Law in the Rabbinic Period

Azzan Yadin-Israel

in Jewish Studies

ISBN: 9780199840731
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Law in the Rabbinic Period

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Law generally refers to institutional rules and guidelines that regulate the actions of a community. However, there is lively debate among scholars whether such a definition applies to rabbinic law, at least in certain periods. No one denies that there are rabbinic texts that enjoin particular actions, and that these cover many areas of civil and religious legislation: family law, torts, festivals, sacrifice, purity and impurity, and so on. What is unclear is whether these texts enjoyed authoritative institutional support, and if so—when and over whom? This question is addressed in the section The Authority of Rabbinic Law, but since it remains contested within the field, for the purposes of this bibliography the term “rabbinic law” refers to the legal discussions embedded in the broader framework of classical rabbinic literature. Broadly speaking, there are two genres within rabbinic law: apodictic legal statements and exegesis of the legal sections of the Bible. The main representatives of the former are the Mishnah and the Tosefta; of the latter, the commentaries that cover the legal sections of the Pentateuch, alternately referred to as the halakhic midrashim and the tannaitic midrashim. There are extant halakhic midrashim to the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, but none to Genesis, presumably due to the paucity of legal material therein. The present bibliography deals with the classical rabbinic period, whose onset can be dated to the year 70 ce. Though it is anachronistic to speak of a rabbinic movement at such an early date—no rabbinic institutions or texts can be dated to that period—the destruction of the Second Temple marks a turning point in the decline of priestly authority and the rise, slowly and gradually, of the rabbinic. Historically, the bibliography does not extend past the Babylonian Talmud (early 6th century ce), even though rabbinic law continued to evolve from the time immediately after the redaction of the Talmud to the present day. Finally, it is worth noting that philological and redactional scholarship has been cited sparsely, and then primarily inasmuch as it pertains to legal issues. So, while a survey of classical rabbinic literature would surely cite, for example, Yaakov Nahum Epstein’s foundational work on the textual history of the Mishnah, his Mavo le-Nusach ha-Mishnah (Jerusalem, 1948), it does not deal with legal matters as such and has not been included in the present bibliography.

Article.  5405 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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