Foundations of Jewish Law - NYU Wagner

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Instructors
Office
Office Hours
Foundations of Jewish Law
Rabbi Yehuda Sarna
212-998-4120
Phone
Professor Elana Stein
212-874-6100 x229
The Bronfman Center
[email protected]
E-mail
7 E. 10th Street, 5th FL
[email protected]
By appointment only
Class
Thursdays, 4:55-6:10pm
Course Description:
This course will trace the evolution of the Jewish legal tradition from its biblical
foundations to its post-biblical, rabbinic, early medieval iteration. Our study will
identify foundational phenomena and concerns evident in Jewish legal literature from
these various periods. Throughout the course, we will explore the complex interplay
of law, God, society and politics in various formative stages of the Jewish normative
tradition.
Learning Goals:
1. Students will become familiar with the main genres of Jewish legal writings,
the main schools of Jewish jurisprudence, and some methods of Jewish legal
analysis.
2. Students will learn to engage is close reading of primary texts and critical
reading of secondary texts.
3. Students will learn to employ interdisciplinary techniques to better
comprehend the nuances of Jewish law.
4. Students will sharpen their analytical skills by comparing and contrasting the
material with their understanding of current ambient culture.
5. Students will explore how religious leaders balance inherited wisdom with real
life concerns with integrity as a possible model for their own leadership.
Text:
Required reading for the course is:
● From Text to Tradition: A History of the Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism
by Lawrence H. Schiffman
● The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud by Jeffrey Rubenstein
Additional readings will be emailed as PDFs two weeks in advance.
There is no language pre-requisite. All primary texts will be made available
in English. All biblical texts can be found in Hebrew and English at mechonmamre.org. All texts from the Babylonian Talmud (BT) can be found in
Aramaic and English at halakhah.com. We will provide all other primary
texts in translation as PDFs.
Requirements:
Attendance: Students are required to attend all classes and complete all
assignments on time. Please notify instructor through email before class if you are
unable to attend. If you miss 2 or more classes, unexcused or unexcused, you may
not pass the course. Class will begin on time. Lateness will result in a deduction
from your class participation grade. If you are more than 10 minutes late, you will
be marked absent.
Oral Presentation: Each student will give one oral presentation during the
semester. The oral presentation will be based on the questions found in bold at the
Page 1
end of description for each class. The presentation should be geared towards
fostering class discussion about that week’s topic. Each presentation should last
seven to ten minutes and should draw upon that week’s readings.
Final Paper: At the end of the semester, each student will hand in a 1200-1500
word paper highlighting one topic discussed during the semester. The paper should
include analysis of the topic as well as how the phenomenon discussed relates to
today’s general culture.
.
Evaluation:
50% class participation
25% oral presentation
25% final paper
Academic Honesty: Academic honesty is expected and required of all students.
Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to cheating, fabrication, plagiarism,
and facilitating dishonesty.
Students with Disabilities: New York University is committed to providing an
equal educational opportunity for all students. If you have a documented physical,
psychological, or learning disability on file with Disability Services, you may be
eligible for reasonable academic accommodations to help you succeed in this course.
If you have a documented disability that requires an accommodation, please notify
instructor within the first two weeks of the semester so that appropriate
arrangements can be made.
GRADING SCALE
A = 94-100 pts. A- = 90-93 pts. B+ = 87-89 pts. B = 84-86 pts. B- = 80-83,
C+ = 77- 79 pts. C = 74-76 pts. C- = 70-73 pts. D+ = 67-69 pts. D = 64-66 pts.
F = 63 or below
Tips for thoughtful and engaged college-level reading:
Give yourself ample time to complete, highlight, and make mental or actual notes on
the readings. Eliminate distractions and allow yourself to be alert and to become
mentally involved in your reading.
If it is difficult for you to absorb new information from reading, do not attempt to
read in one sitting; read portions of the readings at a time.
