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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…

Genesis in Judaism

(9,933 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Classical Judaism reads the book of Genesis through the interpretative construction set forth in Genesis Rabbah, a systematic, verse-by-verse, analysis of the book of Genesis produced in the Land of Israel at ca. 450 c.e. Genesis Rabbah transforms the book of Genesis from a genealogy and family history of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, then Joseph, into a book of the laws of history and rules of the salvation of Israel: the deeds of the founders become omens and signs for the final generations. In Genesis Rabbah the entire narrative of Genesis is so formed as to point toward the sacr…

Reform Judaism

(9,909 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…

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 …

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 …

Leviticus in Judaism: Scripture and Society in Leviticus

(10,521 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. Leviticus Rabbah, closed in the mid-fifth century, sets forth, in the thirty-seven parashiyyot or chapters into which their document is divided, thirty-seven well-crafted proposi…

Biography in Rabbinic Judaism

(12,060 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. (120) 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, bu…

Individual and Community in Judaism

(10,663 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…

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…

Altruism in Judaism

(5,869 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…

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

(10,683 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…

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'…

Israel the People in Judaism, the Classical Statement

(11,364 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…

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…

Orthodox Judaism

(10,386 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Many people reasonably identify all “traditional” or “observant” Judaism with Orthodoxy, and they furthermore take for granted that all traditional Judaisms are pretty much the same. But a wide variety of Judaisms affirm the Torah, oral and written, and abide by its laws, as interpreted by their particular masters, who differ from one another on many important points. Thus, rather than simply signifying “observant” Judaism in general, the designation “Orthodox” refers to a very particular Judaic…

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…

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…

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…

Torah and Culture

(7,707 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…

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…
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