Senior Fellow: May–June 2018 and June–July 2019
Research Project: Legal Indeterminacy and the Limits of Knowledge in Medieval Rabbinic Writings of Islamic Lands
Informed by the Aristotelian tradition and by the writings of Muslim scholars such as Al-Farabi and Ibn Bajja, medieval Jewish philosophers in Islamicate lands were discussing the limits of human knowledge at the very same time that halakhists of these lands were explaining the presence of mahloqot [unresolved controversies] in the Babylonian Talmud. However, Jewish philosophical writings on epistemology have not been brought into conversation with the theories of legal controversy that were developed by rabbinic scholars of antiquity and the Middle Ages. The case of Maimonides, both philosopher and halakhist, argues eloquently for the need to do so.
Bridging the realms of philosophy/theology on the one hand and law on the other, I will explore the ways in which Rabbanite Jews of the medieval Islamicate world addressed topics such as the taxonomy of Jewish law, questions of certainty vs. probability, and the existence of divergent legal perspectives and practices. These issues were very much alive for them, given the Qaraites’ rejection of Oral Torah and rabbinic authority and the systematisation, by hadith scholars, of epistemological criteria for authenticating traditions.
Talya Fishman is an associate professor of Near Eastern languages and civilizations and of Jewish studies at the University of Pennsylvania.