Temple, Talmud, and Sacrament: Some Christian Thoughts on Halakhah
William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-399, 2019
20 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2019
Date Written: June 27, 2019
In Halakhah: The Rabbinic Idea of Law, Chaim Saiman responds to criticisms that Christians have leveled against Jewish law by analogizing halakhah to Christian theology. Where Christians reflect on the foundations of their religion through the process of theological arguments over the doctrines of the faith, the rabbis get at similar questions through the detailed discussion of concrete legal rules. The analogy that he draws is valid and insightful. However, it is incomplete. In part the halakhah is an effort to recapture what was lost to Judaism in the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, namely a way of coming into the presence of God. This is what study of God’s law allows the rabbis to do. The proper analogy in Christianity, I argue, is not theology but rather the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. If we see Jewish law in terms of trying to recapture what was lost in the destruction of the Temple, then we have a new way of thinking about what it teaches us about law more generally. Robert Cover famously argued that the halakhah provides a model for how law creates meaning in society, what he called nomos. For Cover, however, authority is the enemy of nomos. The fuller understanding of the internal dynamics of Jewish law laid out by Saiman, however, suggests that authority – by gesturing toward transcendence – is integral to the ability of law to generate the kind of powerful meaning prized by Cover.
Keywords: Halakhah, Jewish Law, Talmud, Christianity, Theology, Juriprudence
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