Halakhah: History of Halakhah

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Jewish law (halakhah ) was the major integrative factor in Jewish life from early geonic times (eighth century) until the onset of the modern era. With Jewry's ever-increasing geographic dispersion and political incapacity, Jewish identity was shaped increasingly by Jewish law. It defined the broad sphere of religious observance and significantly influenced the norms and practice of communal governance, and its study was a central spiritual and intellectual experience. Jewish law was created in rabbinic academies and courts by individual scholars and by communal custom and enactment. Until the modern period, Jewish law responded to the major challenges in Jewish life, and the historical-geographic grid of legal creativity paralleled the development of the major centers of Jewish life.

Chronological Periods, Geographic Centers, and Authorities

The geonic period most likely begins with the Islamic conquest of Babylon in about 650; indeed it seems that the establishment of this more centralized Muslim administration was paralleled in the Jewish institutional structure. The gaonate (sg., gaʾon, "splendor," derived from the formal name of the academy in Sura, Splendor of Yaʿaqov) shared the governance of Babylonian Jewish society with the exilarch and claimed halakhic and spiritual authority over world Jewry. The central academies of Sura and Pumbedita (both in the general vicinity of Baghdad and eventually located in that city) were each headed by a gaon; all other scholars have remained anonymous in the literature. The major contribution of the geonic period to the development of Jewish law lies in the stabilization and standardization it brought to the relatively fluid situation in Talmudic times.

The gaonate successfully asserted the supremacy of the Babylonian over the Palestinian Talmud (a reflection of the historical ascendancy of Babylonian Jewry) and brought much indecisive Talmudic discussion to a binding conclusion. The liturgy, in particular, reached a high degree of regulation with the publication of prayer-texts and rules in the siddurim of ʿAmram (fl. 856) and Saʿadyah (fl. 928). Geonic pressures toward standardization in this and other ritualistic areas were especially stimulated by the need to combat the competing Karaite movement and other sectarian groups. The growing urbanization of Jewish society and its commercial involvement also required, and received, legal guidance through the elaboration of Talmudic materials and explicit enactment, such as that enabling debtors to collect from the movable properties of orphans. Leading geonic figures include Yehudʾai, Naronʾai, ʿAmram, Saʿadyah, and Shemuʾel ben ofni, all of Sura; Paloi, Sheriraʾ, and Hʾai, all of Pumbedita. An auxiliary center of legal study during this period developed in North Africa; its central figure was ananʾel, who was heavily influenced by Hʾai.

Though geonic activity continued after the eleventh century (the twelfth-century Maimonides engaged in correspondence with the Baghdad gaonate), the weight of legal development passed to western Europe as the period of the riʾshonim ("first ones, early ones") began. The death of the Babylonian Hʾai in 1038 and the birth of Rashi (Shelomoh ben Yitsaq) in France in 1040 conveniently symbolize the shift. Perhaps paralleling the political decentralization of Christian Europe, rabbinic authority in Ashkenazic Europe was not centralized or even institutionalizeda striking contrast to the geonic structure. Scholars reached eminence by popular acknowledgement of their authority, not by appointment or election; law derived largely from learning, not from institutionalized structure. Men like Gershom ben Yehudah, Rashi, his grandson Yaʿaqov ben Meʾir Tam, Eliʿezer ben Natan, Yeshaʿyah di Trani, Meʾir ben Barukh of Rothenburg, and his student Asher ben Yeiʾel were the leading teachers of their time, but neither they nor their schools had any official status; at the most, some might have been judges in communal courts.

