Glossary of Terms
Agunah (plural Agunot): A woman who is “chained” to her Jewish husband who refuses to grant her a Get (Jewish divorce document). A man will also be an Agun (plural Agunim) if his wife refuses to accept a Get.
Bet Din (plural Batei Din): Court of Jewish religious law.
Get (plural Gittin): Jewish divorce document.
Halachically Jewish: A status that applies to any person whose ancestors on the maternal side were Jewish, as recognized by an Orthodox Beth Din or someone who has undergone a conversion to Orthodox Judaism. Mamzer (plural Mamzerim): A Jewish child whose status is religiously “illegitimate”. Under Orthodox Jewish law a mamzer, together with any descendants, cannot normally marry another Jew or Jewess. A child will be a mamzer if he or she is born to a Jewish mother who married her husband in an Orthodox synagogue, but who did not obtain a Get from him before she became pregnant by another Jewish man with that child – even if she did obtain a civil divorce.
Ketubah: Jewish marriage contract prepared according to Jewish law
Mamzer (plural Mamzerim): a child born of biblical adultery or incest, may not be able to marry another Jew under Orthodox law.
Seruv: a document that states that a person is unwilling to accept the decision, authority of the Bet Din
Jewish law, or halachah, is used here to denote the entire subject matter of the Jewish legal system, including public, private, and ritual law. A brief historical review will familiarize the reader with its history and development. The Pentateuch (the five books of Moses, the Torah) is the historical touchstone document of Jewish law and, according to Jewish legal theory, was revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai around the year 1280 B.C.E. The Prophets and Writings, the other two parts of the Hebrew Bible, were written over the next 700 years, and the Jewish canon was closed about the year 200 before the common era (“B.C.E.”). The period from the close of the canon until 250 of the common era (“C.E.”) is referred to as the era of the tannaim, the redactors of Jewish law, which closed with the editing of the Mishnah by Rabbi Judah the Patriarch. The next five centuries was the epoch in which the two Talmuds (Babylonian and Jerusalem) were written and edited by scholars called amoraim (“those who recount” Jewish law) and savoraim (“those who ponder” Jewish law). The Babylonian Talmud is of greater legal significance than the Jerusalem Talmud and is a more complete work.
The post-talmudic era is conventionally divided into three periods: (1) the era of the geonim, scholars who lived in Babylonia until the mid-eleventh century; (2) the era of the rishonim (the early authorities), who lived in North Africa, Spain, Franco-Germany, and Egypt until the end of the fourteenth century; and (3) the period of the achronim (the latter authorities), which encompasses all scholars of Jewish law from the fifteenth century up to this era. From the mid-fourteenth century until the early seventeenth century.
Jewish law underwent a period of codification, which led to the acceptance of the law code format of Rabbi Joseph Karo, called the Shulchan Aruch, as the basis for modern Jewish law. The Shulchan Aruch (and the Arba’ah Turim of Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, which preceded it) divided Jewish law into four areas: Orach Chayyim is devoted to daily, Sabbath, and holiday laws; Even Haezer addresses family law, including its financial aspects; Choshen Mishpat codifies financial law; and Yoreh Deah contains dietary laws as well as miscellaneous other legal matter. Many significant scholars, themselves as important as Rabbi Karo in status and authority, wrote annotations to his code which made the work and its surrounding comments the modern touchstone of Jewish law. The most recent complete edition of the Shulchan Aruch (Vilna, 1896) contains no less than one hundred and thirteen separate commentaries on the text of Rabbi Karo. In addition, hundreds of other volumes of commentary have been published as self-standing works, a process that continues to this very day. Besides the law codes and commentaries, for the last twelve hundred years Jewish law authorities have addressed specific questions of Jewish law in written responsa (in question and answer form). Collections of such responsa have been published, providing guidance not only to later authorities, but to the community at large. Finally, since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the rabbinical courts of Israel have published their written opinions deciding cases on a variety of matters, mostly in the area of family, where they have either exclusive or concurrent legal jurisdiction.