Jewish Law
January 31, 2004 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Does anybody know of any good and easy to read introductory texts on Jewish jurisprudence/derivation of law from original sources (ie religious law)? Any interesting texts to follow that up ie application in the current day and age? Any reasonably active Jewish forums to ask any queries on?

By way of background I am muslim, but always think it's very important to understand other faiths and the basis of their religion/differentiate between religious and societal norms that they often are characterised by. Thanks for the help ^_^
posted by Mossy to Religion & Philosophy (7 answers total)
The basic books to answer most questions about Judaism, though not specifically about law, is The Jewish Book of Why. Which has at least two volumes. Of course, you could also try and find a decent English version of the Talmud.
posted by billsaysthis at 1:46 PM on January 31, 2004

I second the recommendation for The Jewish Book of Why. Good stuff. Also, the Ask A Rabbi feature at and a similiar venture at are fun, though a bit more oriented more towards lifecycle events and holidays than to halacha (Jewish law) questions. Unfortunately, English translations of the Talmud are really hard to find, though I just saw a site the other day where the Hebrew version was scanned and put online as GIF's.
posted by Asparagirl at 2:38 PM on January 31, 2004

My Hebrew, surprisingly, isn't that hot these days. I have Latin, Ancient Greek and some Modern Standard Arabic though - is it that hard to learn from that basis?

I've also found that English translations of oral histories don't tend give one a good overview - for example reading the books of hadith in Islam isn't great unless one is interlinking with the Qu'ran, similarly I assume all of the Talmud has a basis on the Torah?

I'll dig around for the Jewish book of Why - any good books on modern Jewish scholarship (I'm getting those question marks in, heh)?
posted by Mossy at 10:39 AM on February 1, 2004

Mossy, if you're that good with languages, you should be able to do well enough with the Talmud with a bit of practice. And the Talmud is the definitive source of Jewish legal practice, compiled over many long centuries of debate and discussion.
posted by billsaysthis at 10:59 AM on February 1, 2004

Hmm, it's been a while (I'm doing a science degree at the mo), but may look into picking up the basics if I can - I'd prefer seeing some of those debates, but if they're not available in English.. One for the to-do list ^_^ Thanks guys, keep on suggesting anything you think would be good.
posted by Mossy at 1:37 PM on February 1, 2004

There's now an edition of the Babylonian Talmud containing the full original Hebrew-Aramaic text with the Soncino Press English translation on facing pages; of course, it's in 30 volumes and costs $850, but you may be able to find it at a library. More accessible is The Essential Talmud, by Adin Steinsaltz. Anything by Jacob Neusner is worth checking out; he's a scholar of Jewish history and religion who writes clearly.
posted by languagehat at 3:27 PM on February 1, 2004

That's one of the best things about being in Oxford - we don't lack in libraries. 15,000 pages may be a bit much for an intro - I can speed read, but now that fast ^_^

I'll try to pick up the essential talmud and some Neusner as well as the book of why - his book comparing the system of law between the various religions seems interesting.
posted by Mossy at 6:08 PM on February 1, 2004

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