Make a habit of highlighting or underlining brief passages in the text. If an idea is
new to you, if it confirms what you already know or agree with, if a passage is
confusing, if you do not agree with it, if something is particularly thought-provoking,
highlight it. Highlighting and taking notes or writing your thoughts in the margins
helps you to recall key themes, to remember what you read, to study for tests and to
write papers.
Think of an article or chapter as a story that is being told to you or conversation that
you are having, and make mental connections in your reading. Is what you’re
reading new? Had you ever thought about what the author is saying before? Is the
reading connected with other things you have read? Do certain ideas in the reading
excite or inspire you, make you angry or sad or confused, confirm what you believe
or experience? Do you agree or disagree with what everything or only certain things
Page 2
the author is saying? Do you believe what the author is saying is true?—Ask yourself
these types of questions in your mind as you read.
9/06 - Introduction
Review of Syllabus and Course Expectations
9/13 - Early Biblical Law - Justice: A Case of Sexual Violence
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Hg9mvE1FA4 = Hatfields and McCoys,
http://www.condenaststore.com/-sp/Smallest-fish-about-to-be-eaten-New-YorkerCartoon-Prints_i8562837_.htm = New Yorker Justice Cartoon
PRIMARY TEXTS:
Genesis 34
SECONDARY TEXTS:
Lawrence Schiffman, From Text to Tradition, 1-32; Fewell and Dunn, "Tipping the
Balance: Sternberg's Reader and the Rape of Dinah," (co-authored) Journal of
Biblical Literature 110 (1991) 193-211. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3267082
FOR FURTHER READING:
Meir Sternberg, Poetics of Biblical Narrative, Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987, pp.
445-475; Henry McKeating, “The Development of the Laws on Homicide”
http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/m.pdf?acceptTC=true
9/20 - Biblical Law - Authority: Are God and Humanity Equal?
http://www.g-dcast.com/shavuot
PRIMARY TEXTS:
Exodus 19-20, 24, 34; Deuteronomy 4-10
Code of Hamurabi, Preamble, http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/ham/ham04.htm
SECONDARY TEXTS:
Moshe Weinfeld, “The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament and the Ancient Near
East”, http://www.jstor.org/stable/598135
David Weiss Halivni, Midrash, Mishnah and Gemara, pps 11-13
Jon Levenson, Sinai and Zion, 23-36, 75-80, 97-101
FOR FURTHER READING:
Daniel J Elazar, “Covenant and Polity in Biblical
Israel”,http://www.jcpa.org/dje/books/ct-vol1-int.htm , “The Biblical Covenant as
the Foundation of Justice, Obligations and
Rights”http://www.jcpa.org/dje/articles2/bibcov.htm; Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Studies
in Bible and Feminist Criticism, chapter 10 - Covenant: A Jewish Biblical Perspective
9/27 - Biblical Law II - Context: Is Biblical Law Unique?
PRIMARY TEXTS:
Exodus 21-23
SECONDARY TEXTS:
Lawrence Rosen, Law as Culture, Introduction, pps 1-13
Moshe Greenberg, “Some Postulates of Biblical
Law”http://www.jidaily.com/68Rw1HV
FOR FURTHER READING:
Raymond Westbrook, “Biblical and Cuneiform Law Codes,” 92 Revue Biblique 247
(1985)
STUDENT PRESENTATION:
Page 3
These readings emphasize what Biblical Law was able to contribute to the ancient
Near East. Read Lev. 25:1-24, 35-38 and reflect on what Biblical law may contribute
to US culture today.
10/04 - Early Second Temple - Divinity: Does God Still Speak?
