The analysis of the halakhah in the Mishnah commenced already in tannaitic times (see Henshke 1997) and has continued unabated until today. The Talmuds and their medieval commentators are well known for their attempts to reveal and interpret the legal concepts and principles underlying mishnaic halakhah. In contrast, modern historians have sometimes interpreted mishnaic halakhah, and halakhah more generally, as responses to historical factors, such as political or socio-economic crises. A potential drawback of this historical approach to the halakhah is the risk of viewing legal concepts and reasoning as little more than ex post facto rationales for laws generated primarily by contemporary historical realities (see Hayes 1997: 3-9, 17-24; Soloveitchik 1978: 174-175). Seeing halakhah primarily as a response to political or socio-economic crises risks minimising the significance of internal legal considerations and ignoring the nuanced relationships of halakhah to reality, “the patterns of resistance and response, of attentiveness and indifference” (Soloveitchik 1978: 174). Thus, contemporary studies of halakhah often seek to avoid these drawbacks in two ways: they highlight the legal reasoning and hermeneutics which justify the halakhah and refine the historical approach with methods designed to produce more compelling interpretations.

Amram Tropper, “The State of Mishnah Studies,” Rabbinic Texts and the History of Late-Roman Palestine, ed. Martin Goodman & Philip Alexander (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 100. 

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