Law and Truth in Biblical and Rabbinic Literature

Law and Truth in Biblical and Rabbinic Literature

Chaya T. Halberstam
Distribution: World
Publication date: 1/4/2010
ISBN: 978-0-253-00398-0
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Winner, 2010 Salo Wittmayer Baron Book Prize
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.

Author Bio

Chaya T. Halberstam is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University Bloomington.


"Adds an important aspect to our understanding of rabbinic legal thinking specifically, as well as to our understanding of rabbinic sensibilities and rabbinic piety in general." —Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert, Stanford University

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." —The Reporter , June 25, 2010

"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." —

"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." —H-Judaic

"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

"fix this." —

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Table of Contents


Part 1. Truth and Human Jurisprudence
1. Stains of Impurity
2. Signs of Ownership
3. The Impossibility of Judgment

Part 2. Truth and Divine Justice
4. Theologies of Justice
5. Objects of Narrative

Index of Scriptural Verses
Index of Subjects