An Introduction to the History and Sources of Jewish Law

An Introduction to the History and Sources of Jewish Law

An Introduction to the History and Sources of Jewish Law

An Introduction to the History and Sources of Jewish Law


Jewish law has a history stretching from the early period to the modern State of Israel, encompassing the Talmud, Geonic and later codifications, the Spanish Golden Age, medieval and modern response, the Holocaust and modern reforms. Fifteen distinct periods are separately studied in this volume, each one by a leading specialist, and the emphasis throughout is on the development of the institutions and sources of the law, providing teachers with the essential background material from which a variety of sources, from many different perspectives, may be taught. Most chapters are written to a common plan, with treatment of the political background of the period and the nature of Jewish judicial autonomy, the character (literary and legal) of the sources, the legal practice of the period, its principal authorities, and examples of characteristic features of the substantive law (especially in family law).


In the summer of 1988, at the Fifth Biennial Conference of the Jewish Law Association, a number of the attendees met informally to discuss a serious gap in the materials then available for the teaching of Jewish Law. Professor Bernard Jackson and Professor Daniela Piattelli conducted the meeting. The discussions focused on the need for a single volume introduction to Jewish Law, designed especially to provide essential background information for those seriously encountering Jewish Law for the first time (particularly, students of Law and Jewish Studies in the Diaspora, and the intelligent laity). This book is the result of that meeting.

Soon after the Conference, Professor Jackson and Professor Piattelli enlisted the help of Professor Neil Hecht, Professor Stephen Passamaneck, and Professor Mordechai Rabello. These five became the Editorial Board and began to work toward the development of such a book under the auspices of the Association. In the latter stages of the editing work, Mr. Jonathan Cohen was recruited as an editorial assistant and rendered invaluable help; Mr. Jonathan Burnside kindly undertook final proof checking.

The Board developed a basic chapter outline, which each contributor would be expected insofar as possible to follow. This outline required each author to remark upon the political and juridical background of the particular period, the character of the sources from it, and some salient features of its substantive law and legal practice, as well as present a brief list of major authorities of the period and a basic bibliography. The search for contributors then commenced.

The Editorial Board was gratified that so many outstanding scholars agreed to contribute chapters to the volume. The Editors wish to thank all the contributors for their painstaking efforts and their attention to the basic design of the book, and also to those who have devoted considerable labour to the translation of the articles written originally in Hebrew. The task of reducing centuries of complex legal development into relatively brief and coherent essays is difficult -- especially so, very often, for specialists who are writing for a non-specialist audience. What is here presented is a truly collective work, rather than a series of independent essays. Many of the articles look quite different from the drafts originally submitted: the authors have collaborated with the Editors in pruning, supplementing and clarifying the material, in the interests of the primary audience. The major responsibility for such revision and supplementation was assumed by the writers of this Introduction.

The Editors also decided early in the planning stage of the book that it would include more than the 'mainstream' approach of presenting the . . .

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