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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

(11,367 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…

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

(7,709 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…

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…

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 …

Debates in Rabbinic Judaism: Amplifying the Dispute

(11,817 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Disputes in the halakhic documents—statement of a topic + Rabbi X says… Rabbi Y says—occasionally are augmented by debates. These are formal and balanced exchanges of not only opinion but reason and argument. While introduced only sparingly, the debate is always integral to the dispute to which it is attached, and invariably yields a deeper understanding of the issues of the dispute. Among ancient Judaic religious systems and their writings, the Rabbinic one not only is unique in articulating and systematically recording disputes within its normative docum…

Theodicy in Classical Judaism

(6,606 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The term theodicy refers to a justification of the ways of God, the proof that—despite what might appear to be the case—God's justice governs the world order. The need for such a proof comes about by reason of the character of monotheism . For, while a religion of numerous gods finds many solutions to one problem, a religion of only one God presents one to many. Life is seldom fair. Rules rarely work. To explain the reason why, polytheisms adduce multip…

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…

Deuteronomy in Judaism

(7,877 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The book of Deuteronomy reaches Judaism through Sifre to Deuteronomy, attributed to Tannaite authors, a commentary to Deuteronomy completed ca. 300 c.e. Out of cases and examples, sages seek generalizations and governing principles. Since in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses explicitly sets forth a vision of Israel's future history, sages in Sifre to Deuteronomy examined that vision to uncover the rules that explain what happens to Israel. That issue drew attention from cases to rules, with the result that, in the book…

Messiah in Rabbinic Judaism

(10,622 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Throughout the Oral Torah the main point of the theological eschatology—the theory of last things—registers both negatively and affirmatively. Death does not mark the end of the individual human life, nor exile the last stop in the journey of Holy Israel. Israelites will live in the age or the world to come, all Israel in the Land of Israel; and Israel will comprehend all who know the one true God. The restoration of world order that completes the demonstration of God's justice encompasses both …

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 …

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…

Virtue in Formative Judaism

(9,611 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
For Judaism, the account of virtue begins in the Torah's picture of world order based on God's virtue, not the virtue of humanity. God's traits of justice and equity, love and compassion, form the model for those of God's creatures. Moreover, the Torah knows humanity as the children of Adam via Noah to Abraham. Accordingly, Judaism in its classical statement treats virtue as a component of a much larger doctrine that concerns the meaning of the life of humanity. The Torah tells the story of huma…

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…
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