Theses Doctoral

Rabbinic Legal Loopholes: Formalism, Equity and Subjectivity

Stein, Elana

Rabbinic law is particularly well known for its use of legal dodges and technical circumventions. This dissertation focuses on three main questions about such loopholes: 1) Why is rabbinic law so replete with them? 2) Are they always permitted, and if not, what are the parameters of their use? 3) What does the use of legal loopholes reveal about rabbinic views of the relationship between intention and action?
We attempt to answer these questions by analyzing a particular subset of rabbinic legal loopholes known as ha`arama (cunning). Tracing the history and use of ha`arama from tannaitic to amoraic sources, this work places rabbinic legal loopholes in context of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern worldviews, Greco-Roman perspectives, and later contemporaneous Zoroastrian approaches. Working with both tannaitic and amoraic materials, with Palestinian and Babylonian sources, we observe a progression within rabbinic thinking on this front: from rigid legal formalism to a concern for the inner spirit of the law, and from emphasis on the inner spirit of the law to an interest in the inner spirit of the individual legal agent.



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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Weiss Halivni, David
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014