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Rabbinic Judaism, Formative Canon of, I: Defining the Canon

(4,666 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The Judaism of the dual Torah, which took shape in the first seven centuries c.e., rests upon its adherents conception of Torah, meaning revelation. The literature produced by the rabbis is understood to form a part of that Torah, and this literature therefore is highly valued. Because it is part of the Torah, that is, in its Judaism, Rabbinic literature is important. In the Torah God reveals (“gives”) God's self-manifestation in one aspect: God's will, expressed in particular in an account of the covenant b…

History, The Conception of in Classical Judaism

(18,233 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Rabbinic Judaism reached its full statement in the first six centuries of the Common Era, an age in which the people, Israel, confronted enormous historical crises. The first took place in 70 c.e., when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans, and the political foundations of Israel's life changed. The second was marked by the defeat of Bar Kokhba, who led a war aimed at regaining Jerusalem and rebuilding the Temple, in 132–135 c.e. As a result the established paradigm, destruction, repentance, restoration, that Scripture set forth, lost purchase. The third crisis con…

Rabbinic Judaism, Formative Canon of, III: The Aggadic Documents. Mid-rash: The Earlier Compilations

(10,945 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
We consider the documents that are generally considered to belong to the first period in the collection and preservation of exegeses of Scripture. These cover Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. (Important scholarly opinion assigns the compilation on Exodus to a much later period.) Mekhilta Attributed to R. Ishmael (Exodus) Mekhilta Attributed to R. Ishmael seen in the aggregate presents a composite of three kinds of materials concerning the book of Exodus. The first is a set of ad hoc and episodic exegeses of some passages of Scripture. The second is a group of …

Rabbinic Judaism, Formative Canon of, IV: The Aggadic Documents. Midrash: The Later Compilations

(22,297 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
While Mekhilta Attributed to R. Ishmael, Sifra, and Sifre to Numbers, like the Mishnah, cover many topics and yield no prominent propositional program but only implicit principles of thought, the second and later set of Midrash-compilations, produced in the fifth and sixth centuries (ca. 450–600 c.e.), which accompany the Talmud of the Land of Israel, form highly propositional statements. The first of the group, Genesis Rabbah, makes the same point many times and sets forth a coherent and original account of the book of Genesis. The next s…

Mishnah, Analogical-Contrastive Reasoning in

(10,501 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The paramount mode of reasoning in the halakhic process, represented by the Mishnah, can be referred to as “analogical-contrastive.” The logic may be expressed very simply. All persons, things, or actions that fall within a single species of a given genus in a uniform system of classification follow a single rule. All persons, things, or actions that fall within a different species of that same given genus in a uniform system of classification follow precisely the opposite rule. Stated in gross …

Politics, Judaism and, I: The Normative Statement in Scripture and the Talmud

(5,068 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The political theory of Judaism emerges in the Hebrew Scriptures of ancient Israel as these writings are interpreted by the rabbis of the first six centuries c.e. in the Talmud of Babylonia and related documents. The Pentateuch portrays Israel as “a kingdom of priests and a holy people” and further takes for granted that this “kingdom” or “people” forms a political entity, exercising legitimate violence. Scripture therefore understands Israel not merely as a church or a voluntary community but an empowered society, with …

Political Theology of Judaism: What Do the Classical Sources of This Religion Say about Politics?

(10,692 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Scripture, the Mishnah, and the Talmuds set forth a profoundly political conception of religion. The Pentateuch portrays Israel as “a kingdom of priests and a holy people,” and further takes for granted that the that “kingdom” or “people” forms a political entity, capable of exercising legitimate violence. By “Israel,” the social entity brought into being by those that accepted God's rule set forth in the Torah, Instruction, of Sinai, Scripture therefore understands not merely a church or a volu…

Torah in Judaism, the Classical Statement

(7,802 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Torah means “teaching,” and in Scripture refers to the teaching that God revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai. The most familiar meaning of the word is the five books of Moses or Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). “The Torah” may also refer to the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures (called by Christianity, “the Old Testament”). Since at Sinai, Judaism maintains, God revealed the Torah to Moses in two media, written and oral, with the written part corr…

Leviticus in Judaism: Scripture and Halakhah in Leviticus

(10,563 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The book of Leviticus is mediated to Judaism by two Rabbinic readings of Scripture. The first, Sifra, ca. 300 c.e., asks about the relationship of the laws of the Mishnah and the Tosefta to the teachings of Scripture. The second, Leviticus Rabbah, ca. 450–500 c.e., forms of selected passages of Leviticus, read in light of other passages of Scripture altogether, large propositional expositions. Here we consider only the relationship of Scripture and Halakhah in Leviticus. Sifra, a compilation of Midrash-exegeses on the book of Leviticus, forms a massive and systematic s…

Augustine and Judaism

(9,239 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Augustine of Hippo's life, in North Africa and Italy (354–430) coincided with the period in which, to the east, the Rabbinic sages of the land of Israel produced the Talmud of the Land of Israel in amplification of the Mishnah as well as their Midrash-compilations in extension of Moses's books of Genesis and Leviticus, ca. 400–500. 1 But he comes to mind, for comparison and contrast with Rabbinic Judaism, not merely because of temporal coincidence. Rather, the reason is that, like the sages of Judaism, he confronted a comparable this-worldly circumst…

