Granting the importance of the analysis of the explicit and implicit rationales for halakhot, let us describe the refined historical approach mentioned above. History, in his new approach, is not narrowly conceived along political or socio-economic lines as it was sometimes in the past, but rather history is broadly conceived as the locus for a host of non-hermeneutic an non-formalistic factors which impinge upon the halakhic process. Ethical, theological, economic, political and other cultural forces play a role in the evolution of the halakhah and all these forces emerge within specific historical settings. The goal of the new approach is to reveal the traces of these forces on the halakhah without reducing all halakhah to mere epiphenomena of authentic, supposedly non-legal, historical activity. To accomplish this goal, the new approach introduces external factors only when internal legal justifications fall short. Features of the halakhah which cannot be fully explained by internal considerations, such as uncharacteristic legal stances, unprecedented novelties and the preference for a specific exegetical move over another equally valid one, are viewed as traces of external historical forces (see Soloveitchik 1978: 174; Hayes 1997: 181). Unsurprising mishnaic legal positions rooted in unambiguous biblical law do not call for historical interpretations, whereas the atypical, the novel and the unnecessary offer the historian a toehold and entry-point for the introduction and consideration of historical factors.

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), 101.

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