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History, Tradition,
Michael L. Satlow
Columbia University Press New York
cvi1io iuiisr
mIcuXrI I. sX:Ic
cvi1io iuiisr
History, Tradition, Practice
Columbia University Press
New York
Columbia University Press
Publislers Since 8,
New York, Cliclester, West Sussex
Copyriglt aoo6 Miclael L. Satlow
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Satlow, Miclael L.
Creating )udaism : listory, tradition, practice i Miclael L. Satlow
p. cm. Includes bibliograplical references and index.
isv o-a-(88-6 (clotl : alk. paper) isv o-a-(8,-( (pbk. : alk. paper)
isv o-a-o,- (ebook) . )udaism. a. )ewsIdentity. I. Title.
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For Jacqueline

Acknowledgments ix
Clronology xi
Promised Lands aa
a Creating )udaism 6,
Between Atlens and )erusalem ,6
( Te Rabbis
Rabbinic Concepts (o
6 Mitzvot 6(
; Te Rise of Reason 8;
8 From Moses to Moses ao,
, Seeing Cod aa,
o East and West ao
Epilogue: Wlitler )udaism: a88
Bibliographical Notes
vi1io 1nis vooi las brouglt me far outside of my usual
comfort zone, and I lave turned to many colleagues, students,
friends, and family for guidance. It is a pleasure for me to ac-
knowledge tleir lelp and generosity.
Te idea for tlis book, and tle intellectual model underlying it, emerged
slowly over long and pleasant conversations witl former colleagues at In-
diana University, especially Robert Orsi and Steven Weitzman. I beneted
immensely from tle comments tlat I received wlen presenting earlier
drafts of tle introduction at tle )ewisl Teological Seminary as well as to
my colleagues in )udaic Studies at Brown University and tle graduate stu-
dents in tle Department of Religious Studies. My colleague Mulammad
Qasim Zaman lelped me work tlrougl one important problem, and tle
trenclant comments of Slaul Magid and Clarles Matlewes to yet anotler
draft lelped me slarpen my tlouglts.
Several colleagues read individual clapters. Miclal Cottlieb, Hindy Naj-
man, and David Novak saved me from numerous mistakes. A series of con-
versations witl Daniel Abrams was similarly lelpful at a critical moment. It
was my good fortune, as I began writing tlis book, to meet Mosle Rosman.
Mosle not only read several clapters witl extraordinary care, repeatedly
correcting errors and pusling me to clarify and rene my arguments, but
also las been a valuable dialogue partner. Te extensive comments of tle
anonymous referees for Columbia University Press were extraordinarily
useful. For all remaining errors and problems in tlis book, I lave only my-
self to tlank.
Tis book could not lave been completed witlout tle support tlat I
lave received from numerous institutions, especially tle Department of
Religious Studies, tle Program in )udaic Studies, and tle oce of tle Dean
of tle Faculty at Brown University. I completed tlis book wlile enjoying
tle lospitality of tle Slalom Hartman Institute in )erusalem, my tlanks to
Adiel Sclremer for botl lis lelp witl logistics as well as good conversation
wlile I was tlere. Isaial Cafni facilitated my access to resources at Hebrew
University. Te wonderful collection at tle )ewisl National and University
Library at Hebrew University was invaluable, my tlanks and apologies to
tle many colleagues in tle )udaica Reading Room wlom I regularly and
frantically pestered.
Te ideas in tlis book gestated in tle classroom, and I tlank tle many
students wlo graciously endured my attempts to make tlem comprelen-
sible. Trougl tleir questions, blank stares, and spirited dissents, my stu-
dents at tle University of Virginia, Indiana University, and Brown Universi-
tywletler tley knew it or notcontributed actively to tle development
of tlis book. My teacling in tle Meal program run by Hebrew College
provided an additional opportunity for test-driving ideas and drafts, and
tle comments and critiques of my adult students led to yet anotler round
of rewriting.
I am appreciative of tle support of my sister, Vicki Satlow, wlo led me to
Columbia University Press. I lave been lucky to nd in my editor, Wendy
Loclner, an able and encouraging advocate for tlis project. My copyeditor,
Susan Pensak, las been a pleasure to work witl. Many individuals, and tle
institutions tlat tley represent, generously and expeditiously responded to
my requests for images and permissions: David Kraemer and David Sclar
of tle )ewisl Teological Seminary of America, Robert Hill and Rutl Paige
of Temple Emanu-El in Providence, in wlicl is loused tle Abralam and
Natalie Percelay Museum, Elka Deitscl of Temple Emanu-El in New York,
Rabbi Peretz Scleinerman of tle Providence Hebrew Day Sclool, and Tom
Cilbert at APiAccuweatler.
Te pleasures of teacling and researcl pale against tlose tlat my clil-
dren give me. Daniel, Penina, and )eremy enjoy seeing tleir names in print,
and I am only too lappy to be able to do tlis for tlem as a token of my love.
For reasons known only to ler, my wife, )acqueline, continues to put up
witl me. Te least tlat I can do is dedicate tlis book to ler.
x cioiiiori1s
c. ooo vci Te united monarclies of David and Solomon
c. ooo vci86 vci Period of tle Israelite monarclies
;aa vci Fall of Nortlern Israelite kingdom
86 vci First Temple destroyed by Babylonians
c. vci Second Temple establisled
c. vci;o ci Second Temple period
a vci Deatl of Alexander tle Creat, beginning of Hellenistic
c. aoo vci Translation of tle Bible into Creek (Septuagint),
Antioclus III conquers )erusalem
68 vci6a vci Delement of Temple by Antioclus IV and Maccabean
6 vci Entrance of Pompey, tle Roman general, to )erusalem
o vci( vci Rule of Herod
;o ci Destruction of tle Second Temple by tle Romans
;o6(o Rabbinic period
;oc. ao: Period of tle tannaim
a Bar Koklba Revolt
c. aao Redaction of Mislnal
c. aoc. oo Period of tle amoraim
c. (oo Redaction of Palestinian Talmud
c. oo Redaction of Babylonian Talmud
c. ooo Ceonic period
6(o Muslim conquest of Near East
66;o Umayyad dynasty
;oa8 Abbasid dynasty
; Abd al-Ralman (an Umayyad) declares lis emirate in
Cordoba (Andalusia)
,a8,(a Seadyal ben )osepl serves as geon of Sura
,a, Abd al-Ralman III declares limself calipl in Andalusia
o86 Rulers of Andalusia call on Almoravids for military aid
ao( Life of Maimonides
(; Almolads overtlrow Almoravids
i1i aoos Autlorslip of Zolar
(,a Expulsion of )ews from Spain
6a66;6 Life of Sabbatai Zvi
6( Portuguese expel )ews from Brazil, a boatload arrives in
New Amsterdam
66 Excommunication of Spinoza in Amsterdam
6,8;6o Life of Baal Slem Tov
;o( Foundation of Kalal Kadosl Slearitl Israel, Spanisl-
Portuguese synagogue in New York
;a,;86 Life of Moses Mendelssoln
8; Formation of tle New Israelite Temple Association in
8; Hebrew Union College founded
88,( Over two million )ews immigrate to tle United States
from Eastern Europe
88 Pittsburgl Platform
88; Foundation of tle )ewisl Teological Seminary of
8,( Dreyfus aair
8,; First Zionist Congress
8,8 Foundation of tle Ortlodox Union
,oa Foundation of Agudatl Ha-Rabbanim
,(8 Creation of tle State of Israel
,6; Six-Day War
xii cnvooioov
cvi1io iuiisr
n1 is iuiisr: At rst glance, tle question itself appears
eitler silly or arcane. Everybody, after all, las some working
mental concept tlat tley call )udaism. Many committed
)ews and Clristians can provide a precise and articulate denition, draw-
ing a clear briglt line between wlat counts as )udaism and wlat does not.
Many more people wlo cannot or will not provide sucl a denition nev-
ertleless inlerently know wlat )udaism is: I know it wlen I see it, tley
miglt reply. For sucl people, to argue about a precise meaning is a mere
academic exercise, an abstruse and meaningless game of words tlat in no
way gets at )udaisms real meaning.
Maybe I am just drawn to silly and arcane questions, but tle issue tlat
lurks belind tlis bald and oversimplied question las been nagging me
for more tlan a decade. Its roots, I suspect, are personal. I am a )ew wlo
was raised in a largely nonobservant family tlat nevertleless emplasized
tle value of )ewisl identity, of belonging to a people. Te supplemental
sclool of tle Conservative synagogue tlat we joined slortly before my bar
mitzval reinforced tlis central message of )ewisl identity, of am yisrael,
tle People of Israel, basically a biological notion of an extended family, in
wlicl all )ews slare tle accomplislments, disappointments, and calamities
of all otler )ews. To a sligltly alienated and awkward )ewisl youtl growing
up in a very non-)ewisl suburb of Boston, tlis was a powerful idea. It was
also an idea tlat in college did not stand up very well to tle experience of
meeting actual )ews.
I was a ckle and eclectic )ew in college. I regularly attended religious
services, but never tle same one regularly. Te )ews tlat I met in college

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were lardly representative of tle American )ewisl community, but even
tlis narrow cross section was stunningly diverse. My struggle to integrate
tlis enormous diversity witl my notion of am yisrael was furtler compli-
cated by my rst trip to Israel. Riding in tle middle of a planeload of Satmar
Hasidim wlose rebbe was making lis rst trip to tle land of Israeltley
refuse to recognize tle sovereignty of tle modern State of Israel, wlicl tley
regard as a )ewisl leresyin slort order I found myself learning Hebrew
at Ofra, a settlement of religious Zionists on tle West Bank. Soon after I
returned to tle United States tle man wlo tauglt me Talmud at Ofra was
imprisoned for bombing Palestinian ocials. Te United )ewisl Appeal
slogan at tle time proclaimed We Are One! I, tlougl, found myself in-
creasingly wondering, Are We One: Wlat actually links divergent )ewisl
Te question, as I discovered soon after beginning my graduate studies
in )ews and )udaism in antiquity, las a distinguisled intellectual pedigree.
I lad come late to a question tlat las plagued sclolars since tle discovery
in tle early twentietl century of tle synagogue mosaics from ancient Pal-
estine and tle wall paintings on tle synagogue in Dura Europos, a Roman
garrison town in Syria tlat was evacuated in tle tlird century ci. As tle
arclaeological evidence was making clear, tle synagogues of late antiquity
were riclly decorated witl representations of animals, lumans, zodiacs,
and even, perlaps, Helios and tle Cod of Israel. Seen against rabbinic liter-
ature, wlicl is virtually tle only extant )ewisl literature from late antiquity,
tlese nds were jarring. Rabbinic literature, sucl as tle Babylonian Tal-
mud, leaves us totally unprepared to deal witl synagogues ornately deco-
rated witl gurative representations.
In lis massive, twelve-volume work, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman
Period, a Yale sclolar, Erwin Ramsdell Coodenougl, attempted to explain
tle discrepancy between tle arclaeological and literary data.
Te arclae-
ological evidence, le argued, is best interpreted against tle tlouglt of Plilo
(ca. o vcio ci), a )ewisl plilosopler writing in Creek in Alexandria.
Seen togetler, Plilo and tle arclaeological evidence testify to a mystical,
astral )udaism. Tis mystical )udaism, wlose adlerents souglt direct ex-
perience of Cod, is to be contrasted witl tle staid )udaism of tle Rabbis,
witl tleir emplasis on law and Toral as mediating a )ews contact witl
tle divine.
Coodenougl, it turned out, was wrong. For a number of reasons, lis
neat division between astral and rabbinic )udaism cannot be sustained. His
work, tlougl, brilliantly opened up tle eld botl by leigltening awareness
of wlat lad until lis time been an unproblematic concept, )udaism, and by
putting tle issue of )ewisl diversity squarely on tle sclolarly table.
Coodenougls insistence tlat in antiquity tlere were two types of )uda-
ism forced sclolars to confront tle assumptions tlat inform tleir use of
tle category )udaism. Te word itself is surprisingly ill-attested in antiq-
uity and rst appears in Hebrew (as yahadut) only in tle Middle Ages. Its
origin appears to lave been Creek. Te autlor or editor of a Maccabees,
a listory of tle Maccabean revolt (wlicl occurred ca. 6 vci) tlat was
written in Creek and tlen condensed around oo vci, coined tle word. For
tlis writer, )udaism stood in opposition to Hellenism as tle true religion of
Israel. It was, above all, a normative denition, to be leld by a community
in order to dene itself against otler outside groups, customs, and beliefs.
It is an insiders denition, meant to dierentiate us not only from tlem
but even from dierent groups of us. Some groups of )ews tlus become
true defenders of )udaism, against not only some outside enemy but even
otler )ews wlo in some way are seen as attacking tle autlentic religion.
Tis earliest understanding of )udaism, wlicl continues to some extent
to today, ultimately is an essentialist one. Essentialist denitions assert
tlat tlere is an essence to tle tling, usually marked by a set of dening
claracteristics. Tis miglt be a set of beliefs or practices or a supernatural
essence. Witlout tlis essencewlatever it isit is no longer considered
)udaism. Essentialist denitions usually lave a normative dimension. Tey
are created and used by a community to dene itself and tlus also to set its
Te practice of dening )udaism botl normatively and essentially las
lad a remarkable staying power. Paul, limself a )ew, turned tlis normative
denition on its lead. )udaism indeed lad an essence, but tlat essence was
tle static, dead law against wlicl Clristianity would come to dene itself
as a religion of tle spirit. In tlese formulations, )udaism became a Clristian
tleological category tlat Clristians could use for tleir own self-denition:
We are not )ews.
Te term Judaism never sled tlis tleological baggage. As used com-
monly and academically in nineteentl-century Cermany, tlere was always
a dening essence to )udaism. )udaism lad an essential core, a feature witl-
out wlicl it was no longer )udaism. Only true )udaism contains tlat es-
sential core, groups tlat claim to practice )udaism, but tlat appear to an
outside observer to lack tle essential claracteristic of )udaism, can now
safely be claracterized as inautlentic, leretical, or simply not )ewisl.
Tis liglliglts botl tle normative nature of essentialist denitions as well
as tle importance of perspective. Tose )ews tlat one essentialist denition
of )udaism miglt classify as leretics rarely see tlemselves as anytling but
Essentialist and normative denitions are useful for communal self-
denition. Communities, of course, regularly dene tlemselves in wlat-
ever manner tley see t. One )ewisl group tlat wants to dene itself against
botl non-)ews and otler, competing )ewisl groups will naturally try to cast
itself as more autlentic. It will draw upon listory to create a denition of
)udaism to wlicl it is tle true leir and otler claimants are not. )udaisms
essence, not very coincidentally, becomes identical witl tlat of tle particu-
lar claimant. Sucl essentialist self-denitions lelp to reinforce group cole-
sion by giving its members an opportunity to unite as participants in some
transcendent essence.
As good as tley are for tle creation and maintenance of group boundar-
ies, essentialist denitions of )udaism lave more limited usefulness outside
tle specic groups tlat use tlem. Tey are interesting to study as rst-
order denitions, tle ways in wlicl specic groups dene tlemselves, but
tley fail to explain anytling real about )udaism. Essentialist denitions of
)udaism can never explain or account for tle diversity of )ewisl religious
life, botl today and tlrougl listory. Tose forms of )ewisl life, practice,
and belief tlat are tlouglt to be in accord witl tle essentialist denition
are tle only data tlat are considered relevant, tlus reinforcing tle original
denition. Sucl denitions of all religious traditions create circles tlat tend
to put an objective academic imprimatur on one subgroups self-denition.
Te problem, as tle study of )udaism in antiquity las made clear in tle
wake of Coodenougls opus, is tlat tlere were many )ewisl subgroups,
and tlat tley were frequently at odds witl eacl otler. Until Coodenougl,
sclolars almost uncritically considered tle )udaism of antiquity to be
tlat of tle Plarisees, as imaginatively reconstructed by modern sclolars.
Coodenougl forced sclolars to take contemporary renegade and mar-
ginal )ewisl groups more seriously, especially tle group documented
by tle Dead Sea scrolls, wlicl were just beginning to be publisled. Te
cumulative eect of tlis sclolarly activity was to decenter tle Plarisees,
tley did not represent mainstream )udaism, but ratler were just one of
many )ewisl groups (albeit one tlat at certain times may lave lad more in-
uence tlan otlers) competing for adlerents until tle slow rise of tle Rab-
bis tlat began after tle destruction of tle Second Temple in ;o ci. )acob
Neusner, a professor tlen at Brown University, saw sucl diversity in tlis
period tlat le tended to speak of tle )udaisms of antiquity ratler tlan of
a single )udaism.
Te term Judaisms seems to solve tle problem created by Judaism. It
implicitly assumes tlat tlere are many )udaisms, eacl one of wlicl las
integrity in its own riglt, tlus rejecting a single normative denition. Ju-
daisms became appealing to some sclolars of modern )udaism, wlo use
it to describe tle enormous variety of modern and contemporary )ewisl
life. )ewisl tlinkers tlrouglout listory lave oered tleological positions
tlat are at times mutually exclusive, and )ewisl communities lave at times
diered so fundamentally from eacl otler in practice tlat tleir members
would not eat in tle louses of, or marry, members of otler )ewisl groups.
How can all of tlese groups, claiming to be )ewisl, really constitute a single
religious tradition: Judaisms usefully slifts our focus from essentialist de-
nitions tlat classify some forms of )ewisl life as more autlentic tlan otlers
to tle tremendous diversity of )ewisl practice and belief.
But Judaisms actually does not solve anytling. Remarkably, and despite
its common use by sclolars, tlere is little extensive sclolarly defense of
tle term, it las been used, but only tlinly explained or argued. If Judaism
suers from its neglect of diversity, Judaisms neglects tle aspect of unity.
However diverse, )ewisl religious communities understand tlemselves to
be part of tle same tradition, and often recognize (sometimes reluctant-
ly) some legitimacy to tle claims of otler )ewisl communities. Even wlen
wide tleological or ritual gulfs separate )ewisl communities, tlere often
remain social relations, justied under tle principle of am yisrael. Tere
is a border, lowever fuzzy it miglt sometimes be, between religious com-
munities tlat identify tlemselves as )ewisl and tlose tlat see tlemselves
as Muslim, Clristian, or Hindu. Like Coodenougls pioneering work, Juda-
isms raises awareness to a problem witlout providing a clear solution to it.
Te debate between Judaism and Judaisms is largely a matter of seman-
tic emplasis, but points to a mucl more interesting and complex problem.
How are we, not necessarily as participants witlin a religious community
but as luman beings wlo seek to understand and learn sometling from and
about religion, to explain tle enormous diversity of )ewisl religious com-
munitiesor, for tlat matter, any group of religious communitieswitlout
losing siglt of tleir unity:
Tis was tle question tlat was very mucl on my mind wlen, a year out
of graduate sclool, I was assigned to teacl Introduction to )udaism. I lad
never taken sucl a course in college and was at rst overwlelmed by tle

6 i1voiuc1io
quantity of tle material tlat I felt I needed to cram into tle semester. How
could I possibly cover everytling: Tis concern, lowever, soon gave way
to tle more pressing intellectual one: Wlat is )udaism: Wlat is tle sub-
ject matter of sucl a course: Te common textbooks turned out to be
little lelp. Despite tle wide sclolarly recognition of tle deciencies of a
unitary approacl to )udaism, most modern discussions of )udaism tend
to stay closely in line witl tle older, canonical model: )udaism traces a
straiglt line from tle Bible to tle Plarisees to tle Rabbis to tleir leirs.
)udaism, in tlis model, is tle textual tradition of tle Rabbis, sometimes
called rabbinic )udaism.
Tis standard approacl to tle study of )udaism is to make exactly tlis
division, between tle normative tradition of rabbinic )udaism and all otl-
ers. It assumes tlere is a single normative )udaism tlat unfolds like an in-
dependent living organism. It also requires some paroclial preconceptions
about wlat is truly )ewisl. Tus, Reform )ews miglt reject a congregation
of lumanistic )ewsa community tlat identies itself as a )ewisl religious
community and yet explicitly rejects tle existence of Codas inautlentic,
just as some Ortlodox )ews, especially in Israel, lave rejected Reform )u-
daismwlicl does not accept )ewisl law, or halakhah, as binding on all
)ewsas an autlentic expression of )udaism.
Tere is, lowever, anotler way to look at )udaism tlat avoids tle inler-
ent paroclialism of rst-order denitions. Tis book will argue for a de-
nition of )udaism tlat can better account botl for its immense diversity
and its unifying features. More important, it will slow low clanging tle
way we approacl tle problem of )udaism can give us a mucl ricler and
deeper understanding of )ewisl religious life and tradition.
)udaism, I will argue, is best seen not as a single organismlike tradition
but as a family of traditions. Ludwig Wittgenstein, a twentietl-century pli-
losopler, advanced tle idea of familial resemblance. He noted tlat family
members can resemble eacl otler in a variety of ways or not at all. I miglt
lave my motlers nose, and my motler miglt lave ler motlers clin, but I
miglt not look at all like my grandmotler. Wittgenstein is interested in tle
nature of tlis relationslip for plilosoplical reasons, but it can protably be
applied to religion. )onatlan Z. Smitl, a professor of religion at tle Univer-
sity of Clicago, put tle problem somewlat dierently but, I tlink, drove at
tle same point wlen le argued for a polytletic denition of early )udaism
(and, by extension, otler religious traditions).
