Hayim Lapin

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2013/2014
discipline History
Robert H. Smith Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of History, University of Maryland

Research project

Case Law in Roman Palestine and Sasanian Iraq



Palestinian rabbinic literature records some two hundred anecdotes purporting to represent cases adjudicated by Rabbis. The Babylonian Talmud contains hundreds more, situated in Mesopotamia. I have recently studied the Palestinian material. For the Mesopotamian materials there are only preliminary studies, but no collection of the entire corpus, much less detailed analysis. The proposed project will collect the anecdotes, providing textual analysis, literary contextualization, and legal explication, as well as tabulation by date and legal area. While earlier studies of the Rabbinic movement in both Palestine and Iraq have taken rabbinic authority within a broader Jewish population for granted, a more recent consensus is emerging that Rabbis are best studied as a movement concerned with movement-specific issues. The immediate significance of case law is as a previously under-utilized body of material to evaluate these basic claims, and to situate the rabbinic movement both within a Jewish population and the multi-ethnic and religious communities of Sasanian Iraq.


This project is the first step in two larger comparative projects using legal sources as a point of entry. The first is a detailed comparison with the case law in Palestinian Rabbinism. The second examines the social and cultural history of Iraq in the Sasanian-Islamic transition. Study of Iraq in the late-antique and transition periods has been highly fragmented, with students of the several populations often studying the materials in isolation, or where comparative methods are used, to coreligionists elsewhere (Christian Syria, Roman Palestine, or the Ḥijaz). Yet even before the Arab conquest, Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Arabs, not to mention practitioners of traditional Mesopotamian religious practices, lived cheek-by-jowl in such places as Seleucia-Ctesiphon, and the arrival of Islam added an additional layer of complexity. Beginning with case-law—legal material that has some relationship to actual praxis—provides a frame of reference for planned comparative work.



Hayim Lapin is Robert H. Smith Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland. He has served as Director of the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Program and Center for Jewish Studies. He holds a Ph.D. in Religion from Columbia University.


His work has focused on the intersection between Textual History of Rabbinic Literature, the History of Roman-period Judaism, and the Economic and Social History of Roman Palestine. He is currently extending his research interests into the Early Islamic transition, and to Digital Humanities. His project, developing a digital critical edition of the Mishnah, with a working demo, is at www.digitalmishnah.org.

Selected publications


Shaping the Middle East: Jews, Christians, and Muslims 50–750, with G. Kenneth (eds),

Studies and Texts in Jewish History and Culture, University Press of Maryland, Bethesda, 2011.


‘Economy and Society’, in M. Goodman & P. Alexander (eds), Rabbinic Texts and the History of Late-Roman Palestine, Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. 165, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2011.


‘Aspects of the Rabbinic Movement in Palestine, 500-800 CE’, in K. G. Holum & H. Lapin (eds), Shaping the Middle East, 500-850 CE, Studies and Texts in Jewish History and Culture, University Press of Maryland, Bethesda, 2011, pp. 181–195.


‘The Rabbinic Class Revisited: Rabbis as Judges in Later Roman Palestine’, in Z. Weiss, O. Irshai, J. Magness & S. Schwartz (eds),"Follow the Wise" (B Sanhedrin 32b): Studies in Jewish History and Culture in Honor of Lee I. Levine, Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, 2010, pp. 255-273.


Economy, Geography, and Provincial History in Later Roman Palestine, Texte und Studien zum antiken Judentum, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, 2001.


Early Rabbinic Civil Law and the Social History of Roman Galilee: A Study of Mishnah Tractate Baba‘ Mesi‘a’, Brown Judaic Studies, vol. 307, Scholars Press, Atlanta, 1995.


senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline Philosophy
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline History and Law
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline History