Academic Year 2009-2010
Adiel Schremer is Associate Professor in Bar-Ilan University’s Department of Jewish History and heads the Halpern Center for the Study of Jewish Self-Perception. He is the recipient of the Urbach Prize from The Jewish Memorial Foundation and the World Union for Jewish Studies, and the Rosen-Zvi Prize from the Faculty of Law at Tel Aviv University. He is also a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. His publications include Male and Female He Created Them: Jewish Marriage in Late Second Temple, Mishnah and Talmud Periods, and Brothers Estranged: Heresy, Christianity, and Jewish Identity in Late Antiquity.
Toward Critical Halakhic Studies
This research proposes to address the question concerning the relations between a society and its normative system, and to examine the implications of this question to the study of Jewish legal tradition and history. Focusing on early rabbinic texts I will ask: What can be inferred from these texts about the religious orientation and standards of the masses? What is the place of halakhic authorities in shaping the actual life of their communities?
In studies devoted to the place of the Rabbis in Palestinian Jewish society in Late Antiquity the question concerning the religious identity of the masses is frequently presented as deriving from the question concerning the place of the Rabbis in society, their authority and legal power. The key concepts governing these scholarly discussions are those of “authority,” “power,” “jurisdiction,” and “control,” and it is frequently argued that: “The degree to which rabbinic ideas and norms penetrated Jewish life was a function of the ... status and authority of the sages in the eyes of the people.” The argument is that the Rabbis lacked any authority and power over the masses, and therefore they could not force anyone to accept their teachings and to follow their norms. For this reason it is to be assumed that the religious identity of the masses was very much at odds with that of the Rabbis.
However, the logic underlying this line of argumentation is not as simple as it may appear, since it is entirely possible, at least on a theoretical level, that the religious orientation of the masses would be very much in line with that of halakhic authorities, even if the latter do not have authority and political power to enforce their opinions on others. Hence, the connection between these two issues calls for a more nuanced treatment. This research seeks to explore these connections, as understood by early legal rabbinic texts.