How can humans ever attain the knowledge required to administer and implement divine law and render perfect justice in this world? Contrary to the belief that religious law is infallible, Chaya T. Halberstam shows that early rabbinic jurisprudence is characterized by fundamental uncertainty. She argues that while the Hebrew Bible created a sense of confidence and transparency before the law, the rabbis complicated the paths to knowledge and undermined the stability of personal status and ownership, and notions of guilt or innocence. Examining the facts of legal judgments through midrashic discussions of the law and evidence, Halberstam discovers that rabbinic understandings of the law were riddled with doubt and challenged the possibility of true justice. This book thoroughly engages law, narrative, and theology to explicate rabbinic legal authority and its limits.
About the author
Chaya T. Halberstam is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University Bloomington.
This interdisciplinary book makes a contribution to understanding the rabbinic legal process and rabbinic sensibilities, incorporating law, logic, narrative, feminism, and theology to explicate rabbinic legal authority and its limits. . . . Recommended.
Precedent for reining in the reach of religious authorities . . . exists very far back in the Jewish legal tradition, or so argues Indiana University's Chaya T. Halberstam in Law and Truth in Biblical and Rabbinic Literature (Indiana, February). The Torah may posit religious law that can be applied to human conduct, but the earliest rabbis, in Halberstam's readings, weren't so sure that humans could interpret, gather evidence, and administer justice with anything like divine precision.
Tablet Magazine - project Nextbook
Trained in biblical studies and expanding those skills into rabbinics, Halberstam is more sensitive than most to the ways in which the Rabbis departed from their biblical sources. She applies the latest theories in the study of rabbinics to the texts before her, teasing out a basic underlying worldview. . . . thought-provoking . . . convincing.
Jewish Book World
The book will be welcomed by those seeking to understand some of the intellectual and practical dilemmas faced by the early rabbis, in particular areas.
Law and Truth makes for fascinating reading, even if one doesn't completely accept its premise. . . . [T]he discussions of the difference between biblical and rabbinic text are important for anyone looking to understand the development of the Jewish religion. June 25, 2010
Can we ever be sure we know the truth? Does being religious mean you are sure you know what God wants? Halberstam explores these questions in the Bible and among the rabbis of the Mishnah, in both legal and theological contexts. Analyzing large swaths of texts from the Mishnah, Mekhilta, Sifra, and Sifre, Halberstam focuses on case studies from three areas—ritual laws of purity, civil law, and capital punishment. In each case, she emphasizes the things that the Bible took for granted and the ways in which the Rabbis problematized those assumptions, replacing them with legal constructs. Trained in biblical studies and expanding those skills into rabbinics, Halberstam is more sensitive than most to the ways in which the Rabbis departed from their biblical sources. She applies the latest theories in the study of rabbinics to the texts before her, teasing out a basic underlying worldview. ...thought-provoking...convincing. Bibliography, index, notes.
Jewish Book World / Jewish Book Council