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Responsa: Literary History of a Rabbinic Genre
Peter J. Haas
SemeiaSt 31
Publication Date
January 1997


This is the first book-length study of the responsa genre and the development of rabbinic legal discourse. By examining how the rhetoric of rabbinic legal and moral discourse changed over the centuries, the author discerns deep shifts in the social reality and self-understanding of the Jewish communities from which these normative writings emerged. In addition, the character of argumentation illustrates how authority was established and maintained in rabbinic Judaism. The study concludes with an analysis of contemporary English-language responsa that highlights both their similarities to and differences from the classical texts.

“…an invaluable contribution to the field.… Peter Haas has directed our attention to the scholarly necessity of reading the responsa as literature. We are indebted to him for this pioneering, truly pathbreaking work.”

Peter J. Haas is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University.

Click here for the paperback edition.