A Review of Rabbinic Authority: The Vision and the Reality

by Daniel D. Stuhlman, AJL ReviewsRabbinicAuthorityWeb1

Halakhah embodies the legal and communal traditions that began when the Torah was given and transmitted through Moses, the elders, and the rabbis. This book attempts to introduce English speakers to the concept of rabbinic authority. The author is a legal scholar in both secular law and Jewish law; this book is written based on both bodies of knowledge.

Warburg’s book is excellent overall, but it has several short comings. First, it is a very slow read as it is tedious to read the text with several hundred footnotes. Second, the book is lacking a glossary and a topical or subject index. Thus, this book is not for the beginning student, and the audience listed in the preface is not the audience who will understand the text.

Rabbinic Authority has two parts; each reflected in the title. The first part “vision” defines rabbinic authority and attempts to put authority in a communal or global context. The second part “reality” summarizes cases brought before a beit din (religious court) with explanations and decisions. By the time an issue is filed in court, the parties are so far apart only a legal decision can solve the problem. Warburg chooses cases in both business and family law. In one family law case a brother is sued by his two sisters over the estate of their father. While Warburg treats this as an academic example for explaining the law, the reader is left to wonder how the family dynamic could deteriorate to a point to where the court needed to decide the disposition of the estate…. I enjoyed reading it because I have a deep, personal interest in the law—Jewish and secular, business and family. Rabbinic Authority is recommended for libraries that seek to collect academic Jewish law books and have well-educated readers.

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