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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 humanit…

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…

Zekhut

(6,754 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
In classical Judaism zekhut —“the heritage of supererogatory virtue and its consequent entitlements”—stands for the empowerment, of a supernatural character, that derives from the virtue of one's ancestry or …

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 attentio…

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, wi…

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…

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…

Talmud of Babylonia in Historical Perspective

(12,766 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The Talmud of Babylonia is one of the great, classical writings of human civilization—enduring, influential, nourishing. It claims its place among the most successful pieces of writing in the history of humanity, along with the Bible, Plato's Republic, Aristotle's oeuvre, the Quran, and a very few other writings. What those books have in common is the power to demand attention and compel response for many centuries after their original presentation. The Quran, for example, is received by Muslims as God's word, as is the Bible by Chri…

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…

Reform Judaism

(9,921 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Reform Judaism, also known as Liberal or Progressive Judaism, sets forth a Judaic religious system that takes as its critical task the accommodation of Judaism to political changes in the status of the Jews from the late eighteenth century onward (fig. 132). These changes, particularly in Western Europe and the USA, accorded to Jews the status of citizens like other citizens of the nations in which they lived. But they denied the Jews the status of a separate, holy people, living under its own l…

Midrash and the Oral Torah: What Did the Rabbinic Sages Mean by “the Oral Torah”?

(6,030 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Rabbinic Judaism classifies its canonical writings as parts of “the Oral Torah” revealed by God to Moses at Sinai and transmitted from then to late antiquity in a process of tradition from master to disciple. Part of that process of tradition is held to involve a work of exegesis of Scripture in light of oral tradition. A precise understanding of Midrash in the context of formative Judaism therefore requires attention to the relationship of the Torah-myth involving the dual Torah, written and or…

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 …

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…

Individual and Community in Judaism

(10,664 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Prophecy, from Moses forward, and the Halakhah from the Mishnah onward, concur that the condition of “all Israel” dictates the standing of each individual within Israel, and further concur that each Israelite bears responsibility for what he or she as a matter of deliberation and intention chooses to do. If individuals were conceived as automatons, always subordinated agencies of the community, or if the community were contemplated as merely the sum total of individual participants, a particular…

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…

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 “div…

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 …

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…

Yavneh

(12,785 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Yavneh refers to a place and a period and a circumstance. The legacy of the place proves modest, of the period lavish, and of the circumstance, enduring. The place is an inland settlement off the southern coast of the Land of Israel. It acquired importance in the history of Judaism in the First Rebellion against Rome, when, after the destruction of Jerusalem in August, 70 c.e., surviving Rabbinic sages established there the administrative court that exercised such authority as the Romans had left in Jewish hands. The legacy of the place secured continuity for…

Judaism, Definition of

(7,114 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
A Judaism is a religion that [1] for its way of life privileges the Pentateuch and finds in the Five Books of Moses the main rules defining the holy way of life, [2] for its social entity identifies the group that embodies faith as the Israel of which the Hebrew Scriptures speak, and [3] for its world view recapitulates the experience of exile and return that the Pentateuch sets forth. Deriving from God's revelation to Moses at Sinai, Judaism is a monotheistic religion, as are Islam and Christianity, which affirm that same revelation (to Christians, it is the Old …
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