Legal Theology: The Turn to Conceptualism in Nineteenth-Century Jewish Law

64 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2007

See all articles by Chaim N. Saiman

Chaim N. Saiman

Villanova University School of Law


This Article is a first-ever attempt to introduce the Briskers - an influential school of late nineteenth century Talmudic interpreters - to the legal academy. The paper describes how at the very moment that secularization and assimilation undermined the traditional legitimizing narratives of Jewish law, the Briskers fused law, theology and science to offer an alternate "scientific" vision of halakha (Jewish law). By recasting the multitude of detailed rules comprising halakha into a system of autonomous legal constructs, the Briskers revolutionized Jewish self-understanding of the halakhic system, and developed a jurisprudence that was able to counteract the social, institutional and intellectual upheavals represented by the haskala and Jewish emancipation. The article first describes the Brisker project on its own terms and then contrasts several prominent features of the Brisker school with analogous trends in nineteenth century German and American legal thought.

Keywords: Jewish law, halakha, Brisk, Soloveitchik, law and religion

Suggested Citation

Saiman, Chaim N., Legal Theology: The Turn to Conceptualism in Nineteenth-Century Jewish Law. Villanova Law/Public Policy Research Paper No. 2007-5, Journal of Law and Religion, Vol. 21, p. 39, 2006, Available at SSRN:

Chaim N. Saiman (Contact Author)

Villanova University School of Law ( email )

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