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Commenting on Chaim Saiman’s book, Halakhah: The Rabbinic Idea of Law, this essay views the difficulty of defining halakha as indicative of the universal challenge of defining the bounds of what constitutes “law.” Considering the dynamic of contingent norms, social context, history, and narrative that shapes the meaning of law, it focuses on a series of decisions by a federal district court judge in connection with the case of Bayless v. United States (1996) involving the sufficiency of reasonable suspicion to justify a police stop. Tracing the slippage in this case between holding and dicta, among other sources of authority and bases of narrative, the essay examines the contingent authority of legal rules and their construction through social narratives in both the public and private American space.

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Villanova Law Review