Between the Lines: The Stories They Tell

By :  Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary Posted On Dec 13, 2022 / 5783 | Author Conversations: Between the Lines Library Programs

Dr. Judith Hauptman upends the long-held theory of the immutability of halakhah, Jewish law. In her detailed analysis of over 80 short halakhic anecdotes in the Babylonian Talmud, she shows that the Talmud itself promotes halakhic change. She leads the reader through one sugya (discussion unit) after another, accumulating evidence for her rather radical thesis. Along the way, she teases out details of what life was like 1500 years ago for women in their relationships with men and for students in their relationships with mentors. 


Judith Hauptman is the E. Billi Ivry Professor Emerita of Talmud and Rabbinic Culture at The Jewish Theological Seminary. Dr. Hauptman’s scholarly research focuses on two areas. 

The first is unraveling the mystery of how the Talmud came into being—i.e., how the many strands of rabbinic teachings coalesced into one coherent document. Her work may be classified as synoptic studies—a specialized area of Talmudic research in which related texts are examined for their implications about the history of the texts themselves and of Jewish law. Her first book in this area is titled Development of the Talmudic Sugya: Relationship Between Tannaitic and Amoraic Sources (University Press of America, 1987). Another book, Rereading the Mishnah: A New Approach to Ancient Jewish Texts (Mohr Siebeck, 2005), examines the relationship of the Mishnah and the Tosefta, two early rabbinic works. 

Her second area of research involves investigating women’s roles in Judaic thought, bringing an evaluation of the social and ethical norms of the rabbinic period into dialogue with contemporary issues. In Rereading the Rabbis, A Woman’s Voice (Westview, 1998), she traces the development of women’s legal status over time, from chattel in the Bible to second-class citizen at the end of the Talmudic period.