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Abstract

This article analyzes depictions of Jewish lay people who advocate for their interests before rabbinic judges in adjudication narratives, a genre of brief case stories in the Babylonian Talmud (c. 200-550 CE). Adjudication narratives are distinguished by their portrayal of a specific judge’s hearing and ruling on the case, which grants the opportunity to portray dramatic interactions between litigants and judge. The extensive editing process of the Talmudic corpus, as well as the possibility that some of these narratives may have been composed as riffs on the same case, means it is difficult to ascertain how accurately they depict historical reality. However, narratives illustrating forum shopping, actions that change the facts of the case, interruption and finally, argumentation, each offer an opportunity to assess when and why tactics are effective for the petitioner. The stories suggest that tactics of lay advocacy are likely to be treated favorably by the Talmud’s authors when the petitioners’ actions support the authority of the judge and the traditions of rabbinic culture. Their inclusion in the Talmud also instructs future judges about the potential opportunities and challenges offered by lay people who advocate for their needs in court. Most important, perhaps, is that these adjudication narratives incorporate lay people’s concerns, and in some cases, their “backlash,” into Jewish legal reasoning, training, and tradition.

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