The riʾshonim generally continued the explication and development of Talmudic law, though certain topicsmercantile law, Jewish-Gentile relations, and communal governancedid demand more original treatment. The desire to base communal governance on Jewish law and its principles forced legists to hammer out basic political issues, such as the rights of majority and minority, equity in tax law, and election procedures, with little in the way of Talmudic precedent to guide them. Halakhic development in Provence and Spain may be characterized in a similar fashion, though the Sefardic rabbinate of the Iberian Peninsula during the Christian reconquest, reflecting the general political situation, was more centralized than its Ashkenazic counterpart and also more influenced by geonic legal patterns. Men like Avraham ben Yitsaq and Avraham ben David of Posquières; Yitsaq ben Yaʿaqov Alfasi in North Africa; Moses Maimonides in Egypt; and Meʾir Abulafia, Moses Nahmanides, Shelomoh ibn Adret, and Nissim Gerondi in Spain were teachers and judges whose commentaries and responsa carried their decisions and opinions around the world.

The work of the geonim and riʾshonim was brought to authoritative and influential summation by Yaʿaqov ben Asher (d. 1343) in his Arbaʿah urim (ur ). The period from its appearance till the publication (in 15501571) of the Shulan ʿarukh of Yosef Karo and Mosheh Isserles is one of transition to the period of the aaronim ("later ones") and also marks the migration of Jewry and its legal centers eastward: Ashkenazic Jewry to eastern Europe and Sefardic Jewry, after the 1492 expulsion from Spain, to Greece, Turkey, and the Land of Israel. The halakhic achievement of the aaronim, especially in the ranks of Ashkenazic legists, tends to the derivative. (This was despite the influence of Yisraʾel Isserlein of Austria and the originality of Yosef Qolon of Italy in the fourteenth century; the achievement and influence of Yaʿaqov Weill, Yaʿaqov Landau and Yisraʾel Bruna, all in the fifteenth century, were in the area of religious custom rather than in creative legal thought.) It is possible that continual political harassment, capped by pogroms and expulsions in the wake of the Black Death, sapped the intellectual energies of Ashkenazic Jewry. Furthermore, influential masters such as Yaʿaqov Pollack and Shalom Shakhna preferred not to publish at all, arguing for a return to the more pristine concept of oral law, but their impact was to be felt in the revival of the sixteenth century. Sephardic halakhists, however, met new problems raised by commercial advance in the eastern Mediterranean region and the difficulties that emerged after the expulsion from Spain and Portugal such as the reabsorption of converts, fixing of personal status, and the forging of common patterns of governance and practice from the disparate communal traditions of the sixteenth century.

After 1492 the Sephardic settlements in Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and the Land of Israel constituted a single sphere of intellectual discourse and enjoyed an impressive level of halakhic activity. Foremost among the scholars of this era were David ibn Zimraʾ, Levi ben aviv, and Yosef Karo, all born in Spain before the expulsion; Mosheh di Trani, Yosef ben Lev, and Shemuʾel de Medina. By the mid-sixteenth century, Ashkenazic Jewry had achieved a large degree of stability in Poland and Lithuania, and its halakhic focus was found in cities like Cracow and Lublin, where authorities such as Shelomoh Luria (c. 15101574), Mosheh Isserles, and Mordekhai Jaffe taught and wrote.

The publication of the Shulan ʿarukh by Karo and its annotation by Isserles marks the most significant watershed in the codification of halakhah until modern times. The bulk of the work was published by Karo (a member of the Safad community of mystics and halakhists) as a self-contained entity in 15651566; he had already collated the Talmudic and medieval sources in his massive commentary to the ur, Beit Yosef (House of Joseph), which also frequently indicates the direction in which he would move as an authority in rabbinic law. Isserles, rabbi in Cracow, published glosses (the mappah, "tablecloth," to the Shulan ʿarukh ) in 1571 that registered the Ashkenazic variants to the Sephardic traditions of Karo and gave greater weight to the force of communal custom than Karo's work alone had done. Isserles's glosses also constituted an approval of Karo's work, which overcame in a fairly short period its antagonistslegists of stature, such as Yosef ben Lev and Yehudah Löw ben Betsalʾel, who opposed the reduction of rich tradition to the bare paragraphs of an authoritative codeand its competitors. The times were ripe for a new summation, as was evidenced by the existence of other, if more prolix, attempts: the Levushim (Garments) of Jaffe, and the Yam shel Shelomoh (Sea of Solomon) of Luria. Rabbinic scholarship now set about producing commentaries and supercommentaries on the Shulan ʿarukh in a process that both legitimated the code and made it a central document in the study and practice of Jewish law.

