'Halakhah, Inheritance and the "Heritage of Israel"'

Bernard Jackson, Professor of Law and Jewish Studies, Liverpool Hope University and Professor Emeritus of University of Manchester

Mon 19 - Thurs 22 April 2010, 5.15pm daily

Venue: Arts Lecture Theatre of the Samuel Alexander Building, University of Manchester (Building 67 on Campus Map)


1. Monday 19th April 2010:'Heritage and Inheritance in the Hebrew Bible'

I commence by introducing the conceptual issues involved in the relationship between Heritage and Inheritance. Inheritance (and disinheritance) begins as a flexible social institution; it is the theological model of the “promised” (better, perhaps, “inherited”) land which prompts formal legal rules, as seen in the narrative of the daughters of Zelophehad. But inheritance also extends to power relations, as seen in the successions to both Isaac and Jacob, as well as Moses, Samuel and David. The transmission of Israel’s spiritual heritage — the covenant and Torah, and the narrative history of both — is less infused with inheritance terminology, though it is not entirely absent even here.

2. Tuesday 20th April 2010: 'Between the Hebrew Bible and the Rabbis'

Luke’s parable of the prodigal son combines, at its different levels, issues of inheritance (to the estate of the father) and heritage (succession to the covenant, at the parable’s referential level). At both, we find “unresolved problems”, indicating a still less-than-complete level of institutionalisation. Jewish texts also provide a parabolic form of discussion of succession to an aspect of the covenant, the land, in the form of a (mythical) trial before Alexander the Great, where the issue is debated (as in Luke, but here with biblical proof texts) in terms of the halakhah of inheritance applicable to individuals. The New Testament, of course, also provides accounts of a trial concerned fundamentally with the nature and destination of the Jewish heritage: the trial of Jesus. I argue that this is couched primarily in terms of succession to the authority of the “prophet like Moses”, which is manifest also in the narratives of Jesus’ life as well as his death.

3. Wednesday 21 April 2010: 'The Rabbinic Inheritance'

By a somewhat ironic accident (or is it?), the Christian scriptures came to be known as the new “Testament”. The descent of (primarily rabbinic) authority in Judaism also assumed a juridical form: the “chain of tradition” is expressed in terms of a form of qinyan of property, notwithstanding the “spiritual” transmission implied by the original form of semikhah, and even the rabbinic office was claimed to descend by way of inheritance. The distinction between semikhah and qinyan may also reflect a development of the understanding of the role of human beings within the overall system of divine justice, from a “monistic” (directly inspired) model to a “dualistic” model (based on delegated authority). Though the latter ultimately prevailed, traces of the former still survive. Aspects of this tension may be seen in the ongoing debates about the problem of the agunah. Yet despite the self-imposed limits on rabbinic authority which have developed within the model of delegated authority, a wider form of authority is now increasingly claimed by the (haredi) rabbinate, under the banner of Da‘as torah, a concept which seeks not only a reversion to a unified conception of authority (despite the three ketarim), but also clearly extends the normativity of rabbinic authority from inheritance (halakhah) to heritage.

4. Thursday 22nd April 2010: 'Halakhah and the “Heritage of Israel” in the State of Israel'

In modern times, the Jewish heritage also includes a “damnosa hereditas”, the legacy of the sho’ah; I note one particular (quasi-juridical) view of its effect on the covenant, that of Irving Greenberg. Political emancipation in modern times has posed the issue of Jewish heritage in a form which requires taking account of values advanced from outside the religious tradition (even if coinciding with torah values). In the State of Israel, the kulturkampf over the place of halakhah in the State reflects this: on the one hand, the reference to moreshet yisra’el in the Foundations of Law Act 1980; on the other, the statement in the Declaration of Independence that the State “will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel”. I discuss, in this context, the “Brother Daniel” case, which (while rejecting a halakhic definition based on inheritance) juxtaposes two forms of identity based on heritage, one (influenced by the Holocaust) dominated by a sense of the history of Jewish-Christian relations, the other arguing for the application of prophetic values. I also argue that the problem posed by the recent JFS case (on the admission criteria of an Orthodox school), which opposes a halakhic conception of Jewish identity based on inheritance with a secular conception of “ethnic origin” based on heritage, may also profit from the arguments in the Brother Daniel case. A conclusion to the series summarises the arguments and counsels against too strict a positivist distinction between inheritance and heritage in the context of the halakhah.


Bernard Jackson is Professor Emeritus, University of Manchester, formerly Alliance Professor of Modern Jewish Studies; Co-Director of the Centre. Research in the History and Philosophy of Jewish law and its Modern Application including the problem of the agunah. He has now taken up a part-time appointment as Professor of Law and Jewish Studies at Liverpool Hope University.