Collected Essays

BookCollected Essays

Collected Essays

Volume I

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


July 18th, 2013



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Written at different times and for different audiences - some for scholars of rabbinic literature, some for laymen or for scholars not necessarily Jewish - the essays gathered together in this volume nevertheless have an inner coherence. They reflect the author's lifetime interest in the history of halakhah - not as intellectual history per se, but rather a concern to identify measurable deflection in the unfolding of halakhic ideas that could point to an undetected force at work. What was it that stimulated change, and why? What happened when strong forces impinged upon halakhic observance, and both the scholarly elite and the community as a whole had to grapple with upholding observance while adapting to a new set of circumstances? Haym Soloveitchik's elegant presentation shows skilfully that the line between adaptation and deviance is a fine one, and that where a society draws that line is revelatory of both its values and its self-perception. Many of the articles presented here are well known in the field but have been updated for this publication (the major essay on pawnbroking has been expanded to half again its original size); some have been previously published only in Hebrew, and two are completely new. An Introduction highlights the key themes of the collection and explains the underlying methodology. Having these essays in a single volume will enable scholars and students to consult all the material on each theme together, while also tracing the development of ideas. The opening section of the volume is a brief description and characterization of the dramatis personae who figure in all these essays: Rashi and the Tosafists. It covers the halakhic commentaries and their authors; the creativity of Ashkenaz; and the halakhic isolation of the Ashkenazic community. The second section focuses on usury and money-lending, including the practice of pawn-broking, while the third section deals with the ban on Gentile wine and how that connected to the development of money-lending. The final section presents general conclusions in the form of four studies of the communal self-image of Ashkenaz and its attitude to deviation and change.

‘In our generation the premier practitioner of history of, and through, halacha is Haym Soloveitchik . . . in addition to his many other merits, [he] is an elegant stylist . . . Part of the pleasure of reading him is that there is more learning and illumination to be found in his remarks dropped along the way than in the pages of a lesser scholar . . . profound, poignant essays.’
David Wolpe, Tablet Magazine

Author Information

Haym Soloveitchik is the Merkin Family Research Professor at Yeshiva University, New York, and the former director of the School of Jewish Studies at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has also taught at the Sorbonne and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He has published books in Hebrew on pawnbroking and usury, Jewish involvement in the medieval wine trade, and the use of responsa as a historical source.