PRIMARY TEXTS:
Nehemiah 8-11, in particular 8:5-10 (role of Ezra as scribe), 8:14-17 (Sukkot –
compare to Lev 23:40-44), 10:34 (Korban eitzim, compare to 4Q365 frag. 23 found
here
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1066&context=classicsfac
pub&sei-redir=1#search=%224Q365%2C%20frag.%2023%22
Damascus Document (CD) I-V in Geza Vermes,The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls, pp
97-100
Book of Jubilees, chapters 1-2
SECONDARY TEXTS:
Lawrence Schiffman, From Text to Tradition, 33-79; Aharon Shemesh, “Halakhah in
the Making,” 1-39
FOR FURTHER READING:
James Kugel, "Two Introductions to Midrash" Prooftexts 3 (1983)
http://www.jstor.org/stable/20689066;
Angels at Sinai: Exegesis, Theology and Interpretive Authority
Hindy Najman, Dead Sea Discoveries, Vol. 7, No. 3, Angels and Demons (2000), pp.
313-333
STUDENT PRESENTATION:
Does God belong in public policy? Make both the pro and con side of the argument
and tell us your opinion if you are comfortable doing so. Please share at least one
news article for each side of the argument.
10/11 - Late Second Temple - Preservation and Transmission
PRIMARY TEXTS:
Mishnah Avot Chapters 1,2; Mishnah Eduyot Chapter 1; Tosefta Eduyot, Chapter 1
SECONDARY TEXTS:
Lawrence Schiffman, From Text to Tradition, 98-119, 157-176,
Devora Steinmetz, “Distancing and Bringing Near: A New Look at Avot and Eduyot”,
Hebrew Union College Annual 73 (2002)
FOR FURTHER READING:
James Kugel, How to Read the Bible, pp. 7-24
Lawrence Schiffman, From Text to Tradition, 139-156
STUDENT PRESENTATION:
Dr. Steinmetz’s article points out that some like to present themselves as continuous
with the past, while others present themselves as continuous with the new. Present
an example of contemporary groups/societies which present themselves in one of
those ways and describe the advantages and disadvantages of their selfpresentation.
10/18 - Emergence of Christianity
PRIMARY TEXTS:
Tosefta Sanhedrin 13:2
SECONDARY TEXTS:
Lawrence Schiffman, From Text to Tradition, 139-156
Page 4
Alan Segal, Rebecca’s Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World, 142181
FURTHER READING:
Alan Segal, Rebecca’s Children, 68-116
STUDENT PRESENTATION:
How did the split between Judaism and Christianity impact Jewish law and theology?
10/25 - Early Tannaim - Power: How to Treat the Rebels
PRIMARY TEXTS:
Tosefta Yadayim 2:7; Mishnah Rosh Hashana 2:8-9; Sotah, 27b “on that day”;
Tosefta Sotah 15:10-15
SECONDARY TEXTS:
Shaye J.D. Cohen, “The Significance of Yavneh: Pharisees, Rabbis, and the End of
Jewish Sectarianism” Hebrew Union College Annual 55 (1984)
Aharon Shemesh, Halakhah in the Making, 39-71
FOR FURTHER READING:
Vered Noam, Traces of Sectarian Halakhah in the Rabbinic World (online)
Yitzhak Gilat, ”Eliezer ben Hurkenus” in Encyclopedia Judaica,
http://go.galegroup.com/ps/retrieve.do?sgHitCountType=None&sort=RELEVANCE&in
PS=true&prodId=GVRL&userGroupName=imcpl1111&tabID=T003&searchId=R1&res
ultListType=RESULT_LIST&contentSegment=&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm&cu
rrentPosition=7&contentSet=GALE|CX2587505801&&docId=GALE|CX2587505801&d
ocType=GALE&role=
STUDENT PRESENTATION:
What is the source of truth? Is it reason? Is it tradition? Is it revelation? How
pragmatic must one be in determining what the truth is? Is there a difference
between the personal and the communal searches for truth? Reflect what you’ve
read and your opinion if you’re comfortable sharing it.
