Originally published in the Jewish Chronicle, February 1971.
A matter of interpretation
LAW AND TRADITION IN JUDAISM. By Boaz Cohen. Ktav, New York. $6.95.
STUDIES IN BIBLICAL LAW. By David Daube. Ktav, New York. $10.00.
An interesting feature of the Jewish publishing scene is the astonishing output of reprints.
Among the many classical and near-classical works republished by Ktav are these two volumes—one by Daube (first appearing in 1947) and the other by Cohen, published as recently as 1959. There can be few volumes in English which display such vast erudition in both Jewish law and other legal systems.
Cohen’s book contains a number essays originally written as independent articles; there is, therefore, a certain lack of unity in the work. The contents include “Towards a philosophy of Jewish law”; “Law and ethics in the light of the Jewish tradition”; and “Appendix on civil marriage.”
Of particular significance is the chapter, “The Shulhan Aruch as a guide for religious practice today.” The author is firmly convinced that “traditional Jewish law as codified in the Shulhan Aruch can be best brought into harmony with contemporary conditions by interpretation and not by innovation or abrogation.”
He proceeds to demonstrate how this might be achieved, but at the end of an extremely learned essay many of the problems still remain.
The Daube volume contains five lengthy essays on Biblical law and brings a fresh point of view to problems discussed by Biblical scholars lacking his legal expertise. His intriguing references to the compatibility with Orthodoxy of the critical approach he espouses make one wish for a more detailed exposition of this particular theme.
In publishing a reprint of the work of a distinguished living author, Ktav would have done well to invite him to add a note on these lines and to say whether any of his views have changed or received further confirmation.
Both volumes, though highly technical (especially in the notes), are easy to read and are fascinating additions to the library of the educated layman, as well as the expert.