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The Rabbinic Idea of Law

November 11, 2019 - 5:00pm to 6:00pm
Stanford Law School, Room 180

Though typically translated as “Jewish law,” the term halakhah is not an easy match for what is usually thought of as law. This is because the rabbinic legal system has rarely wielded the political power to enforce its many detailed rules; nor has it ever been the law of any state. Even more idiosyncratically, the talmudic rabbis claim that the study of halakhah is a holy endeavor that brings a person closer to God—a claim no country makes of its law. In this panoramic book, Chaim Saiman traces how generations of rabbis have used concepts forged in talmudic disputation to do the work that other societies assign not only to philosophy, political theory, theology, and ethics but also to art, drama, and literature. In the multifaceted world of halakhah where everything is law, law is also everything, and even laws that serve no practical purpose can, when properly studied, provide surprising insights into timeless questions about the very nature of human existence. What does it mean for legal analysis to connect humans to God? Can spiritual teachings remain meaningful and at the same time rigidly codified? Can a modern state be governed by such law? Guiding readers across two millennia of richly illuminating perspectives, this book shows how halakhah is not just “law” but an entire way of thinking, being, and knowing. This lecture about Chaim Saiman’s book, Halakhah: The Rabbinic Idea of Law (Princeton University Press), follows an afternoon workshop conversation with Professor Saiman at the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity Conference Room (Rm 361J), Building 360, 12:00pm titled “The New American Halakhah: The Praxis of Contemporary American Beth Dins."  Chaim SaimanProfessor, Villanova University, Charles Widger School of LawChaim Saiman is a scholar of Jewish law, insurance law and private law, and has just published Halakhah: The Rabbinic Idea of Law with Princeton University Press. Professor Saiman has served as the Gruss Visiting Professor of Talmudic Law at both Harvard Law School and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, a visiting fellow at Princeton University and a visiting professor at the University of Toronto, Bar-Ilan, Hebrew University and IDC faculties of law. Saiman has also served as an arbitrator on rabbinical courts and as an expert witness in insurance law and Jewish law in federal court.

Event Sponsor: 
Taube Center for Jewish Studies, the Center for Law and History, and the Constitutional Law Center