Polytletic denitions dier
from essentialist ones in tlat tley focus on sets of overlapping claracteris-
tics. Out of a list of claracteristics tlat all members of a class miglt slare,
i1voiuc1io ;
tlere will be large overlaps of slared claracteristics, but some members
will lave notling in common witl otlers. Tere is no single slared compo-
nent tlat is essential to a members inclusion.
Biological metaplors for religion slould not be pusled too far. )udaism is
not a tangible living tling tlat inexorably unfolds over time. )udaism las no
genes, it is tle creation and recreation of luman beings working in listory.
Eacl community of )ews creates its )udaism anew, reading and understand-
ing tleir traditions tlrougl tleir own peculiar and listorically specic
)udaism, tlen, las no listory. )ewisl communities lave local listories (I
will leave it to tle listorians to debate wletler Jewish history is a term tlat
las meaning), and some patterns of tlouglt and tradition lave intellectual
listories. Because )udaism, lowever, is not a single plenomenon tlat can
be captured in a single, predominant narrative, it is misleading to talk of
tle listory of )udaism. )udaism, as a wlole, does not lave a story, any
master narrative obscures tle dynamic process by wlicl communities con-
tinually recreate tleir )udaism. Indeed, even tlose elements of )udaism tlat
can be traced listorically infrequently develop in any kind of linear way.
)ewisl communities do not typically adlere piously to tle ideas and rituals
of tle generations immediately before tlem, particularly wlen tley live in
dierent social and cultural traditions. Ratler, tley often skip back to pre-
vious texts and rituals in order to lend autlority to practices tlat tley nd
more concordant witl tleir own society. A listory of )udaism creates a lis-
tory wlere none truly existed, drawing a straiglt line tlrougl a tangled web
and tlus almost arbitrarily declaring some tlings central to its story and
otlers marginal.
)udaisms diversity is easier to explain tlan its unity. Altlougl tlere
may not be a singular tradition called )udaism, not every religious com-
munity can be called )ewisl. Tis, of course, is obvious: Roman Catlolics
and Muslims do not identify tlemselves as practitioners of )udaism, and
any denition tlat attempts to consider tlem as )ews against tleir will is
ill-advised. More complex are tle cases of contested self-identication, in
wlicl a group considers itself to be a )ewisl community wlen otler )ewisl
groups reject tlem. Wlat of Messianic )ews (tlose wlo claim to be )ewisl
believers tlat )esus was tle messial) or Black Hebrews: Witlout making
normative judgments based on unjustied essentialist assumptions of wlat
is to count as evidence for autlentic )udaism, is it possible to explain tle
overlapping claracteristics tlat unite tlese dierent religious communities
into )udaism:
8 i1voiuc1io
Te fundamental argument of tlis book is tlat )udaism can be clarted,
polytletically, onto tlree maps. Here I use anotler metaplor drawn from
)onatlan Z. Smitl. A map is a sclolarly, or second-order, rendering of a
territory, it is a representation. Essentialist and normative denitions are
appealing, tley can usually be stated in just a few sentences, and tle norma-
tive question tley seek to answerDoes it or does it not count as )uda-
ism:is immediate. Maps are messier and tle question tlat tley seek to
answer is inlerently dierent. Tis book makes no normative claims about
wlat is or slould be considered )udaism by a religious community. Ratler,
its goal is to create and apply a non-normative model of )udaism tlat miglt
lelp us to better understand low )ewisl communities tlrouglout listory
lave been so diverse and yet considered tlemselves to be members of tle
same family.
Te tlree maps onto wlicl )udaism can be plotted are Israel, textual tra-
dition, and religious practice. By Israel I refer to self-identity, tle act of iden-
tifying as a member of am yisrael and tle particular self-understanding of
wlat tlat identication means. All groups tlat self-identify as )ews count,
and, lowever mucl otler )ewisl communities contest tleir identity, tleir
own self-claracterization puts tlem on tle map. Tese communities iden-
tify tlemselves as )ews, locating tlemselves (or not) witlin a sacred narra-
tive and a bloodline. Te objective trutl of tlis claim is less important in
tlis case tlan tle communitys self-perception, being part of Israel begins
witl tle claim to be, not witl some outsider judging wletler tlat claim is
correct. At tle same time, tlougl, )ewisl self-perception is lardly consis-
tent or static. Dierent communities, and tleir individual members, use
dierent strategies for identifying as )ews.
Te second map clarts tle communities canonical texts. )ewisl com-
munities tlrouglout listory lave tended to ascribe autlority of some
type to a bounded and largely similar set of texts. Nearly every community
from late antiquity to tle present tlat identies itself as )ewisl las leld in
ligl regard tle Hebrew Bible and tle rabbinic textual tradition, altlougl
tle precise nature of tlat regard and of tle autlority given to tlese texts
is complex, contested, and varies from community to community. Tese
texts constitute an ongoing dialogue tlat las been remarkably consistent,
providing a set of resources upon wlicl )ewisl communities lave drawn in
order to autlorize tleir understandings of )udaism.
Texts, lowever, are not tle only velicles of tradition. )ewisl communi-
ties also transmit religious practices, some of wlicl coexist uneasily witl
tle textual tradition. On tle one land, by absorbing traditional practices
i1voiuc1io ,
and at times converting tlese ad loc practices into scripted and meaningful
rituals, rabbinic texts preserve tlem for later generations, even wlen tle
practices tlemselves fall out of use, later communities can recover tlem
from tle texts. Yet, on tle otler land, tlese texts tend to structure tle
practices and ascribe meanings to tlem tlat do not always survive tle test
of time, and frequently a practice breaks from tle texts tlat attempt to ritu-
alize and interpret it.
In tle following pages I esl out and illustrate tlis polytletic model.
It is wortl noting, tlougl, low tlis approacl diers from tle conven-
tional one. Typically, )udaism is described in terms of its core beliefs and
normative practices. Tis focus on belief arose from modern Western no-
tions of religion tlat locate tle value and function of religion in mean-
ing and intention. Te modern antlropologist Cliord Ceertz drew upon
tlis tradition wlen le oered lis liglly inuential denition of religion
as a system of meaning.
In tlis book tle subordination of belief to tradi-
tion (as constituted by texts and practices) is deliberate, a consequence of
a nonessentialist approacl. Beliefs, of course, are important. But, I suggest,
a more fruitful way to get at tlem is to mine tle range of possibilities pre-
sented by tle canon. I understand tradition as a wide and sprawling conver-
sation tlat nevertleless does lave some boundaries. Wlen a community
constructs its beliefs, it draws selectively on tlis tradition, witl results tlat
dier widely from otler )ewisl religious communities. By slaring certain
conceptual categories (for example, Cod, Toral, and Israel) most )ewisl
communities nd tlemselves in tle same conversation, but tle move from
tle conceptual categories to more specic beliefs is by no means uniform,
linear, or predictable.
To clart a communitys )udaism, tlen, requires sensitivity to low a spe-
cic community of )ews, embedded in its own social, economic, and cul-
tural context, makes sense of its tradition. It means never to lose siglt of
tle fact tlat )udaism is an abstract noun. )ews, not )udaism, believe and
do tlings. Moreover, even witlin tle twin constraints of listorical circum-
stances and tle deep, slared, but ultimately lumanly constructed struc-
tures of meaning tlat appear natural to a given society, individuals lave
agency, tley function not only in religious communities but also as idio-
syncratic individuals. Any ricl account of )udaism must balance tle ways
in wlicl tradition miglt constrain a community witl tle ways in wlicl a
community and tle individuals witlin it use tradition as a resource. Tis is
a process tlat miglt be called negotiation, referring to tle ways tlat )ews
negotiate tleir traditions witlin tleir unique listorical contexts.
1o i1voiuc1io
To assert a )ewisl identity is to locate oneself witlin tle sacred listory of
tle people Israel. To be a )ew is to make, primarily, a listorical claim. It is to
identify witl a narrative (albeit one tlat dierent communities tell dier-
ently) tlat extends back to Abralam, our fatler, and tlat is linked to Cods
covenant. It is to enter, to use Bennedict Andersons felicitous plrase, an
imagined community, leld togetler by a gripping narrative of origins tlat
succeeds not only in providing a colerent past, but one tlat also generates
value and meaning.
As an objective account of tle past, tle Toral makes poor listory. As
a listorical narrative, lowever, it brilliantly forges a national identity. Like
many (or most:) stories of listorical origins, it creates a common past root-
ed in struggle. To subscribe to tlis listory is to identify witl a distinctive
people forged in tle slave pits and larsl desert. Unlike many listorical nar-
ratives, tlougl, it also identies tle nation witl a biological family. Because
all sprung from a common ancestor, tle people Israel are bound by blood.
And if tlat was not enougl, tle Toral goes on to separate tlis people not
only by listory and biology but also by destiny: covenanted to Cod.
Later )ewisl readers emplasized dierent aspects of tlis narrative. Fol-
lowing tle listoriograplical explosion and vibrant romantic nationalism
tlat permeated Cerman culture in general, many nineteentl-century Cer-
man )ews emplasized national listory as a mode of identity. Te earliest be-
lievers of )esus deemplasized biology and used Cods covenant witl Israel
as tleir primary mode of )ewisl identity, wlereas )udal Halevi promoted
an almost racist ideology. Modernity las brouglt several otler modes of
)ewisl identity, from Zionism to Yiddislkeit, wletler understood reli-
giously or culturally.
Being )ewisl is not simply a legal and teclnical matter. Communities
become )ewisl rst and foremost because tley say tley are, tley buy in to
some model or story tlat links tlem to past and present )ews. )ewisl com-
munities may or may not accept tle claims of )ewislness of otler groups,
but all draw ultimately on similar sources.
Tose sources make up tradition. In Islamic tlouglt, )udaism (like Clris-
tianity) is considered a religion of tle book because Israel is tlouglt to
lave received an autlentic, divine revelation and recorded it in a book (tle
Bible) tlat tley continue to revere. According to some Muslims, tle He-
brew Bible is corrupt, tle )ews did not faitlfully guard wlat was revealed
to tlem. Nevertleless, according to tlis line of tlinking, tle )ews earn
i1voiuc1io 11
credit (and, in fact, a somewlat privileged political position) for preserving
tlis (albeit corrupted) record of revelation. Tis early Muslim evaluation
of )udaism partially ecloes earlier Creek and Roman evaluations, many of
wlicl grudgingly admire )udaism for tle antiquity of its traditions, low-
ever peculiar tley sometimes appear. It also parallels contemporary Clris-
tian views of )udaism tlat tended to see )udaism as stuck in tle Old Testa-
ment, stubbornly and anaclronistically langing on to tle literal meaning of
a book and covenant tlat las been superseded by tle deatl of Clrist. Te
common belief today tlat )udaism is tle religion of tle Bible originated in
tlese tleological assumptions.
Te problem is tlat )udaism cannot in any meaningful sense be called
tle religion of tle Bible. One need only read tle Bible and tlen observe
any living )ewisl community to realize tlis. Te Toral clearly and at lengtl
commands animal sacrice, no )ewisl group today sacrices. On tle Sab-
batl, many )ews go to synagogues to pray and listen to tle reading of tle
Toral, but tle Bible does not mention a synagogue and does not prescribe
regular prayer or reading of tle Toral. )ews wlo keep kosler today refrain
from eating milk and meat products togetler, or even from cooking tle one
in pots tlat lave been used for tle otler, tle Bible contains only a cryp-
tic command (tlrice repeated) tlat one slould not eat a kid in its motl-
ers milk. Te Bible is certainly important in )udaism, but only as it is read
through the lens of a textual tradition.
Beginning witl tle Hebrew Bible itself, one of tle dening claracteris-
tics of tle sacred books of tle )ews is tlat tley build upon and enter into
conversations witl eacl otler. Te primary literary legacy of tle Rabbis
of antiquity, tle Babylonian Talmud, is a massive combination of biblical
commentaries, random stories and slarp argumentation, all presented as
Toral, and now understood widely as tle content of Cods revelation.
Nearly every )ewisl book tlat later )ewisl communities accepted as sa-
cred or canonical draws on botl tle Bible and tle Talmud. For instance,
in lis twelftl-century code of law, tle Mishneh Torah, Maimonides souglt
to strip tle Talmud of all but its essence, wlicl le saw as its legal rulings.
Te Zolar is incomprelensible witlout tle Bible and tle earlier rabbinic
traditions, it is organized as a commentary on tle former and draws liber-
ally on tle latter. Biblical commentators, wlo miglt be promoting radically
new ideas, nevertleless claim autlority for tlese ideas from earlier books.
Tradition gradually accretes.
A comparison witl Protestant movements slarpens tle distinctiveness
of )ewisl tradition. In many Protestant denominations, especially tlose of
1z i1voiuc1io
tle low clurcl, tradition does not lold a privileged place. Ratler, only
tle Holy Spirit is tlouglt to mediate between tle individual and tle Bible.
Faitl alone, scripture alone, as Martin Lutler declared. An individuals di-
rect confrontation witl tle New Testament is tle patl to connecting to
tle divine. At best, tradition lere is irrelevant, at worst, it perverts tlat un-
mediated experience. Tis notion, incidentally, is tle root of many modern
understandings of religion, wlicl see religion (or spirituality) as innate
and individual.
Tis Protestant understanding contrasts starkly witl tle )ewisl notion
of tradition. For almost every )ewisl community tlrouglout listory, faitl
alone, scripture alone is not nearly enougl. Far from locating spirituality
in tle individual, many expressions of )udaism locate it in tle community.
Te formation of tradition is, after all, a communal process. Unlike Roman
Catlolicism, )udaism las no central autlority. Books enter into tle tradi-
tion because many dierent communities accept tlem. Te Babylonian
Talmud became autloritative only because many )ewisl communities ac-
cepted it as sucl. Some accepted tle Mishneh Torah as autloritative slort-
ly after it was issued, but tle Shulhan Arukh, a sixteentl-century code of
law, displaced it. Today very few )ewisl communities (primarily )ews from
Yemen) regard tle Mishneh Torah as legally autloritative, but many )ews
nevertleless study it as an important, sacred text.
As tle example of tle Mishneh Torah illustrates, traditional texts are not
necessarily autloritative texts. Some )ewisl communities regard tle Zolar
witl utmost sanctity, wlile otler communities loatle it. From tle Middle
Ages on, most )ewisl communities lold tle Babylonian Talmud in ligl
regard, tlougl not all consider it to be autloritative in all matters. Today,
some )ewisl communities punctiliously adlere to tle Shulhan Arukh, but
many )ews disregard it. Reform )udaism gives to tradition a voice, but not a
vetotradition must be taken seriously, but it never overrides tle individ-
uals conscience.
Textual tradition, tlen, is just barely powerful enougl to lold togetler
tle diversity of )udaism, tle centrifugal force tlat prevents tle many dif-
ferent forms of )ewisl religious expression from eacl ying o as indepen-
dent religions. Te willingness of )ewisl communities to regard tle same or
similar books as sacred, to take tlem seriously if not fully agreeing on tleir
autlority, links tlem. Te textual tradition denes, as Talal Asad, a sclolar
of religion, miglt say, a conversation.
Tese texts connect to and build
upon eacl otler, taking up similar sets of issues. In tlis sense, tradition is
i1voiuc1io 1
not automatically autloritativeit constitutes an organically growing en-
gagement witl tle past.
Textual traditions are luman products, created not only in reference to
previous sacred books but also to tle present in wlicl tlose books are read.
Te Babylonian Talmud is a prolonged engagement witl earlier )ewisl tra-
ditions, but only as read by tle Rabbis of Babylonia, tlere is notling cultur-
ally or religiously pure about it. Maimonidess plilosoplical writings are
explicitly in dialogue witl Creek, Roman, and Islamic plilosoply, wlile tle
Zolar miglt implicitly engage Clristianity. Previous texts are always read
tlrougl a contemporary lens, tlus bringing tlese earlier texts into a con-
tinuing dialogue.
Focusing on textual tradition, lowever, can obscure tle power of prac-
tice. In Women as Ritual Experts, Susan Sered tells tle story of a group
of older, illiterate Kurdistani women wlo in tle weeks before Passover
fastidiously sorted tlrougl tle rice tlat tley would use for tle loliday
grain by grain, seven times over. )ust as tley ignored tle rabbis urging
tlem to wasl tleir lands before eating bread, so too tley ignored tleir
insistence tlat tlis sorting was unnecessary.
For tlese women, tle ritual
itself, passed down from tleir motlers, was more important tlan any tex-
tually based norm.
Te latest National )ewisl Population studies tell a similar story. A large
percentage of tlose wlo identify tlemselves as )ews attend a seder on Pass-
over and liglt tle menoral on Hannukal.
Tey frequently do tlis witl lit-
tle knowledge of )ewisl textual traditions, tley would be mystied by tra-
ditional interpretations and norms of tle ritual. In botl of tlese examples
tle rituals seem to oat independently of text. Students in my classes fre-
quently and witlout a lint of doubt assert tle meaning of a )ewisl ritual
altlougl sucl an interpretation of tle ritual is nowlere found in traditional
)ewisl texts.
According to Haym Soloveitclik, tle independent force of ritual slould
not surprise us.
Te autlority of text witlin )ewisl communities las been
steadily increasing tlrouglout modernity, exploding in contemporary
America (especially witlin tle Ortlodox and Conservative communities).
But tlis las not always been tle case, nor is it even tle case in all )ewisl
communities. In many communities, practices survived independent of, or
existed even prior to, tle texts tlat explain and regulate tlem. Te practices
move down tlrougl tle generations, and tleir practitioners searcl for new
meanings to make tlem relevant.
1 i1voiuc1io
In fact, tle very reason tlat many of tlese rituals lave survived is pre-
cisely because tley are underdetermined. Tey lave no inlerent meaning,
tley exist in a dynamic intertextual world in wlicl )ews link tlem to otler
rituals, symbols, and texts to create transient meanings. Indeed, tle more
rmly linked a ritual is to a particular meaning, frequently tle less successful
it is. For tlis reason, most of tle many )ewisl lolidays tlat commemorate
specic listorical events (e.g., creation of tle Septuagint or specic catas-
troples in tle Middle Ages) failed to persist, as did tlose rituals too tigltly
connected to specic and clanging assumptions (e.g., tle geonic blessing
over tle bloodied sleet after a marriage). Yet many underdetermined prac-
tices, like tle )ewisl food laws (kashrut), persist even in a modern world in
wlicl tley would seemingly be incompatible.
To focus on tradition ratler tlan beliefs does not suggest tlat belief is
unimportant, but only tlat in anytling otler tlan a very broad sense spe-
cic beliefs are not essential to a notion of )udaism. It is, for example, rela-
tively uncontroversial to assert tlat )udaism is monotleistic, but tlere is
no denition of monotleism tlat would lave been agreeable to all )ewisl
communities. Sucl variation is only multiplied on tle level of tle individu-
als even witlin a particular )ewisl community, two neiglbors wlo observe
kaslrut may lave radically dierent reasons for doing so.
Beliefs, wletler of a community or an individual, frequently emerge
from a sincere engagement witl tradition witlin an embedded listorical
context. But tle )ewisl textual and ritual traditions are ricl and multivocal,
tley can frequently be mined witl equal eectiveness to arrive at mutually
exclusive positions. Tus, a statement tlat begins )udaism believes . . . is
doubly awed: It assigns agency to )udaism ratler tlan )ews, and it implies
a single correct position wlen one can rarely be found eitler in traditional
resources or, in fact, in real )ewisl communities.
Wlile tlere may not be specic beliefs to be found in all )ewisl commu-
nities and texts at all times, tlere is a widely slared cluster of concepts tlat
continually reappear in wlat I lave been calling tle conversation slaped
by tradition. Te Cerman )ewisl tlinker Franz Rosenzweig (886,a,)
crisply identied tlese concepts as Cod, Toral, Israel, Creation, Revelation,
and Redemption. Tese concepts are found as early as tle Hebrew Bible
and still remain very mucl a part of modern )ewisl tlouglt. Most )ewisl
communities miglt agree tlat tlere is one Cod, but tlat leaves open to
i1voiuc1io 1
debate everytling from low to dene one to low to dene Cod to tle
nature of tlat one Cod. Tat is, tlere can be wide and vigorous disagree-
ment witlin a conversation wlile at tle same time being engaged in tle
same conversation. Te boundaries of tradition miglt be broad, but tley do
exist. Messianic )ews and Black Hebrews lave, from a non-normative per-
spective, every riglt to call tlemselves Israel, but tlrougl tleir rejection
of tle postbiblical )ewisl literature tley lave largely ceased to engage in
tle same conversation as otler )ewisl communities. Similarly, secular and
lumanistic )ews, witl tleir rejection of Cod, puts tlem outside tle limits
of tle conversation as dened by tle tradition.
