The co-op bookstore for avid readers
Book Cover for: Critique of Halakhic Reason: Divine Commandments and Social Normativity, Yonatan Y. Brafman

Critique of Halakhic Reason: Divine Commandments and Social Normativity

Yonatan Y. Brafman

Norms and obligations are central components of many religious traditions. Yet they have often been neglected as objects of reflection in the study of religion relative to belief, experience, and even the related category of ritual. More surprisingly, despite the centrality of mitzvah (commandment) in Judaism, halakhah (Jewish law) has only recently become a central topic in modern Jewish thought. This book rectifies these deficiencies while forging new connections between reflection on religion and modern Jewish thought by offering what it calls a critique of halakhic reason. Such a critique delineates the rational constraints on the justification of the commandments and the practical consequences for their jurisprudence. It also asks whether uniquely "religious reasons" even exist and draws conclusions for several areas of study.
Critique of Halakhic Reason offers fresh assessments of twentieth century Jewish thinkers, including Joseph Soloveitchik, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, and Eliezer Berkovits, as deeply engaged in reason-giving about the commandments yet simultaneously denying the normativity of practical reason. Against them, it contends that, when reasons are understood as generated by the structure of agency and the relations among subjects, they are the source of normativity. This constructivist theory of practical reason provides a basis for conceptions of authority, norms, and obligations that are applicable even to God's commands. Divine commandments too operate within a "space of reasons," and so are constrained by rationality and morality. Whether commandments are justified and how they are implemented depends on the reasons offered for and against them by humans. Reasons and practices of reason-giving are thus central to religious thought and life.
Yonatan Y. Brafman examines the reasoning operative in the justification and jurisprudence of the Jewish commandments, and develops the consequences of reasoning for the study and philosophy of religion.

Book Details

  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publish Date: May 14th, 2024
  • Pages: 376
  • Language: English
  • Dimensions: 9.60in - 6.50in - 1.30in - 1.50lb
  • EAN: 9780197767931
  • Categories: Judaism - TalmudJudaism - Theology

About the Author

Yonatan Y. Brafman is Assistant Professor of Modern Judaism in the Department of Religion and Program in Judaic Studies at Tufts University. He is a scholar of Jewish thought and a philosopher of religion whose work focuses on Jewish law in the context of contemporary moral, legal, and political philosophy. He has held fellowships at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, New York University Law School, and Cardozo School of Law. He holds a PhD in Philosophy of Religion and Jewish Thought from Columbia University.

Praise for this book

"'Religious reasons' are commonly treated as a distinctive kind of reason, marked off as an autonomous domain and protected from reflective analysis. Brafman's Critique of Halakhic Reason powerfully refutes this account. In dialogue with contemporary moral and legal philosophy, Brafman uncovers the diverse array of reasons for the commandments that are given within Jewish law and philosophy. Developing a constructivist theory of practical reason, Brafman shows how reasons must be given even for divine authority. Morality derives from the justified claims persons-divine or human-make on each other. Rich with implications for theology, philosophy of religion, ethics, and political philosophy, The Critique of Halakhic Reason is a signal contribution." -- Jennifer Herdt, Gilbert L. Stark Professor of Christian Ethics at Yale University Divinity School

"Every so often a book comes along that promises to challenge, deepen, and transform our ways of understanding Judaism. Brafman's rich and exciting work on reasoning and normativity in Jewish law is such a book. It is at once an illuminating and powerful critique of the conceptions of legal reasoning in the work of Berkovits, Leibowitz, and Soloveitchik and a novel and compelling new account of rationality and authority in the Halakhah, informed by recent developments in moral and legal philosophy. In this book Brafman guides us into an exciting new engagement between contemporary philosophy and Jewish thought." -- Michael L. Morgan, Chancellor's Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Jewish Studies at Indiana University

"In this deep and thoughtful book, Brafman deploys subtle analysis of philosophical sources since Kant to explore and critique influential modern Jewish accounts of the reasons why God's commandments must be observed. To this he adds his own original view, one that reconciles constructivism with theistic belief. The result is a major contribution to contemporary Jewish thought and to rational religion. The Critique of Halakhic Reason should be required reading for anyone who takes both halakhah and philosophy seriously and wants to bring them into dialogue." -- Noah Feldman, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law and Chair, Society of Fellows at Harvard University