in the Light of Greek Papyri from Egypt" (J. Mélèe Modrzejewski); "Jewish Law during the Tannaitic Period" (P. Segal); "Jewish and Roman Jurisdiction" (A.M. Rabello); "The Age of the Talmud" (B. Lifshitz); "Halakhah and Law in the Period of the Geonim" (G. Libson); "Karaite Halakhah" (M. Corinaldi); "Jewish Law in Spain and the Halakhic Activity of Its Scholars before 1300" (E. Schochetman); "Ashkenazim to 1300" (A. Grossman); "Toward Sunrise in the East 1300-1565" (S. Passamaneck); "Jewish Law from the Shulhan Arukh to the Enlightenment" (E. Fram); "Modern Responsa: 1800 to the Present" (D. Novak); "Jewish Law in the State of Israel" (D. Sinclair); and "Postscript: The Judicial Process and the Nature of Jewish Law" (H. BenMenahem).
Nearly all of these essays have the same structure: discussion of the historical background; survey of the literary sources; legal practice; leading authorities; and a few examples of significant legal developments. Whether or not intended, most of the essays use examples drawn from family law to illustrate legal developments, which allows the reader to trace a theme through the ages. A bibliography that concentrates on nonHebrew secondary works follows each chapter.
As to be expected, the essays vary in quality. Mélèze Modrzejewski's essay is clear and original, with annotation that will help students at all levels. The essays of Libson and Corinaldi (on Karaite halakhah) inject into solid historical surveys a feel for what distinguishes these legal systems from their halakhic kin. Grossman nicely shows the interplay between historical and social forces and halakhic development. Passamaneck is the only author to include substantial citations from the responsa literature; his selections are wonderful and leave the reader wishing that the other authors did more of this. …