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Torah and Culture

(7,709 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Does culture express or defy the religious imperative? Do the patterns of the social order realize the divine plan, or do they represent that from which religion must separate itself, upon which religion stands in judgment? This inquiry pertains in particular to religions engaged in constructing norms for the social order of the faithful. The matter, then, concerns the relationship between the generative symbol of a religion and the ambient culture tha…

Rabbinic Judaism, Formative Canon of, II: The Halakhic Documents

(15,008 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
“Halakhah” refers to laws, norms of conduct, and halakhic documents are those that present rules of correct behavior and belief for holy Israel. These form continuations of the laws that the written Torah sets forth. Many derive from the exegesis and amplification of the laws of the written Torah, some from tradition of Sinai set forth by “our sages of blessed memory.” The halakhic documents of the Rabbinic canon are the Mishnah, Tosefta, Talmud of the Land of Israel, and Talmud of Babylonia. The Mishnah The Mishnah is a philosophical law code, covering topics of both a theoreti…

Theodicy of Judaism I: The Moral Order, Reward, and Punishment

(7,422 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Theodicy means justifying God's deeds within the Torah's theology. The theodicy of Judaism is Judaism, defining as it does the generative issue of the entire theological system that animates the documents of Rabbinic Judaism from the first through the seventh centuries c.e. That issue is how one all-powerful God can be deemed just given the state of Israel, his people, in the world? 1 The parameters of the problem are readily discerned when we contrast monotheism with polytheism. Theodicy therefore presents a particular problem to monotheism. Life is seldom…

Tolerance in Classical Judaism

(10,276 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The entire issue of toleration is captured by a dispute that concerns eschatological tolerance of gentiles, defined as idolaters, as against Israelites, meaning those who know God: Does the gentile at the end of days rise from the grave, stand in judgment, and gain a portion in the world to come, as do nearly all Israelites? The matter is subject to debate (T. San. 13:2): A. R. Eleazar says, “None of the gentiles has a portion in the world to come, as it is said, ‘'The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the gentiles who forget God’ (Ps. 9:17). The wicked shall …

Debates in Rabbinic Judaism: Amplifying the Dispute

(11,817 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Disputes in the halakhic documents—statement of a topic + Rabbi X says… Rabbi Y says—occasionally are augmented by debates. These are formal and balanced exchanges of not only opinion but reason and argument. While introduced only sparingly, the debate is always integral to the dispute to which it is attached, and invariably yields a deeper understanding of the issues of the dispute. Among ancient Judaic religious systems and their writings, the Rabbinic one not only is unique in articulating and systematically recording disputes within its normative docum…

Theodicy in Classical Judaism

(6,606 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The term theodicy refers to a justification of the ways of God, the proof that—despite what might appear to be the case—God's justice governs the world order. The need for such a proof comes about by reason of the character of monotheism . For, while a religion of numerous gods finds many solutions to one problem, a religion of only one God presents one to many. Life is seldom fair. Rules rarely work. To explain the reason why, polytheisms adduce multip…

Pirqé Abot

(4,389 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Tractate Abot, conventionally dated at ca. 250 c.e., 1 forms a melancholy meditation on the human condition of the individual Israelite. Corporate Israel and its historical fate never frame the issue. The problem facing the framer of the document—provoked by the logic of monotheism—is succinctly stated: “We do not have in hand an explanation either for the prosperity of the wicked or for the suffering of the righteous” (4:15). The resolution of the paradox of palpable injustice—the prosperity of the wic…

Deuteronomy in Judaism

(7,877 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The book of Deuteronomy reaches Judaism through Sifre to Deuteronomy, attributed to Tannaite authors, a commentary to Deuteronomy completed ca. 300 c.e. Out of cases and examples, sages seek generalizations and governing principles. Since in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses explicitly sets forth a vision of Israel's future history, sages in Sifre to Deuteronomy examined that vision to uncover the rules that explain what happens to Israel. That issue drew attention from cases to rules, with the result that, in the book…

Messiah in Rabbinic Judaism

(10,622 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Throughout the Oral Torah the main point of the theological eschatology—the theory of last things—registers both negatively and affirmatively. Death does not mark the end of the individual human life, nor exile the last stop in the journey of Holy Israel. Israelites will live in the age or the world to come, all Israel in the Land of Israel; and Israel will comprehend all who know the one true God. The restoration of world order that completes the demonstration of God's justice encompasses both …

Family in Formative Judaism

(11,244 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
In the view of Rabbinic Judaism, husbands and wives owe one another loyalty to the common task and reliability in the carrying out of their reciprocal obligations, which are sexual, social, and economic. Their relationship finds its definition, therefore its rules and obligations, in the tasks the social order assigns to marriage: child-bearing and child-raising, on the one side, and the maintenance of the political economy of the holy people, Israel, on the other. The purpose of marriage is to …

