Jewish law is notoriously difficult to classify in terms that are familiar to secular thought, because it betrays aspects of both religious philosophy and epistemology and of law. In an effort to probe more deeply the significance of ordering a religion in legal terms, the CJL has undertaken a major book project, The Jewish Legal Tradition, which seeks to address the nature of the Jewish legal tradition: is it religious philosophy or law?

The Jewish Legal Tradition will use Western legal theory as its methodological lens in order to test whether the category of “law” can accommodate and illuminate the workings of a religious legal tradition. Individual chapters will treat the major rubrics of Jewish law by presenting a set of seminal texts, in translation, surrounded by an introduction that frames the central issues and a conclusion that deals with those issues broadly rather than definitively. Each chapter will also include questions for further study. Presentation and discussion of the texts will be historically responsible, taking into account geographical and chronological differences between texts, and will include texts from the Bible through the modern period. The Jewish Legal Tradition will distinguish itself from previous handbooks and introductions to Jewish law by explicitly bringing Jewish law into conversation with Western legal theory. This project is likewise ambitious in the scope of its intended audience, which includes the following:

  • The field of Jewish law and thought. This volume is largely an effort to reconstruct this field, particularly in Israel, by demonstrating that Jewish legal texts need to be approached from a theoretical perspective.
  • The field of Jewish studies. This volume will fill a gap in Jewish studies at a time when there is increasing interest in legal theory among Jewish studies scholars.
  • Non-specialists, including rabbis, law students, lay intellectuals, who are interested in contemporary questions about religious legal systems; are interested in new perspectives on familiar texts; or are interested in how religion grapples with questions of modernity.
  • The field of legal theory and philosophy. Owing to recent developments connected with the processes of globalization, the long dominant view that law is a unified and uniform system administered by the political agency of the nation-state is today in retreat. In the absence of new jurisprudential models, legal theorists have urged a return to deep-rooted models that picture law as consisting of universal and particular legal systems coexisting within a larger, complex legal order. The various contributions Jewish law can have for legal theory coincide with the major conundrums encountered by the transnational law theorists: How can an entire world, with all its particular communities and its plurality of norms of interpretation, be brought together under a universal system that has neither state sponsorship nor high court authorization? How can there be interaction among a myriad of legal systems while at the same time a broader transnational legal system guides and governs certain kinds of behavior? How can there be plurality without schism? This volume will try to demonstrate that the Jewish model can and must play a crucial part in this new and most significant conversation.

The tentative table of contents is as follows:

Part One - Authority

Jewish Law and Natural Law
Halakhic Realism
Does the Law Change?
Social, Spiritual, Religious, and other Purposes of the Law
Limits of Law – Halakhah and Aggadah/Kabbalah/Musar/Philosophy

Part Two – Interpretation, Discretion, Reasoning

Judicial Discretion
Legal Reasoning
Formalism, Teleology, Ontology
Rationale of the Commandments and Legal Reasoning
Principles, Rules, Minutiae
Law and Allegory/Symbolism
Law and Theurgy

Part Three – Legal Sources

Custom (Minhag)

Part Four - Unique Halakhic Concepts in Light of Legal Theory

Issura vs. Mammona
Mishpatim and Huqqim
Dinei Shamayim