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Deborah Barer

PhD 2016. Assistant Professor of Judaism, Towson University


  • University of Virginia: PhD in Religious Studies (2016)
  • University of Virginia: MA in Religious Studies (2013)
  • Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies (2011-2012)
  • Oberlin College: BA in Religious Studies (2006)


A Judge with No Courtroom: Law, Ethics and the Rabbinic Idea of Lifnim Mi-shurat Ha-din Systems of law are often deeply intertwined with beliefs about morally correct behavior, but should the law be expected to set a minimum standard for ethical conduct? Or are law and ethics properly conceived as two separate domains, each with different ways of setting and enforcing standards? Although scholars present diverse accounts of the relationship between law and ethics, most presume that they are separate domains with different goals. This distinction, however, cannot satisfactorily explain the relationship between law and morality within the early rabbinic context. My dissertation focuses on one rabbinic category of behavior, known as lifnim mi-shurat ha-din (lit. ‘within the line of the law’), which lies at the heart of contemporary debates over the relationship between Jewish law and ethics. It seeks to recover the meaning of this term in its original Talmudic context, and, in doing so, to offer a new framework for understanding the relationship between legal reasoning and moral reflection in rabbinic thought.

Research Interests

  • Rabbinic ethics
  • Talmud
  • Midrash
  • Modern Jewish thought and theology
  • Theories of law and jurisprudence
  • Law and narrative
  • Rabbinic pedagogy
  • Identify formation in modernity and antiquity
  • Virtue ethics
  • Histories of biblical interpretation


I have served as a teaching assistant for the following courses in the Department of Religious Studies at UVA:

  • Religion and Modern Fiction (taught by Larry Bouchard, Spring 2011)
  • Introduction to Western Religious Traditions (taught by Benjamin Laguelli, Fall 2010)
  • Introduction to the New Testament (taught by Harry Gamble, Spring 2010)
  • Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (taught by Martien Halvorson-Taylor, Fall 2009)

Conference Presentations

  • “The Case Is Not Its Outcome: Moral Reasoning, Institutional Memory and the Role of the Ethics Consult Service.” Society of Jewish Ethics Annual Meeting, January 9-11, 2015.
  • “Exploring the Boundaries of Law: Rabbinic Legal Theories and the Idea of Lifnim Mi-Shurat Ha-Din,” Association for Jewish Studies Annual Meeting, December 14-16, 2014.
  • “Beyond God as System: Midrash as a Form of Theological Discourse.” Cambridge Conference in Modern Jewish Thought, March 23-25, 2014.
  • “‘Within the Boundaries of Judgment’: Towards a New Understanding of Lifnim Mi-Shurat Ha-Din.” Jewish Studies Graduate Fellows Conference, University of Virginia, February 23, 2014.
  • “A Separate Place? Criminal Burial in the Mishnah and the Limits of Reconciliation.” Virginia Graduate Colloquium, April 5-6, 2013.
  • “‘You Shall Place These Words as a Sign’: Covenant, Commandment and the Idea of Chosenness.” Virginia Graduate Colloquium, April 15-16, 2011.
  • “Between Public and Private: Navigating the Jewishness of Hannah Arendt.” Arendt Circle Meeting, John Carroll University, April 8-10, 2011.

Awards and Fellowships

  • Fellow, Mellon Teaching Seminar for Excellence in the Humanities, University of Virginia (2012-2013)
  • Fellow, Rachel Winer Manin Interdisciplinary Fellowship in Jewish Studies University of Virginia (2010-2013)
  • Scholarship, Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Israel (2011-2012)
  • MASA Grant for Academic Study in Israel (2011-2012)
  • Summer Foreign Language Study Award, University of Virginia (2010, 2011)