2004 Volume 1

Editors: Bernard Jackson and Ephraim Nissan. (No Gorgias Press edition).


1. Bernard S. Jackson, Agunah and the Problem of Authority: Directions for Future Research

This paper provides a preliminary analysis of the issues to be researched by the Agunah Research Unit at the University of Manchester, which seeks a global solution to the halakhic problems of the agunah (mesurevet get). Frequently, halakhic resistance to change appears to be based on historical claims which appear questionable in the light of research into halakhic history. Thus terminative conditions, commencing with one discussed by R. Yose in the Jerusalem Talmud, appear to have been used from time to time, despite the maxim eyn t’nai benisu’in. There is a variant reading of Amemar’s ruling on the wife proclaiming ma’us alay in Ketubot 63b, according to which he appears to have been willing to coerce the husband. The nature of the coercion practised by the Geonim in favour of the moredet may well have amounted to the Rosh’s later description of that practice as amounting to annulment. The extent of Rabbenu Tam’s opposition to the measures of the Geonim is unclear, in the light of apparently contradictory statements in the Sefer Hayashar. Such historical claims have to be viewed in the context of the authority structure of the halakhah, and in particular such questions as the status of the demand for consensus, the application of the principle of (and exceptions to) hilkheta kebatr’ai and the theological arguments advanced against reliance on new manuscript discoveries. The paper concludes with an outline argument for a multi-faceted approach, combining conditions, coercion and annulment, and exploiting the possibilities for leniency opened by the doctrine of sfek sfeika.

2. Rocco Bernasconi, Reasons for Norms in Mishnaic Discourse: Some Formal, Functional, and Conceptual Observations

The Mishnah does not generally account for the validity of its legal provisions, yet, occasionally reasons or warrants are given. This thesis tries to explore, classify and analyse the reasons encountered in seven sample tractates. Within these limits, the thesis attempts to identify formal and functional classifications of different kinds of reasons, based on literary-synchronic investigation. For the initial analysis of the Mishnaic text, a classification of reasons distinguishes them according to their grammatical, syntactical and argumentative traits. As for reason type, one can find ‘dependent’ and ‘independent’ reasons: the former quotes Scripture, a ma’aseh, or a minhag, while the latter articulates directly some fact or observation which is logically related to the apodosis (or protasis). It is also possible to distinguish between arguments and types of reasons in that a single argument may possibly carry various kinds of explanation (e.g. linguistic, legal, or factual). The second section describes the co-textual and contextual relations in which Mishnaic reasons stand to the hypothetical legal cases, and their function within the discourse. An attempt to conceptualise the Mishnaic activity of ‘giving reasons’ leads me to pose the following wider questions: 1. How is the reason formally expressed? 2. Does the reason increase or limit the range of application of the protasis (or of the apodosis)? 3. What is the type of argument used in support of the reason? 4. What kind of explanation does the reason, seen in the context of its argument provide? 5. What type of norm is explained by the reason? 6. Is the reason provided a final reason or does it call, in the way in which it is formulated, for further interpretation or expansion?

3. Daniel R. Langton, A Question of Backbone: Comparing Christian Influences upon the Origins of Reform and Liberal Judaism in England

The late British historian David Englander once described the Judaism practiced by the acculturated upper classes of nineteenth-century British Jewry as “an invertebrate religion”. It was, he explained, “deficient in doctrine, without rigour in ritual, and lacking spiritual warmth.” Many contemporary Jews would have agreed with his assessment and the emergence of Reform Judaism in 1840 and of Liberal Judaism some 70 years later can be viewed as attempts to remedy the situation, to inject some backbone in the religious belief and practice of the Anglo-Jewish community. Without wishing to detract from a range of other historical and sociological explanations, one very significant factor for such developments was the internalisation of Christian criticism of Judaism, and it will be from this angle that the respective beginnings of these two institutions will be compared. The first half will recount and synthesize existing scholarly explanations of early Reform Judaism. It will explore its origins, the impact of the evangelical Christian critique of Judaism, and attempts to reform Reform Judaism. The second half, reflecting the dearth of existing scholarship, will look in greater detail at the development of early Liberal Judaism. It will explore the idea of Liberal Judaism as an alternative to Orthodoxy and Reform, controversies regarding Christian infuences, and the liberal Anglican impact of the Christian critique of Judaism.