Looking to Statutory Intertext: Toward the Use of the Rabbinic Biblical Interpretive Stance in American Statutory Interpretation
28 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2008
Date Written: March 1, 2002
American legal texts--from contracts to statutes to patents--are rarely complete on their own terms. They may not sufficiently anticipate all future factual situations or may simply be unclear. Such incompleteness is not unique: for thousands of years, Jewish legal authorities have struggled to discern meaning from religious texts that are similarly incomplete. To determine the meaning of a particular passage, Jewish legal authorities look first to the text containing that passage and then, if necessary, to other biblical texts: the "intertext." Jewish legal authorities can look to the intertext because they treat the Bible as a perfectly harmonious unit written by one source: God. Treating various texts as a single textual unit allows for consistency in interpretation and access to additional interpretive sources--the intertext--but also risks ignoring diverse, perhaps contradictory, interpretations that the author actually intended.
Despite some qualitative differences between the Jewish and American legal systems, interpreters of American statutes can learn from the rabbinic biblical interpretive stance. This Note proposes that when the text of a statute yields no clear answers, interpreters should look to American statutory intertext: the collection of American statutes. Constitutional and jurisprudential concerns for majoritarianism and integrity provide a normative justification for an intertextual approach.
Keywords: biblical interpretation, statutory interpretation, intertext
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