Trouglout tlis book I return to tle ways in wlicl dierent )ewisl com-
munities, botl today and tlrouglout listory, lave formed and justied
tleir distinctive beliefs. Wlat are tle bounds of tlis slared conversation,
and low and wly does a )ewisl community formulate its response to it:
Wlat emerges from tlis approacl is not a set of tle essential beliefs of
)udaism, but yet anotler conceptual map on wlicl we can plot a range of
dierent and yet all autlentically )ewisl responses.
For example, tle Hebrew Bible oers several answers to tle nagging prob-
lem of tleodicy, Cods justice. Te problem is tlat it is often lard to recon-
cile tle idea of a just and all-powerful Cod witl tle fact of evil in tle world.
One biblical view is unnuanced: people get wlat tley deserve and all tlat
lappens in tle world must be just, for it reects tle will of Cod. Te biblical
proplets wlo souglt to explain tle destruction of tle First Temple in 86
vci commonly adopted tlis view. Tis event, in tleir eyes, was no ordinary
tragedy. Te Temple in )erusalem was tle very louse of Codlow could
Cod allow its destruction: Tey answered by asserting Israels sinfulness,
for wlicl Cod punisled tlem by sending tle Babylonians against tlem.
But, for anotler biblical autlor, tlis line of argument was unsatisfactory.
Te autlor of )ob tlrew up lis lands at tle problem, saying tle presence of
evil in tle world must be just, for it is from Cod, but tle explanation of tlis
justice is a mystery. Te autlor of Ecclesiastes oers yet anotler alternative:
Cod is not involved witl tle petty details of luman lives.
Trouglout tleir listory, tle )ews lave lad many occasions to test tlese
responses. Te self-styled Hasidim, a group of ascetic )ews in medieval Cer-
many (to be distinguisled from tle Eastern Europeans in tle eiglteentl
and nineteentl centuries wlo appropriated tlis title), so fully embraced tle
idea of evil as just punislment tlat tley engaged in larsl self-punislments
to cleanse tlemselves of sin. Te Rabbis of antiquity more or less subscribed
to tle idea tlat luman misfortunes result justly from luman sin, but tlis
16 i1voiuc1io
led tlem into a quandary regarding tle related problem of luman free will:
If Cod is botl omniscient and involved witl tle just punislment of indi-
viduals, do lumans really lave free will: If tley dont, low can tley justly
be punisled for an action about wlicl tley lad no cloice:
After tle Holocaust, tle issue of tleodicy las become central to modern
)ewisl tleology. Here again tlere are a wide range of answers, from tle tra-
ditional (tle )ews brouglt it upon tlemselves because tley assimilated)
to tle radical denial of Cods listorical involvement witl Israel or in luman
aairs at all.
Teodicy and free will are just two tleological tlemes tlat run tlrougl
tlis book. Otler tlemes include tle nature of Cod, tle concept of Israel as
botl a closen, or covenanted, people and as a land promised in tle Bible
to Abralam and lis descendents, revelation and tle autlority of tle com-
mandments, and redemption and afterlife.
Teology oers one kind of explanatory discourse about religion. Tra-
ditionally practiced, it creates colerent intellectual systems for faitl com-
munities. But tleology is not tle only means of creating religious meaning.
For tle Rabbis and most later forms of )udaism, plysical actions ratler tlan
belief answer tle questions Wlat does Cod want from me: and How am
I to belave according to Cods will: In many forms of )udaism tlese ques-
tions are far more important tlan tleological ones. Religious practice and
tleology, lowever, are best seen as complementary. Real )ewisl communi-
ties combine tleological positions and religious practices in ways tlat are
botl unexpected and yet seem, to tlem, to be colerent. Clearly, dierent
)ewisl communities put tlese pieces togetler dierently, arriving at unique
and distinctive systems of meaning, one tied to tle next tlrougl a family
Witlin tle narrow circles of tle academic study of religion, it is lardly nec-
essary to justify a non-normative approacl to tle study of religion. As I lave
discovered in my classes and synagogue, tlougl, tle academy las done an
exceptionally poor job of making tlis case outside of its walls. Many turn
to tle study of religion to gain insiglt into tle ultimate questions of tle lu-
man condition: Is tlere a supernatural force: Wlat is tle meaning of life,
and wlat denes a life well-led: Is tlere life after deatl: Tese questions are
outside tle purview of a non-normative and nonessentialist approacl to
a religion. Wlat good is it, tlen: By approacling religion witl tle a priori
i1voiuc1io 1;
presumption tlat if tlere is notling divine in it, am I not botl denigrat-
ing religion and even making it irrelevant: Wly slould a nonacademic
care about a polytletic approacl to )udaism or, for tlat matter, any otler
For tlose accustomed to seeing religion as eitler reecting some kind
of divine and ultimate trutl or an interior and subjective experience (e.g.,
spirituality) tlat lies beyond critical analysis, tle approacl tlat I use in tlis
book miglt seem jarring. Trouglout tlis book I presume tlat religion is a
luman creation and tlus subject to tle same critical scrutiny as any otler
luman plenomenon. Humanistic and social scientic approacles can tlus
protably be brouglt to bear on religion, neitler tle sacred autlority tlat
some ascribe to it nor a sense of its subjectivity exempt it from analysis.
A presumption tlat religion is a luman creation, tlougl, is not an as-
sertion of tle absolute trutl of tlis claim. Nor is sucl an assertion neces-
sary to protably engage tle arguments of tlis book. To engage religion
critically is not to deny tle possibility tlat it truly does reect some divine
reality. Tis book remains agnostic on tlis point, it works outward from a
premise but makes no absolute trutl claims about tlat premise. My goal
is not to clallenge faitl commitments but, by approacling tle same set of
material from a dierent perspective, to more deeply enricl our apprecia-
tion of tle complex role tlat religion, specically )udaism, continues to play
in luman society.
Te idea tlat religion is an entirely individual cloice, tlat spirituality can
exist and be slaped by individuals outside communal institutions, is an en-
tirely contemporary understanding. Deeply religious tlinkers tlrouglout
listory lave critically reected on tleir own traditions, rejecting tle notion
tlat religion lies in some protected zone impervious to scrutiny. Indeed, tle
modern university system arose from tle desire to properly train clergy.
Te appreciation of religion enabled by tlis approacl can take a vari-
ety of forms. By understanding religion as being slaped and acted upon
by luman agents, ratler tlan as inexorably unfolding as part of some pre-
determined divine plan, we can better understand tle vital role tlat reli-
gion las played in listory. I refer lere not to tle overly simplistic Marxist
idea tlat religion is a tool to oppress tle weak (altlougl tle issue of power
and economics must always be taken into account), but to tle more com-
plex interaction between religious traditions and real people wlo not only
mold but wlo are also slaped by tleir serious engagement witl tleir tradi-
tions. )ust as religion must take listory into account, so too must listory
reckon witl religion.
18 i1voiuc1io
More important, perlaps, is tle way in wlicl tlis perspective can liber-
ate us from tle idea tlat religious traditions oer only simplistic answers
tlat demand unwavering faitl. Religious traditions can instead be seen as a
testament to tle astoundingly diverse and creative ways tlat luman beings
lave responded to tle clallenges of being luman. Tey can tlus provide
resources for tlose today wlo struggle witl tle same or similar problems.
We wrestle witl tle same problems as our ancient ancestors. We too ask
low we miglt live our lives in tle best way possible, deal witl interminable
suering, explain tle deatl of a clild. Religious traditions reect sustained
and serious attempts to answer tlese questions, and, wlile we miglt ulti-
mately reject many of tlese answers and tle premises upon wlicl tley are
based, it seems to me foolisl to ignore tlem. Religious traditions provide
resources tlat can be engaged, analyzed, critiqued, and used even by tlose
of dierent religions or none at all.
Wlile tle primary purpose of tlis book is to oer a fresl perspective on
)udaism, it is by no means intended only for )ews. Te goal of tlis book is
neitler to oer a normative denition of )udaism for )ews nor a defense of
)udaism to non-)ews. It is meant not to clallenge ones faitl but to expand
intellectual limits, lelping us to see yet anotler side to religion. Altlougl in
tle conclusion I will briey discuss some of tle implications of tlis model
of )udaism, my lope is tlat tlis book will provide a set of intellectual re-
sources tlat may be of use to us all as we daily confront tle joys and clal-
lenges inlerent in being luman.
Tis book oers a series of snapslots of )udaism tlrouglout time. Altlougl
arranged rouglly clronologically, tlese snapslots do not constitute a nar-
rative. Indeed, one of tle arguments of tle book is tlat )udaism las no lis-
tory, altlougl )ews tlemselves as well as tle rabbinic textual tradition does.
Te scope and scale of tlis book lave forced me to ignore, or only allude to,
many large and fascinating )ewisl communities sucl as tlose in medieval
and contemporary Western Europe, in Turkey and most of tle Middle East,
and in modern Central and Soutl America. My neglect of tlese communi-
ties is not meant in any way to marginalize tlem. Te potential scope of
a book like tlis is enormous, and tle limits of space, time, and my own
competence lave forced me to make several painful and at times almost
arbitrary decisions of coverage.
i1voiuc1io 1,
Eacl clapter focuses on a specic )ewisl community, its listory, and,
most important, low it denes its )udaism. For eacl community, tlen,
I pay special attention to tle issue of self-identity (i.e., low it denes it-
self as Israel), tle relationslip to (or formation of ) tle biblical and rab-
binic textual tradition as refracted tlrougl its own specic listorical cir-
cumstances, and its religious practices, wletler in accord or not witl tle
rabbinic traditions tlat were tlouglt to govern tlem. Trouglout eacl
clapter I especially liglliglt tle processes by wlicl eacl community
molds tle raw stu of tradition to its own needs (and sometimes tlereby
even adding to tlat tradition) as well as tle fundamentally luman issues
witl wlicl it grappled.
Te next clapter, Promised Lands, oers an account of )udaism in
tle United States and Israel. Botl countries lost stunningly diverse )ew-
isl communities. Yet, despite tle clear ideological and institutionalized
dierences between tlese communities, I argue tlat one can really speak
of American )udaism and Israeli )udaism as distinctive religious fami-
lies. Wlereas )udaism in America, in all of its astounding variety, las
been decisively slaped by American culture and society, )udaism in Isra-
el is impossible to understand witlout taking into account tle role of tle
state and tle eects of political power. By also exploring tle complexity
of tle gaps between institutionalized )udaism and )udaism as it is actually
practiced, tlis clapter develops a lens tlrougl wlicl tle later clapters can
be viewed.
Clapter a, Creating )udaism, jumps back to tle period of tle ancient
Israelites and tle formation of tle Hebrew Bible. Altlougl tle religion de-
scribed in tle Hebrew Bible looks little like )udaism as it would develop
later, tle Hebrew Bibleknown to )ews as a sacred text tlat would acquire
tle name Tanak, an acronym for its tlree partsis a foundational docu-
ment tlat initiates tle conversation into wlicl all later )ewisl canonical
texts would join. Tis clapter tells tle story of tle development of tle He-
brew Bible into tle form in wlicl it now exists and explores tle signi-
cance of tlis development.
During tle Second Temple period (ca. vci;o ci) )ews increas-
ingly turned to tle Hebrew Bible as a source of autlority, even as tley drew
from it very dierent conclusions. Clapter , Between Atlens and )eru-
salem, discusses tle earliest )ewisl engagements witl tle Hebrew Bible,
occurring botl witlin and outside tle Land of Israel. How did tle Hebrew
Bible look tlrougl tle lens of Hellenism, tle complex and amorplous

zo i1voiuc1io
cultural and social outlook tlat permeated tle Near East from tle time of
Alexanders conquest in a vci: Tis clapter looks especially at tle )uda-
ism tlat wasnt, tle many interpretations and texts tlat never made it into
tle )ewisl canon.
Due to tle critical role played by tle Rabbis (ca. ;o ci6(o ci), I devote
tlree clapters to drawing out tleir social and listorical context, tleir liter-
ary leritage, tleir conceptual world, and tleir religious practices. Almost
all forms of )udaism after antiquity spring from, or take part in a dialogue
witl, tle Rabbis. Te Rabbis (clapter () tells of tle creation and role of
tlese teaclers in )ewisl society after tle destruction of tle Temple and
tleir often strained status witlin tlat society. Te Rabbis left a large and
innovative literary legacy, and tlis clapter discusses tle nature of it. Te
next two clapters deal more witl tle content of tlis literature. Clapter
, Rabbinic Concepts argues tlat tle Rabbis never developed a tleology,
eitler in tle sense of a colerent system or a set of doctrines. Instead, tley
organically developed conceptual maps tlat outline ranges of tleological
optionstlis approacl would be critical for tle ability of later )ewisl com-
munities to draw upon and make meaningful rabbinic ideas. In clapter 6,
Mitzvot, I outline tle commandments. Performance of tlese mitzvot,
according to tle Rabbis, brings one closer to tle presence of Cod. My focus
in tlis clapter is on botl tle tenuous nature between tle mitzvot and tleir
textual justications as well as on tle ways in wlicl tle mitzvot can func-
tion to create sacred time.
Te victory of tle Rabbis was in no way assured in tleir lifetimes. It was
primarily tlrougl tle promotion of tle Babylonian Talmud by tle Ceonim,
rabbinic sclolars wlo lived in Iraq from around 8oooo ci, tlat tle leg-
acy of tle Rabbis spread and gained autlority witlin tle wider )ewisl com-
munity. Clapter ;, Te Rise of Reason, traces tle geonic engagement not
only witl tle rabbinic project but also witl tle Islamic culture in wlicl
tley lived. No less tlan tleir opponents, tle Karaites, tley applied Islamic
modes of tlinking to tleir tradition.
Te Karaites and Ceonim were not tle only )ews wlo saw tleir tradition
tlrougl an Islamic lens. Te )ews of Spain, living in wlat nineteentl-cen-
tury Cerman )ews valorized as tle Colden Age, ourisled intellectually.
Clapter 8, From Moses to Moses, discusses tle )ewisl world tlat pro-
duced Maimonides and tle ways in wlicl Maimonidess own understand-
ing of )udaism grew out of tlat world.
If Maimonides souglt deeper knowledge of Cod, tle )ewisl mystics wlo
responded to lim souglt to directly experience tle divine. Seeing Cod,
i1voiuc1io z1
clapter ,, explores tle medieval )ewisl kabbalists, especially tleir major
literary production, tle Zolar, and its ideas. Te Zolar is at once deep-
ly traditional, drawing on tle Hebrew Bible and virtually every corner of
tle rabbinic tradition, and radically innovative. Te Zolars mystical ideas
would become an important resource for later )ews.
Clapter o, East and West, focuses on tle nineteentl century, in botl
Western and Eastern Europe. )ewisl communities in tlese two areas were
forced to confront similar conditions of modernity, altlougl tley formu-
lated distinct responses. Te communities of Western Europe invented tle
concept of )udaism as we usually use it today, standing for a colerent system
of belief and practice tlat contains an essence. Tat society also gave birtl
to ideology witlin )udaism tlat would lead to tle )ewisl religious move-
ments as tley are known today. Ideologies never fully developed in Eastern
Europe, wlicl instead formed factions based on stances toward tle newly
emerging Hasidic movement. Tis clapter brings us back to tle immediate
listorical origins of tlose )ews wlo would emigrate to America and Israel,
setting tle stage for tle clapter witl wlicl tlis book began.
Tis book does not explicitly make a tleologically constructive argument.
I lave no interest or stake in making )ews better )ews or in creating a new
rst-order denition of )udaism. At tle same time, just as I lave slaped
tle material tlat las gone into tlis book, tle material las slaped me. As
I noted above, tlis book does lave constructive implications for )ews and
non-)ews, religious and secular. I take up some of tlese implications in tle
In order to widen tle accessibility of tlese pages, I lave transliterated
more according to popular usage tlan sclolarly convention and lave used
liglt annotation. I cite simple primary sources (e.g., biblical verses) in tle
text itself, tle sources for otler citations can be found in tle bibliograpli-
cal essay and notes for eacl clapter, wlicl also contain important relevant
works in Englisl tlat are accessible to a nonsclolarly audience.
1vvici Saturday morning in my neiglborlood, tle )ews
start passing our louse at quarter to eiglt. It starts witl tle men
and older boys, all dressed in black suits and wlite slirts, black
coats, and wearing black lats, walking to tleir yesliva minyan. An lour
later tle crowd clanges. Still men and boys, tley now wear a variety of dif-
ferent suits and coats and instead of black lats don knitted kippot. By ,:(
r tlese men and boys are largely already at tleir Modern Ortlodox syna-
gogue and tle cars of nattily dressed families bound for a bar or bat mitz-
val at tle local Conservative synagogues and Reform temples begin to pass
tle women in tleir long skirts, wigs, and snoods pusling tleir clildren in
strollers to join tleir lusbands at tle yesliva minyan. Te neiglborlood
Habad rabbi does not directly go by our louse, but if we are out at about o
r we frequently pass lim as le walks to tle mikveh to ritually immerse
prior to lis morning prayers.
Te synagogues and congregations to wlicl tlese )ews are leading are
correspondingly diverse. Te yesliva minyan meets in tle auditorium of
tle local Ortlodox day sclool, to wlicl tle minyan is tigltly linked. Te
room is divided in lalf, witl men sitting in tle front and women belind
tlem, separated by a tall barrier (or mechitza). Only men lead tle prayers,
wlicl is done slowly and from tle oor, tle sligltly raised platform in tle
middle of tle room is used for tle Toral reading. Te minyans rav and
otler dignitaries sit in tle front of tle room, but at oor level. Teir liturgy
derives from a traditional Eastern European prayer rite.
In many respects tle Modern Ortlodox synagogue is similar. It too sepa-
rates men and women and restricts public liturgical functions to men. Botl
vvorisro ios
vvorisii iis z
tle yesliva and Modern Ortlodox congregations use substantively tle
same liturgy, altlougl tle latter includes a special prayer for tle welfare of
tle State of Israel, wlicl tle former omits. It is, tlougl, tle dierences tlat
are more apparent. Te Modern Ortlodox lave a synagogue ratler tlan
just a minyantley comprise an institution as well as a prayer quorum. In
contrast to tle meclitza in tle yesliva minyan, tle meclitza in tlis syna-
gogue is made of a see-tlrougl lattice, is lower, and runs down tle center
of tle room, so tlat during tle processional of tle Toral it passes close
enougl to tle meclitza to allow women to kiss it. Prayers are led from a
raised bimah (or dais), on wlicl tle rabbi and president of tle synagogue
typically sit facing tle congregation. Te dress of tle congregants, tle style
(altlougl not substance) of worslip, and especially tle weekly sermon all
mark a signicant dierence witl tle yesliva minyan. Altlougl botl con-
gregations contain accountants, doctors, lawyers, and otler professionals
wlo received similar American educations, tle yesliva minyan exlibits
more ambivalence toward modern American society. Wlereas tle mem-
bers of tle Modern Ortlodox community are by and large comfortable
witl tleir dual identity as botl Ortlodox )ews and modern Americans,
tlose in tle yesliva minyan typically feel a greater tension. For tle former,
tlere are trutls located outside tle Toral tlat are compatible witl it, wlile
for tle latter tle Toral (meaning tle entire rabbinic tradition tlat is seen as
owing from it) is tle sole source of trutl.
Te Conservative and Reform louses of worslip are far more imposing
structures, witl eacl containing over one tlousand member families. Botl
lave enormous grand sanctuaries witl no meclitzas (altlougl tle Conser-
vative synagogue las a small upper gallery tlat is rarely used, and never in
order to separate men and women) and raised daises tlat require electronic
amplication. Botl congregations employ cantors wlo lead tle services in
a relatively formal style tlat is punctuated witl directions, in Englisl, about
wlen to stand and sit and wlicl page to turn to. Most Saturday mornings
eacl of tlese congregations losts at least one bar or bat mitzval ceremony,
marking a clilds attainment of tle legal age of majority (twelve for girls and
tlirteen for boys). Typically, tle guests at tlese ceremonies outnumber tle
congregational attendees, on a Saturday morning on wlicl tlere is no bar
or bat mitzval or any otler special occasion tle Conservative congregation
draws approximately o congregants, and a smaller, regular service at tle
Reform synagogue some two to tlree dozen. Te vast majority of tle mem-
bers of botl synagogues do not observe tle traditional restrictions against
work on tle Sabbatl, and unlike most of tleir Ortlodox compatriots miglt
z vvorisii iis

follow tleir attendance at religious services witl running errands or a trip
to tle mall.
Te dierences between tlese liberal congregations are more subtle.
Te Conservative synagogue, atypically of American Conservative syna-
gogues, las an additional raised dais in tle middle of tle room from wlicl
most of tle prayers (but not tle Toral reading) are recited. Tey use dier-
ent liturgies tlat are structurally similar to eacl otler and to tle Ortlodox
liturgies, at tle same time modifying and abridging tle traditional prayers
in dierent ways. As miglt be expected, more Englisl is used in tle Reform
service tlan in tle Conservative one. Botl synagogues are not only egali-
tarian but also employ women on tleir clerical stas.
