Stories of the Law: Narrative Discourse And The Construction Of Authority In The Mishnah

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9780199356386: Stories of the Law: Narrative Discourse And The Construction Of Authority In The Mishnah
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Moshe Simon-Shoshan offers a groundbreaking study of Jewish law (halakhah) and rabbinic story-telling. Focusing on the Mishnah, the foundational text of halakhah, he argues that narrative was essential in early rabbinic formulations and concepts of law, legal process, and political and religious authority.

The book begins by presenting a theoretical framework for considering the role of narrative in the Mishnah. Drawing on a wide range of disciplines, including narrative theory, Semitic linguistics, and comparative legal studies, Simon-Shoshan shows that law and narrative are inextricably intertwined in the Mishnah. Narrative is central to the way in which the Mishnah transmits law and ideas about jurisprudence. Furthermore, the Mishnah's stories are the locus around which the Mishnah both constructs and critiques its concept of the rabbis as the ultimate arbiters of Jewish law and practice.

In the second half of the book, Simon-Shoshan applies these ideas to close readings of individual Mishnaic stories. Among these stories are some of the most famous narratives in rabbinic literature, including those of Honi the Circle-drawer and R. Gamliel's Yom Kippur confrontation with R. Joshua. In each instance, Simon-Shoshan elucidates the legal, political, theological, and human elements of the story and places them in the wider context of the book's arguments about law, narrative, and rabbinic authority.

Stories of the Law presents an original and forceful argument for applying literary theory to legal texts, challenging the traditional distinctions between law and literature that underlie much contemporary scholarship.

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This ground-breaking study of the dynamics and dialogics between law and story-telling in the Mishna is a major contribution to the entire field of narratology. It has been rightly acclaimed as a landmark in rabbinic scholarship and Judaic studies in general. But Shoshan's achievement goes much further than that. As a literary exploration of the relation between text and tradition, story-telling and cultural continuity, the work of the imagination and the construction of authority, Stories of the Law is a classic of narratological analysis: brilliant in its insights, lucid in its exposition, and far-reaching in its theoretical implications. This book is essential reading for all students of narratology. (Sacvan Bercovitch, Powell M. Cabot Research Professor of American Literature, Harvard University)

Throughout, the analysis is helpful and clear while never oversimplifying. The book provides a powerful theoretical framework, and strong and compelling readings while leaving room (indeed, inviting) further exploration of the Mishnah texts. Interdisciplinary work by non-lawyers that uses jurisprudence and legal analysis frequently suffers from superficiality. This book, by contrast, shows no traces of this. It is the best book about law written by a non-lawyer that I have ever read. (Timothy D. Lytton, Albert and Angela Farone Distinguished Professor of Law, Albany Law School)

Every reading of Simon-Shoshan's is rich in insight and often presents new and exciting rereadings of Mishnah... It is... a very important work, and one would hope that it will be read by all who have any interest in rabbinic literature. (Review of Biblical Literature)

Every so often a book comes along that enables us to view the familiar in unfamiliar ways, fundamentally reshaping our understanding of what we thought we knew so well. This is true of Moshe Simon-Shoshan's Stories of the Law in its uncovering of the deeply intertwined elements of law and narrative in the Mishnah, usually thought of as the bedrock of Jewish legal code. At issue is less the appearance of stories amidst the laws, but the very (dialogical) narrativity of rabbinic legal discourse itself. This is a highly innovative exploration that should redefine the terms of both mishnaic and Jewish legal scholarship. (Steven D. Fraade, Mark Taper Professor of the History of Judaism, Yale University)

Moshe Simon-Shoshan offers an entirely fresh approach to the study of the Mishnah by concentrating on the literary form in which law is formulated. His analysis of legal texts as narrative and of Mishnaic stories as law finally breaks down the barriers erected by generations of scholars between halakhah and aggadah and between the Mishnah as authoritative law code or dialogic collection. Simon-Shoshan's book is informed by a wide variety of perspectives, from legal and literary theory to the historical method, all presented in a style of writing that is extremely clear and accessible. The result is a nuanced, methodologically diverse, and highly readable contribution to the field. (Suzanne Last Stone, Professor of Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School)

About the Author:

Moshe Simon-Shoshan teaches courses on rabbinic literature and biblical interpretation at the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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