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Is Talmudic Law a Religious Legal System? A Provisional Analysis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2015

Extract

The claim that talmudic law is a religious legal system has long been, and continues to be, put forward by both traditional scholars of Jewish law and contemporary academic researchers.

The question of whether talmudic law is a religious legal system most certainly did not engage the Sages of the Talmud, but addressing it will help us grasp the nature of talmudic law. Furthermore, juxtaposing talmudic law to Biblical law will help us delineate the concept of religious law, and shed light on certain developments in the evolution of Jewish law.

Let us consider what this claim entails. Sometimes the assertion that a given legal system is a religious legal system merely seeks to indicate that it is part of a certain religion or was created within the framework of that religion. Such an assertion does not provide any information about the nature of the said system, just as the phrase “French law” says nothing more than that the system is used in France.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University 2008

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References

1. Maimonides, R. Nissim Gerondi (Ran), R. Joseph Albo, R. Isaac Arama, Abarbanel, R. Kook.

2. Gulak, Asher, Foundations of Jewish Law vol. 1, 78 (Devir 1966) (Hebrew)Google Scholar; Silberg, Moshe, Talmudic Law and the Modern State 88 (Burning Bush Press 1973)Google Scholar; Elon, M., Jewish Law: History, Sources, Principles vol. 1, 4 (Jewish Publication Socy. 1994)Google Scholar; Englard, Izhak, The Problem of Jewish Law in a Jewish State, 3 Isr. L. Rev. 254278 (1968)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Emanuel Rackman, Jewish Law as Religious Law (Hebrew) in 2 Takdim 85; Cohn, H., Secularization of Divine Law, in Studies in Israel Legislative Problems 55, 55103 (Tedeschi, Guido & Yadin, Uri eds., Jerusalem 1966)Google Scholar; Jackson, Bernard, The Concept of Religious Law in Judaism, in Aufsteig und Niedergang der römischen Welt (Rise and Decline of the Roman World) vol. 2, 19.1, 3352 (de Gruyter 1979)Google Scholar; Jackson, Bernard, Judaism as a Religious Legal System, in Religion, Law and Tradition: Comparative Studies in Religious Law 34, 3448 (Huxley, Andrew ed., Routledge Curzon 2002)Google Scholar.

3. Frank, Jerome, Law and the Modern Mind 199 (Legal Classics Lib. 1985)Google Scholar.

4. Lon Fuller's eight desiderata for the creation of law can serve as a core model. See infra n. 15.

5. Raz, Joseph, Practical Reason and Norms 151152 (Princeton U. Press 1990)Google Scholar.

6. bShabat 88a (unless otherwise stated, translations here and elsewhere are the author's own or adaptations of published translations).

7. Rashi on Genesis 37:27; see also Maimonides, , Guide for the Perplexed I:45Google Scholar.

8. See Adler, R. Nathan, Netina Lager, on Deuteronomy 6:4Google Scholar, in the Torat Elohim edition of the Pentateuch (Eitz Hayim 1967)Google Scholar.

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11. bKidushin 40b.

12. Leviticus Rabbah, Parasha 4.

13. bShevuot 39a.

14. Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael 235 (Horowitz, S. & Rabin, A. eds., Bamberger & Wahrmann 1960) (Hebrew)Google Scholar.

15. If we attempt to correlate Fuller's eight desiderata with the eleven elements discussed in this section, we find that some of the former are either extreme cases of the latter, or their polar opposites. Specifically, the element of immutability is the limiting case of Fuller's desideratum that “the rules must not be changed so frequently that the subject cannot rely on them,” whereas my “restricted access to sanctified texts” criterion is in direct contrast to Fuller's “public promulgation” desideratum, and also conflicts with the goal underlying his “understandable terms” desideratum. Most importantly, a similar contrast exists between Fuller's last desideratum, namely, that the rules must be administered in a manner consistent with their wording, and my last element, namely, that decisions need not necessarily be reasoned or based on a pre-existing set of rules. See Fuller, Lon, The Morality of Law 39 (Yale U. Press 1964)Google Scholar.

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21. One born of an incestuous or adulterous relationship and hence deemed ineligible to marry into the community.

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23. bBaba Metzia 59a-b.

24. bRosh Hashana 21b.

25. mMakot 3:15; bMakot 13b.

26. bBaba Metzia 48a.

27. See tShevuot 3:2; bBaba Kama 55b.

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33. bSanhedrin 46a.

34. Unger, Roberto Mangabeira, What Should Legal Analysis Become? 186188 (Verso 1996)Google Scholar.

35. mSanhedrin 3:5.