Tis very brief and supercial account of tle congregations in my neigl-
borlood does not, of course, even begin to do justice to tle diversity of )ew-
isl life today, even in tle Rlode Island area and all tle more so tlrouglout
America. I lave lived and prayed in communities tlat lave only a single
congregation (almost always called a temple), in wlicl tley would conduct
Reform services, in a ligl-classical style, on Friday niglts and traditional
egalitarian services Saturday morning. I lave prayed in dierent minyanim
primarily targeted to aging lippies, Hollywood moguls, investment bank-
. Auditorium of tle Providence Hebrew Day Sclool, set up for prayer. Te Toral
is read from tle platform, called a bimah, in tle middle, tle women sit belind tle
mechitza in tle back. Courtesy of the Providence Hebrew Day School
Image has been suppressed
vvorisii iis z
ers, gays and lesbians, and soccer moms. I lave seen )ewisl communities
tlat did not know wlat a mikvel was and, if tley did, would oppose lav-
ing one in tleir neiglborlood, and I watcled a Habad family try to cre-
ate one by digging out tle cellar of tleir rental louse. I know Ortlodox
men and women wlo are fastidious about tleir morning prayers, even after
waking up in eacl otlers arms after meeting at a bar tle evening before,
and Reform )ews wlo will not let any food or drink pass tleir lips witlout
tle appropriate blessing. During Passover several of my college classmates
would skip tle bread at dinner wlile taking a lelping of tle sausage. I know
lesbian Reform rabbis, gay Ortlodox rabbis, and female rabbis of every
denominationeven Ortlodox, altlougl tley are few, far between, and
generally quite discreet. Tere are )ews for wlom anytling )ewisl seems
foreign, )ews wlo are as ideologically committed to living as full partici-
pants in modern American culture as tley are to faitlful adlerence to tle
mitzvot, and )ews wlo attempt to sequester tlemselves in villages in up-
state New York and in New )ersey, ironically invoking tleir constitutional
riglts and glting for tlem in American courts and in local politics. Tis
enormous diversity would seem almost staggeringly incomprelensible if it
did not almost precisely mirror tle diversity of America itself.
Te magnitude of tlis )ewisl diversity is matcled in Israel, altlougl
its slape is very dierent. Tere are )ews wlo religiously liglt candles on
Friday niglt before sitting down in front of tle TV and otlers wlo are
so stringent about Passover tlat tley own two apartments, one of wlicl
tley use only for tle loliday. As Western ideological movements sucl
as Reform and Conservative )udaism struggle for legal and popular rec-
ognition, streams of Seplardim and Eastern )ews make tleir way eacl
year to tle graves of tle )ewisl saints to pray for intercession. A )ew wlo
attends religious services at tle Creat Synagogue in )erusalem, witl its
cloral music and Eastern European liturgy, would scarcely be able to fol-
low tle Yemenite service in Meal Slearim (an ulta-Ortlodox neiglbor-
lood), not even a mile away. On Slavuot (Pentecost) it is lard to imagine
observances as far apart as tle tlrong at tle Western Wall in )erusalem,
eacl group glting for space and against otler groups (or pelting witl
stones tle women wlo come to form tleir own prayer groups, complete
witl reading from a Toral scroll), and tle agriculturally centered rituals
of tle kibbutzim. One group of Ortlodox )ews refuses military service on
tle West Bank because tley believe it to be against tleir religious prin-
ciples and otlers claim tlat it is a religious imperative to settle tle West
Bank and a sin against Cod to leave it.
z6 vvorisii iis
America and Israel now represent tle two overwlelmingly dominant
centers of world )ewry. Te demograplic slift was tragically swift. In ,,
tle estimated global )ewisl population was 6.6 million souls, but by ,( it
lad been reduced to million, witl European )ewry in ruins. In aooa tlere
were approximately .a million )ews worldwide, witl about .; million liv-
ing in tle United States and million in Israel. France came in a distant
tlird, witl ,,ooo, all of Europe (East and West) contained only sligltly
more tlan . million )ews. Between ,( and ,o Israels )ewisl popula-
tion doubled from oo,ooo to million, primarily because of tle inux of
European refugees. Wlile Israel las listorically depended on immigration
for its )ewisl population growtl, after tle great )ewisl immigration waves
of tle early twentietl century (witl tle exceptions of tle mucl smaller im-
migrations from Europe after World War II and from tle former Soviet
Union in tle late twentietl century) )ews in tle United States lave relied
primarily on reproduction for tleir population growtl.
It would be logical to assume tlat tle American and Israeli )ewisl com-
munities are more similar tlan tley are dierent. In our age of mass com-
munication and easy travel, tle level of interaction between )ewisl commu-
nities in Israel and abroad las never been greater. Television, publications,
and especially tle internet transmit in real time culture as well as religious
assumptions and sensibilities. Witlin American )ewisl communities, es-
pecially since ,6;, Israel las consistently ranked ligl as a source of )ew-
isl pride and identication, and some study of Israeli listory and culture is
common in most American )ewisl educational institutions. American )ews
frequently travel to Israel, eitler individually and in families or tlrougl
tours organized and subsidized by )ewisl communal institutions. Birtlriglt
Israel alone las sent over 8o,ooo young )ews to Israel for a free ten-day trip,
many Ortlodox )ewisl youtl spend a year or two between ligl sclool and
college, or after college, studying at a yesliva in Israel, and, according to tle
National )ewisl Population Survey of aooo, percent of tle total Ameri-
can )ewisl population las visited Israel. Te ow is not unidirectional. Is-
raelis visit and lave multiple family connections to tle United States. Many
travel to tle United States for pleasure, work, and study, in aoo(, accord-
ing to U.S. government statistics, ;, Israelis visited tle United States.
American )ews are not foreign to Israelis.
Yet as counterintuitive as it miglt seem, American )udaism and Israeli
)udaism, in all tleir riotous variety, are more distinct tlan tley are similar.
Tere is, to be sure, overlap, perlaps tle inuence of Israeli forms of Ortlo-
doxy on American Modern Ortlodoxy and tle struggling establislment of
vvorisii iis z;
American )ewisl movements in Israel are tle strongest visible signs of tlis
interclange, and neitler plenomenon is statistically signicant at present.
American )udaism is as distinctly American as Israeli )udaism is distinctly
Israeli, and long-term visitors from one community to tle otler are con-
tinually baed and frustrated by tle gulf tlat separates tleir expectations
from reality. Wlere )ews sometimes look for )udaism as common denomi-
nator, tley nd only a common numerator.

Te story of )udaism in America las typically been told as one of listory

and institutions. In tlis telling, tle ideological positions of tle institutional
movements (e.g., Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Ortlodox) are
tlouglt to encapsulate wlat it meant and means to be )ewisl in America.
Similarly, and from a more partisan and applied perspective, tle strengtl
of American )udaism is seen as tigltly linked to memberslip in )ewisl
institutions, organizations, and movements. Sclolars today are growing
increasingly uncomfortable witl tlis model. )ewisl identication, tley
assert, occurs in forums outside establisled institutions, and a focus on
ideological movements yields a seriously distorted picture of wlat it means
to be )ewisl today in America. Tis reservation is well taken, and later in
tlis clapter I will discuss low American )udaism looks outside tle move-
ments. Nevertleless, tle movements remain important for an understand-
ing of American )udaism. Millions of American )ews continue in some
way to identify witl tlem, wletler as members of tleir constituent insti-
tutions (e.g., tle synagogue) or as selective beneciaries of tle ideologies
tlat tley lave produced. To know tle )ewisl movements and institutions
is not to know American )udaism, but any account of American )udaism
tlat neglects tlem must remain incomplete. More important for tlis book,
lowever, tle listory of tle )ewisl movements presents a case study in tle
distinctively American interpretation of traditional )ewisl texts and prac-
tices. It can tlus sensitize us to tle dynamic ltering of tradition tlat occurs
witlin botl institutions and individuals.
Te rst )ews in tle Americas were Dutcl. In 6o Holland expelled tle
Portuguese from Brazil. )ewssome ,ooo to ,oo according to some es-
timates, constituting a tlird to lalf of tle Dutcl population tlereocked
to tle new Dutcl colony, establisling businesses and trading outposts. In
6(, lowever, tle Portuguese retook Brazil and expelled tle )ews. Many
attempted to return to Amsterdam and several took refuge in tle West
z8 vvorisii iis
Indiesone group founded a community in Curaao, wlicl today, number-
ing oo families, prays in tle oldest synagogue in tle Western Hemisplere
(built in ;a) and louses a Toral scroll brouglt from tle Creat Synagogue
in Amsterdam. A single boatload of refugees found its way to New Amster-
dam. Reluctantly allowed to settle tlere by Peter Stuyvesant, tley soon pe-
titioned for land for a cemetery and formed a tiny community so small and
dispersed tlat by 66 tle communitys single Toral scroll, borrowed from
Amsterdam, made tle return voyage overseas, apparently New Amsterdam
could not sustain a minyan. Te )ewisl community would desire, and be al-
lowed, public worslip only at tle beginning of tle eiglteentl century, tlen
under Britisl rule.
Te rst synagogue in colonial America was founded in New York around
;o(, and called Kalal Kadosl Slearitl Israel, Te Holy Congregation of
tle Remnant of Israel. It kept a close association to its motler synagogue
in Amsterdam, maintaining tle Seplardic-Portuguese liturgical rites of
tlat synagogue and continuing to emplasize tle use of Portuguese, even
as tle community was increasingly unable to understand tle language.
Seplardic congregations were soon establisled in Pliladelplia (;(o) and
Newport (ca. ;8). Small )ewisl communities also organized in Savannal
and Clarleston. Tese early Seplardic communities were so sparsely popu-
lated (often consisting of only one to two dozen families) tlat tley were
soon outnumbered by tle Aslkenazic )ews from Western Europe tlat lad
begun to trickle into tle colony.
Very few of tlese early Seplardic communities were able to survive tle
arrival of tle Aslkenazim. Slearitl Israel and Mikve Israel, in Pliladel-
plia, lad strong and wealtly support tlat allowed tlese congregations to
maintain tleir Spanisl-Portuguese leritage. Botl synagogues, to tlis day,
continue to conduct tleir services in accordance witl tleir earlier, if modi-
ed, distinctive customs. Botl synagogues continue to insist on Seplardic
rabbis as leaders for tleir congregations. Tey use a modied version of tle
old Seplardic liturgy from London and Amsterdam (Te Book of Prayers),
printed witl instructions and Englisl translations. Slearitl Israel insists
tlat its uslers wear tails and top lats, altlougl tle sermons are now deliv-
ered, and its minutes kept, in Englisl. Witl a decreasing proportion of tle
memberslip of tlese congregations today from non-Aslkenazic leritages,
tley sometimes struggle to preserve tleir earlier identity.
Te slow but steady stream of Cerman )ews into America after tle Rev-
olution decisively clanged tle composition of tle American )ewisl com-
munity, as small and disorganized as it was. Cerman )ews, mainly peddlers
vvorisii iis z,
and merclants, not only settled in tle bigger cities but also struck out to
tle frontier, especially tle Soutl and Midwest. Many of tlese )ews were
from traditional backgrounds, ritually observant but not ideologically af-
liated. Some came from areas in Cermany wlere Reform )udaism was
gatlering momentum. Tese )ews establisled small communities and syn-
agogues, some traditional and otlers witl a more reformed orientation,
tlrouglout early America. Many of todays small )ewisl congregations in
tlese regions trace tleir origins back to Cerman )ewisl founders in tle
nineteentl century.
Unsurprisingly, tlese early American )ews exlibited a diverse range of
religious belaviors. Some, despite tle lardslips, continued to maintain
traditional mores. Tey closed tleir businesses for Slabbat (wlicl meant
closing from Friday afternoon tlrougl tle Clristian Sabbatl, opening again
on Monday morning), tley observed tle )ewisl lolidays, and tley observed
tle dietary laws (kashrut). None was particularly easy to do in tlis environ-
ment. Sabbatl closing necessitated monetary losses, and loliday closings
were particularly irksome to Clristian business partners. Tere was no or-
ganized system for tle ritual slauglter of animals, wlicl led wealtlier )ews
to lire immigrants to slauglter animals for tlem. Many, probably most,
)ews were eclectic in tleir religious observance. Tey did not feel tlat tley
could aord eitler to close tleir businesses on Slabbat and tle lolidays or
a slauglterer for tleir meat.
One factor tlat contributed to tlis religious laxity was tlat tle )ewisl
community in tle early republic was by and large religiously rudderless.
Tey did wlat tleir parents did, adapted for tleir new environmentstle
few rabbis in America were imported from Europe, conned to major
cities, and only leeded sporadically. Tere was little )ewisl education
and few )ews lad even minimal comprelension of Hebrew. Te case of
Rabbi David De Sola Pool, brouglt over from France in 8; to serve as
tle rabbi of Slearitl Israel, oers a graplic example of tle state of )ew-
isl education in early America: His tenure was not destined to be a long
one. Wlile tle community profoundly respected lis Hebrew learning, par-
ents were unwilling to entrust clildren to lim because of lis propensity
for strong drink. By tle beginning of 8a le lad only one paying pupil in
addition to tle ve free pupils. In May of tlat year le ceased to be lead
of tle sclool.
Correspondingly, tlere was little knowledge of )ewisl sa-
cred texts apart from tle Bible, wlicl was available primarily in tle King
)ames Version. Isaac Leeser, tle lazan (or cantor, but lere more properly
tle spiritual leader) of Mikvel Israel in Pliladelplia (altlougl le limself
o vvorisii iis
was Aslkenazic), retranslated tle Hebrew Bible into Englisl. Te full ver-
sion was publisled by tle newly founded )ewisl Publication Society in
8( and quickly became popular in )ewisl louselolds and congregations.
Otler )ewisl sacred texts, tlougl, were scarcely to be found on American
soil. Te rst full copy of tle Babylonian Talmud miglt not lave arrived in
America until tle mid-nineteentl century, and even tlen copies were rare.
Te Talmud (in its original language) was not publisled in America until
tle end of tle nineteentl centuryand tlis rst edition, curiously, was a
section of tle Palestinian Talmud, wlicl was lardly used in living )ewisl
communities. Otlerwise, copies of tle Talmud, codes, and commentaries
were imported from Europe, and tlere were few in America wlo could, or
would want to, read tlem.
A second, far more important factor was tle American context witlin
wlicl tlese traditions lad to root. Te American slaping of traditional
)ewisl concepts and practices is clear from tle very beginning of tle com-
munity. At its founding, Slearitl Israel emulated tle model of governance
found in tle Amsterdam )ewisl community, witl tle elders (maamad)
lolding tiglt reigns over tle community. Under botl ideological and prac-
tical pressures, tlougl, tlis model soon broke down. Tere was simply too
mucl ideological dissonance between tlis system of governance and tle
assault on tle notion of aristocracy unleasled by democratic movements.
American )ews did not want tleir status as democratic citizens to end upon
entry to tle synagogue. Moreover, unlike Amsterdam, early America of-
fered more opportunities for )ews, tlus weakening even furtler tle tlreat of
excommunication wielded by tle synagogue elders. Te idea of local com-
munities governing tleir own local aairs, ratler tlan a single and closed
central autlority dictating to tle entire )ewisl community, caused a move-
ment from a synagogue community to a community of synagogues.
Tese synagogues, in arclitecture and worslip, also demonstrated tleir
distinctly American context. )ewisl women, like tleir Protestant sisters,
wanted to attend a louse of worslip, and appeared to lave attended in
unprecedented numbers. Altlougl barred from leading tle service, tley
still wanted a view of tle action, and synagogues were remodeled to allow
women a clear line of siglt to tle mens section. Designed by tle leading
non-)ewisl arclitects of tleir day, many of tlese synagogues drew far more
arclitecturally on tle styles of local louses of worslip tlan tley did on tle
old countrycertainly not a new plenomenon.
As an institution, tle synagogue was successful precisely because it was
so American)ew and non-)ew alike could understand and respect it as a
vvorisii iis 1
)ewisl louse of worslip. Te success of otler )ewisl religious institutions
was directly correlated witl tleir ability to be framed in tle larger Ameri-
can religious landscape. )ewisl women created benevolent societies and
Sunday sclools, modeling tlem directly on Protestant examples. )ewisl
men created fraternal organizations like Bnai Britl (8(a), wlicl were no
less indebted to non-)ewisl communal organizations. On tle otler land,
institutions tlat did not translate well into tlis larger American religious
idiom did not fare well. Many communities lacked a mikvel, tle ritual batl
most typically used for immersion after a womans menstrual period, and
tlose tlat did exist went largely unused.
Te relative success of )ewisl concepts and practices, too, correlated
witl comprelension and translatability in tlis larger American context.
Belief in a single, universal, and awesome Cod was a given. )ews diered
witl Clristians over tle role of )esus in tle divine economy, but tleir basic
conception of Cod came mucl in line witl more prevalent notions. By
tle mid to late nineteentl century, American synagogue arclitecture and
liturgy began to reect tlis commitment to Cods transcendent awe. Te
lierarclical space and soaring ceilings of synagogues like Congregation
Emanu-El of tle City of New York reinforced tlis notion, as did tle Englisl
translations of tle most popular prayer books.
Te rituals tlat )ews did practice tley infused witl new meanings.
Wlatever tle relative laxity of Slabbat observance among eiglteentl- and
nineteentl-century American )ews, tle idea of tle Sabbatl could readily be
understood against tle Clristian Sabbatl and its blue laws. Kaslrut posed
a more serious clallenge and tlus tended to be relatively neglected.
Similarly, tle American )ewisl acceptance of etlnic distinctiveness
tleir self-understanding as Israelwas varied and ambivalent. In tle eyes
of Clristian Americans, most )ews were doubly marked, as an etlnic and
a religious community. Teir status was tlus more complex tlan tlat of
otler immigrant groups. Te Hebrews lad a long-establisled place in
Clristian tleology. On tle one land, it was a privileged place: Tey are tle
biblical people, covenanted to Cod, tle olive tree, in tle words of Paul,
from wlicl sprung tle brancl of Clristianity (cf. Romans ,). On tle
otler land, Cod rejected tlem for tleir obstinacy, rejection, and murder of
Clrista line of argument tlat pervades tle writings of Lutler and Calvin,
tle spiritual forebears of tle Puritans. Trouglout tle eiglteentl and nine-
teentl centuries, American Clristians would emplasize one or tle otler
side of tlis evaluation of )ews, but tley would always regard tle Hebrews
as a distinctive people. Even Ceorge Waslington, in lis famous letter to tle
z vvorisii iis
Hebrew Congregation in Newport in wlicl le expresses lis commitment
to eliminating bigotry from tle new republic, refers to tlem as clildren of
tle Stock of Abralam, wlo dwell in tlis land.
It was largely tlrougl tlese external eyes tlat )ews ltered tleir own
self-understanding. Some )ewisl communities and individuals were proud
to be associated witl tle Stock of Abralam, otlers, living in more dif-
cult social conditions, were not. Te idea of Israel as a genetically linked
and divinely sanctioned family was at odds witl tle democratic ideals of
citizenslip. Wlere )ews felt barriers to full integration, as tley did in tle
colonial period, tley were more likely to nd refuge witl tleir own and
witl a stronger sense of identity witl otler )ews. By tle late nineteentl
century, tlougl, universalism was a strong American ideal, witl particu-
laristic identications discouraged. Many )ews in America, as in Europe,
understood Israel to constitute a religious or spiritual community ratler
tlan a biological one. Essentialist notions of )ewisl identity, sucl as tlose
espoused by )udal Halevi, tle Zolar, and in some parts of contemporane-
ous Europe, found no following in America. Wlen ). A. )oel wrote in 866 of
lis Passover seder four years earlier as a Union soldier in tle eld, le refers
to tle otler twenty seder participants as lis co-religionistssignaling an
understanding of a community linked in a voluntary religious association.
Altlougl tlis understanding of Israel was most likely widespread among
)ews, tle emerging Reform movement was tle rst larger institution to ar-
ticulate and aggressively promote it. Reform ideology landed in America
along witl tle )ewisl immigrants from Cermany tlrougl tle nineteentl
century, but until mid-century was largely conned to local practices in in-
dividual congregations.
In tle 8(os it began to crystallize, in its American
form, into institutions and an ideology. Large, well-funded Reform temples
were built in major cities to compete witl tle Americanized traditional-
ism of spiritual leaders like Isaac Leeser. Isaac Meyer Wise (8,,oo),
wlo was born in Bolemia but served as a rabbi in Albany, New York be-
fore moving to Cincinnati in 8(, saw in tlese local congregations an
emerging trend. Crandly calling lis prayer book of 8; Minhag Amerika
(Te Custom of America), Wise set out to articulate an American )uda-
ism. He introduced tle mixed seating of men and women in lis synagogue
in Albany, and by tle end of tle century nearly all Reform synagogues lad
family pews.
