From the point of view of method and organization, the Code of Maimonides, written in the twelfth century, is still considered one of the great codes in the history of jurisprudence. The Book of Women, the fourth book in the Code, consists of five treatises dealing with the laws on marriage, divorce, levirate marriage, and Halishah, the virgin maiden, and the wayward woman. Many of these regulations are roughly comparable to modern family law. In compiling the treatises, Maimonides augmented the basic stipulations of the Talmud with subsequent legal developments and included laws that had long been inoperative, among them the penalties for the rape or seduction of a virgin. Talmudic law itself, according to the editor’s introduction, reflects the steady improvement in the status of women in Jewish society. Once virtually a chattel of her father or brother, she gradually acquired the rights of a free person, “practically on a par with the adult male.” Rabbi Klein emphasizes the social assumptions about the meaning and purpose of marriage behind these legal developments, noting the painstaking and critical insight Maimonides brought to his sources.
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