What's So Divine About Divine Law?


Sunday, March 5, 2017 from 10:30 am to 12:00 noon


  • Dr. Christine Hayes


B'nai Tzedek Congregation

Program Series: 

  • Rabbi Joshua O. Haberman Distinguished Scholar Series

One of the grounding and central aspects of Judaism is the Torah, which tradition teaches is divine in nature.  But what does it mean to say that the Torah, or any set of laws, is divine?  Some might say that a divine set of laws must be true, but what does law have to do with truth?  Some might say that a divine set of laws must make sense and be rational, or that it must apply to all peoples everywhere, or that it must never change.  But are these in fact the characteristic of the divine Torah, which seems to contain arbitrary elements, applies in particular to Israel, and is subject to development even in Moses's lifetime?  This lecture steps back 2000 years to explore diverse attitudes towards the divine character of the Torah and highlights the surprisingly radical approach of the Talmudic rabbis.

Christine Hayes is Robert F. and Patricia R. Weis Professor of Religious Studies in Classical Judaica. Before joining the Yale faculty in 1996, she was Assistant Professor of Hebrew Studies in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University for three years. Her published works include several books and many articles in Vetus TestamentumThe Journal for the Study of JudaismThe Harvard Theological Review, and various scholarly anthologies.

Hayes’s most recent book, What’s Divine about Divine Law? Early Perspectives, received the 2015 National Jewish Book Award in Scholarship and a 2016 PROSE award in Theology and Religious Studies from the American Publishers Association).  Her other scholarly monographs are Between the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds (recipient of the 1997 Salo Baron prize for a first book in Jewish thought and literature) and Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud (a 2003 National Jewish Book Award finalist). She has authored two introductory volumes (The Emergence of Judaism [2010] and Introduction to the Bible [2012]). Edited works include Jewish Law and its Interactions with other Legal Systems (2014) and a Cambridge Companion to Judaism and Law (2016) as well as forthcoming volumes on rabbinic culture and history.

This program is co-sponsored and held at:


B'nai Tzedek Congregation
10621 South Glen Road
Potomac, Maryland 20854


There is no cost for this event, but we request that you register.