Despite the overall decline in the physical conditions of Jewish life by the late eighteenth century and its religious and ideological fissures, the period of the aaronim produced an extensive halakhic literature. Three characteristics deserve mention. (1) With the rise of the nation-state and the concomitant elimination of self-governing estates and religious communities, halakhists have addressed themselves less and less (except for textual or theoretical discussions) to issues of civil or criminal law. (2) With the rise of the Reform movement, Ashkenazic halakhists of the modern period have become more defensive and hence more conservative than their predecessors. (3) Communication and interaction between Ashkenazic and Sephardic halakhists have declined. It is too early to judge whether the existence of Israel as a Jewish state will have any effect on these tendencies.

Since the publication of the Shulan ʿarukh, the two major avenues of practical halakhic development in modern times have been the commentatorial activity centered on the Shulan ʿarukh and the responsa literature. Major commentaries were written on different sections of the code by Yehoshuʿa Falk, David ha-Levi, Shabbetai Kohen, Yitsaq Lima, Shemuʾel Feibish, and izqiyyah di Silow, among others. These works explicate the code but also deal with issues growing out of its rulings and occasionally prefer their own opinions based on alternative sources. This tendency may also be noted in the work of Eliyyahu ben Shelomoh Zalman of Vilna, which is devoted especially to tracing critically the Talmudic sources of the code. Subsequently, a more popular literature developed, which presented the results of these discussions in digest form, focusing especially on ritual law: ayyei adam (Man's Life) and okhmat adam (Man's Wisdom) by Avraham Danzig and Qitstsur Shulan ʿarukh (Short Shulan ʿarukh ) by Shelomoh Ganzfried of Hungary, for example. A more expansive format is found in the works of Yisraʾel Meʾir Kagan (for example, in Mishnah berurah ), and Yaʿaqov Sofer (in Kaf ha-ayyim ), which have molded the consensus of Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jewries, respectively, in the area of ritual law.

Halakhic authorities, many of whom were communal rabbis or judges on the communal religious court, continued to influence the course of halakhah in their responsa. Representative figures from the seventeenth century are ayyim Yaʾir Bachrach of Germany, Yosef ben Mosheh di Trani of Turkey, and Shemuʾel Aboab of Italy; from the eighteenth century, Yaʿaqov Emden of Germany and Yeezqeʾl Landau of Poland, Mosheh Hagiz and Yom-ov Algazi of the Land of Israel, and Yehudah Ayash of North Africa; from the nineteenth century, ʿAqivaʾ Eiger of Germany, Mosheh Sofer of Hungary, Yitsaq Elanan Spektor of Russia, and Yosef ayyim al-akham of Iraq. Sofer (known as atam Sofer) was a crucial figure in the nineteenth-century Orthodox response to Reform, coining the motto that in matters of law "novelty is forbidden by the Torah."

Halakhic activity in the modern period reflects the historic fortunes of the people: Ashkenazic Jewry witnessed a flowering in eastern Europe (Poland, Lithuania, Galicia, Hungary) and a relative decline in western Europe; Sephardic Jewry continued its development in the Balkans, North Africa, and Iraq. Since the destruction of Jewries in World War II and the exodus from Arab lands after 1948, Israel and the United States have become the centers of halakhic creativity, buttressed by the revival of learning and observance in the latter half of the twentieth century. Much current halakhic activity simply elaborates medieval doctrine, but the rise of modern technologies has stimulated halakhic thinking in the areas of Sabbath law and medical ethics. The most major change in modern Jewish existence, namely the secularization of the mass of Jewish people, has not yet significantly affected the halakhic system.

