Teaching Religious Law Research as Part of Comparative Law: Focus on Jewish Law

By Marylin Raisch

Why bother to learn about legal research and methodologies in the niche area of religious law? From the perspective of training lawyers in law schools, this pursuit appears to be completely and literally academic (read: useless for the practice of law). In order to move from “what?” to “so what?” and beyond that to “ok, how?” one has to move into a mind-set that opens up to comparative legal systems generally and wants to find out if learning about the unfamiliar, even obscure, legal cultures helps one better understand one’s own. Practical inquiries made through comparative law may illuminate the impact of legal systems on economic development in their respective jurisdictions.[1] This topic can be a good way into comparing our common and many civil law systems with a system which permits conflicting opinions and is ultimately not driven by precedent at all.[2]

What follows below is an outline of selected sources that have been presented in a 40 minute research talk to a Jewish Law seminar at Georgetown. Some editions of texts we use are not necessarily definitive, but I list what we reference for the students. Unless otherwise indicated, web sites listed are free sources.

Jewish Law in General; together with issues relating to American law

  • Hollander, David. Resources to Begin the Study of Jewish Law in Conservative Judaism, 105 Law Libr. J. 305 (2013) available via HeinOnline (fee-based).
  • ______________. Jewish Law for the Law Librarian, 98 Law Libr. J. 219 (2006) available via HeinOnline (hereafter Hollander, Jewish Law)
  • Elon, Menachem. Jewish Law: History, Sources, Principles = Ha-mishpat ha-Ivri; translated from the Hebrew by Bernard Auerbach and Melvin J. Sykes. 4 vols. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1994.
  • University of Miami Law Library, Jewish Law Research Guide
  • WashLaw: Legal Research on the Web (Washburn University Law School), Jewish Law portal.
  • Cardozo Law-Yeshiva University Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization, blog Ancient Traditions, New Conversations (highlights legal questions within Jewish law along with book reviews useful for new title acquisitions.

Talmudic Law and Primary Texts

The Halakha (transliterated variously) is defined broadly at the Jewish Virtual Library’s Encyclopedia Judaica as the totality of oral and written law from the Bible (Torah/Pentateuch) down from Moses through sages, codification, and rabbinic literature, with some of the latter in the form of specific decisions answering thorny legal questions, called responsa.

From a library collections point of view, primary texts would include:

  • The Mishnah, and edited collection from the late Second century CE attributed to Rabbi Judah the Prince that collected oral law or the oral Torah to transmit teachings after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70.
  • The Mishnah = [Shishah sidre Mishnah] [Jerusalem : Eliner Library, Dept. for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora, 1994-1996].
  • The Babylonian Talmud (TB) is a commentary on the Mishnah (and its commentary, the Gemara), and this version predominates in general study over a version produced at another Talmudic academy in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Talmud, dating from 350–400 CE.
  • The [Babylonian] Talmud: the Steinsaltz edition, translated and edited by Adin Steinsaltz. New York: Random House, 1989- .  Digital copies are emerging, such as the one at the Jewish Virtual Library.
  • The Mishneh Torah (MT) of Maimonides, dating from 1170-1180 CE has been described as “the most comprehensive and significant code of Jewish Law ever compiled.” (see Eliav Shochetman, “Jewish Law in Spain and the Halakhic Activity of its Scholars before 1300” in work cited at footnote 2, above).
  • Maimonides, Moses, 1135-1204.The Code of Maimonides. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949- .
  • The Shulchan Aruch of Rabbi. Joseph Ḳaro, in the sixteenth century, used the ṣefer halakhot and Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah to create an authoritative statement of halakha.
  • Karo, Joseph ben Ephraim. The Concise code of Jewish law: compiled from Kitzur Shulhan aruch and traditional sources: a new translation with introduction and halakhic annotations based on contemporary response. 2 vols. New York : Ktav Pub. House, 1977- .

(See Hollander, Jewish Law cited above at 228-233 for citation guides to these complex works).

Judaica Electronic Texts: This site at the University of Pennsylvania, contains texts in several languages, notably Hebrew-English parallel Bible from the Masoretic text, and “Internet Resources for the Study of Judaism and Christianity.”