Conservative Judaism

(11,718 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
With roots in the German Judaic response to the development of Reform, then Orthodox Judaism , on the one side, and the immigrant response to the conditions of American life in the twentieth century, on the other, Conservative Judaism seeks a centrist position on the issues of tradition and change. The Historical School, a group of a nineteenth century German scholars, and Conservative Judaism, a twentieth century Judaism in America, took the middle position, each in its own…

Virtue in Formative Judaism

(9,611 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
For Judaism, the account of virtue begins in the Torah's picture of world order based on God's virtue, not the virtue of humanity. God's traits of justice and equity, love and compassion, form the model for those of God's creatures. Moreover, the Torah knows humanity as the children of Adam via Noah to Abraham. Accordingly, Judaism in its classical statement treats virtue as a component of a much larger doctrine that concerns the meaning of the life of humanity. The Torah tells the story of huma…

Halakhah, Religious Meaning of

(11,090 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The normative law, or Halakhah, of the Oral Torah defines the principal medium by which the sages set forth their message. Norms of conduct, more than norms of conviction, convey the sages' statement. And from the closure of the Talmud of Babylonia to our own day, those who mastered the documents of the Oral Torah themselves insisted upon the priority of the Halakhah, which is clearly signaled as normative, over the Aggadah, which commonly is not treated as normative in the same way as the Halakhah. The aggadic statement addresses the exteriorities, the halakhic one, the interior…

Theological Anthropology of Judaism

(6,802 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Humanity not only complements God, but also corresponds to, is like, God. When sages read in the Torah that humankind is created in God's image, they understood that to mean, God and humans correspond, bearing comparable traits. The theological anthropology of the Oral Torah defined correspondence between God and humans in three ways: [1] intellectually, sharing a common rationality; [2] emotionally, sharing common sentiments and attitudes, and [3] physcally, sharing common features. That is why…

Monotheism

(5,952 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
In Judaism, monotheism refers to the belief in one God, who is all-powerful and just. In Judaism's view, the will of the one, unique God, made manifest through the Torah, governs, an…

Aggadah in the Halakhah

(9,066 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Aggadic discourse comments on a received text, tells a story, or advocates an attitude or a proposition of normative conviction and conscience. Halakhic discourse expounds and analyzes a topic of normative conduct. How does narrative or theological discourse participate in the presentation of the halakhic norms of conduct? The two modes of discourse, Aggadah and Halakhah, are quite different from one another. Each organizes its presentation in large building blocks or category-formations, and th…

Halakhah: The Category-Formations

(10,559 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The Halakhah of Rabbinic Judaism as set forth in the Mishnah-Tosefta-Yerushalmi-Bavli organizes its data into generative category-formations, most of them shaped around the twin-principles of [1] the analysis of [2] a particular topic, hence, analytical-topical category-formations. Information on a given subject is shaped into the answer to one or more propositional or analytical questions of broad interest, generally transcending the subject-matter altogether. Then we should be able to account,…

Reward and Punishment in Classical Judaism

(6,221 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
God's will is rational, within humankind's understanding of reason, because it is just. And by “just,” the sages of classical Judaism understood the commonsense meaning: fair, equitable, proportionate. In place of fate or impersonal destiny, chance or irrational, inexplicable chaos, God's purpose is seen everywhere to come to realization. The Oral Torah thus identifies God's will as the active and causative force in the lives of individuals and nations. But how do sages know that God's will is realized in the moral order of justice, involving reward and punishmen…

Sanctification in Rabbinic Judaism

(8,895 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Since Judaism sets forth in its classical statement a regimen intended to sanctify its faithful to form a “kingdom of priests and a holy people,” and since that discipline encompasses matters of what goes into the mouth, not only what comes out, Judaism has to explain the way in which sanctification entails ethics, not only ritual. Because Israelites are commanded to strive to be holy, meaning, separate and pure, people imagine they are encouraged to feel superior to others. That is because peop…

Work in Formative Judaism

(10,512 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The sages see Israel as a sacred society, “a kingdom of priests and a holy people,” and, within that context, quite logically, they view work not as a mere secular necessity but as a sacred activity. Thus they situate their definition of work within their larger statement of what it means to form holy Israel, God's first love on earth. Work is not merely something we are supposed to do in the interests of the community, so that the tasks of the world will be carried out and each of us will earn a living. Of greatest importance is that the Hebrew word for “work” is abodah, the same word used for “divine service,” “liturgy,” or the labor of the priests in the Temple in making offerings to God. In a moment, we shall understand why abodah can be a component of the life of the holy people, what work has to do with God. …
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