Literary Genres and Intellectual Currents

With the onset of the geonic period, halakhic literature developed in genres that have remained fairly constant until modern times: (1) monograph-code, (2) commentary, and (3) responsa. The antecedents of the first two genres are essentially Talmudic: the Talmud frequently undertakes to comment on and explicate the Mishnah, while the Mishnah, especially as it detached itself from scripture and Midrash, was formed as a monograph-code. A fourth genrecommunal enactmentsis more representative of the interaction of lay and rabbinical leadership. These different genres reflect different intellectual postures and tasks. Different geographic centers also devote themselves with varying intensity to one genre or another, yet no center or historical period abandoned any one of the genres, so that the materials found in each were in a state of constant interaction, and a substantial body of substance and method was shared by all.


The monograph-code of the geonic period had a functional goal: it was meant to provide for the crystallization of normative, standard practice and make this practice accessible to students, judges, and religious leaders. The geonim developed rules by which Talmudic literature was sifted and compiled the results of this process. From a substantive point of view, the major achievement of the geonic monograph-code lies in its reduction of Talmudic discussion to geonic decision. From a structural point of view, the basic challenge lay in the reorganization of the material contained in the Talmudic debate into topical units; this process demanded not only the paring down of Talmudic pericopes but, in the more advanced monograph-code, the development of new topics.

A classic and early monograph-code is the ninth-century Halakhot gedolot (Major Halakhot ), variously assigned to Shimʿon Qayyara and Yehudʾai Gaon. The extensive Talmudic discussion is considerably reduced and canalized into a conclusive decision. The basic outline is Talmudic, but new topical units are occasionally introduced to unite scattered Talmudic materials into a new framework. Virtually all inoperative law, such as laws of sacrifices, purities, and impurities, is eliminated. Despite its new features, Halakhot gedolot is, in essence, an abridgment of the Talmud, a form that reaches its apogee in the eleventh-century Halakhot of Alfasi. Other geonic monographs are radical departures from the Talmudic model. The Sefer ha-miqqa ve-ha-mimkar (Book of Purchase and Sale) of Hʾai, for example, a work on oaths, and the monograph on benedictions by Shemuʾel ben ofni both reorganize Talmudic law, which is presented in coherent form as a rule-structured system. The author elicits the rule underlying the concrete Talmudic discussion and strives for maximal generalization. At the same time, he usually retains the legitimating Talmudic source.

The geonic monograph-code reached fullest expression in Maimonides' Mishneh Torah (Second Torah; 1187), which is probably the single most prominent work in all post-Talmudic halakhic literature. In addition to bringing this traditional form to perfection through an architectonic vision of the entirety of Jewish law, Maimonides' code also served as an innovating document: the codified law is completely detached from Talmudic authorities and citations; Mishnaic Hebrew is revived to serve as the language of a new code; matters of belief, ideology, and metaphysics are integrated as normative aspects of Jewish law; and new topics are fashioned (for example, "Laws of Repentence," "Laws of Kings and Their Wars").

While Maimonides' immediate purpose in compiling his code was to provide a practical summary of law for the use of both layman and judge in what he considered a period of intellectual decline, Mishneh Torah is also a statement of the content and nature of Judaism as he saw it. Maimonides' code has become a central document in halakhic discussion, but it has not brought an end to the process of further development outside it. Prominent halakhists have always claimed that codes freeze the open-ended Talmudic process and are a stultifying concession to mediocrity, and Maimonides' elimination of the Talmudic bases for his decisions raised the hackles of his contemporaries (such as Avraham ben David of Posquières) even more. Subsequent codes, such as the Arbaʿah urim of Yaʾaqov ben Asher and Karo and Isserles's Shulan ʿarukh, lowered their sights considerably: the sense of an ordering structure declines considerably, purity of line is lost, and Temple-oriented topics as well as metaphysics and beliefs are eliminated. No new codes have been produced since the sixteenth century, though the Shulan ʿarukh has been rewritten twice in attempts to integrate new materials or to combine the code with its earlier sources: see the Shulan ʿarukh of Shneʾur Zalman of Lyady (17451813) and the ʿArukh ha-shulan of Yeiʾel M. Epstein (18291908).


