Punishment and Freedom: The Rabbinic Construction of Criminal Law

Press Contact: Nina Jacobson
Office: (212) 678-8950
Email: nijacobson@jtsa.edu

March 6, 2008, New York, NY

Dr. Devora Steinmetz, Assistant Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at The Jewish Theological Seminary, offers a fresh look at classical rabbinic texts about criminal law from the perspective of legal and moral philosophy in her new book, Punishment and Freedom (University of Pennsylvania Press, February 2008).

A valuable guide through Talmudic discourse for scholars of Jewish thought, early Christianity, and legal philosophy, Punishment and Freedom holds that the procedures outlined in classical criminal and judicial texts were never designed to be applied in a real state. Rather, these texts deal with broader philosophical, theological, and ethical conceptions of the law.

Through close readings of passages describing criminal procedure and punishment, Dr. Steinmetz argues that the Rabbis constructed a view of Sinaitic law that is based in divine command and human responsibility and that is tied to the rabbinic notion that human beings are charged with shaping the world and their own destiny.

Dr. Steinmetz is particularly interested in literary approaches to biblical and rabbinic texts, the development of biblical exegesis, and the intersection between legal theory and Jewish law.

She also fuses scholarship with an intense commitment to teaching and to Jewish education. Dr. Steinmetz is the founder of Beit Rabban, a day school and center for innovation in Jewish education, of which she served as director for several years. Her role as a visionary educator is portrayed in a book by Professor Daniel Pekarsky entitled Vision at Work: The Theory and Practice of Beit Rabban (JTS Press, 2006).

The author of scholarly articles on Talmud, Midrash, and Bible as well as From Father to Son: Kinship, Conflict, and Continuity in Genesis, Dr. Steinmetz received her AB from Barnard College, her MA from Fordham University, and her PhD from Columbia University.

Punishment and Freedom can be purchased by visiting http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/14468.html

Early Reviews

"This is an exciting and often brilliant work, perhaps the best available analysis of how judicial punishment is understood in rabbinic literature. Punishment and Freedom contributes mightily to the most vexed and widely debated issue in all of Jewish legal theory, whether Jewish law is to be conceived as positivist or instead as reflecting a notion of natural law." — David Shatz, Yeshiva University