In October, Cambridge University Press will release “Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg and the Foundation of Jewish Political Thought” by Joseph Isaac Lifshitz (Shalem Center, Jerusalem). The publisher’s description follows:
This book is a scholarly examination of the political thought of Rabbi Meir (Maharam) of Rothenburg, the most important thirteenth century German Rabbi who was associated with the Pietist movement of the period. From the Maharam’s responsa on community matters, a coherent political thought emerges that exercised nearly unprecedented influence on European Jewish communities up to the Jewish Emancipation. Rabbi Meir’s extremely sophisticated attempt to balance the demands of the community against those of the individual was facilitated by a characteristic three-tiered structure to his political thought: concrete legal rules supported by value-laden legal principles built upon his general religious ideology. Through a systematic analysis of the Maharam’s political thought, Isaac Lifshitz offers an original contribution to Jewish studies, political theory, and the study of legal philosophy. By considering the legal and theological underpinnings of one of Medieval Jewry’s most influential figures, it also makes a contribution to the history of ideas in the Medieval period.
In September, Cambridge University Press will release “Jewish Law and Contemporary Issues” by J. David Bleich (Yeshiva University) and Arthur J. Jacobson (Yeshiva University). The publisher’s description follows:
Organized as a series of authoritative discussions, this book presents the application of Jewish law – or Halakhah – to contemporary social and political issues. Beginning with the principle of divine revelation, it describes the contents and canons of interpretation of Jewish law. Though divinely received, the law must still be interpreted and “completed” by human minds, often leading to the conundrum of divergent but equally authentic interpretations. Examining topics from divorce to war and from rabbinic confidentiality to cloning, this book carefully delineates the issues presented in each case, showing the various positions taken by rabbinic scholars, clarifying areas of divergence, and analyzing reasons for disagreement. Written by widely-recognized scholars of both Jewish and secular law, this book will be an invaluable source for all who seek authoritative guidance in understanding traditional Jewish law and practice.
This month, Princeton University Press releases Maimonides: Life and Thought, by Moshe Halbertal (NYU). The publisher’s description follows:
Maimonides was the greatest Jewish philosopher and legal scholar of the medieval period, a towering figure who has had a profound and lasting influence on Jewish law, philosophy, and religious consciousness. This book provides a comprehensive and accessible introduction to his life and work, revealing how his philosophical sensibility and outlook informed his interpretation of Jewish tradition.
Moshe Halbertal vividly describes Maimonides’s childhood in Muslim Spain, his family’s flight to North Africa to escape persecution, and their eventual resettling in Egypt. He draws on Maimonides’s letters and the testimonies of his contemporaries, both Muslims and Jews, to offer new insights into his personality and the circumstances that shaped his thinking. Halbertal then turns to Maimonides’s legal and philosophical work, analyzing his three great books–Commentary on the Mishnah, the Mishneh Torah, and the Guide of the Perplexed. He discusses Maimonides’s battle against all attempts to personify God, his conviction that God’s presence in the world is mediated through the natural order rather than through miracles, and his locating of philosophy and science at the summit of the religious life of Torah. Halbertal examines Maimonides’s philosophical positions on fundamental questions such as the nature and limits of religious language, creation and nature, prophecy, providence, the problem of evil, and the meaning of the commandments.
A stunning achievement, Maimonides offers an unparalleled look at the life and thought of this important Jewish philosopher, scholar, and theologian.
In June, Cambridge University Press will release “The Origins of Organized Charity in Rabbinic Judaism” by Gregg E. Gardner (University of British Columbia, Vancouver). The publisher’s description follows:
This book examines the origins of communal and institutional almsgiving in rabbinic Judaism. It undertakes a close reading of foundational rabbinic texts (Mishnah, Tosefta, Tannaitic Midrashim) and places their discourses on organized giving in their second to third century C.E. contexts. Gregg E. Gardner finds that Tannaim promoted giving through the soup kitchen (tamhui) and charity fund (quppa), which enabled anonymous and collective support for the poor. This protected the dignity of the poor and provided an alternative to begging, which benefited the community as a whole – poor and non-poor alike. By contrast, later Jewish and Christian writings (from the fourth to fifth centuries) would see organized charity as a means to promote their own religious authority. This book contributes to the study of Jews and Judaism, history of religions, biblical studies, and ethics.
On April 20, the Jewish Center in New York will host its annual Hanno Mott Lecture on Jewish Ethics. This year’s lecture is entitled “How Should Our Faith Inform The Laws of A Liberal Democracy?” The lecture will feature a conversation between Israeli Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, Professor Robert George (Princeton University), and Professor Michael Helfand (Pepperdine University School of Law):
The Annual Hanno Mott Lecture on Jewish Ethics is dedicated to exploring the intersection of Jewish Law and secular ethics . Previous lectures have addressed the End of Life debate and the religious and social implication of cloning. This years lecture will highlight Supreme Court decisions both in America and Israel that directly confront religious values in Liberal Democracies and what the relationship between these two modalities should be. This event is free and open to the public.
Details and registration can be found here.
This February, Oxford University Press will release “The Myth of the Cultural Jew: Culture and Law in Jewish Tradition” by Roberta Rosenthal Kwall (DePaul University College of Law). The publisher’s description follows:
A myth exists that Jews can embrace the cultural components of Judaism without appreciating the legal aspects of the Jewish tradition. This myth suggests that law and culture are independent of one another. In reality, however, much of Jewish culture has a basis in Jewish law. Similarly, Jewish law produces Jewish culture. A cultural analysis paradigm provides a useful way of understanding the Jewish tradition as the product of both legal precepts and cultural elements. This paradigm sees law and culture as inextricably intertwined and historically specific. This perspective also emphasizes the human element of law’s composition and the role of existing power dynamics in shaping Jewish law.