In geonic times commentary was, of course, commentary on the Talmud. So as to facilitate study of this protean and involuted document, geonim produced lexicographical aids that explained difficult terms and wrote explanatory material to clarify difficult Talmudic pericopes and chapters. Thus we possess Hʾai's lexicographical commentary to ohorot as well as parts of his running commentary to tractate Berakhot. The classic running commentary to the entire Talmud was written in France by Rashi. Based on oral traditions, Rashi's explication made the Talmud accessible to all students.

Rashi's grandchildren (the most prominent of whom was Yaʿaqov ben Meʾir Tam) inaugurated the tosafist ("additions") school. Now commentary no longer addressed itself to the words and sentences of one specific text and context but undertook a synthetic analysis of all related Talmudic passages. This seminal work was based on a thorough mastery of the entire Talmud, an acute analytical sensibility, and the intellectual boldness necessary to produce novel concepts. In a sense, the tosafists continued the Talmudic process itself, producing new legal doctrines in the course of harmonizing disparate Talmudic opinions. Their techniques and results quickly spread to Spain and Italy: men like Nahmanides (and his students) in the thirteenth century and Yeshaʿyah di Trani absorbed the new mode. By the fourteenth century, analysis of Rashi was no longer a springboard for tosafist revision alone but became a subject in its own right in the work of Yom ov Ashbilli.

Maimonides' code received the first of many sustained commentaries in Vidal di Tortosa's Maggid mishneh (The second speaker), a work that struggles with the code's relationship to Talmudic sources. Maimonidean commentary grew to the dimensions of a subdiscipline, an ironic outcome for a code perhaps designed to be a final statement of Jewish law.

New trends also asserted themselves: Isaac Campanton of Castile (late fifteenth century) pioneered a return to close reading of specific Talmudic texts utilizing categories of medieval logic; German and Polish Talmudists of the sixteenth century extended tosafist dialectic to a pilpul (lit., "pepper," in the sense of casuistry) based on subtle and frequently artificial comparisons and contrasts. Two modes of halakhic scholarship have become prominent in modern times: the analytic school that is identified with ayyim Soloveichik of Brest-Litovsk but that had its inspiration in the Qetsot ha-oshen (Ends of the breastplate) of Aryeh Leib ha-Kohen and, ultimately, in aspects of tosafist thought, and the text-critical and historical studies that derive in part from similar models of Western scholarship. This latter mode, however, has made little impact on devotees of halakhic study.


In contrast to commentary, responsa along with the codes and their related literatureare attempts to mold halakhic practice by responding to specific problems as they arise. This genre developed massively in the geonic period. While both commentary and code are basically explications or restatements of Talmudic law, the responsum applies that law to a new, concrete situation as the respondent functions at the intersection of law and practical reality. The responsum was the major instrument of direct geonic authority, and thousands of geonic responses to their far-flung questioners have been preserved. The responsa are the case law of the halakhic system, and the centrality of halakhic figures can often be gauged by their position in the responsa network. The decision rendered in a concrete situation is considered by many experts to be more authoritative than the codified generalization.

