Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle, 9 January 1981.
Jewish Law and Decision-Making: A Study through Time. By Aaron M. Schreiber. Temple University Press, Philadelphia. $29.50.
The main thesis of this stimulating book (consisting partly of essays by other scholars linked together by comments and further explorations by the editor) is that, throughout the history of Jewish law, social considerations and the other than legal values of Judaism are the really decisive factors. Professor Schreiber believes that, whatever the law in abstract may imply, the decision-making of the title depends ultimately on these factors.
For instance, although according to the strict letter of the law the Courts in the middle ages were not empowered to punish offenders, extra-legal machinery had to be devised for decisions to be enforced, otherwise the whole system would have collapsed. Similarly the interpretation of the classical sources with regard to women’s rights tended to be more liberal in Christian Europe than in Islamic lands, the cultural background of the great legal luminaries influencing, consciously or unconsciously, the way in which the law was developed.
Schreiber is aware, of course, that the law has passed through a number of distinct periods but holds that there is a sufficient degree of continuity to justify the anachronism of calling biblical law “Jewish.”
The book will undoubtedly have an impact on Jewish legal studies but it is deplorable that for a publication of a university press it abounds in printing and other errors, eg “vertible” for “veritable;” “Rabbing” for “Rabbinic;” “Rambam” (Maimonides) for “Ramban” (Nahmanides). Judah Rozanes’s work is Mishneh le-Melekh (“Viceroy of a King”) not Mishnah (“Teaching”) and Meleh for “King” is alas all too typical of the completely erratic transliteration of the Hebrew evidenced on practically every page.
Moreover, elsewhere in the book Rozanes is made to be the author of the Maggid Mishnah. Anatoli’s work is not Melammed ha-Talmidim (“Guide for Students”) but Malmad ha-Talmidim (“Goad for Students”) and the famous nineteenth century author is Robertson-Smith not Robinson-Smith. Sixteenth and seventeenth century authors are described as having lived in Israel (sic). But why go on listing faults which strongly affect the credibility of what could have been a most helpful work.