The Plight of the ‘Misbegotten’: A Critical Analysis of Approaches to Mamzerut in the British Jewish Community
Among the gravest challenges to conceptions of halakhah (Jewish law) as a just legal framework is the status of mamzer, a taint that attaches to the child of incest or a wife’s adultery, and which necessitates ostracism for multiple generations. Despite the substantial impact on families and individuals across the denominations, this is an issue surrounded by shame and secrecy about which almost no academic study has been undertaken. My research examines the interplay between religious law, power and sexuality through the prism of the mamzer in contemporary halakhah and the British Jewish community. I combine halakhic analysis, ethnographic research and elements of gender and legal theory to situate mamzerut within current academic debates on productive theoretical and practical approaches to religious law and human rights.