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Disputes on Law in Rabbinic Judaism

(9,228 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
In the Halakhic documents, the Mishnah, Tosefta, Yerushalmi, and Bavli, Rabbinic sages ubiquitously record disagreements on matters of law. But disputes reinforce the unity of the law at its fundamental levels. Conflicts between authorities underscore the prevailing consensus about fundamental truth. Indicators of concurrence in deep structures of thought abound even—or especially—in the context of disputes, properly situated in perspective and proportion. Conflict concerns detail, consensus, go…

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 …

Consensus in Rabbinic Theology (Aggadah) and the “Another Matter”-Composite

(6,847 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Rabbinic Judaism accommodates diverse theological opinion in composites that follow a particular form. They are comprised by successive readings of a verse of Scripture in common, joined by the formula “davar aher,” meaning, “another matter.” But these turn out to state the same matter in other terms. These varied opinions are represented as alternate proposals but in fact yield a common denominator that holds the whole together. The consensus then is expressed as complementary opinions register. What is at stake is the accommodation of equally valid, coherent, mutually…

Altruism in Judaism

(5,870 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
A rough and ready definition of altruism permits us to begin with concrete data. That definition is simple: altruism is unselfish, unrewarded behavior that benefits others at a cost to oneself. While we find in the Rabbinic canon of the formative age stories that qualify, in general Judaism does not provide for altruistic behavior, although it makes ample provision for unselfish and sacrificial conduct in behalf of others. First, it is difficult to imagine that a critical position for altruism w…

Theology of Judaism—Halakhah and Aggadah

(5,667 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The normative law, or Halakhah, of the Oral Torah defines the principal medium by which the Rabbinic sages of antiquity founded set forth their message. Norms of conduct, more than norms of conviction, served to convey the sages' statement. But the exposition of matters of religious belief, or Aggadah, undertakes a critical task as well, so that the Halakhah and the Aggadah together set forth the whole theology of Judaism. One without the other leaves the work incomplete. The theology of the Written and Oral Torah—that is, Judaism—conveys the picture of world order based …

Israel, Land of, in Classical Judaism

(8,045 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The land of Israel in the classical sources of Judaism, both the Oral Torah and the liturgy of the synagogue and the home, is the counterpart of Eden, just as, in these same sources, the people of Israel is presented as the counterpart of Adam. The parallel is appropriate, because gaining the land, at the end of the forty years in the wilderness, marked the completion of Israel's history. Or, it would have marked that end, had Israel not sinned and ultimately lost the land, the metaphorical coun…

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…

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…

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, and, further, God's will for both private life and public activity is rational. That is to say, within man's understanding of reason, God's will is just. And by “just,” sages understood the commonsense meaning: fair, equitable, proportionate, commensurate. In place of fate or impersonal destiny, chance, or simply irrat…

Israel the People in Judaism, the Classical Statement

(11,367 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
In the religion, Judaism, “Israel” stands for the holy people, whom God has called into being through Abraham and Sarah and their descendants, to whom the prophetic promises were made, and with whom the covenants were entered. In every Judaism “Israel” is a theological category, not solely a fact of sociology or ethnic culture or secular politics. The “Israel” of Judaism—of every Judaism—forms a supernatural social entity, “chosen,” “holy,” subject to God's special love and concern. That “Israel…

Repentance in Judaism

(3,389 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The word “repentance” renders into English the Hebrew theological word, teshuvah, meaning, “turning,” in the sense of a turning away from sin, a turning toward God. Repentance in Judaism when properly carried out erases the consequences of sin and reconciles God and the sinner. That means the one who has sinned regrets the sin and resolves not to repeat it, and, further, when the occasion to repeat the sinful deed comes once more, the penitant does not then revert to the prior sinful action or condition. …

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…

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:…

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…

North America, Practice of Judaism in

(11,475 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The Jews in the U.S.A. and Canada form an ethnic group, meaning, a group that bears in common certain indicative traits of behavior and conduct, origin and outlook. Many of the members of the Jewish ethnic group also practice the religion, Judaism. Judaism is the religion of a single people, because, by its own theology, when a person adopts the faith of Judaism and its way of life and world view, that person also enters into the social entity, “Israel,” meaning in Judaism, the holy people, God'…

Intentionality in Judaism

(7,326 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
In the classical sources of Judaism, people match God in possessing freedom of will. The sole player in the cosmic drama with the power to upset God's plans is the human, who alone is like God, “in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Humanity bears a single trait that most accords with the likeness of God, the possession of will and the power of free exercise thereof. In justice and good will, God makes the rules; humanity willfully breaks them. The theology of the Oral Torah thus identi…

Rabbinic Literature, Logics of

(9,444 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The word “logic” here stands for the determinative principle of intelligibility of discourse and cogency of thought. Logic is what tells people that one thing connects, or intersects, with another, while something else does not, hence, making connections between this and that, but not this and the other thing. And logic further tells people what follows from the connections they make, generating the conclusions they are to draw. Governing logic tells us what is thinkable and what is not, what ca…

Bestiary, Rabbinic

(10,080 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
There is no single bestiary-code in Rabbinic Judaism, but we find two distinct ways of thinking and speaking about animals, as about much else. One is Halakhic and deals with norms of action, law; the other is Aggadic and addresses norms of attitude, theological narrative. These two distinct realms of thought and speech on the same subject yield lessons of two separate classifications of the order of nature and society. Three examples suffice, two Aggadic and one Halakhic: animals illustrative o…

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…
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