Wises most enduring legacy is tle Hebrew Union College (HUC),
wlicl le establisled in Cincinnati in 8;. Te rst successful rabbinical
seminary in America, HUC souglt to train tle rabbinic leaders of tlis new
vvorisii iis

American )udaism. Despite Wises advocacy of HUC as a seminary for all
American rabbis, tle institutions appeal was more limited. Witlin tle de-
cade, it lad become tle institutional center of Reform )udaism in Amer-
ica. In 88, tle American Reform movement jelled furtler around a set
of ideological principles known as tle Pittsburgl Platform. Te platform
.a Interior of tle sanctuary, Congregation Emanu-El of tle City of New York. Ploto
by Malcolm Varon. Courtesy of Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York
Image has been suppressed
vvorisii iis
attempted to Americanize tle ideas of tle European reformers, and it is
wortl quoting in full:
. We recognize in every religion an attempt to grasp tle Innite, and
in every mode, source or book of revelation leld sacred in any religious
system tle consciousness of tle indwelling of Cod in man. We lold tlat
)udaism presents tle liglest conception of tle Cod-idea as tauglt in our
Holy Scriptures and developed and spiritualized by tle )ewisl teaclers, in
accordance witl tle moral and plilosoplical progress of tleir respective
ages. We maintain tlat )udaism preserved and defended midst continual
struggles and trials and under enforced isolation, tlis Cod-idea as tle cen-
tral religious trutl for tle luman race.
a. We recognize in tle Bible tle record of tle consecration of tle )ew-
isl people to its mission as tle priest of tle one Cod, and value it as tle
most potent instrument of religious and moral instruction. We lold tlat
tle modern discoveries of scientic researcles in tle domain of nature
and listory are not antagonistic to tle doctrines of )udaism, tle Bible re-
ecting tle primitive ideas of its own age, and at times clotling its con-
ception of divine Providence and )ustice dealing witl men in miraculous
. We recognize in tle Mosaic legislation a system of training tle )ewisl
people for its mission during its national life in Palestine, and today we ac-
cept as binding only its moral laws, and maintain only sucl ceremonies as
elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all sucl as are not adapted to tle
views and labits of modern civilization.
(. We lold tlat all sucl Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priest-
ly purity, and dress originated in ages and under tle inuence of ideas en-
tirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. Tey fail to impress
tle modern )ew witl a spirit of priestly loliness, tleir observance in our
days is apt ratler to obstruct tlan to furtler modern spiritual elevation.
. We recognize, in tle modern era of universal culture of leart and intel-
lect, tle approacling of tle realization of Israels great Messianic lope
for tle establislment of tle kingdom of trutl, justice, and peace among
all men. We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious com-
munity, and tlerefore expect neitler a return to Palestine, nor a sacricial
worslip under tle sons of Aaron, nor tle restoration of any of tle laws
concerning tle )ewisl state.
vvorisii iis
6. We recognize in )udaism a progressive religion, ever striving to be in
accord witl tle postulates of reason. We are convinced of tle utmost ne-
cessity of preserving tle listorical identity witl our great past. Clristi-
anity and Islam, being dauglter religions of )udaism, we appreciate tleir
providential mission, to aid in tle spreading of monotleistic and moral
trutl. We acknowledge tlat tle spirit of broad lumanity of our age is our
ally in tle fulllment of our mission, and tlerefore we extend tle land of
fellowslip to all wlo cooperate witl us in tle establislment of tle reign
of trutl and riglteousness among men.
;. We reassert tle doctrine of )udaism tlat tle soul is immortal, grounding
tle belief on tle divine nature of luman spirit, wlicl forever nds bliss in
riglteousness and misery in wickedness. We reject as ideas not rooted in
)udaism, tle beliefs botl in bodily resurrection and in Celenna and Eden
(Hell and Paradise) as abodes for everlasting punislment and reward.
8. In full accordance witl tle spirit of tle Mosaic legislation, wlicl strives
to regulate tle relations between ricl and poor, we deem it our duty to
participate in tle great task of modern times, to solve, on tle basis of jus-
tice and riglteousness, tle problems presented by tle contrasts and evils
of tle present organization of society.
Here is a vision of a rational, universalistic )udaism rooted in its enduring
preservation of tle liglest luman religious trutl, tle Cod-idea, wlose di-
vine mission is to bring social justice to tle world. Particularistic practices,
rituals tlat fail to elevate tle individual, superstitious ideas, and a desire to
return to tle promised land are all deemed foreign and alien. Te commu-
nity of Israel is notable and distinctive for its role in preserving tle liglest
luman trutl, an idea tlat, as we will see later in tlis book, las deep Europe-
an )ewisl roots. Ceremonial laws, lowever, lave no intrinsic or necessary
link to tlat trutl. Modern )ews are to observe tlose rituals and practices
tlat result in spiritual elevation. Te platform implies tlat tle decision
as to wlat constitutes an appropriate ritual is to be left to tle community,
notas in modern Reform )udaismtle individual. No matter low mean-
ingful to an individual, for example, kaslrut is rejected.
To every action tlere is a reaction, and tle ideological assertiveness of
tle Reform movement led to tle formation and strengtlening of otler )ew-
isl movements. Te meeting at wlicl tle Pittsburgl Platform was adopted
was itself a source of sclism, several rabbis, upset witl tle nonkosler ban-
quet meal served at tle conference, stormed out in protest. Now alienated
6 vvorisii iis
from tle institutional structures of Reform )udaism, some of tlese rabbis
souglt to create a new institutional lome for tleir own vision of )udaism
in America. Reinvigorating tle struggling )ewisl Teological Seminary of
America, tlese rabbis and tleir supporters created Conservative )udaism.
Te )ewisl Teological Seminary ()TS) was founded in New York in
88;. Led by rabbis from tle Seplardic congregations of Pliladelplia and
New York, but joined by some Aslkenazic rabbis alarmed at wlat tley saw
as tle radical turn of Reform, )TS was a response to tle opening of He-
brew Union College. Its early years were rocky, slort on botl nances and
students. Wlen Solomon Scleclter, tlen a distinguisled sclolar at Cam-
bridge University, took tle lelm of )TS in ,oa le set out to fundamentally
transform it.
Scleclter was tle riglt man at tle riglt time. Te massive immigration
of Eastern European )ews lad begun. Between 88 and ,(, over two mil-
lion )ews would emigrate from Eastern Europe to America, witl close to
anotler lalf-million arriving between , and , (compare to tle ap-
proximately 8o,ooo )ews wlo emigrated from Eastern Europe to Palestine
between 88 and ,). Tese )ews were generally poor and more tradi-
tional (but not ideological) in practice and welcomed ambivalently, if at all,
by American )ews. Wlile many in tle rst generation of tlese immigrants
souglt to transplant tleir lifestyles from tle Pale to tlis goldene medina
(golden land in Yiddisl), by tle second generation tley frequently strug-
gled to integrate tle world of tleir parents witl tleir new life in America.
Altlougl by tle second generation many of tlese )ews lad abandoned
most of tle traditional rituals and customs, Reform )udaism left tlem ideo-
logically puzzled and, as practiced in tle wealtly synagogues in tle big-
ger cities, socially isolated. It was to tlis large population of )ews, many of
wlom lived in New York, tlat Scleclter made lis pitcl.
Scleclter souglt to appeal to tlese traditionally minded Aslkenazic
)ews by maintaining tle role and status of tle commandments, tle mitzvot.
He asserted tlat tlese mitzvot are obligatory, despite tle fact tlat many are
ceremonial. At tle same time, tley are not static. )udaism and its law (hal-
akhah), le claimed, lave always adapted to its listorical setting. He tlus
centered limself on tle ideological spectrum squarely between tle more
radical expressions of Reform )udaism and tle idea, articulated in Europe
by Samson Raplael Hirscl and lis followers, tlat tle lalaklal is entirely
divine and unclanging. Despite tlis ideological dierence witl tlose )ews
wlo subscribed to Hirscl, tley all formed a serious, if slort-lived, alliance
against Reform )udaism. )ust as Wise souglt to create an institution for
vvorisii iis ;
American )udaism, understood and writ large, so too did Scleclter. Te
Ortlodox )ewisl Congregational Union of America (tle Ortlodox Union),
founded in 8,8, joined Scleclter and )TS to oppose Reform )udaism.
In contrast to tlese ideological movements, wlicl all subscribed to tle
idea tlat )udaism and life as an American citizen were compatible, a group
of Eastern European immigrants banded togetler to create tle Rabbi Isaac
Elclanan Teological Seminary (RIETS) in 8,;, now as a direct response
to )TS. RIETS was to be a bastion of isolationism, an Eastern European ye-
sliva tlat lappened to be on American soil. Te foundation of RIETS was
soon followed by tle formation of tle Agudatl Ha-Rabbanim (tle Union of
Ortlodox Rabbis) in ,oa. Refusing to recognize graduates of )TS or even
rabbinic seminaries from Western Europe as legitimate, tle group cultivat-
ed a tense relationslip not only witl tle more liberal )ewisl movements
but even witl tle Ortlodox Union.
RIETS soon collapsed. Te students tlemselves rebelled against its iso-
lationism, demanding tlat tley be tauglt skills tlat would allow tlem to
compete for rabbinic positions in America. In , tle leaders of RIETS
turned to a ricl European immigrant, Bernard Revel (88,(o), to lelp re-
organize tle institution. Revel, wlo married into tle family tlat controlled
Oklaloma Petroleum and Casoline Company and was active in managing
tle business, saw no future for RIETSs isolationist outlook. Subscribing
more to a vision of an Ortlodoxy integrated into contemporary non-)ewisl
society, le ambitiously proposed to build an Ortlodox educational institu-
tion on tle American model. Yesliva College was opened in ,a8, to tle
dismay of tle more conservative members of tle Agudatl Ha-Rabbanim.
Yesliva College, later renamed Yesliva University, continues to exist today
as a kind of standard-bearer of American Modern Ortlodoxy.
Most American )ews, of course, could not care less about tle develop-
ment of tlese ideological movements. Struggling to survive nancially and
to integrate culturally into tle melting pot of America, most )ews simply
abandoned )ewisl aliations and customs, a fact widely noted at tle time
by leaders of all of tle nascent movements. Even by todays standards, tle
gures are arresting. Only a percent of )ews were aliated witl a syna-
gogue in ,,, ; percent of young )ews of New York lad not attended a
synagogue (presumably even once) in ,(, and only ; percent of )ewisl
clildren in New York City received any kind of formal )ewisl education in
,a(. European rabbis looked witl lorror at American )ewry.
Tese gures are especially intriguing wlen compared witl contempo-
rary measures of non-)ewisl American religiosity. Te interwar period saw
8 vvorisii iis
a general decline of tle standard measures of American religiosity, but no
otler American religious group comes close to equaling tle )ewisl neglect
for tleir religious institutions. Tere are, no doubt, many and complex rea-
sons for tlis dissimilarity. Te ordinary struggles of an immigrant group to
assimilate into a culture tlat was still tinged witl prejudice against it must
account for a large part of tlis )ewisl neglect. Wlile tle ideological recon-
ciliations of )udaism witl American culture miglt lave been reassuring
to some )ews, it fell at witl most. Wletler for tle retailer trying to make
sense of tle Cod-idea, tle businessman wlo fears tlat le will lose tle deal
if le cannot luncl witl tle supplier, or tle family wlose clild was rejected
from a selective college because of tleir )ewisl name, ideology was not ter-
ribly lelpful on tle street.
Unlike colonial times, tlrougl tle nineteentl and twentietl centuries
tlere were also burgeoning nonreligious avenues for )ewisl identication.
)ews could, and did, form secular alternatives to tlose institutions from
wlicl tley were excluded. Political, intellectual, tleatrical, and artistic ex-
pressions of )ewisl culture tlrived, especially in tle bigger cities. Seen
increasingly by non-)ewisl Americans as an etlnic ratler tlan religious
group, )ews increasingly began to belave like one. Reform )udaism con-
tinued to preacl tlat Israel was solely a religious group, but its voice was
drowned out by tle mass of Eastern European )ews wlose )ewisl identity
was etlnic ratler tlan religious. To tlis group, kosler-style was more im-
portant tlan kosler, even as tle BLT remained taboo.
Tere were European roots to tlis form of etlnic identication, but even
tlis cultural tradition soon assumed a distinctly American slape. Yiddisl
tleatre and participation in socialist and Zionist causes soon grew to be
primary sites of )ewisl identity, being )ewisl could be safely divorced from
)udaism. )ewislness, in tlis understanding, became an etlnicity like, for
example, Italian-American, in wlicl a religious connection is generally
assumed but not strictly necessary. Te understanding of )ewislness as
etlnicity prepared tle ground for American )ewisl culture and arts. )ewisl
literature, music, and drama could remain disconnected from Cod, laving
only tle most tenuous if any connection to tle rabbinic conversation and
traditional )ewisl rituals, and yet still serve as a velicle for )ewisl identity.
World War II clanged wlat it meant to be an American )ew.
tle true lorror of tle Holocaust would not sink into tle American )ew-
isl consciousness for two more decades, its impact was felt almost im-
mediately. Te slauglter of )ews simply because tley were )ews drove
lome to American )ews tleir need to organize as a communitynational
vvorisii iis ,
)ewisl organizations were created on an unprecedented scale, spurred even
furtler by tle creation of tle modern State of Israel in ,(8. Among non-
)ews, it drove most overt expressions of anti-Semitism underground. Wlile
many clubs and educational institutions continued to discriminate against
)ews (Yale University did not abandon its )ewisl quota until tle ,6os),
tle public discourse at least reected an American society more open to
)ews. For tle )ews tlemselves, tlis rletorical openness allowed tlem to
begin to slape a dierent kind of etlnic and religious identity, one tlat was
truly voluntaristic.
Te Holocaust also lad demograplic implications for American )ews.
Between ,( and ,(; forty tlousand )ews emigrated from Europe to
America. Among tle refugees and survivors were Hasidim (of wlicl
tlere were very few in America and no organized communities prior to
World War II) and many staunclly conservative rabbis. Tey landed in a
very dierent America tlan tle one in wlicl tle Agudatl Ha-Rabbanim
emerged. Ratler tlan vociferously engaging America, some of tlese groups
attempted to isolate tlemselves, wletler in parts of Brooklyn (tle Satmar
and Lubavitcl Hasidim) or in Lakewood, New )ersey, wlere an ultra-Or-
tlodox yesliva was founded. Tese groups were well outside tle )ewisl
religious mainstream.
Te American context, lowever, lad a far more profound impact on tle
slifting slape of American )udaism. Te U.S. army was a great equalizer,
during and after World War II. )ews were integrated into tle glting units,
tley were CIs like all otler CIs, doing tleir patriotic duty, tle notion of
a CI )ew was born. Wlen returning from tle war tley took advantage,
like tle otler CIs, of tle CI bill in order to go to college. And, like mass-
es of otler Americans, tley were able to move out of tleir cramped city
apartments into modest louses in suburbia, wlere tley pursued tle same
American dream as everybody else.
Altlougl it began before World War II, Reconstructionism was to a
large degree slaped by tlese postwar trends. Reconstructionism traces
its ideological founding to tle writings and tlouglt of Mordecai Kaplan
(88,8). Kaplan was an Ortlodox rabbi before joining tle faculty of tle
)ewisl Teological Seminary. Seeing wlat le perceived as tle decline of
)udaism in America in tle ,aos and ,os, Kaplan began to publisl a series
of essays in wlicl le attempted to articulate wly tle )ewisl institutions and
movements of lis day were so unattractive to American )ews. He rened
lis tlinking in lis magnum opus, Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Re-
construction of American-Jewish Life, publisled in ,(.
Mucl inuenced
o vvorisii iis
by tle American plilosoplical movement known as pragmatism (of wlicl
)oln Dewey was a founder), Kaplan carefully critiqued tle ideological and
plilosoplical colerence of tle otler )ewisl movements. His critiques re-
main incisive and surprisingly fresl, even to modern readers. Mucl more
controversial, tlen and now, are lis answers.
Kaplan was, above all, a rationalist. Tis led lim to deny a place for nearly
all supernatural elements witlin )udaism. Moving even beyond tle Cod-
idea of tle Pittsburgl Platform, Kaplan denes Cod as tle force tlat makes
for salvation. Te denition is intentionally and unclaracteristically vague,
as nowlere does Kaplan precisely dene wlat le means by eitler force or
salvation. It is clear, tlougl, tlat botl were rooted in luman experience.
To aclieve tleir greatest potential, lumans must actualize tlat wlicl is al-
ready witlin tleman idea witl perlaps unintended parallels to tle pan-
tleism of early Hasidism.
Denying tle power of Cod as a supernatural force creates a conceptual
domino eect. If tlere is no external supernatural Cod, tlere can be no
covenant, Israel, as a loly or covenanted people, las no listorical meaning
or destiny. Tis presumption creates a sobering explanation for tleodicy.
Tere is no meaning or greater purpose to Israels listorical traumas. Wlen
Israel is persecuted or suers natural calamities it is not tle result of ler
sins, but of luman evil or unstoppable natural calamity. Witlout covenant
tlere is also no place for tle mitzvot as obligatory commandments, Cod
does not command. Kaplan las great respect for tle Hebrew Bible and tle
rabbinic tradition, but as entirely fallible luman texts.
Civen tle radical nature of Kaplans tlouglt, lis actual reconstruction of
)udaism, low le tlinks it slould look on tle ground, is surpisingly conser-
vative. For Kaplan, altlougl tlere are no obligatory commandments, tlere
are )ewisl folkways. Tese are tle practices and customs tlat dene Israel
as a civilization. Kaplan is very careful lere not to dene Israel as a na-
tion. Nations, in lis view, are paroclial and, by denition, bada critique
of modern nationalism tlat was not uncommon in tle period between tle
two world wars. As an ancient civilization, Israel does lave a greater mis-
sion, namely, to demonstrate to tle world tlat civilization is not equivalent
to nation, and tlat tle former can serve as a better model tlan tle latter.
Israels mission is to stand against modern state nationalism.
Israels traditional folkways lold it togetler as a colerent people. Kaplan
was a strong advocate of Hebrew and its revival as a living language. Civi-
lizations lave tleir own languages, and Hebrew is tle listorical language
of tle )ews. Tey also lave tleir own ancestral lands, and Kaplan strongly
vvorisii iis 1
advocated, in spite of lis fear of nationalism, tle establislment of Pales-
tine as a )ewisl state. In a )ewisl state, le reasoned, )ews would be free to
express tlemselves most fully, to allow tleir uniquely )ewisl civilization to
ourisl. As for some tlinkers from tle Eastern European Haskalah move-
ment, a )ewisl lomeland in Palestine was justied culturally ratler tlan
tleologically. Te Land of Israel was not tle )ewisl lomeland because it
was a land tlat Cod promised to tle clildren of Israel, but because it was
tle listorical lomeland of tle )ews and leld out tle greatest possibility for
Israels continued survival and cultural vitality.
For tle vast majority of )ews wlo live outside of tle Land of Israel, Kaplan
equates adlerence to folkways witl religious revival. )ews slould observe
Slabbat, tle lolidays, and kaslrut, and tley slould receive an extensive
)ewisl education. By seeing tle mitzvot more as folkways tlan command-
ments, le is also able to appropriate aspects of Reform tlouglt. Ideally, for
Kaplan, Slabbat is a time for study, family and community renewal, play,
and restraint from work. Some people, le recognizes, will lave to work on
Slabbat and tle lolidays, and wlat constitutes play for some will entail
violations against tle traditional mitzvot. Eacl individual is empowered to
make lis or ler own decision, altlougl tlat decision would ideally be made
witlin tle framework of tle tradition. Folkways are dynamic, and botl in-
dividuals and communities are free to eliminate or create new ones as tle
times demanded.
Te lis or ler in tle last paragrapl is important. Among early twenti-
etl-century )ewisl tlinkers, le was arguably tle most forward tlinking on
issues of gender. Te Reform movement lad gestured toward gender equal-
ity, altlougl it would be many decades until tley fully acted on it. In some
Conservative and Ortlodox congregations women agitated for tle riglt for
increased participation in public worslip, but tlese requests, wlicl would
lave been seen by )ews and non-)ews alike as breecling a womans proper
station, were rare, sporadic, and largely ineective. For Kaplan, tlougl, gen-
der equality was logical. He is credited witl instituting tle rst bat mitzval
in America, of lis dauglter in ,aa.
Kaplans ideas found especially fertile ground in tle )ewisl community
after World War II. Wlile no otler )ewisl movement, and probably rela-
tively few )ews, subscribed to lis explicit rejection of a supernatural Cod,
tle idea of )udaism as a civilization tlat was at once proud, distinctive, and
universal, was profoundly inuential. It lelped to foster a stronger sense of
)ewisl solidarity tlat was furtler strengtlened by tle )ewisl community
center movement. Tese centers, ultimately establisled in almost every
z vvorisii iis
area of signicant )ewisl population, were and remain places for )ews to
socialize witl otler )ews, tleir connection to )udaism or )ewisl folkways
is often nominal if present at all. Frequently, in fact, )ewisl community cen-
ters encounter some opposition from local synagogues, wlo see tleir large-
ly secular activities as competing witl and undermining tleir own more
religious mission.
Kaplans tlouglt generally resonated witl American )ewry. Many Amer-
ican )ews wanted tradition, etlnic pride, and community, but tley did not
want obligation. Tey wanted tle State of Israel, but also to be American.
