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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…

Dialectics in Judaism

(4,041 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
A dialectical argument is a give and take in which parties to the argument counter one another in a progression of exchanges (often, in what seems like an infinite progress to an indeterminate conclusion). The dialectical argument addresses not the problem and the solution alone but the problem and the various ways by which a solution may be reached. It is not a set-piece of two positions, with an analysis of each, such as formal dialogue exposes with elegance; it is, rather, an unfolding analyt…

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…

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…

Aggadah

(11,634 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The Category-Formations A principle of category-formation selects and organizes facts into the building blocks of social culture (compare Halakhah: The Category-Formations ). It tells us how we define what we want to know and, therefore, also how to find it out. The category-formation defines the theory of the conglomeration of random data into coherent wholes. Cultural categories define the context of coherence. Out of context facts present gibberish, in context, they afford insight and meaning. Out of context info…
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