Law’s Dominion

Jewish Community, Religion, and Family in Early Modern Metz


In Law’s Dominion, Jay Berkovitz offers a novel approach to the history of early modern Jewry. Set in the city of Metz, on the Moselle river, this study of a vibrant prerevolutionary community draws on a wide spectrum of legal sources that tell a story about community, religion, and family that has not been told before.
Focusing on the community’s leadership, public institutions, and judiciary, this study challenges the assumption that Jewish life was in a steady state of decline before the French Revolution. To the contrary, the evidence reveals a robust community that integrated religious values and civic consciousness, interacted with French society, and showed remarkable signs of collaboration between Jewish law and the French judicial system.

In Law’s Dominion, Jay Berkovitz has gathered and meticulously mined a dazzling array of rich and complex rabbinic texts and records from Western Europe during the early modern period, including the pinkas of the rabbinic court of Metz that he previously rescued from oblivion. What emerges is a remarkably fresh depiction and incisive comparative treatment of central aspects of Jewish law, religion and family, which will have far-reaching ramifications for all future studies in these disciplines.
-Ephraim Kanarfogel, E. Billi Ivry University Professor of Jewish History, Literature, and Law at Yeshiva University

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Jay R. Berkovitz, Ph.D. (1983), Brandeis University, is Distinguished Professor of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies (Emeritus) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has published extensively in the fields of early modern history and law, including Protocols of Justice (Brill, 2014).


Part 1: Foundations

1 Writing Jewish History through a Legal Lens
 Rabbinic Responsa Literature
 Communal Registers (Pinkasim)
 Lay and Rabbinic Court Records
 Law as a Cultural System
 The Production of the Metz Pinkas Beit Din

2 The Foundations of the Metz Kehillah
 Return of the Jews to France and the Establishment of the Metz Community
 Ritual and Identity
 Material Culture
 Economic Integration

Part 2: Community, Governance, Authority

3 Communal Autonomy and Governance
 Electoral and Administrative Procedures
 Consumption and Social Status
 Poverty and Social Welfare
 Juridical Autonomy and Recourse to Non-Jewish Courts
 Policing Religious and Cultural Boundaries

4 Lay and Rabbinic Judicial Authority
 Lay and Rabbinic Tribunals
 Sources of Law
 Judicial Procedure
 Functions of the Beit Din

5 Navigating the Challenges of Multiple Jurisdictions
 Production of Bi-lingual Documents
 Patterns of Litigation in the Beit Din
 Judicial Behavior of the Metz Beit Din
 The Acquaintance of the Beit Din with French Law and Judicial Procedure
 Navigating the Two Systems
 The Impact of French Law on Rabbinic Jurisprudence

Part 3: Family Affairs

6 Guardianship and Inheritance
 Testamentary Charity

7 Women, Marriage, and Property
 Betrothal and Marriage
 Marital Property
 Women in Credit and Commerce

8 Conclusion and Epilogue
All interested in Jewish history, Jewish law and religion, and anyone with interest in law, jurisprudence, and early modern France.
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