Tuesday 2 March 2010

Copyright in Jewish Law

Copyright in Jewish Law is the title of a book recently published by Feldheim Publishers. Its author, Rabbi Nachum Menashe Weisfish, is a Jerusalem-based scholar of Jewish law who has trawled a wide variety of source materials in order to produce what the publisher describes as
"the first sefer [this term is used for a book with Jewish religious content rather than, say, a secular legal textbook] to clarify what is and what is not permissible to copy. A definitive work, with practical answers to questions regarding photocopying machines, compact discs, computers, the internet, and more. Widely acclaimed by Gedolei Yisrael [those whose scholarship is acknowledged by others], and with extensive Hebrew footnotes and sources, this sefer is a great aid to Rabbanim [rabbis], talmidei yeshivah [students of institutions where Jewish law is learnt], and laymen alike".
From this introduction it can be seen that the text of Rabbi Weisfish's work is addressed to students of Jewish law who seek to understand how the issues raised by copyright -- a body of rules that is not obviously addressed in the Bible itself or in ancient oral tradition -- are tackled and resolved by mainly modern Jewish thinkers. The text is in a clear and accessible English, though this work is a new rendition of the author's earlier work, in Hebrew, Mishnas Zechoyos HaYotzer. The footnoted source materials, a little disconcertingly for the English reader but invaluably for the Jewish scholar, remain in the original Hebrew.

The reader who is well-versed in copyright law will find this tome something of a culture shock since discussion of the usual international treaties and conventions, national statutes and judicial lawmaking is notably absent. Instead, he will be introduced to rulings, majority and minority opinions, analogies and syllogisms which are a far cry from the laws he deals with on a daily basis. However, as one might expect in any religious system in which divine law is generally limited neither in time nor in space, the rules that govern copyright under Jewish law do not depend on the mere chance that one is living in 21st century New York rather than, say, the 19th century Ungvar in which Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried composed his abbreviated code the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, one of the many legal materials cited in this book. So, if you want a fresh look at copyright, this book offers you a fascinating intellectual holiday from your habitual copyright thoughts.

Bibliographic details. ISBN: 978-159826-442-5. Hardback, xxvii + 259 pages, 2010. Book's web page here. And before you ask, the text reads from left to right ...

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