Ironically, tle movement founded in , around Kaplans ideas, Recon-
structionism, could not successfully deliver to tlis market. Ratler, it was
Conservative )udaism tlat was best poised to take advantage of tle postwar
needs of American )ews. Appropriating, sometimes tacitly, Kaplans most
appealing ideas but witlout rejecting Cod, tle Conservative movement
exploded in tle postwar years. It was also able to provide an institution-
al framework, creating new synagogues to serve tle expanding suburban
communities. In ,o tle Committee on )ewisl Law and Standards, a new
Conservative committee formed to oer lalaklic guidance to tle move-
ment, issued a responsum tlat permitted driving to synagogue on Slab-
bat. Te responsum, wlicl las been bitterly critiqued to tle present day
by some for its loose lalaklic reasoning, was in fact largely symbolic. In
suburban America most )ews would eitler drive to synagogue or not go
at all, and tley lad little awareness of or interest in lalaklic intricacies.
Te ,o s Conservative synagogue oered traditional-style prayer, respect-
able suburban-style religiosity, and not many demands. Te movement re-
mained politely ambiguous about its support of Israel, being careful not to
prick tle anxieties of tle second-generation )ews wlo were just beginning
to establisl tlemselves as true Americans.
Conservative )ewisl leaders were by no means alone in tleir ambivalent
stance toward tle creation of tle State of Israel. Wlile most )ewisl leaders,
in tle aftermatl of tle Holocaust, recognized and supported tle establisl-
ment of a safe )ewisl lomeland, tleir tleological approacles were more
complex. Conservative )udaism did not lave a clear ideological stance to-
ward tle creation of tle State of Israel, and tleir early responses tended to
be based on pragmatic considerations. Botl Reform and many Ortlodox
leaders were opposed tleologically, altlougl on very dierent grounds.
Reform opposition was based on an understanding of Israel as a religious
ratler tlan national or etlnic community. Te Pittsburgl Platform ex-
plicitly rejected tle notion of an ingatlering to tle land of Israel, wletler
vvorisii iis
in present or esclatological times. Few American Ortlodox )ews, on tle
otler land, were convinced by tle reasoning of tle new religious Zionists,
wlo saw Cods redemptive land in tle formation of tle State of Israel. In-
stead, many Ortlodox rabbis believed tlat Cod would ultimately lead tle
ingatlering of )ews to tle Promised Land, but for lumans to take tle initia-
tive was, at minimum, presumptuous. Te very notion of a modern )ewisl
state was compounded by tle realization tlat it would be secular, led by
nonreligious )ews and not governed by lalaklal. After tle Holocaust and
tle bloody Israeli War of Independence tlere was little vocal opposition to
tle state, altlougl tle tleological issues remained unsettled.
Tese tleological issues came to a lead after tle Six-Day War in ,6;.
Israels defeat of tle surrounding Arab countries was so swift and decisive
tlat it transformed Israels image. Te unication of )erusalem and taking
of sovereignty over tle Temple Mount captured tle )ewisl religious imagi-
nation. For tle American )ewisl community, tle timing could lardly lave
been more fortuitous. America was, of course, undergoing a violent cultur-
al upleaval, wlicl was slaking up tle )ewisl community in precisely tle
same manner as it was American society at large. In a society increasingly
consumed witl issues of etlnicity, race, and identity polities, tle Six-Day
War made Israel into a symbol of American )ewisl pride. Israel, imagined
as a small, weak, and besieged country tlat triumpled over its enemies be-
cause of tle intelligence and courage of its soldiers, symbolized tle Ameri-
can )ewisl communitys own evolving self-perception. )ews rallied around
tlis image of tle State of Israel.
Te increasing importance of tle State of Israel as a site of American )ew-
isl identity compelled tle religious movements to deal witl tleological is-
sues more directly. Te San Francisco Platform of tle Reform movement,
entitled Reform )udaismA Centenary Perspective and adopted in ,;6,
breaks witl tle Pittsburgl Platform, not only unconditionally supporting
tle State of Israel but even encouraging aliyal, immigration to Israel, for
tlose wlo wisl to nd maximum personal fulllment in tle cause of Zion.
Te Conservative and Reform movements opened organizational and
educational institutions in Israel in order to slow tleir support. Te po-
sition of tle Israeli religious Zionists began to gain adlerents in Modern
Ortlodox circles in America, witl many sucl congregations (along witl
Conservative congregations) adopting tle Prayer for tle State of Israel
composed by tle Clief Rabbinate of tle State of Israel, wlicl seeks tle
welfare of Israel, tle beginning of tle budding of our redemption. As
Modern Ortlodox teens lave increasingly spent a year or two in Israel
vvorisii iis
studying at yesliva (; percent of American Ortlodox )ews wlo are mem-
bers of Ortlodox synagogues lave visited Israel at least once, compared to
; percent of Conservative )ews and (( percent of Reform )ews), tle evalu-
ation of tle modern State of Israel as an important part of tle redemp-
tive process las gained strengtl. Even many ultra-Ortlodox lave moved
from active lostility to tle State of Israel to ambivalenceonly a very small
group of American )ews are now actively opposed, on tleological grounds,
to tle existence of tle State.
If identity politics was one of tle dening qualities of tle American six-
ties tlat lad a decisive impact on tle slape of modern American )udaism,
tle emplasis on individual autonomy and spirituality was tle otler. Te
sixties gave birtl to tle Havural movement, a loosely organized network
of small )ewisl prayer groups tlat rebelled against tle large, establisled
suburban synagogues. Mainly from Reform and Conservative backgrounds
(altlougl tlere were also several wlo came from Ortlodox backgrounds),
its adlerents esclewed tle formality and professionalism tlat were inler-
ent in tle synagogues, preferring participatory services tlat emplasized
individual spirituality. In line witl tleir appeal to individual needs and tle
low nancial costs of tleir maintenance (tley often used a persons lome
or rented cleap space), tley appeared in bewildering variety. Tere were
lavurot tlat recited a traditional liturgy in its entirety, lavurot tlat used
new liturgies, or created tleir own liturgy, lavurot tlat replaced tle liturgy
entirely witl meditation or creative movement, and lavurot tlat developed
a neo-Hasidic outlook, emplasizing long and joyful melodies. Tey did not
slare an ideology as mucl as tley did a goal and a market.
Te Havural movement, altlougl never statistically signicant, forced
tle ideological movements to respond. Reform )udaism began to increase
its emplasis on personal autonomy and to create new liturgies tlat would
respond to dierent needs. Reform synagogues gradually replaced tle ar-
claic Union Prayer Book witl Gates of Prayer, wlicl itself oered multiple
prayer options, today, tlat is being replaced witl a yet anotler standard
prayer book. Te Reform youtl movement aggressively souglt to appeal to
tle desire for personally meaningful religious options and a desire to engage
in social justice. Reconstructionism did a spiritual about-face, abandoning
Kaplans cold rationality for an explicitly spiritual approacl, emplasizing
mysticism tlrougl traditional texts as well as Hasidic legends. Even Or-
tlodoxy responded to tlis swelling desire on tle part of American )ews for
spiritual connection. Savvy Ortlodox leader, emplasized adlerence to tle
mitzvot as personally and spiritually rewarding, deemplasizing (altlougl
vvorisii iis
never denying) tleir compulsory nature. Spirituality, not a rabbinic post or
a divine reward in tle world-to-come, awaited tle student of Talmud.
Perlaps one of tle most peculiar beneciaries of tlis turn toward spiri-
tuality was tle Lubavitcl (Habad) movement. Transplanted from Europe
to Brooklyn, New York during World War II and led by a dynamic rebbe,
Menaclem Sclneerson, Lubavitcl began to formulate for itself a mission
tlat extended to all Israel. Te movement sent emissaries tlrouglout tle
American )ewisl community. Forming Habad Houses, especially in col-
lege communities and aimed at )ewisl college students, tlese emissaries
often provided open and nonjudgmental support, along witl some free
food, to )ews wlo were seeking a spiritual connection tley regarded as au-
tlentic. Te strategy of providing tlese small centers at wlicl young adult
)ews could learn and experiment witl tleir )udaism was timely and turned
Habad (unlike otler surviving Hasidic dynasties, like Satmar and Cer) into
a major player on tle American )ewisl landscape. Also never lesitant about
using tle modern media, including satellite video and tle internet, Habad
las projected its presence far beyond wlat one miglt expect from sucl a
small group.
Underneatl Habads institutional strategy is a tleology tlat emerges
most clearly at tle Mitzval Mobile. Tis usually takes tle form of Lubavitcl
Hasidim asking passers-by if tley are )ewisl. If a woman, tley miglt give
ler some information about liglting Slabbat candles. If a man, tley miglt
invite lim into tleir van wlere tley instruct lim to put on tellin and re-
cite tle Slema. Te purpose of tlis is not merely educational. Subscribing
to a version of Lurianic Kabbalal, tley believe tlat every time tley succeed
in getting )ews to do a mitzval, tley liberate a divine spark and tlus move
tle world closer to redemption. Wlile tle individual )ewisl participant in
tlese activities may see limself or lerself involved in personal, spiritual ex-
ploration tle Habad emissary may understand tle activities as laving cos-
mic importance.
Habads messianism, especially in recent years, las lardly been low-
key. One of tle most distinctive activities tlat often takes place in a Habad
House at Slabbat dinner is dancing to tle song (in Englisl), We want
Moslial now, using tle Hebrew term for messial. In ,,(, witl tle deatl
of tle rebbe, tlis messianic strain erupted. Sclneerson neitler left a clild
nor appointed a successor. Trouglout lis last years le made a number of
statements tlat suggested to many of lis followers tlat le limself was tle
messial, leading tlem into tle messianic era. Tis led tlem to talk not of
tle rebbes deatl but of lis concealment, as le waits to return to eartlly
6 vvorisii iis
life and openly reveal limself as tle messial. Tus, tley argue, a new rebbe
slould not be appointed, tle administrative structures (in wlicl Sclneer-
son was not in any case directly involved) slould continue to operate, but
Sclneerson alone, even in concealment, is tle spiritual leader. Habad ad-
lerents wlo slare tlis belief continue to speak of tle rebbe in tle present
tense, as if le never died.
Predictably, tle belief in a concealed messial tlat will return to eartl to
lead tle world into redemption unleasled a storm of controversy botl in-
side and outside Habad. Te basic premise, altlougl coucled in kabbalistic
terminology, is patently Clristian. Witlin tle movement, anotler group
actively opposes tle messianic group: tle rebbe may lave been saintly, but
like every mortal le died. Tensely coexisting in tle same organizational
structure (tle emissaries too adlere to dierent camps), tlese two groups
are struggling to determine tle future of Habad. Meanwlile, as a result of
Habads ligl visibility, wlat miglt lave been a curious internal squabble of
a small fundamentalist group las attracted widespread attention. A mes-
sianic doctrine tlat asserts tlat tle messial is sometling otler tlan com-
pletely mortal, one prominent Ortlodox )ew las argued, is notling slort of
leretical. Wlile tlis does not reect tle consensus of American Ortlodox
)ewry, it does point to tle slifting place of Lubavitcl witlin tle wider )ew-
isl community.
Te very willingness of some Ortlodox )ews to label otlers as leretics
points to tle increasing )ewisl factionalism born of identity politics. )ews
lave followed Americans generally in creating smaller communities witl
increasingly ligl walls. As fundamentalism, at least in its more mild forms,
las gained ground in American tlouglt and culture, so too las tle )ewisl
fundamentalism nurtured by tle European refugees and tleir descendents
gained prominence. Over tle last tlree decades tle openness and lalaklic
exibility of Modern Ortlodoxy in America las been glting, or adapting,
tle encroaclment of yesliva )udaism. As Haym Soloveitclik las pointed
out, tle nature of Ortlodoxy in America las clanged. It las gone, in lis
opinion, from a mimetic way of life to a set of textual regulations.
tlis plenomenon one can see a conuence of tle American value on indi-
vidual autonomy witl tle democratization of knowledge as available and
accessible to all. Ironically, individual Ortlodox )ews, wlo view tlemselves
as obligated to follow tle lalaklal, now feel free to clallenge tleir local
rabbis on tle basis of sometling tley found in a book or on tle internet.
Tis tendency las led to an increasing stringency witlin tle Ortlodox
vvorisii iis ;
community, and intra-Ortlodox factionalism largely based on adlerence
to tlese new strictures.
One small but signicant example of tlese Ortlodox tensions is tle case
of halav yisrael. Classical lalaklic texts are divided on tle need for milk,
in order to be kosler, to lave been supervised by a )ew from milking to
processing. Many )ewisl communities lave ignored tlis stringency, a well-
known and respected ultra-Ortlodox American rabbi, Mosle Feinstein,
even wrote a responsum arguing for tle (limited) permissibility of milk tlat
is not halav yisrael. Until tle last decade or two, halav yisrael was simply
not a signicant issue among American Ortlodox )ewsvery few tlouglt
it was important. Today, lowever, a small but growing number of )ews, pri-
marily coming out of or adlering to yesliva ratler tlan Modern Ortlo-
doxy, lave turned to halav yisrael. Te social ramications are important.
Tese )ews lave ceased eating in tle lomes of otler )ews wlo consider
tlemselves Ortlodox and kosler, altlougl wlo do not tlemselves buy
only halav yisrael dairy products. Kaslrut, tle very wedge tlat limits social
interaction between )ews and non-)ews, is now being deployed not only
between )ews, but between Ortlodox )ews.
Halav yisrael, of course, is just a small symbol of a larger battle being
waged in American Ortlodoxy. Te real issue underlying tlat battle, tle
openness to American society, is ironically a product of tlat very society.
Sucl a battle would lave been untlinkable forty years ago. Only tle growtl
of fundamentalism in America, tle public acceptability of a discourse tlat
calls for segregation from secular and corrupt values, las made possible
tle conditions tlat lave led to tle current state of American Ortlodoxy.
Factionalism is not conned to tle Ortlodox. It is increasingly com-
mon witlin and between otler American )ewisl groups. American )ewisl
movements lave souglt to clarify tleir borders witl eacl otler. Perlaps
tle most common means tlat tley lave used to do so is, again, distinctly
Americantle issue of gender and sexuality. Cender and sexuality lave
been used in dierent ways by tle Ortlodox to dene its line witl tle Con-
servative movement and by tle Conservative movement to draw its own
line in tle sand witl tle Reform movement.
In tleory and on an ideological level tlere is little dierence between
Conservative and Ortlodox )udaism. Botl fundamentally subscribe to tle
notion tlat tle mitzvot are obligatory, tlat tley derive from tle same canon
of sacred texts, and tlat lalaklal is determined tlrougl similar metlods
of argument. Tere are, of course, some ideological dierences, sucl as

8 vvorisii iis
assertions about tle divine or listorical nature of lalaklal, but tlese are
by and large secondary to tlis slared core. On paper, tle lalaklic require-
ments for botl Conservative and Ortlodox )ews are also quite similar.
Again, to be sure, tlere are dierences: Conservative decisors lave permit-
ted tle use of electricity on Slabbat, tle consumption of swordsl (wlicl
begins its life witl scales and tlen loses tlem in adultlood) and gelatin, and
a triennial Toral reading (i.e., tle entire Toral is read in tle synagogue over
tlree years ratler tlan one year). Te Conservative movement las allowed
tle eating of cleese tlat uses rennet, a curdling agent tlat may be derived
from nonkosler animals, as well as tle consumption of some wines tlat are
produced by non-)ews.
Ortlodox )ewisl groups seized few of tlese issues to mark tleir own
boundary witl Conservative )udaism, for a time tlere was a mild focus on
tle use of electricity on Slabbat. Instead, tleir boundary line was tlat of
gender. Until tle feminist movement in tle ,;os, Conservative and Ortlo-
dox (and even Reform) congregations were not very far apart in tleir treat-
ment of women. Many Conservative synagogues seated men and women
separately, and some Ortlodox synagogues seated tlem togetler, but in
neitler were women allowed to lead prayer services. Cradually, under tle
pressure of clanging gender expectations tlrougl tle ,;os, Conserva-
tive synagogues moved toward mixed seating, allowing women to count
for a prayer quorum (minyan), and even tle (nonsanctioned) participation
of women in ritual roles. In ,8 tle national movement began to ordain
women as Conservative rabbis.
Wlile it was a response to tle clanging social conditions and tle grass-
roots activities tlat were taking place in local synagogues, tle decision of
tle )ewisl Teological Seminary to ordain women as rabbis (and tle de-
cision of tle Rabbinical Assembly, tle professional organization of Con-
servative rabbis, to accept tlem) was justied lalaklically. Te primary
lalaklic objection to women serving as rabbis was tleir inability to lead
prayer services, because tley were not obligated to perform tlat class of
mitzvot, tley could not lelp tlose wlo were (i.e., men) to fulll tleir ob-
ligations. Te lalaklic solution accepted by tle movement was to allow
women to voluntarily assume tle same lalaklic obligations as men. Tis
is tle same principle tlat tle movement deemed operative in allowing
otler women to fulll public ritual rolesagreeing to perform sucl a role
is considered an implicit acceptance of tle obligations of all tle mitzvot.
Te full inclusion of women in tle synagogue service became known as
egalitarianism. By any reading, tle lalaklic logic was strained, altlougl
vvorisii iis ,
probably not more so tlan tlat found in many otler responsa, botl Con-
servative and Ortlodox.
Te decision to ordain women caused an uproar botl witlin tle Conser-
vative and Ortlodox movements. A small number of faculty members from
tle )ewisl Teological Seminary resigned, witl one founding a small splin-
ter organization, tle Union for Traditional )udaism. An alternative none-
galitarian minyan continued to meet at tle )ewisl Teological Seminary for
over a decade after tle inclusion of women in tle rabbinical sclool. Ortlo-
dox )ews leld egalitarianism up as an example of tle Conservative break
witl lalaklal. Te Conservative movement, tley claimed, was lypocriti-
cal, claiming to be a lalaklic movement but really twisting lalaklal and
simply going along witl tle tide.
Te elevation of tle Conservative ordination of women from a lalaklic
dispute into an Ortlodox boundary marker las created problems for Or-
tlodox women wlo are tlemselves seeking greater ritual acceptance and
participation. Te issue of egalitarianism is so clarged in tle Ortlodox
community tlat women wlo broacl it are often accused of clallenging tle
very basis of tle community. Te problem is compounded by tle tensions
between tle modern and yesliva wings of Ortlodoxy, some Modern Or-
tlodox )ews are afraid tlat accommodating tle demands of tlese women
would provide ammunition to tle conservative )ews more closely aliated
witl tle yeslivot. Te result las been a relatively cool, and sometimes los-
tile, response. Some educated Ortlodox women nd tlemselves in power-
ful, liglly-respected professional careers but increasingly marginalized in
tleir synagogues, wlicl are frequently raising tle meclitza. Because tle
issue of feminism remains so clarged in tle Ortlodox world, nearly all at-
tempts to reconcile clanging gender attitudes and expectations witl tle
conditions of Ortlodoxy lave been controversial.
It is not only tle Modern Ortlodox wlo lave solidied tleir boundary
on tle left wlile looking over tleir riglt sloulder. Tere is a clear ideologi-
cal divide separating tle Conservative and Reform movements: tle former
regards lalaklal as binding and tle latter does not. On tle ground, low-
ever, tlings are murkier. Most )ews aliated witl tle Conservative move-
ment (tlrougl, for example, memberslip in a Conservative synagogue)
are not in any meaningful way ideologically Conservative. Tey neitler
observe lalaklal nor see tlemselves as obligated to do so. Nor are tley,
as a group, any more )ewislly educated or committed tlan tleir Reform
bretlren. And as Reform )udaism las moved toward reintegrating and rein-
vigorating traditional rituals and practices, including kaslrut and Slabbat,
o vvorisii iis
Conservative )ews can less be distinguisled by tleir level of practice. Witl
botl movements ordaining women, tle Conservative movement lad to
seek otler boundary markers.
One sucl marker was intermarriage and tle status of tle clildren witlin
intermarried families. Intermarriage las always been an ideological problem
for Reform )udaism. On tle one land, tle movement las never condoned
intermarriage, on tle contrary, it las always ocially been against it. Yet, on
tle otler land, tle movement lad an ideological commitment to personal
autonomy, wlicl only strengtlened in tle ,6os and ,;os. Slouldnt tle
individual )ew be free to make lis or ler own cloices: And slouldnt tle
individual rabbi be free to decide wletler le or sle wants to ociate at
sucl a marriage: Reinforcing tle ideological problem are practical consid-
erations. A signicant minority of married )ews in America today is inter-
married, and Reform synagogues typically contain a larger slare of sucl
intermarried couples tlan tleir Ortlodox and Conservative counterparts.
In order to remain welcoming to sucl families and to uplold tle ideological
principle of personal autonomy, tle Reform movement muted its criticism
of intermarriages, and wlile it discourages its rabbis from performing tlem,
tle Central Conference of American Rabbis (tle professional organization
of Reform rabbis) makes tle matter an issue of rabbinic discretion.
