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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…

Normative and Schismatic in Rabbinic Judaism

(4,018 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
To describe, analyze, and interpret normative opinion formed into coherent structures of data—native category-formations re-framed in the contemporary context of social inquiry—in Rabbinic Judaism is not easy. That is because the documents contain masses of conflicting opinions on any number of topics. So it will not suffice to find topically germane sayings. One has to establish grounds for classifying all cited data as normative, representative of a system, constituting “Judaism,”—not merely o…

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…

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 …

Liturgy of Judaism, Content and Theology

(8,678 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Life under the law means praying—morning, noon, night, and at meals—both routinely and when something unusual happens. As a Jew in the classical tradition, one lives life constantly aware of the presence of God and always ready to praise and bless God. The way of Torah is the way of perpetual devotion to God. Here we look into the substance of that devotion: for what do pious Jews ask when they pray? For what do they thank God? We find that Judaism's liturgy of home and synagogue expresses the theology of classical Judaism. In every synagogue that addresses God in the wor…

Judaism, History of, Part III: Late Antiquity

(10,554 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
In late antiquity, the Judaism of the dual Torah (“Rabbinic Judaism”) took shape. That Judaism in time became normative, the foundations for every system of Judaism, the religion, that flourished from then to now. We have evidence that, at that time, other Judaisms, besides that represented by the Rabbinic documents, also took shape, for archaeology of synagogues has produced decorations that hardly conform to the Rabbinic rules governing representational art. But only Rabbinic Judaism is fully represented in written evidence that permits us to formulate its history. Judaism Repre…

Socialism-Yiddishism, Judaism and

(7,224 words)

Author(s): Neusner, Jacob
Jewish Socialism was a nineteenth and twentieth century movement that joined the social and economic ideals of Socialism to a deep commitment to the formation of a way of life and a world view for an Israel, specifically, the impoverished and working class Jews of Eastern Europe. It is comparable to a Judaism because it presented a complete picture of how one should live life, namely, as an active worker for political change and social improvement, how one should see the world, namely, as someth…
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