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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…

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…

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 …

Astral Israel

(8,126 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
In the systematic theology of Rabbinic Judaism, the stars do not govern Israel, only God does. Challenging astrology placed sages in opposition to the science of their day, which took for granted that the positions of the stars dictated events on earth. Sages could not dismiss such established science, any more than their contemporary continuators can plausibly reject the laws of gravity or Copernican astronomy. But sages took up a distinctive position on astrology, one consistent with their the…

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…

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…

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…

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 …

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. …
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