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Research Group: Rethinking Early Modern Jewish Legal Culture: New Sources, Methodologies and Paradigms

legal culture

[RG # 154] Rethinking Early Modern Jewish Legal Culture: New Sources, Methodologies and Paradigms

September 1, 2018 - June 30, 2019


Jay Berkovitz (University of Massachusetts Amherst),
Arye Edrei (Tel Aviv University)

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A substantial number of new sources for the study of Jewish history and law have come to the attention of scholars during the past fifteen years. Only recently, rabbinic and lay court records from Jewish communities in early modern Europe and the Mediterranean world have begun to be inspected, though very few systematic studies of these sources have yet been undertaken. Rabbinic and community court records are fundamental not only to our understanding of Jewish autonomy and politics. They also represent a basic tool for discovering how Jewish law functioned in practice. Our goal is to incorporate these sources into the historical narrative so that we can better understand the role that Jewish and general law played in the life of individuals and their communities.

The following questions are central to the year-long investigations that are planned:

  1. Did Jews engage in forum shopping between Jewish and non-Jewish courts, how was this viewed by rabbinic and lay authorities, and where there was opposition, what were the steps taken to prevent this?

  2. Were adjustments in Jewish law (halakhah) among these steps, how familiar were Jews with general law, and did Jewish jurists incorporate aspects of general law, such as the ius commune, into their decisions?

The proposed Research Group intends to use rabbinic and lay court records to (re)define the place of Jewish law in daily life through modern legal theory and historical investigation.

Toward this end, we will place historians and legal scholars in dialogue on the substance and ramifications of these recently rediscovered sources. 


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