The Halakhah: Historical and Religious Perspectives

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Judaism makes its authoritative statements through the medium of normative rules of conduct, laws that instruct the faithful on the sanctification of everyday life. These are called Halakhah, the pattern or way things are to be done and represent the authoritative system of behavior and belief for Judaism. Thus those who accept the Torah, Written and Oral, as God’s will and call themselves “Israel,” with Sinai in mind will aspire to embody in their everyday conduct the consequences of the revelation of the Torah. Hence any account of Judaism will pay close attention to its norms of behavior, as much as to its norms of belief.

Reading the Halakhah from the perspective of religion and translating the Halakhah into its specific, historical consequences form the problem that links the essays and lectures presented here. In this book, shows that we cannot discuss the theological doctrine or Aggadah of repentance and atonement without constant attention to its Halakhic realization in everyday conduct. That leads to the problem of the third chapter, how the Halakhah and the Aggadah intersect and make a single statement. Then it takes a step back and shows how, within the Halakhah viewed in its own terms and framework, we are able to discern the playing out of a considerable theological question. That is, how it is possible to establish a realm of cultic purity outside of the Temple itself, with deep implications for other dimensions of the Israelite aspiration to sanctification. In the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters the author discusses history, time and paradigm as Key-motifs in framing a historical perspective on the Halakhah. In the eighth chapter, finally, it moves from historical to anthropological readings of religion in general and Judaism in particular.

Neusner’s research centered on rabbinic Judaism of the Mishnaic and Talmudic eras. His work focused on bringing the study of rabbinical text into nonreligious educational institutions and treating them as non-religious documents.

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Jacob Neusner










Neusner, Jacob, The Halakhah: Historical and Religious Perspectives, Leiden. Boston. Koln, Brill, 2002, 258 p.