Before tle otler large American )ewisl movements, Reform recognized
tle complex issues created by tle ligl rate of )ewisl intermarriage. Ac-
cording to tle lalaklal, a )ewisl clild is one born of a )ewisl motler. As
tle clildren of intermarriages increased, synagogues faced some dicult
cloices. Slould tley welcome tle families and tlus encourage tle family to
be )ewisl, or slould tley exclude tle family and drive tlem away: If tley
welcome tle family, low slould tley treat tle non-)ewisl spouse: Could
tley really make a distinction between tle clildren of )ewisl women mar-
ried to non-)ewisl men ()ewisl, in all respects) and tlose of )ewisl men
married to non-)ewisl women (non-)ewisl, in all respects): Te answers
to eacl of tlese questions lave very luman costs.
Te Reform movement attempted to address tlis issue boldly tlrougl its
adoption of a resolution on patrilineal descent. In ,8 tle Central Con-
ference of American Rabbis issued tle following declaration:
Te Central Conference of American Rabbis declares tlat tle clild of
one )ewisl parent is under tle presumption of )ewisl descent. Tis pre-
sumption of tle )ewisl status of tle ospring of any mixed marriage is to
be establisled tlrougl appropriate and timely public and formal acts of
vvorisii iis 1
identication witl tle )ewisl faitl and people. Te performance of tlese
mitzvot serves to commit tlose wlo participate in tlem, botl parent and
clild, to )ewisl life.
Depending on circumstances, mitzvot leading toward a positive and ex-
clusive )ewisl identity will include entry into tle covenant, acquisition of
a Hebrew name, Toral study, BariBat Mitzval, and Kabbalat Toral (Con-
rmation). For tlose beyond clildlood claiming )ewisl identity, otler
public acts or declarations may be added or substituted after consultation
witl tleir rabbi.
Unlike tle traditional lalaklic denition, in wlicl status as a )ew is de-
ned according to an objective criterion, tlis denition combines objective
and subjective criteria. Eitler parent may now be )ewisl, but in no case
is tle clild of an intermarried couple automatically considered )ewisl.
All sucl clildren must now undergo appropriate and timely public and
formal acts of identication, it is neitler necessary nor sucient to lave a
)ewisl motler.
Tis clange in tle denition of )ewisl status arguably aclieved its
goal. Today 6 percent of tle clildren of intermarried couples of wlom
one spouse identies as a Reform )ew are being raised as )ews, tle g-
ure rises to ,8 percent of tle clildren of intermarried couples wlo lave
joined a Reform synagogue. It did not come witlout costs, tlougl. Te
subjective element of tle creation of status is open to debate, and witlin
tle Reform movement itself a clild miglt be deemed )ewisl by one rabbi
and non-)ewisl by anotler. Clildren wlo grow up believing tlat tley are
)ewisl, wlen moving to a dierent community, may nd tleir identity
under attack.
Te greater cost may lave been in relations between Reform )udaism and
tle otler )ewisl movements. Prior to ,8, most rabbis in all tle move-
ments acted under a principle of presumption. If an individual claimed to
be )ewisl, sle or le would ordinarily be trusted. Te patrilineal descent
resolution tlrew everyones identity into question by creating a class of
people tlat would not be considered )ews by all. A clild of a )ewisl fatler
and non-)ewisl motler raised as a )ew and wlo later adopts an observant
lifestyle would be forced to convert before an Ortlodox rabbi miglt oci-
ate at ler wedding, wlereas tlat same rabbi miglt well ociate at tle wed-
ding of a clild of a )ewisl motler and non-)ewisl fatler wlo was raised as
a Clristian but wlo did not formally convert to Clristianityaltlougl a
Reform rabbi miglt not ociate in tlat case.
z vvorisii iis
For tle Conservative movement, lere was tle boundary marker. Te
movement not only rmly reiterated its commitment to tle lalaklic
denition of a )ew as one born of a )ewisl motler, but it even adopted a
rabbinic standard forbidding Conservative rabbis from ociating at an
intermarriage. Tis is one of tle very few oenses tlat can lead to expulsion
from tle Rabbinical Assembly. We, tle movement clearly states, do not in
any way sanction intermarriage and continue to dene a )ew according to
tle lalaklal.
Tis boundary, tlougl, las faced steady grassroots pressure. Te compli-
cated issues of identity as tley actually get worked out in local synagogues
are not easily addressed by stringent ideologies. Te United Synagogue of
America, tle Conservative movements union of synagogues, prefers an
inclusive stance toward intermarried families, tlus generating tle same
kinds of problems tlat motivated tle Reform movement to adopt tle reso-
lution on patrilineal descent. Wlile statistics are not available, a relatively
sizable proportion of tle memberslips of many Conservative synagogues
miglt in fact consist of intermarried families. Tese social facts are forc-
ing tle Conservative movement to tone down (but not drop) its lard-line
stances on tlese issues.
Witl one boundary marker weakened, anotler lad to be strengtlened.
Tis time tle boundary marker was lomosexuality.
In ,,o tle Cen-
tral Conference of American Rabbis began to accept openly gay rabbis.
Trouglout tle ,,os botl tle Central Conference as well as tle Union of
American Hebrew Congregations (now tle Union of Reform )udaism, tle
union of Reform synagogues) lave issued resolutions tlat edge toward ac-
ceptance of same-sex marriages or unions, tle latest resolutions leave o-
ciation at sucl marriages a matter of rabbinic discretion, but call on Reform
rabbis to be supportive of tleir colleagues wlo do perform tlem.
Soon after tle Reform movement accepted openly gay rabbis, tle Con-
servative movement issued a responsum tlat forbade lomosexuals from
becoming Conservative rabbis. As tle Ortlodox did witl tle womens
issue, tle Conservative movement transformed a lalaklic matter into a
boundary marker, witl analogous results. Many gay members of Conserva-
tive synagogues feel disenfranclised, and tle movement las less exibility
to address tleir concerns. As in tle case of intermarriage, tle movements
institutions are just beginning to return to tle table to discuss low tley
miglt respond to tlis situation.
Te very fact tlat tlese American movements lave turned issues of gen-
der and sexuality into boundary markersand not, for example, swordsl,
vvorisii iis
shatnez (tle combination of wool and linen in a single garment), or social
justiceis telling. American movements create distinctly American-style
borders, and in so doing tley slare tle same rletorical space. A rabbi as-
sociated witl Agudatl Ha-Rabbanim writes an articulate column tlat is
syndicated in some (non-)ewisl) daily newspapers in wlicl le occasionally
approvingly cites tle opinions of Reform )ewsaltlougl lis movement
in ,,; declared, Reform and Conservative are not )udaism at all. Teir
adlerents are )ews, according to tle )ewisl Law, but tleir religion is not
)udaism. Sometimes tlose groups wlo understand eacl otler tle best (or
at least tlink tley do) condemn eacl otler tle most. Perlaps, in fact, tle
increasingly rigid and slrill boundaries tlat some )ewisl movements are
erecting today are a condition of tleir dependence on a slared American
culture. Te more tley fear tleir similarity, tle larder tley work to dier-
entiate tlemselves.
Tis is wly ideological divisiveness tends to be stronger in larger )ewisl
population centers. A large )ewisl population allows for increased nicle
marketing and creates tle need for synagogues and movements to dene
wlat makes tlem unique. Because tle movements tlemselves are mostly
leadquartered in New York, tlis local need seeps into national positions.
Tese positions miglt lave resonance in otler large urban communities
(e.g., Clicago, Los Angeles, Boston, and Cleveland) but tley ring lollow
in smaller )ewisl communities. In eect, tle ocial platforms of tle big
tlree )ewisl movementsReform, Conservative, and Ortlodoxdespite
all tleir dierences, constitute a kind of American urban )udaism. Ortlo-
dox, more specically, is concentrated in tle Nortleast, about two-tlirds
of all American Ortlodox )ewisl adults live in tlat region of tle country.
Smaller )ewisl communities cannot aord sucl rigid boundaries. Many
one-congregation communities oer some combination of liberal and
more traditional services, striving for inclusiveness. Even medium-sized
)ewisl communities are now more frequently forming community day
sclools in order to gatler tle critical mass necessary for a single day sclool.
On tle ground tle rigid ideological boundaries dissolve or at least become
more permeable.
Some ideological boundaries, lowever, lave grown impermeable. All
)ewisl movements categorically reject Messianic )ews, formerly more
commonly known as )ews for )esus. A loose confederation of indepen-
dent congregations, tle Messianic )ewisl Alliance declares tlat Messi-
anic )udaism is a Biblically-based movement of people wlo, as committed
)ews, believe in Yeslua ()esus) as tle )ewisl Messial of Israel of wlom tle
vvorisii iis
)ewisl Law and Proplets spoke. Cenerally comprised of (or at least tar-
geted to) )ews, Messianic )udaism subscribes to tle dual etlnic and re-
ligious notion of Israel, apparently rejects tle rabbinic tradition as well as
tle rituals tlat its members see as growing out of it, and asserts tlat tle
biblical proplecies of tle messial lave been fullled in tle person of )esus.
Because most of tlese beliefs nd parallels in otler accepted )ewisl groups
(e.g., some etlnically identied )ewisl groups also reject tle rabbis, and
some Lubavitcl Hasidim tlink tlat tle biblical messianic proplecies lave
been fullled, but in tle person of tleir departed rebbe), Messianic )udaism
raises troubling issues of )ewisl identication. Wlat makes Messianic )uda-
ism so outside tle institutional )ewisl pale tlat, in lis comprelensive guide
to Reform )ewisl living, Mark Waslofsky can state in no uncertain terms
tlat tle religion of tlese )ewisl Clristian groups is not )udaism but Clris-
tianity and tlat a )ew wlo adopts tleir doctrine becomes an apostate:
Te widespread )ewisl rejection of Messianic )udaism as )udaism is
based on ideological, listorical, and social factors. Te otler )ewisl move-
ments glt ercely among tlemselves, but tleir glts are all based in a
common tradition. All parties, to use a legal metaplor, stipulate to more
or less tle same tradition, altlougl tley dier signicantly on its autlority
and interpretation. By refusing to stipulate to tlis slared tradition, Mes-
sianic )ews put tlemselves outside of tlis conversation, and by joining in
tleir rejection of Messianic )udaism tle otler )ewisl institutions reinforce
tleir own sense of slared identity. Altlougl tle rejection of tle rabbinic
tradition ideologically distances Messianic )udaism from tle otler )ewisl
movements, more signicant is tle listorical freiglt implicit in tle arma-
tive acceptance of )esus. As structurally similar as tle messianism of Messi-
anic )ews and some Lubavitcl Hasidim miglt appear, )esus is not tle rebbe.
In American )ewisl listorical memory, especially after tle Holocaust and
despite tle almost complete assimilation of )ews into American society,
Clristianity remains a somewlat frigltening otler, a perpetrator of lor-
rendous violence against )ews over tle last two tlousand years. For a )ew to
accept )esus as tle messial is to assert tlat tle many )ews wlo were killed
precisely because tley refused to make tlis assertion were foolisl ratler
tlan courageous, it is to render a mockery of )ewisl martyrs. Tis possibil-
ity repels many )ews.
At least as powerful a factor for tle widespread rejection of Messianic
)udaism by American )ewisl organizations is tle particular sociological po-
sition of American )ews. Major )ewisl institutions over tle last fty years
lave developed an alarmist message of assimilation)ews lave done too
vvorisii iis
good a job assimilating and tlriving in American society, to a point tlat
tlreatens tleir etlnic and religious distinctiveness. If tle driving question
among Aslkenazic )ews two or tlree generations ago was How can we
be part of America: today it is Wly be )ewisl: All )ewisl institutions
support some kind of distinctive )ewisl identity, wlicl means slarpening
tlat )ewisl identity by contrasting it witl tle identities it is notmost eas-
ily and commonly, Clristianity. By blurring tlat line, Messianic )udaism is
seen as promoting tle end of a distinctive )ewisl identity.
Perlaps tlere is no greater evidence of tle distinctively American clar-
acter of all of tlese institutions, movements, and ideologies tlan tle sim-
ple and obvious fact tlat tley lave lad limited appeal outside tle United
States. Even in Canada and Soutl America, )ewisl movements aliated
witl or based on American institutions lave lad only limited and local
success, and some lave gained none at all. Far from preserving some
essential and pure tradition, tlese movements lave all actively ltered
and slaped various aspects of tleir tradition in accord witl tleir unique
social circumstances.
Wletler among Catlolics, )ews, or any otler religious group, tle beliefs
and rituals of individual practitioners rarely line up in any consistent or
predictable way witl tle norms of tle ocial institutions to wlicl tley
miglt even belong. Not surprisingly, tlen, tle )udaism of most American
)ews reects tlat of tle ideological movements only sligltly if at all. Wlile
tlere are legitimate criticisms of tle National )ewisl Population Survey of
aooo and tle conclusions drawn from tlat data, tle statistics provided by
tle survey oer a fascinating snapslot of some aspects of American )ewisl
According to tlis data, only (o percent of American )ewisl louse-
lolds belong to synagogues. Of tlis group, , percent belong to Reform
synagogues, percent to Conservative synagogues, a percent to Ortlo-
dox synagogues, and percent to Reconstructionist synagogues. Tese
gures diverge from institutional self-identication: percent of Ameri-
can )ews consider tlemselves to be Reform, a6 percent to be Conserva-
tive, and o percent to be Ortlodox. Tis simple measure of identication
raises more questions tlan it provides answers: Wlat is tle )udaism of all
tlose wlo identify witl a movement but are unaliated witl one of tlat
movements synagogues: How is tle )udaism of tle 6o percent of American
)ewisl louselolds tlat do not belong to synagogues to be accounted for:
6 vvorisii iis
Wlile tlis survey data does not ask about matters of beliefs, its questions
about ritual furtler reveal tle complexity of American )udaism. Of tle
entire American )ewisl population, ;; percent lold or attend a Passover
seder, ;a percent liglt Hannukal candles, , percent fast on Yom Kippur,
a8 percent liglt Slabbat candles, a; percent attend synagogue montlly,
and a percent keep kosler at lome. Tose wlo align witl )ewisl ideo-
logical movements are not always witl tle program. Ortlodox )udaism
distinguisles itself by its commitment to lalaklic norms, including refrain-
ing from business dealings on tle Sabbatl, regular attendance at religious
services, and maintenance of tle )ewisl food laws. According to tle survey
data, among self-identied Ortlodox )ews, ;8 percent refrain from lan-
dling money on Slabbat, 8 percent attend religious services once a week
or more, ; percent keep kosler outside tle louse, and 86 percent keep
kosler inside tle louse. Recognizing tlat most Conservative )ews diverge
from prescribed Conservative ritual practice (wlicl is actually mucl in line
witl tlat of tle Ortlodox), tle surveys autlors presented self-identied
Conservative )ews witl a somewlat dierent set of questions. Witlin tlis
group, 8, percent attended or leld a Passover seder in tle prior year, 8
percent attended services at least once in tle prior year, and a6 percent (o
percent of tlose wlo are also members of Conservative synagogues) keep
kosler at lome. Modifying tle questions, again, for self-identied Reform
)ews, tle survey found tlat 8a percent attended or leld a Passover seder in
tle prior year, ;a percent attended services at least once in tle prior year,
and ; percent (;o percent of tlose wlo are also members of Reform syna-
gogues) fasted on Yom Kippur. Tese, of course, are only tle surveyed be-
laviors, wlicl cannot begin to capture tle wide and unpredictable variety
of )ewisl life in America.
Even more so tlan tle American )ewisl institutions and movements,
individual )ews read and practice tleir tradition in American terms. Ac-
cording to one recent study by Steven Colen and Arnold Eisen, individual
)ewisl identity in America largely takes for granted tle American value of
individualism, or tle sovereign self. American )ews aim to make )ew-
isl narratives part of tleir own personal stories, by picking and cloosing
among new and inlerited practices and texts so as to nd tle combina-
tion tley as individuals can autlentically arm.
It is not enougl to say
tlat a certain percentage of )ews attended a Passover seder, it is far more
revealing to note tle license tley feel free in taking to conduct tlat ritual,
skipping tlose acts or scenes tlat carry little obvious personal meaning
or signicance, and adding or emplasizing otlers.
Most American )ews
vvorisii iis ;
connect witl eacl otler etlnically ratler tlan religiously, and despite tleir
frequently deep commitment to Cod tley do not, according to Colen and
Eisen, expect to nd spirituality in tle synagogue. Teir religious life, ratler,
is patcled togetler from incomplete snippets of knowledge of tle textual
tradition and rituals to wlicl tley lave often nostalgic connections, most
commonly enacted witlin familial settings.
)udaism in America, wletler on an institutional or individual level, is
lardly simple to describe. )ews subscribe to notions of tle people Israel tlat
range from a faitl-community (classical Reform )udaism) to tle tribal-
ism of etlnicity. Te )ewisl movements nearly all participate in a conversa-
tion wlose slape is determined by traditional texts, but most American
)ews lave little if any knowledge of tlese texts. American )ews practice an
overlapping set of rituals, but do so in dierent ways and witl understand-
ings of tlem tlat lave little to do witl tleir canonical interpretations.
Yet, despite tlese dierences, American )ews and tleir movements remain
identiably American, linked by tleir slared cultural assumptions. )ewisl
diversity mirrors in quantity and quality tlat of America itself.
Historical context, lowever, can only account for local similarity. It leaves
open tle question of low American )udaism is linked to otler non-Ameri-
can or noncontemporary )ewisl communities. In wlat meaningful sense
can we speak more globally about )udaism: To gain some leverage on tlis
question, we must turn briey to Israel.

To your ospring, Cod declares to Abralam, I assign tlis land, from tle
river of Egypt to tle great river, tle river Euplrates (Cenesis :8). As wel-
coming as America (as Spain many years earlier) las been to tle )ews, tle
golden land is not tle promised land, tle land tlat Cod promised to tle
clildren of Abralam. In one respect, Zion was a mytlical land, a land
tlat signied Cods blessing and redemption, at wlose center stood tle
place tlat I will slow, as tle autlor of Deuteronomy constantly intones.
Te biblical treatment of Zion is at times so alistorical and unanclored to a
specic piece of real estate tlat tle Puritans, and tlen American settlers in
tle nineteentl century, felt no discomfort in applying tle concept to tleir
own settlements in Nortl America.
Zion, tlougl, is not only a concept. It refers to a real geograplical area in
wlicl Israelites establisled tleir kingdoms in tle rst millennium vci, and
in wlicl, later, )ewisl life would tlrive. Witl tle loss rst of political power
8 vvorisii iis
in tle rst century vci, and tlen tle slow erosion of )ewisl self-autonomy
tlrougl tle Middle Ages, tle )ewisl community in tle land of Zion lost
botl numbers and vitality. Despite tle amazing vibrancy of )ewisl life in
tle sixteentl century in some cities in tle Land of Israel, by tle nineteentl
century tle )ewisl community lad dwindled, tlere were about twenty-four
tlousand )ews living in Palestine in 88o under Ottoman rule.
Tese )ews remained tlrougl tle communitys decline primarily because
tley saw tle land not as a political stateindeed, tle political arrangements
over tle territory were seen as entirely irrelevantbut because tle prom-
ised land was seen as loly land. Te small and relatively poor )ewisl com-
munity living in )erusalem tlrougl tle Ottoman period saw tlemselves as
living closer to Cod. Teir strong notion of sacred space was slared in kind,
if not degree, by tle many otler )ews wlo made pilgrimages, or wlo de-
sired to make pilgrimages, to tle loly land. Even tle rationalist rabbi and
plilosopler Maimonides, wlo seems to deny tlat loliness could inlere
more to one location tlan to anotler, desired to travel to tle loly landal-
tlougl not enougl to vacate lis cusly palace job in Egypt.
Zionism was a late-nineteentl-century political movement tlat owed
more to emerging ideas of European state nationalism tlan it did to tle
Hebrew Bible or religious ideas of sacred space. Te rst Zionist immigra-
tions to Palestine in tle late-nineteentl and earliest twentietl centuries
(tley are conventionally referred to as tle rst to ftl aliyot, tle plural of
aliyal, deriving from a Hebrew verb tlat means ascent) were composed
primarily of secular Western European )ews. As in America, tlougl, tlese
Central and Western European )ews were soon overwlelmed by )ews from
Eastern Europeabout 8o,ooo Eastern European )ews arrived in Palestine
between 88 and , (compared to about a. million Eastern European
)ews wlo immigrated to America during tlis same period). A ood of refu-
gees and concentration camp survivors (again, mainly Eastern European)
arrived after tle end of World War II.
Sketcled very rouglly, tle )ewisl population in Israel in ,(8 was di-
vided between tlree primary interest groups: older and establisled families
wlo were far more impressed witl Israel as loly land ratler tlan a politi-
cal state, radically secular Western European )ews, and more traditionally
minded Eastern European )ews. Tese divisions were lardly all inclusive,
but tley capture a dynamic tlat would be etcled on tle religious forma-
tion at tle establislment of tle state. Altlougl vastly outnumbered, tle
Western secularists took tle lead in tle political constitution of tle State of
Israel. Te political arrangements tlat tley made witl tle more traditional
vvorisii iis ,
)ews were claracterized by pragmatic accommodation. Wlile tle State of
Israel was to be essentially secular, it was to be informed (plrased in a bril-
liantly vague and ambiguous way) by )ewisl law and customs. Moreover,
following tle Ottoman model, personal and status law was to be landled by
tle appropriately recognized religious communities tlemselves. Marriages
and divorces, for example, were to be administered solely by religious com-
munities, tlere was (and remains) no option for civil marriage or divorce.
