Navigation auf


Rechtswissenschaftliche Fakultät Lehrstuhl Babusiaux

Seminar HS 2023

Jewish and Roman Law in the Roman Empire – An Improbable Historical Dialogue

Prof. Dr. Orit Malka (The Hebrew University, Jerusalem) and

Prof. Dr. Ulrike Babusiaux (University of Zurich, Zurich)

organize this seminar in the fall term of 2023.


The siege of Jerusalem of 70 CE and, associated therewith, the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem marked the end of the Jewish political autonomy under Roman rule. Despite this demise of political authority, the 2nd century CE became the most fertile period for the development of a legal discourse in Jewish law. Roman law, especially legal writing, also flourished in the 2nd century CE. This chronological coincidence, but also the methodological and substantive similarities between the two legal traditions, have time and again attracted scholars of Roman and Jewish law. In fact, both traditions give special importance to legal opinions (responsa) of legal experts and both legal systems are casuistic in nature.

The seminar will analyse examples of parallel phenomena between the two laws and discuss possible points of contact between the Jewish and the Roman community in courts, legal writing and daily life. Although direct explicit borrowing from each other might be rare, it is to be expected, that there was a – not always acknowledged – interchange of legal ideas and that subtle influences of the counterpart’s legal tradition made their way in the respective legal discourse.


Students will be asked to prepare a paper that includes both Roman and Jewish law texts in comparison; they are not required to know Latin, (ancient) Greek or Hebrew, as preexisting translations can be used. However, students who know one of the aforementioned languages, are specially invited to register for the seminar, as they will profit from the engagement with original texts from both legal traditions.

The students’ work in the seminar consists of a written paper (approximately 15 pages for BLaw students, 20 pages for MLaw students) as well as an oral presentation during the seminar session. Assessment is based on the extent to which students have understood the texts, deepened the analysis and engaged with the overarching question. Students are also required to participate in the discussion of the other students’ papers.

Date and Place

The seminar will be held at the University of Zurich, in the Central Building, on single days (tbd) during week 38 (18th-22nd of September) and week 39 (25th – 29th of September) 2023; the final dates and venue will be communicated as soon as known. A precise schedule of the seminar (and its preparation) will be published after the students’ registration.

Preliminary Meeting

A preliminary meeting will be held on the 5th of April 2023 at 10 a.m. in room RAI-F-041. The meeting serves to give further information on the content of the seminar and to distribute the topics among the students present.

Introductive Bibliography

David Daube, Jewish Law in the Hellenistic World, in: B.S. Jackson (ed.), Jewish Law in Legal History and the Modern World, Leiden 1980, 45-60

A. Mordechai Rabello, The Legal Condition of the Jews in the Roman Empire, in: ANRW 1980.II.13, 662-762

Bernard S. Jackson, Essays in Jewish and Comparative Legal History, Leiden 1975

Boaz Cohen, Jewish and Roman Law. A comparative study, New York 1966

Preliminary List of Topics

1 The position of slaves in the Rabbinic and the Roman tradition
2 Marriage law in the Jewish and the Roman tradition
3 Gifts in the contemplation of death in hellenistic and tannaitic law
4 Witnesses and court proceedings in Roman and Talmudic law
5 Animal owner’s liability
6 Ius postliminii and citizenship
7 Lending at interest
8 Settling disputes

Further topics on demand.

Weiterführende Informationen

More information

The Seminar will be held on two consecutive Wednesdays.

20 Sept. 2023: the Seminar starts at 09:00 a.m. in room KOL-G-212 and will be continued in room KO2-F-175 after the lunchbreak.

27 Sept. 2023: the Seminar is held in room RAI-D-17 (09:00-17:00).