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Law and Self-Knowledge in the Talmud


  • Date Published: May 2018
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781108427494

£ 75.00

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About the Authors
  • This book examines the emergence of self-knowledge as a determining legal consideration among the rabbis of Late Antiquity, from the third to the seventh centuries CE. Based on close readings of rabbinic texts from Palestine and Babylonia, Ayelet Hoffmann Libson highlights a unique and surprising developing in Talmudic jurisprudence, whereby legal decision-making incorporated personal and subjective information. She examines the central legal role accorded to individuals' knowledge of their bodies and mental states in areas of law as diverse as purity laws, family law and the laws of Sabbath. By focusing on subjectivity and self-reflection, the Babylonian rabbis transformed earlier legal practices in a way that cohered with the cultural concerns of other religious groups in Late Antiquity. They developed sophisticated ideas about the inner self and incorporated these notions into their distinctive discourse of law.

    • Uses a philosophical lens to explore rabbinic literature
    • Accessibly written
    • Weaves together legal and narrative sources
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'In Law and Self-Knowledge in the Talmud, Ayelet Hoffmann Libson insightfully links the Talmudic rabbis' accommodation of subjectivity in the law to a surprising willingness to limit their own power. An erudite and persuasive challenge to prevailing Foucauldian accounts of the rabbinic project.' Christine Hayes, Yale University, Connecticut

    'In this extraordinary, subtle book, the history of consciousness meets scholarly Talmudic analysis. The results are illuminating to both fields, as Libson reveals new perspectives on important Jewish legal problems while deepening our understanding of spiritual and ritual self-scrutiny in late antiquity. Law and Self-Knowledge in the Talmud will repay close reading by scholars of religion, law, consciousness, and the interplay between the three.' Noah Feldman, Harvard University Law School, Massachusetts

    'This is a vitally important book. It enters into an important conversation/controversy with a major new thought and demonstrates the validity of that thought as well. The controversy is whether or not there was a turn in the conception of the 'individual' in rabbinic literature. Joshua Levinson has argued for a significant turn towards interiority and a self from biblical to rabbinic literature, while Ishay Rosen-Zvi has argued on the basis of Palestinian rabbinic literature that this is a misreading. In this book, the author makes a stunning contribution by showing that both are right (and both wrong). There is such a turn; it takes place, however, according to Libson, in amoraic Babylonia. This conclusion, it cannot be emphasized enough, is of major significance for the interpretation of the history of Jewish ideas. The book is marked by extraordinary sophistication both with respect to the sensitive historicizing interpretation of rabbinic texts as well as the infrequent but always judicious reference to both comparative and theoretical texts.' Daniel Boyarin, University of California, Berkeley

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    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2018
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781108427494
    • length: 224 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 157 x 19 mm
    • weight: 0.47kg
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    1. The inward turn in rabbinic literature
    2. Knowledge of the body: the case of sensation
    3. Asserting the needs of the body
    4. Between body and mind: the suffering self
    5. Self-knowledge and a wife's autonomy.

  • Author

    Ayelet Hoffmann Libson, Harvard Law School, Massachusetts
    Ayelet Hoffmann Libson is an assistant professor at the Radzyner Law School at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, and the Gruss Visiting Assistant Professor in Talmudic Civic Law at Harvard University, Massachusetts. She is a graduate of the Hebrew University (B.A.) and New York University (M.A., Ph.D.), and has held postdoctoral appointments at the Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University. She is also a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and has won fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, the Lady Davis Foundation, and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.

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