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Law and Historical Narrative in the Eighteenth Century

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Chapter Summary

Rabbinic court records traverse the divide that commonly separates the disciplines of law and history. This chapter sheds light on communal structures, economic patterns, the dynamics of family life, and the role of law in the decades prior to the French Revolution. It approaches law, first, as a source of social and cultural history. While talmudic and medieval Jewish law strictly prohibited recourse to gentile courts, there are a number of exceptions and extenuating circumstances that render this highly restrictive view more complicated than is commonly understood. In the last third of the eighteenth century, the judicial practices of the Metz Beit Din diverged from the general policy of self-containment and accommodationism that prevailed in Jewish communities throughout the Middle Ages. The protocols of the Metz Beit Din assumed the form of detailed summaries of judicial proceedings that were produced by court scribes.

Keywords: cultural history; eighteenth century; French Revolution; gentile courts; Jewish communities; Jewish law; Metz Beit Din



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