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One of the most celebrated Talmudic parables begins with a remarkably dry legal issue debated among a group of rabbis. A modern reader should think of the rabbis as a collegial court, very much like a secular appellate court, because the purpose of their debate is to generate edicts that will bind the community. The issue under debate concerns the ritual cleanliness of a baked earthenware stove, sliced horizontally into rings and cemented back together with unbaked mortar. Do the laws of purity that apply to uncut stoves apply to this one as well? This stove is the so-called "oven of Akhnai" (oven of serpents). Presumably, its horizontal bands separated by mortar made it look like a coiled serpent; but according to the Talmud, it is the oven of Akhnai because the legal debate coiled the rabbis in serpentine arguments. Therein lies a remarkable tale.

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79 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 1253-1288 (2004)

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Legal History Commons