A Tree of Life

Diversity, Flexibility, and Creativity in Jewish Law

Louis Jacobs

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ISBN: 9781874774488

Publication: August 31, 2000

Series: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

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The central thesis of A Tree of Life, now revised and expanded, is that social, economic, theological, and even political factors have always played a part in framing of Jewish law, as has consideration of the wider ideals of Judaism.  Through discussion of historical and contemporary halakhic responses to a wide range of issues, Louis Jacobs shows how the halakhic system has demonstrated its potential for vitality, creativity, and sensitivity.

Louis Jacobs’s call, in the last chapter, for a non-fundamentalist approach to halakhah was a cause of controversy both when the book was first published in 1984 and subsequently. The new introduction written for this edition responds robustly to the criticisms raised, and also summarizes new developments, both halakhic and scholarly, in the various areas covered.

Louis Jacobs, founding rabbi of the New London Synagogue, was a renowned scholar with an international reputation as a lecturer. He was the author of The Jewish Religion: A Companion (1995) and of many other distinguished books, several of them published by the Littman Library. He died in 2006.

Introduction to the Second Edition Introduction: Halakhah and Aggadah The Talmud, Source of the Halakhah The Spirit of the Halakhah Exemptions and Extensions The Influence of Philosophy The Influence of Mysticism and Kabbalah Hasidism and Halakhah Responses to the Gentile World Halakhah and Sectarianism Halakhic Responses to Social Changes: General Principles Halakhic Responses to Social Changes: Further Examples New Inventions and Discoveries and the Halakhah Halakhah and Ethics Halakhah and Social Conduct (Derekh Erets) Halakhah and Psychology Halakhah and Minhag: The Customs of the People as Law Towards a Non-Fundamentalist Halakhah Appendix A: The Literary Form of the Halakhah Appendix B: The Problem of the Mamzer Note on Proper Names and Transliteration Note on Talmudic and Halakhic Sources Bibliography Index of Biblical, Mishnaic, and Talmudic References General Index

'Rabbi Louis Jacobs is well known as a highly distinguished liberal interpreter of Judaism. Many of his works ... are immediately accessible to the general reader, but his interpretation is deeply rooted in scholarly study of the rabbinic writings, sources which also inspire "conservative" expressions of a Judaism markedly different from his own ... The author makes his point in a fascinating way ... Vivid light is cast on Jewish-Christian relations among other issues ... Jacobs's book is a fund of valuable information, but its argument is also a signal instance of the attachment to tradition embraced with a rational integrity.'
William Horbury, Expository Times


 'It raises questions that still await an adequate response for resolution from the Orthodox authorities.'
Miri Freud-Kandel, Jerusalem Post

 'Louis Jacobs demonstrates a profound scholarship in the second edition of this important work. The breadth of source and the volume of analysis are truly extraordinary.'
Reuven Livingstone, Jewish Chronicle

 'One of the few works on the nature and development of Jewish law written from a Conservative point of view, and it can be seen as a "classic" ... Jacobs succeeds in an admirable way in his self-imposed task of developing "a theory of halakhic change for those who are loyal to the halakhic traditions and yet accept modern values", a task which will probably continue to occupy Conservative and Orthodox thinkers for generations to come.'
Catherine Hezser, Journal of Law and Religion

Format: Paperback

Edition: 2nd Revised edition

Size: 235 × 155 × 18 mm

344 Pages

ISBN: 9781874774488

Publication: August 31, 2000

Series: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

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