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Akhnai: Legal Responsibility in the World of the Silent God

68 Pages Posted: 1 Jan 2003  

Daniel J.H. Greenwood

Hofstra University College of Law


In the Talmudic story of the Oven of Akhnai, Rabbi Eliezer - symbol of unchanging law and original intent - decides a disputed issue of law, supporting his claim with all the arguments in the world and then with miracles including a voice from the Author proclaiming his interpretation correct. Nonetheless, his interpretation is rejected.

The Akhnai story is a complicated commentary on the problems of democracy and justice, with insights into the majoritarian (and counter-majoritarian) difficulties, the status of ancient law, and the meaning of originalist interpretation. I draw out lessons for those who seek to create a single society in a world where we have deep committments to ultimate values and, often, equally deep disagreements as to their content.

Keywords: Akhnai, originalism, counter-majoritarian, democracy, jurisprudence, Constitutional interpretation, Jewish law

JEL Classification: H10

Suggested Citation

Greenwood, Daniel J.H., Akhnai: Legal Responsibility in the World of the Silent God. Utah Law Review, Symposium Issue - New Approaches to Comparative Law, pp. 309-358, 1997. Available at SSRN: or

Daniel J.H. Greenwood (Contact Author)

Hofstra University College of Law ( email )

121 Hofstra University
Hempstead, NY 11549
United States
516-463-7013 (Phone)


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