Love and marriage in Talmudic times
By Hananel Mack
"Zahar unekeva bera'am [Male and Female He Created Them]" by Adiel Schremer, Shazar Center, 395 pages [In Hebrew (seems not to be listed in Amazon - JRD)]
For a number of years, the social aspects of history have attained a respected position in research on the medieval and modern periods. Historians of the ancient period, on the other hand, have yet to fully appreciate the value of the social component in the understanding of history, although the picture is gradually changing even in the historiography of ancient times.
I think this generalization is too pessimistic. Certainly there has been a great deal of interest in social scientific study of the Bible for decades, and not a little of such interest for Second Temple Judaism.
Adiel Schremer's book, which deals with Jewish marriage in the late Second Temple, Mishnaic and Talmudic periods, reflects this innovative trend and makes a major contribution to current research on ancient Jewish society, in which marriage occupied a pivotal position.
Although our knowledge of the institution of marriage is not derived from the Bible, the foundations of Jewish marital relations are based on biblical law and on the reality depicted in some of the books in the Bible. As in other fundamental issues, the classical rabbinical authorities (hazal in Hebrew) regarded the Bible, its laws and heroes and heroines, as the formal and ideational source of both Jewish law (halakha) regarding marriage and some of the less binding Jewish traditions on that subject.
Nonetheless, it is obvious that the marital arrangements practiced in the classic rabbinical age have only a limited connection with the Bible or with the reality depicted there. Family life is one of the most important and most sensitive issues in Jewish law and Jewish tradition, and marital relations were part of the extensive and detailed network of Jewish laws regarding the family. Any attempt to establish a direct link between the Bible and the laws promulgated by the classic rabbinical authorities and the way of life they prescribed in the area of marital relations would be in vain - just as vain, in fact, as the attempt to learn directly from the Bible the Jewish laws on the Sabbath and the festivals, kosher dietary rules, economic activity, prayer and other fundamental issues in Jewish law.
And, in fact, the Bible is absent from this book. Scan the book and you will quickly discover that the books of the Bible do not appear in the table of contents or in the bibliography. Similarly, you will find few references to the Bible in the text itself. In contrast, there are extensive discussions of many classical rabbinical works, as well as passages from the Apocrypha, the Qumran writings and early Christian literature.
The book is divided into 12 chapters (including an introduction discussing the research methodology used) and these chapters are devoted to various aspects of the subject. In most of the chapters, the author is careful to provide separate discussions of the reality and Jewish laws in the Holy Land and Babylon respectively. Such a discussion naturally requires a cautious handling of the sources that depict the two major centers of the Jewish world in the ancient period and which reflect the teachings of the rabbinical authorities in those two communities.
[... much more]
Another recent book on the same topic is by Michael L. Satlow: Jewish Marriage in Antiquity.