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The Bible presents only a small portion of the laws necessary for a state to function. Nevertheless, whole tractates of the Talmud discuss a wide variety of legal issues both civil and criminal. Although the jurisdiction of the beth din was limited in every land where Jews have lived, the scholars felt that it was important to develop a system which dealt with every aspect of life. Quite a few of the issues were discussed at a purely theoretical level. But faced with specific problems in their respective communities, the rabbinic scholars were forced to be practical and go beyond the traditional halakhah in order to protect the community. This mixture of idealism and reality shape the later rabbinic discussions, some elements of which have been incorporated into modern Israeli law, but also shape modern Jewish thinking in the Diaspora. This area of the halakhah has been rather neglected, but this volume will no doubt stimulate further research. Published in Association with the Solomon B. Freehof Institute of Progressive Halakhah
Expanded from the Chief Rabbi of South Africa's doctoral thesis, Defending the Human Spirit explores the Torah's legal system compared to Western law. Using real court cases to demonstrate the similarities and differences between Judaism's view of defending the vulnerable and Western legal practice, Rabbi Goldstein places halacha as truly ahead of its time. Covering such diverse topics as political tyranny, oppression of women, crime, and poverty, Defending the Human Spirit is fascinating, informative and inspiring reading.
How do we expand health care coverage to more Americans? Are hate crimes legislation and affirmative action fair? What sacrifices must we make to protect the environment? Is the death penalty morally acceptable? Contributors include Jill Jacobs, of Jewish Funds for Justice; Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center; and TV commentator and UCLA law professor Laurie Levenson.
For thousands of years the Jewish tradition has been a source of moral guidance, for Jews and non-Jews alike. As the essays in this volume show, the theologians and practitioners of Judaism have a long history of wrestling with moral questions, responding to them in an open, argumentative mode that reveals the strengths and weaknesses of all sides of a question. The Jewish tradition also offers guidance for moral conduct in both children and adults, and how to motivate people to do the right thing despite weakness and temptation. The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Ethics and Morality offers a collection of original essays addressing these topics-historical and contemporary, as well as philosophical and practical-by leading scholars from around the world. The first section of the volume describes the history of the Jewish tradition's moral thought, from the Bible to contemporary Jewish approaches. The second part includes chapters on specific fields in ethics, including the ethics of medicine, business, sex, speech, politics, war, and the environment.
In Punishment and Freedom, Devora Steinmetz offers a fresh look at classical rabbinic texts about criminal law from the perspective of legal and moral philosophy. Steinmetz holds that the criminal and judicial procedures they describe were never designed to be applied in a real state. Rather, these texts deal with broader philosophical, theological, and ethical conceptions of the law. Through close readings of passages describing criminal procedure and punishment, Steinmetz argues that the Rabbis constructed an extreme positivist view of sinaitic law based in divine command. This view of law is related to a conception of the human being as fully free and responsible. Steinmetz contrasts this philosophy with the reflections on law in the Pauline letters and argues that the Rabbis see their own view of law as a key marker of Jewish identity that is tied to the rabbinic notion that human beings are charged with shaping the world and their own destiny. Punishment and Freedom is a valuable guide through talmudic discourse for scholars of Jewish thought, early Christianity, and legal philosophy.
The death penalty in classical Judaism has been a highly politicized subject in modern scholarship. Enlightenment attacks on the Talmud's legitimacy led scholars to use the Talmud's criminal law as evidence for its elevated morals. But even more pressing was the need to prove Jews' innocence of the charge of killing Christ. The reconstruction of a just Jewish death penalty was a defense against the accusation that a corrupt Jewish court was responsible for the death of Christ. In Execution and Invention, Beth A. Berkowitz tells the story of modern scholarship on the ancient rabbinic death penalty and offers a fresh perspective using the approaches of ritual studies, cultural criticism, and talmudic source criticism. Against the scholarly consensus, Berkowitz argues that the early Rabbis used the rabbinic laws of the death penalty to establish their power in the wake of the destruction of the Temple. Following recent currents in historiography, Berkowitz sees the Rabbis as an embattled, almost invisible sect within second-century Judaism. The function of their death penalty laws, Berkowitz contends, was to create a complex ritual of execution under rabbinic control, thus bolstering rabbinic claims to authority in the context of Roman political and cultural domination. Understanding rabbinic literature to be in dialogue with the Bible, with the variety of ancient Jews, and with Roman imperialism, Berkowitz shows how the Rabbis tried to create an appealing alternative to the Roman, paganized culture of Palestine's Jews. In their death penalty, the Rabbis substituted Rome's power with their own. Early Christians, on the other hand, used death penalty discourse to critique judicial power. But Berkowitz argues that the Christian critique of execution produced new claims to authority as much as the rabbinic embrace. By comparing rabbinic conversations about the death penalty with Christian ones, Berkowitz reveals death penalty discourse as a significant means of creating authority in second-century western religious cultures. Advancing the death penalty discourse as a discourse of power, Berkowitz sheds light on the central relationship between religious and political authority and the severest form of punishment.

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