Internet Sacred Text Archive, Judaism (older texts no longer in copyright)

Dafyomi Advancement Forum, at which provides hyperlinks to free online resources. Can be used as an easily accessible English summary of the Talmud, for basic orientation through daily study, from The Ministry of Religion and Culture of the State of Israel, Estate Distribution Fund of the State of Israel, Dr. Lindsay and Rivki Rosenwald, Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.

CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis) Digital Responsa Collection (fee-based),

Bar-Ilan University Responsa Project

Article Indexes ISpecific to Jewish Law and available free on the Internet

RAMBI – the Index of Articles on Jewish Studies: A multi-lingual bibliography of selected articles on Jewish Studies, from the Jewish National and University Library, also via The Library of the Faculty of Law at Bar Ilan University, maintains its own Index to Legal Periodicals in Israel. This platform is the same Aleph platform as RAMBI. It contains articles, written in Hebrew and in English that address matters of Jewish Law. This index can be found by going to, choosing the hyperlink at the top left for English, and then the Index to Articles. The difference? This additional resource also searches for books.

Article Indexes II: General & Legal Periodicals Indexes; search within them for Jewish Law

Law reviews: via Index to Legal Periodicals and Books and the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals; Lexis and Westlaw with easy search strings that add in the narrower topic, for example this search string: arbitrat! w/s divorce AND “Jewish law”

Google Scholar (with library links to your institution’s catalog)

Digitization, Notable Journals and Collections: Specific to Jewish Law

HeinOnline Religion and the Law collection, section on Jewish Law. Many valuable titles, some older or discontinued journals.

Hebrew digital library Otzar HaHochma: (fee based). May be cataloged as Otzar Online, containing “over 90,200” electronic texts, though not all are on Jewish law.

Treasures of the Library, Jewish National and University Library, Writings of Maimonides, Manuscripts and Early Print Editions

Jewish Theological Seminary, archives and links to other e-content and holdings,

HebrewBooks.org– digitization and free download, all in Hebrew, not all specific to law.

Touro College, Jewish Law Institute, Lillian Goldstein Traveling Judaica Collection – Upon request, they will loan your law school a teaching collection!

Finally, do not overlook the often-cited In Custodia Legis blog of the Law Library of Congress. Search this comparative law blog in the box at the upper left with phrase in quotations “Jewish law” for posts such as this one from 2011, highlighting their Jewish Law collection and rare materials within it.

[1] See Chapters 9 and 10 on legal systems and legal change in Milhaupt, Curtis J., and Pistor, Katharina. Law & Capitalism: What Corporate Crises Reveal about Legal Systems and Economic Development around the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014. Accessed February 28, 2018.
[2] “Stemming from the original prophetic concept of divine revelation, the concept persisted that rival, apparently (to humans) contradictory traditions, could subsist simultaneously, each claiming the validity of divine law. No ‘rule of recognition’ … could deprive such revelation of its validity. From this stems the understanding here propounded of both the ‘either-or’ phenomenon of the Talmud…” in Ben-Menahem, Hanina. “Postscript: The Judicial Process and the Nature of Jewish Law” in An Introduction to the History and Sources of Jewish Law, N. S. Hecht, B. S. Jackson, S. M. Passamaneck, Daniela Piattelli, and Alfredo Rabello, eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996 at p. 434-435. Oxford Scholarship Online, 2012. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198262626.003.0016.

3 responses to “Teaching Religious Law Research as Part of Comparative Law: Focus on Jewish Law

  1. Hi Marylin. What a great idea! Jewish law – long since recognized as the “Parent religion” for eastern and western Christian religious traditions- has been for a long time object of comparative research, not only ” inter” various religious legal systems, but including modern civil law as well. According to the Hebrew .University of Jerusalem, comparative studies on Jewish and Islamic law – with or without inclusion of civil law – is a very active field of modern research.
    There are a couple of features of Jewish law, especially marriage with the concerns of family relationships and generation counts (degrees=gradus) to establish the doctrine of incest, i.e., the doctrine of allowed/disallowed marriages :
    flowing from Leviticus and Deuteronomy (Pentateuch), transmitted to cannon law, and entered from there – with modification by the Reformation – the civil law tradition.
    A good work to read up on this is John Selden’s Uxor Ebraica (English translation available)..He was an English 16th/17th cent. lawyer and eminent Christian Hebraists, involved in London in the controversial reform of marriage and divorce.
    Jolande Goldberg, Library of Congress

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