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This book opens windows onto Jewish legal culture, by offering fourteen exploratory essays, each of which focuses on an aspect of Jewish law, broadly understood. Each chapter is a self-contained journey, as it were, into a feature of the Jewish legal landscape. In other words, rather than taking a structural approach, and attempting to neatly 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, without seeking to fit them into a single structure.
Given this approach, readers have a number of options: they can focus on those chapters of particular interest to them; read the chapters in whatever order appeals to them; or go through the chapters in order. Reading even a handful of chapters should provide the reader with a good sense of the mind-set characteristic of Jewish legal thinking.
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, extra-judicial decisions taken by judges and 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. The book gives the reader a taste of the tremendous weight of Jewish legal culture within Jewish life.
Windows onto Jewish Legal Culture is divided into five sections. The opening section presents two distinguishing features of Jewish legal culture, namely, its toleration and even encouragement of controversy, and its preference for formalistic formulations. These features are often misunderstood, and been subjected to severe critique. Indeed, Jewish legal culture is often parodied as nit-picking, hair-splitting, argument for the sake of argument. Exploring Jewish legal culture’s partiality to controversy and formalism in its proper context, however, yields a very different picture. The second section, "Law and Ethics," gives readers a first-hand look at the way Jewish legal culture relates to three moral issues of importance to any society: equity, charity, and euthanasia. The third section focuses on the judicial process, a central topic in the general analysis of law, and even more so in Jewish law, where the judicial branch takes precedence over the legislative. The fourth section addresses questions pertaining to the role of the individual in the administration of justice—self help, and the individual’s obligation to defend himself and others against a pursuer. The closing section is devoted to private law, exploring the interface between Jewish legal culture and free market competition, unjust enrichment, agency, and labor law.
This book will appeal to students at the advanced level, scholars, and interested laypeople; the primary target audience is academic. It is suitable for use as a textbook.