Tradition in Judaism II

(15,495 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Is Judaism a traditional religion? At stake is a long-term issue of culture, namely, the relationship, in the formation of the Judaic culture, between philosophical system and historical tradition. In its canonical documents beyond Scripture, which are the Mishnah, Talmuds, and Midrash, normative Judaism claims to present enduring traditions, a fundament of truth revealed of old—the oral component of the Torah of Sinai. Judaism appeals to literary forms and cultural media that accentuate the tra…

God in Judaism, the Classical Statement

(12,480 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The religion, Judaism is made up of three components: [1] the Torah, oral and written, [2] Israel the holy people, and [3] God. God is creator of the world, giver of the Torah, and redeemer of Israel. Israel the holy people meets God in the Torah at Sinai, when God—not Moses—proclaims, “The Lord, the Lord! a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin” (Exod. 34:…

Hebrew Language, Judaism and the

(3,326 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Hebrew, an ancient northwest Semitic language, has served as the principal language of Judaism, even after the Jews ceased to speak it as their everyday language. The Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament,” “written Torah”) of ancient Israel were mainly in Hebrew. They were translated into Greek, Aramaic, and other languages, but in the synagogue were and are declaimed in Hebrew. The great commentaries to Scripture written by the Rabbinic sages of the first six centuries C.E. all were written in Heb…

Normative and Schismatic in Rabbinic Judaism

(4,018 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
To describe, analyze, and interpret normative opinion formed into coherent structures of data—native category-formations re-framed in the contemporary context of social inquiry—in Rabbinic Judaism is not easy. That is because the documents contain masses of conflicting opinions on any number of topics. So it will not suffice to find topically germane sayings. One has to establish grounds for classifying all cited data as normative, representative of a system, constituting “Judaism,”—not merely o…

Emotions, Doctrine of, in Judaism

(6,866 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Rabbinic Judaism specifies the emotions and attitudes the faithful are to cultivate, favoring humility and the attitudes of conciliation and accommodation, not aggression. Israelite virtue was so formulated as to match Israel's political circumstance, which, from the first century, was one of defeat, alienation, and exile. Sages' Judaism for a defeated people prepared the nation for a long future. The vanquished people, the brokenhearted nation that had lost its city and its Temple, that had, mo…

Purity and Impurity in Judaism

(10,677 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
In Classical Judaism, purity ( tohorah) and uncleanness ( tum'ah) carry forward Pentateuchal commandments that the holy people, Israel, when eating, procreating, and worshiping God in the Temple, is to avoid certain sources of contamination. The principal one of these is the corpse (Num. 19). Lev. 11, further, catalogues foods that are clean and those that are unclean; Israelites eat the former, not the latter. Lev. 12 goes over the uncleanness that results from childbirth; Lev. 13–14 deal with a skin-ai…

Rabbinic Judaism, Social Teaching of

(4,934 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Israel forms God's kingdom on earth. Israelites in reciting the Shema (“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One”) accept the yoke of the kingdom of heaven and the yoke of the commandments, twice daily. That liturgical premise comes to realization throughout diverse halakhic formations. The basic theological conception concerning the kingdom of heaven is familiar and common to a number of Judaic religious systems, not only the Rabbinic. But for Rabbinic Judaism to be “Israel” means to li…

Bible. Interpretation: How Judaism Reads the Bible.

(11,934 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Judaism in its normative sources of the first six centuries c.e. reads the Bible. by transforming the narrative of Scripture into a pattern that applies to times past as much as to the acutely contemporary world. It is as if the sages of Rabbinic Judaism interpret this morning's newspaper in the light of an established paradigm of how things are and what they mean. For Judaism, the past is present, and the present is part of the past, so past, present, and future form a single plane of being. Here is a ve…

Numbers in Judaism

(5,674 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The book of Numbers is mediated to Judaism by Sifre to Numbers, ca. 300 c.e. Sifre to Numbers provides a miscellaneous reading of most of the book of Numbers, but examining the implicit propositions of the recurrent forms of the document yields a clear-cut purpose. The document follows no topical program; but it also is unlike Mekhilta Attributed to R. Ishmael because of its recurrent effort to prove a few fundamental points. True, these are general and not limited to a given set of cases or issues, so that t…

Kingdom of Heaven

(9,164 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
“The Kingdom of Heaven” in Rabbinic Judaism is one way of referring to God's dominion. It stands for a collection of related notions, God is King, God rules, God exercises dominion, God's politics govern, God commands and Israel obeys, Israelites are God's slaves, and so on. The language provides a way of referring to those integrated conceptions. That it is a ubiquitous notion is proved self-evident by the formulation of the Qaddish, which beseeches the prompt advent of “his Kingdom.” How is the Kingdom of Heaven Defined The task is, first to show that “Kingdom of God” and “Kingd…
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