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Bernard Jackson


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Personal profile


A full publication list is available here: 

  • LL.B. (Liverpool), D.Phil. (Oxon.), LL.D. (Edinburgh), D.H.L. h.c. (Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati), Utter Barrister (Gray's Inn);
  • Alliance Professor of Modern Jewish Studies;
  • Joined the University of Manchester in 1997.

Research interests

Specific research interests:

I have two major research interests, which reflect different aspects of my training and teaching career, and which increasingly complement each other. My doctoral research (with David Daube at Oxford) was on early Jewish law and was published as Theft in Early Jewish Law (1972). Here, and in my Essays in Jewish and Comparative Legal History (1975), I was concerned mainly with the Biblical, Second Commonwealth and Tannaitic periods, taking account of the contemporary legal systems of the ancient world. Two recent books continue this line of research: Wisdom-Laws. A Study of the Mishpatim of Exodus 21:1-22:16 (Oxford University Press, 2006); Essays on Halakhah in the New Testament (Brill, 2008). I founded The Jewish Law Annual (which encompasses all periods and approaches to Jewish Law) and edited it from 1978 until 1997. I was also instrumental in the establishment of The Jewish Law Association, and its series Jewish Law Association Studies. Latterly, I have written also on Jewish Law in the modern State of Israel, and on the principal problem of the Jewish Law of divorce - the wife refused a divorce by her husband despite an order of the Rabbinical Court. This is of particular interest as reflecting different conceptions of the operation of the authority system within the Halakhah (Jewish Law).

Both the history of Jewish Law in the ancient period and the analysis of modern, dogmatic problems entail assessment of the intellectual models which academic study brings to them. My second major research interest has been the formation and analysis of such theoretical models. I have written on the theory of legal history (especially that of the 19th-century writer, Sir Henry Maine), and have sought to develop a semiotic approach to legal theory and legal texts, partly in reaction to the weaknesses I perceived in the (often still dominant) 19th-century models. This approach is inspired primarily by the semiotics of Greimas, and is reflected most technically in my Semiotics and Legal Theory (1985) and Law, Fact and Narrative Coherence (1988). I later sought to develop an interdisciplinary synthesis of semiotics, linguistics and psychology as applied to legal phenomena and legal theory, in Making Sense in Law (1995) and Making Sense in Jurisprudence (1996). Most recently, I have applied this broader, interdisciplinary approach to aspects of the development of biblical Law from orality to literacy, in Studies in the Semiotics of Biblical Law (2000). A full publications list (approx. 200 items) is available at

Current Research Interests:

Orality and Literacy in the development of Jewish law; the nature and uses of the Biblical "law codes"; secular and theological models in the philosophy of Jewish Law; Jewish law in the New Testament; history of Jewish family law and especially the contemporary problem of the Agunah (see the Agunah Research Unit:

Research Career:

Following doctoral research in early Jewish law, a series of comparatively-informed studies in early Jewish law prompted an interdisciplinary search for alternative models of legal development, leading to an interest in the semiotics of law (and to the application of such models to both modern law and, in present work, to the early history of Jewish law). For the nine books reflecting these interests, see Specific research interests, above.

Further information

Supervision areas:

My successful PhD students have written theses on, inter alia, Seriousness of Offence in Biblical Law, Judicial Deviation in the Talmud, Medieval Responsa on Restitution and Decision-Making in the Crown Prosecution Service.

Additional academic activities:

I have established an Agunah Research Unit at Manchester.

Additional information:

Research Grants:


  • Social Science Research Council, Personal Research Award, 1981;
  • BritishAcademy Research Grant, 1983;
  • British Council Research Grant, 1984;
  • Leverhulme Research Grant, 1986-87;
  • Merseyside Police, 1990-91;
  • Hanadiv Foundation (for Agunah Research Unit), 2004-05;
  • Leverhulme Trust (for Agunah Research Unit), 2005-08.
  • British Academy Research Small Grant (for Agunah Research Unit), 2008.



  • Executive Committee, The Jewish Law Association, 1978-1992, 2004-;
  • Secretary-General and Treasurer, International Association for the Semiotics of Law, 1987-93;
  • Management Committee, U.K. Law Technology Centre, 1989-92;
  • Chairman, BILETA Inquiry into Computer Provision in U.K. Law Schools, 1989-91;
  • Northern Circuit Committee on Computer Support for Litigation, 1991;
  • Lord Chancellor's Area Criminal Justice Advisory Committee, 1992;
  • Committee, Society for Computers and Law, Liverpool Branch, 1993-96;
  • Editorial Board, Archivos Latinoamericanos de Metodologia y Filosofia del Derecho, Venezuela. 1988- ;
  • Advisory Board, Center for Semiotic Research in Law, Government and Economics, PennsylvaniaStateUniversity, 1990;
  • Conseil d'administration, Association Européenne pour la philosophie du droit. 1990-2000;

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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