Sunday, January 3, 2016

Thought provoking - but not frum: What's Divine About Divine Law by Prof Christine Hayes

We periodically get into discussion - sometimes heated - about man's rationality being subordinate to the Torah. I just came across a new book (publish 2015 ) which discusses these issues in great deal. The author is not frum - in fact she is a non-Jewish professor. She discusses this issuwe in her chapters on natural law.

However I think she has something to contribute to the discussion and clarify what the issues are. Obviously whatever conclusions reached are subordinate to halacha and our mesora. So I would recommend this book only for those who are secure in their Yiddishkeit and would like to gain a greater conceptual understanding of what the issues are and possible solutions.

here is one page of the book
The present chapter searches for evidence of a moral theory of natural law, distinct
from the Mosaic Law, in rabbinic texts.

Some scholars argue that a conception of natural law distinct from the Mo­sai Law appears in rabbinic literature in sources that deal with norms that pre­date Sinai. In this chapter, we consider this claim by examining texts that deal with pre-Sinaitic normativity in general and the seven Noahide laws in partic­ular. Our goal is to determine whether the rabbinic sources dealing with these topics provide evidence of a rabbinic natural law theory. There is no question that post-talmudic thinkers drew upon the notion of seven Noahide laws as a basis for the construction of aJewish natural law theory, but is such a theory in­ herent in the talmudic conception of the Noahide laws, or of pre-Sinaitic norms in general?

By the Middle Ages, Jewish philosophers were explicitly engaged by the no­tion of natural law and its relation to the revealed law of Jewish tradition. The first jewish thinker to apply the term "natural law" in a Jewish context was Jo­seph Albo (fifteenth century) who divided law into natural, conventional, and divine categories (Novak 1998, 124-25). Nevertheless, David Novak has ar­gued that Albo was not the first Jewish thinker to conceive of natural law in the Jewish context (124) and that "natural law theory, using a variety of different terms for itself throughout the ages, has been a constant element in Jewish thought." In recent years, a number of scholars and constructive Jewish theo­logians have argued that a notion of natural law is compatible with Jewish tra­dition (as a supplement to the revealed Written Law and the Oral Law), while others have argued that the concept of natural law is incompatible with the doctrine of a divine revelation of law.' To be clear, it is not our purpose to de­termine whether Judaism-as a multimillenium religious culture-has devel­oped or incorporated a conception of natural law as distinct from the Mosaic Law at any time in its long history, or whether it can draw upon the concept of Noahide law for the construction of such a view today.' Our question is rather lin I 'I und distinctly historical: do the classical rabbinic sources of late antiquity (i.e., prior to the rise of medieval Jewish philosophy when Greek cat­egories are more clearly adopted and adapted to Jewish tradition) evince a con­ception of natural law that matches and reflects natural law discourse in antiq­uity? This is not a philosophical or theological question about the compatibility of natural law theories and the abstract entity "Judaism:' It is a historical ques­tion about the presence or absence of Greco-Roman natural law discourse and conceptions in the literature of rabbinic Jews from the second to the seventh century CEo Any candidate for the title of "rabbinic natural law theory" will 


  1. Watch this interesting discussion with her:

  2. at 48 minutes she says a peshat on lo nitno torah le'malachei ha'shories which is menioned 4 times in shas with one theme in common.

    is the peshat a good one ?

  3. Not sure what "peshat" means within the context of explaining aggadata. If you're asking whether her view is interesting and valuable as derash, why not?

  4. when the amorah said lo nitno torah le'malachei ha'shories he had one particular meaning. in all such cases the meforshim try to find the correct interpretation.
    many times it will be impossible to say who is right and there may be 2 or more possibilities. sometimes it will seem that one possibilty is the most reasonable and we can say that is is the correct peshat in the agadata

  5. please show me a source for this concept of "the" correct pshat in agadata?

  6. I have no source. (maybe I should have checked your excellent sefer daas torah first before I posted) I assume that when an amora makes a statement in agada, usually he had a specific intention in mind. the comentators often try to capture this 'specific intention' by asking questions on previous interpretations to 'freg up' and bringing evidence for their own.

    I understand this process as a search for "the" correct pshat in agadata

  7. don't recall anyone ever claiming there was only one correct pshat

  8. I never meant to say that anybody did claim that.

    but do you agree or disagree with my assumption that when an amora makes a statement in agada, usually he had a specific intention in mind.

    as opposed to making a statement with the intention of letting the listeners interpret it as they see fit.


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