The Law of Reproof: A Qumranic Exemplar of Pre-Rabbinic Halakah

Article excerpt

The halakic character of the Dead Sea Scrolls is particularly helpful when it comes to understanding the legal fabric of ancient Jewish society. The particular focus of this paper deals with what Qumranic halakah tells us about the religious and legal context of Jewish society as a whole in late antiquity. It will highlight specific parallels between a Qumranic ordinance and the legal material presented in early rabbinic literature and other ancient sources. It will be argued that such correlations reveal a society far more halakically rigorous than is commonly imagined. I suggest the existence of a "pre-rabbinic halakah" relating to jurisprudence--reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls but known well beyond the confines of the Qumran community--which required an offended person to "reprove" the offender in the presence of witnesses before being allowed to bring the matter to court. This extra step of "reproof" exemplifies an early, stringent layer of halakic ordinances which likely prevailed during the Second Jewish Commonwealth. Such a halakah would have governed personal relationships with regard to past actions, as a criterion for future legal remedy.

1. INTRODUCTION

In researching the corpus of the Judean desert manuscript finds, collectively known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is apparent at first glance that much of the material is halakic, dealing with the laws, rules, and regulations of whatever sect produced them. (1) While the legalistic nature of these parchments has been the subject of considerable scrutiny, most research has been limited to identifying the character and composition of the Dead Sea sect, by virtue of the halakah presented in the manuscripts. (2) My particular focus deals instead with what Qumranic halakah tells us about the religious and legal framework of Jewish society as a whole in late antiquity, assuming of course that there was some "continuity" between the sect and other segments of the population. The current research will highlight specific parallels between Qumranic ordinances and the legal material presented in early rabbinic literature and other ancient sources. Thus we will be able to elucidate some aspects of the tenor and tone of Jewish religious law between the second century B.C.E. and the first century C.E.

Increasingly it has become clear that when we discuss ancient Israelite society, we cannot assume the existence of a single monolithic Judaism (along with a few divergent splinter groups), but rather we need to understand the numerous co-existing forms of multiple "Judaisms," lacking either a unified structure or an integral unity. In such an environment, it is hardly proper to speak of sectarian law or halakah, as though it were the exclusive domain of a single religious faction. Moreover, parallels found between Qumranic law, early rabbinic law, and the halakah represented in other ancient sources, such as the Apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, and the New Testament, might well indicate a general agreement among the various "Judaisms" of the period, with regard to specific legal precepts, guidelines, and practices.

2. REPROOF BEFORE WITNESSES

I will at this point address an example of a particular "pre-rabbinic halakah" relating to jurisprudence--reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls but known well beyond the confines of the Qumran community. In fact, I hope to show clear links bringing this halakah from its origins in Torah to its codification in Talmud. This is the Law of Reproof (or rebuke) which requires an offended person to "reprove" the offender in the presence of witnesses before being allowed to bring the matter to court. (3) The Qumranic passage reflective of such a ruling appears as follows:

   [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]

   Any member of the covenant who brings a matter (lit. "word")
   against his neighbor without reproof before witnesses, bringing it
   up in his anger or recounting it to his elders to slander him, is a
   vengeance-taker and a grudge-bearer. …