In light of this inevitable intersection between culture and law, The Myth of the Cultural Jew: Culture and Law in Jewish Tradition argues that Jewish culture is shallow unless it is grounded in Jewish law. Roberta Rosenthal Kwall develops and applies a cultural analysis paradigm to the Jewish tradition that departs from the understanding of Jewish law solely as the embodiment of Divine command. Her paradigm explains why both law and culture must matter to those interested in forging meaningful Jewish identity and transmitting the tradition.
In January, Oxford University Press will release “The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Law” edited by Brent Strawn (Emory University). The publisher’s description follows:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Law (OEBL) provides the most up-to-date and extensive treatment of the Bible and law yet attempted, both updating and expanding the scope of previous scholarship in the field. In comprehensive overviews, scholars at the forefront of biblical studies and law address three foci: biblical law itself–its nature, collections, and genres; the ancient contexts of biblical law, throughout the ancient Mediterranean (ancient Near Eastern, Greco-Roman, and Early Jewish); and the afterlife and influence of biblical law in antiquity and in modern jurisprudence around the world. Essays include treatments of the Book of the Covenant, the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, Greek Law, and the Laws of Hammurapi, but also testimony and witness, property, ritual, rhetoric, gender, and sexual legislation.
Next month, Routledge Press will release “Windows onto Jewish Legal Culture: Fourteen Exploratory Essays” edited by Hanina Ben-Menahem (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Arye Edrei (Tel Aviv University), and Neil S. Hecht (Boston University School of Law). The publisher’s description follows:
This book opens windows onto various aspects of Jewish legal culture. Rather than taking a structural approach, and attempting to circumscribe and define ‘every’ element of Jewish law, Windows onto Jewish Legal Culture takes a dynamic and holistic approach, describing diverse manifestations of Jewish legal culture, and its general mind-set, without seeking to fit them into a single structure.
Jewish legal culture spans two millennia, and evolved in geographic centers that were often very distant from one another both geographically and socio-culturally. It encompasses the Talmud and talmudic literature, the law codes, the rulings of rabbinical courts, the responsa literature, decisions taken by communal leaders, study of the law in talmudic academies, the local study hall, and the home. But Jewish legal culture reaches well beyond legal and quasi-legal institutions; it addresses, and is reflected in, every aspect of daily life, from meals and attire to interpersonal and communal relations. Windows onto Jewish Legal Culture gives the reader a taste of the tremendous weight of Jewish legal culture within Jewish life.
Among the facets of Jewish legal culture explored are two of its most salient distinguishing features, namely, toleration and even encouragement of controversy, and a preference for formalistic formulations. These features are widely misunderstood, and Jewish legal culture is often parodied as hair-splitting argument for the sake of argument. In explaining the epistemic imperatives that motivate Jewish legal culture, however, this book paints a very different picture. Situational constraints and empirical considerations are shown to provide vital input into legal determinations at every level, and the legal process is revealed to be attentive to context and sensitive to cultural concerns.
This month, Brill Publishers releases “Protocols of Justice: The Pinkas of the Metz Rabbinic Court 1771-1789” by Jay R. Berkovitz (University of Massachusetts, Amherst). The publisher’s description follows:
Presented here to the public for the first time, the Pinkas of the Metz Beit Din is the official register of civil cases that came before the Metz rabbinic court in the two decades prior to the French Revolution. Brimming with details of commercial transactions, inheritance disputes, women’s roles in economic life, and the interplay between French law and Jewish law, the Metz Pinkas offers remarkable evidence of the engagement of Jews with the surrounding society and culture. The two volumes of Protocols of Justice comprise the complete text of the Metz Pinkas Beit Din, which is fully annotated by the author, and a thorough analysis of its significance for history and law at the threshold of modernity.
Through his painstaking and path-breaking treatment of this incredibly nuanced and rich text, Jay Berkovitz has placed before academics and all other interested readers a heretofore untapped resource of vast importance. His insightful and extensive introductory monograph beautifully sets the stage for scholars in a wide array of fields to mine this material, which will undoubtedly yield significant new results in the history of Jewish and non-Jewish society in eighteenth-century Europe and beyond. Ephraim Kanarfogel, E. Billi Ivry University Professor of Jewish History, Literature and Law, Yeshiva University
In October, Academic Studies Press releases “The Codification of Jewish Law and an Introduction to the Jurisprudence of the Mishna Berura” by Ira Bedzow (Emory University graduate student) and Michael Broyde (Emory University). The publisher’s description follows:
The Codification of Jewish Law and an Introduction to the Jurisprudence of the Mishna Berura analyzes the jurisprudential methodology of Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan of Radin, the author of the Mishna Berura. It also provides an introduction to the codification of Jewish law and the methodology of codification more generally. The authors demonstrate that Rabbi Kagan had a unique approach in that he tried to balance opposing forces of tradition and modernity. He also attempted to provide definitive halakhic guidance to every question of Jewish law, based on four central questions and ten halakhic principles. After a comprehensive introduction, the authors provide 250 examples from the Mishna Berura to demonstrate their findings and to clarify their thesis in practical and clear terms.