- Purchase/rental options available:
Joseph Albo’s sole surviving responsum reflects the interplay of philosophy and halakha in the late medieval era. Albo demonstrates innovation as he uses broader theological concepts, such as human free will, to impact his halakhic ruling. The article explores the reasoning behind Albo's ruling on the halakhic status of the katlanit ("murderous wife"), the twice widowed woman who seeks remarriage, a highly debated topic in the Middle Ages. According to the Talmud, such a widow was prohibited to remarry due to the assumption that she was in some way responsible for the deaths of her two late husbands, either due to her fortune (mazal) or health (ma‘ayan). The high mortality rate in the wake of the Black Death and intensified religious persecution in the fourteenth century increased the number of katlaniot. As a result, significant rabbinic leaders, (including Albo's teacher, Hasdai Crescas, whose responsum is no longer extant), applied innovation to their Talmudic interpretation and demonstrated leniency in their legal ruling in order to prevent such widows from being relegated to lives of solitude or from being forced to violate halakhic norms in order to procreate. Albo's responsum reflects the impact of philosophy upon halakha as he highlights the fundamental nature of free will as a Jewish value. He rules that a woman whose husband's death was not due to personal fate, but rather to mass martyrdom, the cause of which is free choice in contrast to mazal -- does not constitute the katlanit that the Talmud prohibited from remarrying, since the widow's mazal cannot be blamed.