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Politics, Judaism and, I: The Normative Statement in Scripture and the Talmud

(5,068 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The political theory of Judaism emerges in the Hebrew Scriptures of ancient Israel as these writings are interpreted by the rabbis of the first six centuries c.e. in the Talmud of Babylonia and related documents. The Pentateuch portrays Israel as “a kingdom of priests and a holy people” and further takes for granted that this “kingdom” or “people” forms a political entity, exercising legitimate violence. Scripture therefore understands Israel not merely as a church or a voluntary community but an empowered society, with …

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 hea…

Individual and Community in Judaism

(10,664 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…

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…

Work in Formative Judaism

(10,512 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
The sages see Israel as a sacred society, “a kingdom of priests and a holy people,” and, within that context, quite logically, they view work not as a mere secular necessity but as a sacred activity. Thus they situate their definition of work within their larger statement of what it means to form holy Israel, God's first love on earth. Work is not merely something we are supposed to do in the interests of the community, so that the tasks of the world will be carried out and each of us will earn a living. Of greatest importance is that the Hebrew word for “work” is

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 …

Sanctification in Rabbinic Judaism

(8,895 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Since Judaism sets forth in its classical statement a regimen intended to sanctify its faithful to form a “kingdom of priests and a holy people,” and since that discipline encompasses matters of what goes into the mouth, not only what comes out, Judaism has to explain the way in which sanctification entails ethics, not only ritual. Because Israelites are commanded to strive to be holy, meaning, separate and pure, people imagine they are encouraged to feel superior to others. That is because people re…

Yavneh

(12,785 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Yavneh refers to a place and a period and a circumstance. The legacy of the place proves modest, of the period lavish, and of the circumstance, enduring. The place is an inland settlement off the southern coast of the Land of Israel. It acquired importance in the history of Judaism in the First Rebellion against Rome, when, after the destruction of Jerusalem in August, 70 c.e., surviving Rabbinic sages established there the administrative court that exercised such authority as the Romans had left in Jewish hands. The legacy of the place secured continuity for…

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.…

Aggadah in the Halakhah

(9,066 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Aggadic discourse comments on a received text, tells a story, or advocates an attitude or a proposition of normative conviction and conscience. H…

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…

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 Gen…

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.…

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.…

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 …
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