A Tree of Life

BookA Tree of Life

A Tree of Life

Diversity, Flexibility, and Creativity in Jewish Law

Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


August 31st, 2000





The central thesis of A Tree of Life, now revised and expanded, is that social, economic, theological, and even political factors have always played a part in framing of Jewish law, as has consideration of the wider ideals of Judaism.  Through discussion of historical and contemporary halakhic responses to a wide range of issues, Louis Jacobs shows how the halakhic system has demonstrated its potential for vitality, creativity, and sensitivity.

Louis Jacobs’s call, in the last chapter, for a non-fundamentalist approach to halakhah was a cause of controversy both when the book was first published in 1984 and subsequently. The new introduction written for this edition responds robustly to the criticisms raised, and also summarizes new developments, both halakhic and scholarly, in the various areas covered.

'Rabbi Louis Jacobs is well known as a highly distinguished liberal interpreter of Judaism. Many of his works ... are immediately accessible to the general reader, but his interpretation is deeply rooted in scholarly study of the rabbinic writings, sources which also inspire "conservative" expressions of a Judaism markedly different from his own ... The author makes his point in a fascinating way ... Vivid light is cast on Jewish-Christian relations among other issues ... Jacobs's book is a fund of valuable information, but its argument is also a signal instance of the attachment to tradition embraced with a rational integrity.'
William Horbury, Expository Times
 'It raises questions that still await an adequate response for resolution from the Orthodox authorities.'
Miri Freud-Kandel, Jerusalem Post
 'Louis Jacobs demonstrates a profound scholarship in the second edition of this important work. The breadth of source and the volume of analysis are truly extraordinary.'
Reuven Livingstone, Jewish Chronicle
 'One of the few works on the nature and development of Jewish law written from a Conservative point of view, and it can be seen as a "classic" ... Jacobs succeeds in an admirable way in his self-imposed task of developing "a theory of halakhic change for those who are loyal to the halakhic traditions and yet accept modern values", a task which will probably continue to occupy Conservative and Orthodox thinkers for generations to come.'
Catherine Hezser, Journal of Law and Religion


Author Information

Louis Jacobs, founding rabbi of the New London Synagogue, was a renowned scholar with an international reputation as a lecturer. He was the author of The Jewish Religion: A Companion (1995) and of many other distinguished books, several of them published by the Littman Library, including Beyond Reasonable Doubt (1999), Hasidic Prayer (paperback 1993), and Theology in the Responsa (paperback 2005), as well as an edition and translation of Zevi Hirsch Eichenstein’s Turn Aside from Evil and Do Good (1995). He died in 2006.