11/01 - Tannaim II - Interpretation: Rabbi Akiva vs. Rabbi Yishmael
Final Paper Assigned
PRIMARY TEXTS:
BT Menahot 29b
SECONDARY TEXTS:
Lawrence Schiffman, From Text to Tradition, 177-200
Azzan Yadin, Scripture as Logos: Rabbi Yishmael and the Origins of Midrash,
Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania
Press, 2004 - Preface, Introduction, Chapter 7
Menachem Elon, “Jewish Law” Vol 1, pp. 190-194, 286-308, 371-384
FOR FURTHER READING:
Jay Harris, From Inner-Biblical Interpretation to Early Rabbinic Exegesis
STUDENT PRESENTATION:
Identify a part of life that is not usually governed by explicit rules or laws (e.g., how
to keep your dorm common space clean), and try to write a 10-rule code for it. In
what way would having a code help, and in what ways would it hinder?
11/08 - Post-Temple World - Decentralization
PRIMARY TEXTS:
Page 5
Mishnah Megillah 3:1; Tosefta Megillah 2:13; Pesahim (Mishna and Tosefta) Chapter
10
SECONDARY TEXTS:
Seth Schwartz, Imperialism and Jewish Society, chapter 8 - The Synagogue: Origins
and Diffusion
Judith Hauptman, “How Old is the Haggadah?”
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0411/is_1_51/ai_85068465/
FOR FURTHER READING:
Vanessa L. Ochs, What Makes a Jewish Home Jewish?
http://www.crosscurrents.org/ochsv.htm
Louis Finkelstein, Akiba: Scholar, Saint, Martyr. New York: Atheneum, 1978.
STUDENT PRESENTATION:
Read Vanessa Ochs’ article and describe, reflecting your own opinions and the
readings for this week, why the notion of a “Jewish home” is significant.
11/15 – Amoraim/The Talmuds - Debate and Pluralism
PRIMARY TEXTS:
BT Bava Metzia 59b (“Oven of Akhnai”)
SECONDARY TEXTS:
Lawrence Schiffman, From Text to Tradition, 220-240
Richard Hidary “Dispute for the Sake of Heaven: Legal Pluralism in the Talmud”. P.
43ff, p. 61, 77
Jeffrey Rubenstein, The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud, pp 39-54
FOR FURTHER READING:
Hanina Ben Menahem, "Is there always one uniquely correct answer to a legal
question in the Talmud?"The Jewish Law Annual (Volume 6)
Suzanne Last Stone, “Sinaitic and Noahide Law: Legal Pluralism in Jewish Law”,
http://www.cardozo.yu.edu/uploadedFiles/Cardozo/Profiles/sstone474/sinaitic_noahide_law%281%29.pdf
STUDENT PRESENTATION: 2 Students
Debate whether the rabbis made the right decision when they excommunicated R.
Eliezer in the Oven of Akhnai case.
11/22 - Thanksgiving – no class
11/29 – Amoraim II - Authoritarianism vs. Inclusive Model
PRIMARY TEXTS:
BT Berakhot 27b-28a; Jerusalem Talmud Berakhot 4:1, 7c-d; Babylonian Talmud
Qiddushin, 69b-70a
SECONDARY TEXTS:
Lawrence Schiffman, From Text to Tradition, 241-265; Jeffrey Rubenstein, The
Culture of the Babylonian Talmud, 80-122
FOR FURTHER READING:
EE Urbach, The Halakha: its Sources and Development, Sure Sellers Inc. (June
1988); Shai Secunda, “Reading the Bavli in
Iran”http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/jqr/summary/v100/100.2.secunda.html
STUDENT PRESENTATION: 2 Students
Should the rabbis have allowed Rabban Gamliel back into the study hall? Was
splitting the leadership between him and R. Elazar b. Azaryah the correct move?
Debate the pros and cons of authoritarian versus inclusive leadership.
Page 6
12/06 - Amoraim III - Chosenness: Consentual or Coerced?
PRIMARY TEXTS:
BT Shabbat 88a-89b; BT Avodah Zarah 2a-3b
SECONDARY TEXTS:
Jeffrey Rubenstein, The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud, pp. 1-39
Gerald Blidstein, "In the Shadow of the Mountain: Consent and Coercion at Sinai,"
Jewish Political Studies Review 4, no. 1 (Spring 1992)
Page 7
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