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For the Love of God and People

A Philosophy of Jewish Law

Authored by Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff

Publication Year: 2007

Every generation of Jews in every denomination of Judaism finds itself facing complex legal questions. The status of same-sex unions and the plight of the agunah (a woman who cannot obtain a divorce), are just two of a myriad of thorny questions Jewish legal experts grapple with today. These are not esoteric problems but issues with a profound impact on the daily happiness of countless people. How do the rabbis who draft responses to these questions reach their conclusions? What informs their decisions and their approach to Jewish law? Acclaimed writer and legal expert Elliot Dorff addresses these and other questions in this intelligent, accessible guide to the philosophy behind Jewish law. In his view, Jewish law is an expression of the love we have for God and for our fellow human beings. This theme permeates his discussion of important aspects of the law. For example, what motivates modern Jews to follow Jewish law? How does Jewish law strike the balance between continuity and change? On what grounds and under what circumstances do human beings have the authority to interpret or even change God's laws? Dorff also offers a systematic comparison of Jewish law and U.S. law, based on his course on this subject at UCLA School of Law. Whether you are a lawyer or simply interested in the philosophy behind recent rabbinic decisions, this is a book that will deepen your understanding of the Jewish legal system and its role in the modern world.

Published by: Jewish Publication Society

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. ix-xi

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pp. xiii-xviii

It may seem odd to think seriously about theory of law at all, let alone Jewish legal theory. After all, there are more than enough problems to concern us in the world, both practical and intellectual, so why bother with this, let alone write a whole book about it? Beyond that, what is a theory of law anyway, and why does it matter?...


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pp. xix-xx

Part I: Foundations

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Chapter One: Bringing the Topic Down to Earth

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pp. 3-42

The very topic of this book, a philosophy of Jewish law, probably makes some people’s eyes gloss over. They rightfully ask: What is a philosophy of law? Why should I care? The purpose of this chapter is to answer those questions and to make the topic understandable...

Part II: The Core Concepts of My Theory of Jewish Law

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Chapter Two: The Body of Jewish Law: How It Resembles Other Legal Systems

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pp. 45-85

Now that I have explained what a theory of law is, I can describe my own theory of Jewish law. In my 1992 book, Knowing God: Jewish Journeys to the Unknowable, I described Jewish law as a way to know God.1 Here, I would like to go further: Jewish law...

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Chapter Three: The Covenantal Soul of Jewish Law: How Jewish Law Is Unique

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pp. 87-128

Human beings are body and soul, and the two constantly interact and affect each other. What we think, feel, and desire and our relationships with other people—what I am collectively calling our “soul”—has major effects on our bodies, and the reverse is true as well...

Part III: Implications of My Theory for Key Aspects of Jewish Law

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Chapter Four: Motivations to Live by Jewish Law

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pp. 131-188

Why should I live my life in accordance with the law? Most people immediately think of enforcement: I must follow the law because if I do not, I will be punished. Mordecai Kaplan, in fact, thought that Jewish norms should no longer be seen as law precisely because...

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Chapter Five: Continuity and Change in Jewish Law

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pp. 189-210

No legal system can exist very long without change. New issues emerge. Old assumptions no longer hold. Whether technological, scientific, economic, social, political, moral, or simply a matter of style, changes occur in life, and any legal system that does not adjust is doomed...

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Chapter Six: The Relationship of Jewish Law to Morality and Theology

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pp. 211-243

How does one make moral decisions?1 If you are a Catholic, you ask your priest and, ultimately, the Pope. Catholics have room for individual conscience in their moral theology, and Protestants are to be guided in their use of conscience by the Bible and by the policy statements...

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Chapter Seven: Jewish Law and Custom

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pp. 245-274

Custom is slippery. By definition, customs are a set of norms that arise out of the practices of the people. (This is different from practices, which describe what people commonly do but do not establish any norms about what they may or must do.) Because customs are rooted...

Part IV: Explaining My Theory through Comparisons and Applications

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Chapter Eight: Comparisons to the Right and the Left

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pp. 277-281

Defining a term or concept involves describing what is included within the term in question as well as what is outside its limits. The Latin root of the word “define” literally means the setting of limits or boundaries (finis) around the thing being defined. (The same is true...

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Chapter Nine: Applications of My Theory of Jewish Law to Specific Cases

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pp. 283-297

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Theories of law are not only intellectually interesting but also have practical import. As described in Chapter One, theories of law are based on specific views of human nature and human societies, the ideals toward which they should strive...

Bibliography of Modern Sources

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pp. 299-310


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pp. 311-326

E-ISBN-13: 9780827610446
Print-ISBN-13: 9780827608405

Publication Year: 2007