‘Between Law and Society: Mahariq's Responsum on the “Ways of the Gentiles” (Huqqot ha-Akkum)'

J. Woolf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The late Professor Jacob Katz was wont to observe that the student seeking to properly study and evaluate rabbinic responsa must read his sources twice. First, he must examine the text from the point of view of the halakhist, and evaluate it as an integral part of halakhic literature and tradition, respecting the general assumption of the halakhist that Jewish law is a closed system, which operates according to its own rules. After this, he must don the spectacles of the historian and evaluate, as best he can, the degree to which contemporary circumstances had an impact (if any) upon or are reflected in the decisor's ruling. This dual challenge is quite daunting in so highly nuanced and idiomatically opaque a literature as the halakhah. Caution and sensitivity must be the hallmark of all efforts to achieve both of the aims posited by Katz, especially the latter. As a result of the sagacity of Katz's admonition, halakhic historiography in recent years has made heavy use of the medium of case studies (carried out within specific periods and geographical areas). Recourse to these has proven fruitful in advancing the historian's goal of carefully and responsibly reconstructing the history of halakhah per se and the annals of the societies and cultures within which halakhic traditions were developed and which, in turn, left their impact thereupon.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)45-69
JournalAJS Review
StatePublished - 2000


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