Narrating the Law
A Poetics of Talmudic Legal Stories
Barry Scott Wimpfheimer
248 pages | 6 x 9
Cloth 2011 | ISBN 978-0-8122-4299-7 | $59.95s | £39.00 | Add to cart
Ebook 2011 | ISBN 978-0-8122-0594-7 | $59.95s | £39.00 | About | Add to cart
A volume in the Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion series
View table of contents and excerpt
"Applying insights from literary criticism and sociology to the Talmud is no mean feat, but Wimpfheimer accomplishes this with elegance. . . . This is one of the most significant contributions to Talmudic scholarship in recent years, and it has great relevance for anyone interested in the application of contemporary critical theory to ancient texts."—Jewish Book World
"Well trained in the critical study of rabbinic literature and informed by previous philological scholarship as well as by critical theory, Wimpfheimer provides a model that has the potential to narrow the gap that has divided the two major vectors of rabbinic thinking, Halakhah and Aggadah, law and folklore. His exacting analysis of the literary genre of legal narrative puts this dichotomization into sharp relief."—Elliot R. Wolfson, New York University
In Narrating the Law Barry Scott Wimpfheimer creates a new theoretical framework for considering the relationship between law and narrative and models a new method for studying talmudic law in particular.
Works of law, including the Talmud, are animated by a desire to create clear usable precedent. This animating impulse toward clarity is generally absent in narratives, the form of which is better able to capture the subtleties of lived life. Wimpfheimer proposes to make these different forms compatible by constructing a narrative-based law that considers law as one of several "languages," along with politics, ethics, psychology, and others that together compose culture. A narrative-based law is capable of recognizing the limitations of theoretical statutes and the degree to which other cultural languages interact with legal discourse, complicating any attempts to actualize a hypothetical set of rules. This way of considering law strongly resists the divide in traditional Jewish learning between legal literature (Halakhah) and nonlegal literature (Aggadah) by suggesting the possibility of a discourse broad enough to capture both. Narrating the Law activates this mode of reading by looking at the Talmud's legal stories, a set of texts that sits uncomfortably on the divide between Halakhah and Aggadah. After noticing that such stories invite an expansive definition of law that includes other cultural voices, Narrating the Law also mines the stories for the rich descriptions of rabbinic culture that they encapsulate.
Barry Scott Wimpfheimer teaches religion and law at Northwestern University.