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Judaism, History of, Part III: Late Antiquity

(10,554 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
In late antiquity, the Judaism of the dual Torah (“Rabbinic Judaism”) took shape. That Judaism in time became normative, the foundations for every system of Judaism, the religion, that flourished from then to now. We have evidence that, at that time, other Judaisms, besides that represented by the Rabbinic documents, also took shape, for archaeology of synagogues has produced decorations that hardly conform to the Rabbinic rules governing representational art. But only Rabbinic Judaism is fully represented in written evidence that permits us to formulate its history. Judaism Repre…

Socialism-Yiddishism, Judaism and

(7,224 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Jewish Socialism was a nineteenth and twentieth century movement that joined the social and economic ideals of Socialism to a deep commitment to the formation of a way of life and a world view for an Israel, specifically, the impoverished and working class Jews of Eastern Europe. It is comparable to a Judaism because it presented a complete picture of how one should live life, namely, as an active worker for political change and social improvement, how one should see the world, namely, as someth…

Theodicy of Judaism II: Justifying Individual Fate

(9,290 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The ultimate anomaly of a logic animated by the principle of God's rational justice comes to realization in the actualities of everyday life. That God orders the world through justice accessible to human reason confronts the everywhere acknowledged obstacle: justice prevails only now and then. Man's fate rarely accords with the fundamental principle of a just order but mostly discredits it. But if the human condition embodied in Israelites' lives one by one defies the smooth explanations that se…

Masculine and Feminine in Judaism

(7,150 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Judaism in its classical documents joins traits explicitly marked as male to those explicitly classified as female and insists upon both in the formation of models of virtue. It therefore may be classified as androgynous, exhibiting the traits of both sexes as the religion itself defines those gender-qualities. In this world holy Israel is to emulate women's virtue as the condition of the coming of the Messiah. Women's capacity for devotion, selfless faith, and loyalty defines the model of what is required of Israel for its virtue. Gender Roles and the Judaic System The sages of the nor…

Biography in Rabbinic Judaism

(12,066 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
About not a single Rabbinic sage of late antiquity, the first six centuries c.e., do we have the materials that sustain anything like a serviceable biography. 1 That is not merely because the sources do not serve for critical history in the conventional sense, but because they intend a different kind of treatment of lives of persons. Paradigmatic episodes in place of distinctive and individual biography yield the model of the life framed by the Torah: a life lived within the rules of nature, but facing outward toward sup…

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…

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…

Judaism, History of. Part V.A: Judaism in Modern Times in Europe

(10,684 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
For the history of Judaism in Europe, “modern times” begin when, from the late eighteenth century, political change removed from Christianity its power to define culture. The militant secularism of the French Revolution sought to replace Christianity with a religion of reason. When Christianity no longer governed as the sole arbiter of the social order and political life. Rabbinic Judaism as set forth in Talmudic and related writings met competition within Jewry. The Rabbinic Judaism that had taken shape in the fifth century c.e. in response to triumphant Christianity and that…

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…

Exodus in Judaism

(7,078 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The book of Exodus is mediated to Rabbinic Judaism by the midrashic compilation Mekhilta Attributed to R. Ishmael. That is a miscellany, not a coherent and systematic reading of the biblical book. The document, 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 propositional and argumentative essays in exegetical form, in which theological principles are set forth and demonstrated. The third cons…

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…

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…

Art and Symbol in Judaism

(6,333 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Most synagogues built from the third to the seventh century c.e., both in the land of Israel and abroad, had decorated floors or walls. Some iconic symbols out of the religious life of Judaism or of Greco-Roman piety occur nearly everywhere. Other symbols, available, for example, from the repertoire of items mentioned in Scripture, or from the Greco-Roman world, never make an appearance at all. We find representations of the following symbols of Judaic origin: shofar (ram's horn, for the New Year), a lula…
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