Encyclopaedia of Judaism

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General Editors: Jacob Neusner, Alan J. Avery-Peck and William Scott Green

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The Encyclopaedia of Judaism Online offers more than 200 entries comprising more than 1,000,000 words and is a unique reference tool.  The Encyclopaedia of Judaism Online offers an authoritative, comprehensive, and systematic presentation of the current state of scholarship on fundamental issues of Judaism, both past and present. While heavy emphasis is placed on the classical literature of Judaism and its history, the Encyclopaedia of Judaism Online also includes principal entries on circumcision, genetic engineering, homosexuality, intermarriage in American Judaism, and other acutely contemporary issues. Comprehensive and up-to-date, it reflects the highest standards in scholarship. Covering a tradition of nearly four thousand years, some of the most distinguished scholars in the field describe the way of life, history, art, theology, philosophy, and the practices and beliefs of the Jewish people.

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Rabbi in Classical Judaism

(5,991 words)

Author(s): Green, William Scott
All attempts to describe the rabbi—the religious virtuoso of ancient Judaism—must begin with the nature of the sources and, first and foremost, with the recognition that virtually all of our information about these figures comes from documents formulated, written, and redacted within their own circles (fig. 127). Fashioned and molded by rabbis, these texts constitute the material remains of Rabbinic Judaism and are the primary evidence for its existence. A precise understanding of Rabbinic textu…

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…

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 …

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…

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…

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…

Rabbinic Literature in Medieval and Modern Times

(14,084 words)

Author(s): Basser, Herbert W.
The writing of commentary upon the literature of the oral Torah begins within the earliest layers of that literature itself. The Talmud itself preserves statements in which such second century Tannaim as Meir and Judah comment on the earlier first century teachings of the Houses of Hillel and Shammai, teachings that appear in the Mishnah without commentary. The result of this continuing process of exegesis is that in later Rabbinic writings we often find several tiers of interpretation on earlie…

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…


(10,800 words)

Author(s): Gruber, Mayer
The acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, that is, Solomon son of Isaac. This acronym was also popularly interpreted to mean Rabban shel Yisrael, that is, “ the teacher of Israel,” par excellence. 1 That same appraisal of Rashi is reflected in the application to him of the eptithet Parshandatha , the name of one of the ten sons of the wicked Haman (Est. 9:6) but treated as a combination of the Hebrew noun parshan, “exegete,” and the Aramaic noun datha, meaning “Torah” (see, e.g., Ezra 7:12). Thus Parshandatha means “Interpreter of the Torah par excellence.” Rashi was born in either 1030 or 1040 c.e.…

Reconstructionist Judaism

(8,632 words)

Author(s): Staub, Jacob J.
Reconstructionism is a religious ideology and fourth American Jewish movement that was initiated in the early decades of the twentieth century and has experienced dramatic growth since the 1970s. Following the teachings and writings of Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, Reconstructionists define Judaism as the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people. Based on that definition, they seek to understand the historical contexts in which Jewish beliefs and practices emerged and changed and to adap…

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…

Religious Zionism III: Since 1948

(8,459 words)

Author(s): Schwartz, Dov
1The First Years of Israel: Hopes and Disappointments The study of religious-Zionism during the period of Israel's creation and its first years reveals the complex and intricate status of the movement in the process of national revival. On the one hand, this is a heroic chapter: religious-Zionism participated in the birth of the State and realized its hopes. Accordingly, the messianic interpretation of this event soared to new heights. On the other hand, the movement confronted the institutionalization …

Religious Zionism II: The Inter-War Years. From World War to the National Home

(13,280 words)

Author(s): Schwartz, Dov
1Founding the Chief Rabbinate. Events in the late 1910s and early 1920s changed religious-Zionism. Some of these events were mainly of symbolic importance, although they were also politically and pragmatically significant, such as the founding of the Chief Rabbinate and the rise and fall of the Degel Yerushalayim movement. Some would later prove crucial to the character and the future of the Mizrahi to the point of changing its ideological course, such as the founding of Ha-Poʿel ha-Mizrahi. World War: The Dawn of a New Era? World War I resulted in a new situation concerning the …

Religious Zionism I: The Formative Years

(5,379 words)

Author(s): Schwartz, Dov
1When Isaac Jacob Reines and other founders of the Mizrahi (an acronym for Merkaz Ruhani [spiritual center]) joined the World Zionist Organization (WZO) in 1902 it was the first time a religious faction was represented at a secular, political Jewish organization. Whereas in the Hibbat Zion movement, religionists and secularists had engaged in a mutual struggle without adopting a political identity, religious Jews in the Mizrahi defined themselves as a political body within a secular framework. Reines was conscious of having taken an innovative, fateful step, the conse…

Religious-Zionism IV: The United States

(3,316 words)

Author(s): Schwartz, Dov
1Much has been written about the significant influence of American Jewry on the Zionist movement. This influence is also evident in religious-Zionism, at both the ideological and practical levels. Adherence to the religious-Zionist idea, together with the special and liberal features of American Jewry, generated a special kind of religious-Zionism that also affected the movement in the land of Israel. The problems confronting religious-Zionism in the United States were new and largely unique, su…

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. …

[Retracted] Homosexuality in Judaism

(37 words)

Author(s): Lamm, Norman
The Publisher has retracted "Homosexuality in Judasim" by Norman Lamm. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1872-9029_EJ_COM_0078 due to factual inaccuracies and defamatory content within the chapter. Please see retraction notice from the publisher: Retraction Notice Norman Lamm

Retraction Notice

(126 words)

"Homosexuality in Judaism", by Norman Lamm in the Encyclopedia of Judaism, Second Edition, Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2005, ISBN (hardback) 978-90-04-14787-4, ISSN (Online Reference Work) 1872-9029. The Publisher notifies the readers that the chapter "Homosexuality in Judaism", by Norman Lamm that appeared in the Encyclopedia of Judaism, Second Edition, published in hardback on December 23, 2005, and as an online reference work on October 26, 2006, (http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1872-9029_EJ_COM_0078) has been retracted. On October 29, 2022, the Publisher was notif…

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…