Two overall tendencies of this genre ought to be noted. (1) Inasmuch as a respondent was questioned in matters of conflict or situations reflecting new conditions, the bulk of responsa till the modern period focused on civil law, matters of personal status, and the application of halakhic categories to new economic conditions. Ritual law became a dominant subject of this literature only in relatively modern times, as Jews began to turn to the civil authorities for melioration of many of the problems listed above. (2) From the fifteenth century on (probably beginning with the Terumat ha-deshen [The Collected Ashes] of Yisraʾel Isserlein), the responsum also became an artificial literary form in which a scholar elaborated on any problem of interest to him rather than communicating to an actual questioner. Thus the responsa literature includes central works of halakhic theory, such as the Responsa shaʾagat Aryeh (Lion's roar) of Aryeh Leib of Mez. (A similar phenomenon is present in Maimonidean commentary, which has been used as a literary framework for discussion of general problems of Talmudic law.) This development notwithstanding, responsa remain the major forum in which modern halakhists consider the varied problems raised by contemporary civilization, as is seen in the multivolume works of Moshe Feinstein (18951986) of the United States and ʿOvadyah Yosef (b. 1920) of Israel, The responsa is well suited to halakhah : it allows a focus on the specific and the concrete; and inasmuch as the respondent is approached by virtue of his scholarship and reputation, responsa function in the absence of a formal hierarchical structure.


Works classified as enactments (taqqanot ) could be communal, rabbinical, or, frequently, authorized by both lay and rabbinical leadership. Enactments included in the Talmud are assumed to have universal application, and some medieval enactments have also achieved very wide observance (thus the ban [erem ] on polygyny). But the vast majority of taqqanot were local in scope and origin. They were often communal or rabbinical responses to acute problems and carried communal sanctions. More than any other aspect of the halakhic system, taqqanot (called haskamot, "agreements," in the Sephardic sphere) represent vox populi ; they would often be signed by the lay leadership (with the rabbinate concurring) and were frequently adopted by communal oath in the synagogue. Taqqanot are often preserved as independent documents or in communal registers and so constitute a literary genre of their own.

Modern Scholarship

Modern scholarly treatment of the history of medieval and modern halakhah has passed through a number of phases. Nineteenth-century historians, who often placed Jewish literary culture at the center of their interest, also focused on the careers of the great halakhists. But this focus often spent itself on biographical and literary issues; the history of law and legal theory was barely touched. With the rise of twentieth-century historiography, the major focus moved to the social, economic, and geopolitical aspects of Jewish life; now halakhic materials were combed as sources of historical data. A considerable amount of work was also devoted to the impact of general historic conditions of halakhic rulings and was often designed to show how flexible earlier halakhists had been. In recent decades, scholarship has looked for the complex interactions of legal theory and practice with historical reality as well as the internal dynamic of the halakhic system.

Modern scholarship has been able to utilize manuscript materials to gain a fuller picture of the past. Although no scientific editions of any medieval or modern halakhic text exist as yet, many new sources have been published or are consulted by scholars. The rich genizah ("storehouse") of Cairo, in particular, has yielded much material emanating from the Babylonian and, even more important, from the obscure Palestinian gaonate. For example, by studying the legal documents found in the genizah, Mordecai A. Friedman has been able to reconstruct Palestinian marriage law, which went further in equalizing the rights of husband and wife than did Babylonian law (Jewish Marriage in Palestine, 2 vols., Tel Aviv, 1980).

The sociological investigation of Jewish law has been pioneered principally by Jacob Katz. Katz utilizes halakhic sources to shed light on social processes, but in his work on law governing Jewish-gentile relations (Exclusiveness and Tolerance, London, 1961) and in a number of papers on Jewish ritual law, he has also shown how social realities have affected the halakhic process. Recently, though, Haym Soloveitchik has indicated that the halakhic response has not always accommodated the social or economic need (see, for example, his paper "Can Halakhic Texts Talk History?" in AJS Review 3, 1978, pp. 152196) but has developed through the interpretation of its textual traditions as well. Since Jewish legists generally functioned in close proximity to their Christian and Muslim contemporaries, the question of mutual influence arises. It appears that Jewish legists absorbed terminology and occasionally legal theory from their surroundings. A more substantive claim for the impact of Christian marriage law has been made by Zeʾev W. Falk in Jewish Matrimonial Law in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1966), and that for Muslim law of prayer has been made by Naftali Wieder in Islamic Influences on the Jewish Worship (Oxford, 1947; in Hebrew). This area of research is in its infancy.

