Theological and Philosophical Premises of Judaism

Theological and Philosophical Premises of Judaism

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Jacob Neusner

Series: Judaism and Jewish Life
ISBN: 9781934843192 (hardcover) / 9781934843543 (paper)
Pages: 256 pp.
Publication Date: May 2008

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Classical Judaism imagined the situation of the people of Israel to be unique among the nations of the earth in three aspects. The nations lived in unclean lands, contaminated by corpses and redolent of death. They themselves were destined to die without hope of renewed life after the grave. They were prisoners of secular time, subject to the movement and laws of history in its inexorable logic. Heaven did not pay attention to what they did and did not care about their conduct, so long as they observed the basic decencies mandated by the commandments that applied to the heirs of Noah, seven fundamental rules in all. 

That is not how Israel the holy people was conceived. The Israel contemplated by Rabbinic Judaism lived in sacred space and in enchanted time, all the while subject to the constant surveillance of an eye that sees all, an ear that hears all, and a sentient being that recalls all. Why the divine obsession with Israel? God yearned for Israel’s love and constantly contemplated its conduct. The world imagined by the Rabbis situated Israel in an enchanted kingdom, a Never-Never land, and conceived of God as omniscient and ubiquitous.

Here Neusner shows that in its generative theology, Rabbinic Judaism in its formative age invoked the perpetual presence of God overseeing all that Israelites said and did. It conceived of Israel as transcending the movement of history and living in a perpetual present tense. Israel located itself in a Land like no other, and it organized its social order in a hierarchical structure ascending to the one God situated at the climax and head of all being.

Jacob  Neusner was Distinguished Service Professor of the History and Theology of Judaism and Senior Fellow, Institute of Advanced Theology, Bard College. He also was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, and a life member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University. He published more than 1,000 books and countless articles, both scholarly/academic and popular/journalistic, and is the most published humanities scholar in the world.

[A] learned and very detailed study.
— Shmuel Ben-Gad, George Washington University, in AJL News, May/June 2009

Table of Contents



1. SPEECH: An eye that sees an ear that hears
i. Know before whom you are going to give a full account of yourself
ii. Oaths
iii. Vows and the Nazirite Vow in Particular
2. TIME: “Considerations of Temporal Priority or Posteriority Do Not Enter
into the Torah” 
i. Temporal Sequence Does Not Apply to the Torah
ii. The Present-Tense Past: Scripture Re-Presented in the Immediacy of the Moment
iii. How are events treated, if not as unique indicators of the movement of history?
Patterning Events. Mishnah-tractate Ta’anit 4:6–7
iv. History in the Torah and in the Mishnah
v. How the Mishnah Configures Israel in the Context of History Defined byGod.
How the Destruction of the Temple Figures in Mishnah-tractate Rosh Hashanah 4:1–3
vi. Patterning the History of the Sacrificial Cult: Mishnah-Tractate Zebahim 14:4–10
vii. A Messiah in the Mishnah: Mishnah-tractate Sotah Chapter Nine
3. SPACE: The land of Israel is holier than all lands
i. The Locative Dimension
ii. Taking life to Sustain Israel’s life: Hullin
iii. The Domestic Table Compared with the Temple Altar
iv. The Particular Laws of Mishnah-Tractate Hullin
v. Gradations of Sanctification
vi. Why Hullin in Particular?
vii. Location, Occasion, the Character of the Encounter, in God’s Context, of God and the Israelite 

4. ANALYSIS: Hierarchical classification and the Law’s Philosophical
Demonstration of Monotheism
i. Hierarchical classification
ii. Aristotle and the Mishnah’s Deductive Reasoning
iii. Message: The Taxonomic Power of Human Intentionality
iv. The Judaism behind
i. The Three Types of Mixtures
ii. Zebahim
iii. Hullin
iv. Temurah
v. Miqvaot
vi. Makhshirin
vii. Mixtures in the First Division of the Halakhah: Bikkurim
viii. Conclusion
6. ANALYSIS: Intentionality
i. Defining Intentionality, Attitude
ii. Intentionality and Freedom of Will
iii. The Manipulation and Application of power
iv. The point of differentiation within the political structures, supernatural
and natural alike, lies in the attitude and intention of a human being
v. The Sources of Power: The Will of God and the Will of Man

7. Integrating the System
i. At the Center of the System
ii. Defining Zekhut
iii. Specific Meanings of Zekhut in Particular Contexts
iv. Zekhut in Genesis Rabbah
v. Deeds that Generate Zekhut
vi. Relationships
8. Living in the kingdom of God
i. The Rationality of the Israelite Social Order
ii. Approved Emotions
iii. Competition for the Status of “Being Israel”
iv. From Philosophy to Religion: The Kingdom of Heaven and
the City of God
v. The Question of History Once Again

Index of Ancient Sources
Index of Subjects