The issue of halakhic openness arises in other contexts as well, for example, regarding the impact of Jewish pietistic movements on Jewish law and the degree to which legists integrate their other intellectual commitments into their legal views. The researches into Maimonidean halakhah by Jacob Levinger (Darkhei hamashavah ha-hilkhatit shel ha-Rambam, Jerusalem, 1965) and Isadore Twersky (Introduction to the Code of Maimonides, New Haven, 1980) indicate that Maimonides' halakhic corpus is conditioned by his philosophic attitudes. Katz's work on the relationship of Qabbalah to halakhah reveals, as well, the influence of spiritualism on certain aspects of Jewish law (see, for example, his Hebrew papers in Tarbiz 50, 19801981, pp. 405422; 51, 1982, pp. 59106; and in Daʿat 7, 1981, pp. 3768). Nonetheless, the halakhic system has retained a great measure of integrity as a self-contained system.

The most rounded analysis of the history of halakhah, treating both systemic-conceptual development and the place of law in society and history, is that associated with the school of mishpa ʿivri ("Hebrew law") in Israel. Although its scholarly and ideological assumptions have been subjected to sharp disagreement (see the debate between Izhak Engelard and Menachem Elon in The Jewish Law Annual, Supplement 1, 1980), this school surveys topics of Jewish law in fuller scope than do other methods. Significant work produced by its historians includes Aaron Freimann's study of conditional marriage, M. Elon on the freedom of the debtor's person, and Shmuel Shiloh on Jewish reception of nonJewish law. A fine English-language exemplar of this method is David Feldman's Birth Control in Jewish Law (New York, 1968), which surveys Jewish law on birth control and abortion from biblical times until the present.

See Also



The best overall survey of the processes of Jewish law, its history and literature (despite its focus on criminal, personal, and civil rather than religious law), is Menachem Elon's Ha-mishpa ha-ʿivri, 2d ed., 3 vols. (Jerusalem, 1973); much of this material is also accessible in The Principles of Jewish Law, edited by Elon (Jerusalem, 1975). The most sustained treatment of the major figures and periods is Haim Chernowitz's Toledot ha-posqim, 3 vols. (New York, 19461947), which begins with the geonic period and reaches seventeenth-century Europe. In general, much more work has been done on the high medieval period than on early modern and modern halakhah. Salo W. Baron's "The Reign of Law," in his A Social and Religious History of the Jewish People, vol. 6, Laws, Homilies and the Bible, 2d ed., rev. (New York, 1958), pp. 3151, 321398, provides a stimulating and well-annotated discussion of geonic and high medieval halakhah from a historical perspective; the fifth and seventh volumes of this series are also liberally peppered with references to halakhic history. Sima Assaf, in Te-qufat ha-geʾonim ve-sifrutah (Jerusalem, 1955), surveys the geonic period with a heavy stress on the halakhic development.

There are a number of outstanding treatments of individual figures or specific movements: E. E. Urbach's Baʿalei ha-tosafot, 4th ed. (Jerusalem, 1980), details the milieu and contribution of the seminal tosafist movement; Isadore Twersky's Introduction to the Code of Maimonides (New Haven, Conn., 1980) is a magisterial analysis of various literary aspects of the code and the relationship of Maimonides' halakhah and his philosophical views. Louis Finkelstein provides translation and discussion of the major European taqqanot until the fifteenth century in his Jewish Self-Government in the Middle Ages (1924; reprint, Westport, Conn., 1972), and Solomon B. Freehof's The Responsa Literature (Philadelphia, 1955), is an informative introduction to this genre.

Although research in Jewish law is published in various journals, a number of publications are devoted exclusively to this topic: Shenatton ha-mishpa ha-ʿivri (1974), Dinei Yisrael (1970), and the Jewish Law Annual (1978).

Gerald J. Blidstein (1987)