For )ews, tle recognized religious autlority was tlat of tle Clief Rab-
binate. Its nancial support would come from tle governmental ministries
tlat traditionally, per tle original agreements at tle foundation of tle state,
lave been controlled by tle more religious factions.
As tlis ambiguous and tense arrangement was being worked out tlrougl
tle ,os, tle Israeli demograplic prole began to slift. In ,(,o some
a,ooo )ews of Yemen were brouglt to Israel, followed almost immediately
by tle emigration of about a,ooo )ews from Iraq. Trougl tle decade,
)ews from Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and especially Mo-
rocco ooded into tle state. Wlile tle foundations of tle state were decid-
edly Aslkenazic, its population was tilting to Seplardic and Eastern. Like
some Eastern European counterparts, tlese )ews were traditional in tle
sense tlat tley followed tle customs of tleir families and communities.
Yet wlile tlere was some overlap between tle basic slape of European
and Mediterranean )ewisl traditions, tley also diered signicantly. Te
country encountered anotler demograplic jolt around ,,o, wlen almost
aoo,ooo )ews from tle former Soviet Union, tle vast majority of wlom
were secular and wlo lad been totally isolated from anytling )ewisl, emi-
grated to Israel.
Demograplics tell only part of tle story and in tlis case tle less interest-
ing and important part. America too supports a demograplically diverse
)ewisl community. Te dierence between America and Israel, tlougl,
is tle state. Te )ewisl State, witl its politics and power, fundamentally
slapes )ewisl religious life in Israel.
Te listory and demograplics of tle state never created tle conditions
tlat in Western and Central Europe and tlen America led to modern )ew-
isl ideologies. Indeed, tlese movements, wlicl were at best ambivalent
about tle formation of tle )ewisl state, largely absented tlemselves from
tle state and its politics. Te result of tlese factors, along witl tle institu-
tionalization of tle Ottoman system of religious administration, was tle
development of a single ideological split witlin Israeli society between re-
ligious and secular, ratler tlan tlat of an ideological spectrum as seen
6o vvorisii iis
in America. It is embedded in tle legal and administrative structure of tle
state, wlicl divides, for example, its public sclool system into ocial and
ocial religious, and in granting all autlority over )ewisl religious matters
to tle oce of tle Clief Rabbinate. It is also mucl a part of tle social and
cultural consciousness of tle Israeli public, tle majority of wlom descend
from families wlo lave lad little connection to tle Western ideological
movements. Te exemption from military service (normally expected of all
citizens) tlat religious teenagers can receive for studying at a yesliva, and
tle resentment and bitterness tlat tlat engenders among tle secular, fur-
tler reinforces tlis basic fault line.
Te line between secular and religious, it slould be noted, is not strong-
ly marked by issues of gender. Israel never lad a sexual revolution like
tle one in America, issues of feminism, gender, and lomosexuality never
rose to tle status of boundary markers. In part tlis is due to tle socialist
ideology on wlicl tle state was founded, wlicl explicitly armed gender
equality. Wlile tlere are, of course, passionate Israeli advocates for botl
feminism and gay riglts, feminism as a movement las been pusled to tle
ideological margins, its very existence sits in an uneasy tension witl a basic
part of Israeli self-understanding. At tle same time, in contradiction to tlis
ideology of gender of equality, tle Seplardic and Eastern )ewisl commu-
nities were far more comfortable living witl gender separation tlan tleir
European counterparts, and in tle past tlese women were far less likely to
agitate for equality. Tis is not to say tlat tlere was (and is) less sex discrim-
ination in Israel tlan Americadespite relatively progressive legal protec-
tions, women and lomosexuals probably suer more social discrimination
in Israel tlan in tle United States. But, unlike tle lot-button issue of mili-
tary service, until very recently )ewisl religious communities in Israel did
not use it to lelp dene tlemselves.
Ideological lines, lere as always, fail to capture tle true texture of re-
ligious life. According to a recent survey, about o percent of tle Israeli
)ewisl population identies itself as lard-core secularists, and anotler ao
percent as religious. Tis leaves ;o percent of tle Israeli )ewisl popula-
tion seeming to oat between tlese two poles. Tese )ews often categorize
tlemselves as traditional, somewlat eclectically blending togetler dif-
ferent traditional elements in ways tlat are meaningful for tlem and tleir
families. Tey miglt, for example, lave a Slabbat meal on Friday niglt in
accord witl tle customs of tleir ancestors before tle teenagers lead out
to tle disco. Or, on Yom Kippur, tley miglt fast, but instead of going to
synagogue will take tleir clildren out to ride tleir bicycles in tle nearly
vvorisii iis 61
deserted streets. An otlerwise secular man miglt insist tlat lis girlfriend
immerse in tle mikvel after ler menstrual period so tlat tley can resume
sexual relations. Along strictly ideological grounds, tlis normal religious
texture of Israeli religious life seems incolerent.
Tere is, tlougl, logic belind tle incolerence. Some Israeli societal in-
stitutions as well as its foundational ideology drive toward )ewisl unity.
Tis trend, working directly against tle forces tlat split Israeli )ews into
secular and religious, ultimately keeps Israeli )ewisl society from tearing
at tle seams. In order to absorb tle dierent )ewisl etlnic communities,
Israeli society developed a )ewisl melting pot approacl to culture. Unlike
tle mosaic model of modern America, Israeli culture drove toward, as an
ideal, tle eradication of )ewisl communal dierences. Instead of being Rus-
sian )ews, Moroccan )ews, Iraqi )ews, and American )ews in Israel, tle logic
goes, we are all Israeli )ews. Tis single model of Israeli )ewisl culture, of
course, is a liglly contested ideal. Originally tle Israeli was to conform to
an ideal created by tle Aslkenazic secular elite. More recently tlis model
las been clallenged by tle Seplardic and Eastern communities, wlo cor-
rectly see it as only paying lip service to a universalistic ideal, tle we is
based on Aslkenazic models. It also never fully applied, )ewisl communi-
ties continued to adlere to some of tleir distinctive practices and ideas.
Nevertleless, tlere is a strong (if, perlaps, declining) pusl to see all Israeli
)ews as constituting a single cultural unity.
Te most signicant institutional force for promoting tlis ideology is
tle military. Aside from tle small fraction of religious teenagers tlat avoid
tle military completely, all Israelis, men and women, can spend anywlere,
on average, between two and four years in active service, followed by an-
nual reserve duty (for men only) for tle next twenty years. Aside from a
few units tlat are distinctly religious, most of tle units are mixed, and tle
pressure to get along witl fellow-soldiers is strong. Te military las long
been seen not only as necessary for defense but also as a velicle for social,
cultural, and religious integration of disparate )ewisl immigrant communi-
ties. It is also in tle military tlat a more or less distinctive Israeli )udaism of
tle middle is forged. Te military provides an environment tlat allows for
most of tle basic conditions for lalaklic observance, but tle observance is
tempered by pragmatism and a spirit of accommodation. Basic )ewisl prac-
tices, sucl as kaslrut and commemoration of Slabbat and tle lolidays, are
part of tle untlinking texture of life, it is as mucl a part of religion as it is of
culture. Tis approacl to religious ideas and rituals is reected outside tle
military in a culture tlat largely sees )ewisl customs as voluntaristic but not
6z vvorisii iis
ideological. Unlike, for example, tle Reform and Reconstructionist move-
ments in America, Israeli )ews lave not developed an ideology to justify
tleir nonlalaklic approacl to )udaism.
Tis set of conditions accounts for tle relative unpopularity of tlese
Western religious movements in Israel. Te Reform and Conservative
movements lave been trying for years, mostly unsuccessfully, to establisl
tlemselves in Israel. Tey correctly complain tlat tley are working at a
legal disadvantagetle Clief Rabbinate refuses to recognize tleir rabbis
as legitimate )ewisl autlorities, and tlus deny to tlem tle riglt to o-
ciate at marriages and conversions. Te movements also rigltly note tlat
tley oer ideologies tlat would justify tle practices of tle bulk of tle Israeli
)ewisl population. Tey lave far more problems, tlougl, arguing to tle
very Israeli population to wlom tley appeal wly tley actually need tlese
ideologies. For many Israelis wlo wlen outside Israel miglt easily identify
witl one of tlese movements, witlin tle )ewisl State tlese movements fail
to speak to tlem.
Te fact tlat ao percent of Israeli )ews identify tlemselves as Ortlodox
slould not obscure tle many signicant ssures tlat divide tlis Ortlo-
dox community. Unlike in Europe and tle United States, wlere divisions
witlin tle Ortlodox world frequently revolve around approacles to mo-
dernity and tle relationslip witl secular and Clristian societies, tle di-
visions witlin Israeli Ortlodoxy are rooted in botl etlnic origin and tle
state and its politics. Traditional )ews from Seplardic and Eastern origins
(e.g., Morocco, Yemen, Iraq) continue to maintain local synagogues, are
represented on tle national level by tle Seplardic clief rabbi, and lave
tleir own political party. Not surprisingly, tle distinctive religious customs
of tlese individual communities lave weakened as succeeding generations
integrate into Israeli society.
One intriguing example of tlis process of integration is explored by Susan
Sered in ler book, Women as Ritual Experts.
Closely observing a com-
munity of elderly Kurdistani women in )erusalem wlo regularly attended a
municipal day center, Sered observed tlat tlese women maintained many
of tleir distinctive customs and beliefs, wlicl often related unpredictably
to lalaklal. Tey continued, for example, to sort tleir rice, grain by grain,
seven times over, prior to Passover despite tle assurance of local rabbis tlat
tlis was unnecessary. )ust as stubbornly, tley ignored tle rabbis wlo as-
serted tlat tley needed to ritually wasl tleir lands prior to eating bread.
Tey saw a link between many of tleir rituals, sucl as liglting Sabbatl
candles, visiting tle graves of )ewisl loly men, and saying blessings prior
vvorisii iis 6
to consumption, to tle lealtl and fertility of tleir family members. Teir
clildren, on tle otler land, maintained few of tlese distinctive practices
and beliefs.
Te more signicant split today witlin Israeli Ortlodoxy ultimately is
informed by its adlerents tleological stance toward tle state. Te problem
goes back to tle beginning of tle Zionist movement. In tle late nineteentl
and early twentietl centuries many traditional )ews opposed tle creation
of tle State of Israel as a tleological aront to Cod, Cod, tley asserted, will
return tle people Israel to tleir land during tle period of redemptionto
anticipate tlis divine return tlrougl luman action is to deny faitl in Cod.
Te spiritual leirs of tlis position wlo today live in tle State of Israel fall
along a spectrum, from tlose wlo utterly deny tle legitimacy of tle state
and refuse to lave anytling at all to do witl it to tlose wlo actually par-
ticipate in tle government but refuse to serve in tle military. Altlougl tlis
group is tle face of Ortlodoxy tlat is at tle center of tle division between
secular and religious )ews in Israel, it is small relative to tlose wlo would
identify as religious Zionists.
Teodor Herzls secular Zionism in tle late nineteentl and earliest twen-
tietl centuries soon found some supporters among traditional )ews from
Eastern Europe. Te intellectual justication for tlis support was still very
mucl in formation tlrouglout tle early twentietl century. Te earliest re-
ligious Zionists justied tleir support of a )ewisl state along botl tleo-
logical and practical grounds. Teologically, tley saw tle foundation of a
)ewisl state in tle land of Israel as a move toward redemption. Because Zi-
onism was created by Cod, tlese tlinkers cleverly (but somewlat illogical-
ly) argued, it too must be good and part of Cods plan. By creating a )ewisl
state, )ews are not going against Cods will but in fact are acting as agents
of it. Tis tleological justication was deeply informed by contemporary
optimistic views of progress, in wlicl lumans were seen as moving along
a straiglt line toward redemption and perfection, lowever conceived.
For tlese early religious Zionists, tle establislment of a )ewisl state in Pal-
estine was an enactment of tle ingatlering of tle exiles, seen as tle rst
stage of Cods promised redemption. Sucl an active esclatological tleol-
ogy primarily but indirectly draws upon kabbalistic ideas, in wlicl lumans
play an active role in bringing redemption. Wlen a new prayer for tle State
of Israel was formulated, it was no accident tlat, unlike tle prayers for tle
welfare of tle state upon wlicl it was modeled and tlat )ews lad included
in tleir services from tle medieval period, tlis new prayer included tle as-
sertion tlat tle State of Israel was tle start of tle redemptive process.
6 vvorisii iis
Tere was also a practical side to tle support of religious Zionists for tle
new political state. Several of its early leaders saw tle State of Israel as lold-
ing tle greatest promise for establisling tle conditions tlat would allow
for tle fullest expression of a life according to Toral, as tley understood it.
A )ewisl society, even a largely secular one, would be far more tolerant of
)ewisl religious life tlan tlat of Eastern Europe. Bolder tlinkers lad a more
expansive vision of using a )ewisl state to meld Ortlodox )udaism witl
secular studies to produce a uniquely )ewisl environment.
Tese lines of justication converged in tle tlouglt of Rabbi Abralam
Isaac Kook (86,).
Born in Latvia, Kook immigrated to Palestine in
,o( and became tle rst Aslkenazi clief rabbi in ,a. His mystical tleol-
ogy embraced secular Zionists, wlom le saw as fullling tle divine plan for
redemption. He even designed educational curricula tlat integrated secular
studies. Tis inclusive vision was critical in gaining secular support for tle
oce of tle Clief Rabbinate and tle acceptance of a place at tle table for
Ortlodox leaders and interests. Kooks vision, wlicl was largely accepted
by secular )ews in Palestine, was of a )ewisl state in wlicl religious and
nonreligious worked side by side for redemptionaltlougl eacl group
miglt understand tle meaning of tlat term quite dierently.
Wlat Kook probably never did envision was tle nationalist exposition
given to tlis tleology by lis son, Rabbi Zvi Yeludal Kook. According to
tle younger Kook, tle critical factor tlat would lead to redemption was not
tle building of state and tle ingatlering of tle exiles, but tle actual set-
tling of tle promised land of Israel. He tlus turned tle focus to tle plysi-
cal land. It was no longer good enougl to establisl a )ewisl state on some
of tle land, now it was a religious imperative to settle all of it. Conversely,
it was against Cods esclatological plan to unsettle, or to witldraw from,
any of tle promised land. Te land became loly space, and by reviving
tlis tlread of biblical and (to a lesser degree) rabbinic tleology, Kook es-
sentially reversed tle long subordination witlin rabbinic tradition of loly
space to loly time.
Tis tleology of tle land, previously marginal, found conrmation in tle
Israeli victory in tle ,6; war. Te Israeli conquest of tle West Bank, and of
tle Old City of )erusalem especially, brouglt tleology, listory, and politics
into a fateful convergence. From tle period slortly after tle conquest it
became clear, solely from a political perspective, tlat tle need to occupy
tlis land for reasons of security was counterbalanced by tle practical, legal,
and moral implications of occupying tle territories and tleir over one mil-
lion Palestinian inlabitants. Te calculus, lowever, was not only political.
vvorisii iis 6
Te drama of )ews gaining sovereignty over tle site of tle Temple Mount
for tle rst time since tle Hasmonean kings evoked extraordinarily pow-
erful emotions. Suddenly, tle distant lopes encapsulated in tle Hebrew
Bible and tle prayer books were realized in a military victory tlat many saw
as miraculous.
Zvi Yeludal Kooks version of religious Zionism exploded after ,6;.
Te ,6; war was conrmation to lis followers tlat tle world was on tle
cusp of tle redemptive age and tlat it was in tle lands of tle )ews to bring
it to fruition by settling on land tlat was rigltfully tleirs. He expounded
tlis tleology tlrougl Merkaz HaRav, tle inuential yesliva tlat lis fa-
tler founded. Slortly after tle ,6; war, some of Kooks devoted students
quickly put tle tleology into practice by settling in tle occupied territories.
At rst creating illegal settlements, tley organized tlemselves into Cusl
Emunim, tle Block of tle Faitlful, wlicl found allies in tle secular ultra-
nationalist political parties. Under tle Likud government led by Menalem
Begin in tle mid-late ,;os and tleir successors, many of tle illegal settle-
ments were recognized and new settlements encouraged.
Tis is not tle place to discuss tle clarged and complex political and
etlical issues involved in tle settlement of tle lands occupied by Israel
since ,6;. For our purposes, most important is tle eect of tlis movement
on Israeli religious life. By tapping into a deep listorical consciousness and
yoking naked nationalism to a redemptive, quasi-mystical tleology, Cusl
Emunim successfully placed tle issue of tle promised land and its settle-
ment as a dening issue of religious Zionism. Religion and politics lave
melded, political issues become religious quagmires. Tis is tle religious
logic tlat led (perversely, many lave argued) to tle assassination of Prime
Minister Yitzlak Rabin, wlicl tle )ewisl assassin justied witl a lalaklic
argument. It is also tle logic tlat las led and will continue to lead to tle
resistance on tle part of settlers to tle Israeli governments dismantling of
tleir settlements. And it is tle logic tlat drives extremists to seek tle re-
building of tle Tird Temple on tle Temple Mount, tle reinstitution of tle
sacricial service, and tle loped-for uslering in of tle messianic period.
Te impact of tle Cusl Emunim movement and its tleology on Israeli
Ortlodoxy go well beyond tle relative few wlo actually decided to settle
on Palestinian land. For many, to be Ortlodox means to take a political
stance against witldrawal. All otler considerations, sucl as gender, take a
decided backseat to tle politics of witldrawal and tle essential loliness of
tle land. Even tle Israeli Ortlodox )ews on tle political lefta signicant
minorityin large part dene tlemselves by tleir political position. On a
66 vvorisii iis
larger scale, tlis tleology las contributed to a sense of loly space, tlat
tlere is sometling not only promised but even intrinsically and eternally
loly about tle land of Israel. For an Israeli Ortlodox )ew to deny tle loli-
ness of space in favor of divine omnipresence is to put oneself on tle very
margins of Israeli Ortlodoxy.
Religious Zionists of all types dierentiate tlemselves from non-Zionist
Ortlodox )ews by tleir dress, openness to modern culture, and, most im-
portant, tleir stance toward military service. Wlile one miglt not expect
to nd a religious Zionist at tle beacl on Slabbat or in a nonkosler restau-
rant, tlere is little to distinguisl religious Zionists from nonreligious Israe-
lis. Te men serve in tle military and tle women, wlo are able to gain an
exemption because of tle potentially corrupting inuence of tle army on
tlem, often join an alternative (all-female) governmental program, Slerut
leam, Service for tle People, for a year or two.
Ortlodox )ewisl feminism, like religious pluralism, las only just ar-
rived in Israel, and even tlen is primarily conned to immigrants from tle
United States and Western Europe. A few Ortlodox congregations, mainly

. )ews praying at tle Western Wall in )erusalem.
Copyright AP/Wide World Photos, used with permission
Image has been suppressed
vvorisii iis 6;
in )erusalem, experiment witl integrating women into tle prayer services.
Te Women of tle Wall engaged in a decade-long legal and political bat-
tle to gain tle riglt to lold womens prayer groups, witl women wearing
religious garments, at tle Western Wall. Not only lave tley failed to gain
tlis riglt, but in tle interim tle Ortlodox establislment tlat las autlority
over tle site las tigltened its lold, demanding tlat women now conform
to stricter standards of modesty even in tle plaza belind tle wall.
By and large, Israeli Ortlodox women focus tleir religious life domesti-
cally. Te growing dierence between tle roles of women in Western and
Israeli Ortlodoxy is in part due to social conditions. Wlereas in tle Unit-
ed States, for example, tle pusl toward increasing female participation in
religious services is primarily driven by liglly educated, professional
women wlo experience a gap between tleir ligl-status place in tle sec-
ular world and tleir connement belind tle meclitza in synagogue, tle
aclievement of ligler education and ligl-status jobs by Ortlodox women
in Israel is far rarer.
Wlen tle early Zionists markedly contrasted Diaspora )udaism to tle
strong and proud religion and culture of )ews in tleir land, tley were onto
sometling. One need not accept tle Zionist evaluation of Diaspora )uda-
ism as degenerate or doomed to concede to tlem tlat political power plays
a critical role in religious formation. Te Israeli Clief Rabbinate is perlaps
as mystied by American Ortlodoxy as tle Vatican is baed by tle con-
duct of American Catlolics. American )ews, many of wlom see tlemselves
as living in tleir own promised land, look nervously at tle Israeli conation
of nationalism, politics, and religion, and tle use of pure political power to
suppress )ewisl pluralism.
Te dierences between Western and Israeli )udaism are not conned
to tlese big issues. Wlile tlere is, of course, an overlapping set of religious
practices between American and Israeli )ews, informed (or dictated) by
tle same texts, tlere are also signicant dierences. Israeli synagogue ser-
vices often do not lave a sermon, usually an important part of all Slabbat
and loliday services in America. American )ews of all movements often
formally, even lavislly, celebrate tle coming to bar and bat mitzval sta-
tus of tleir youtl, wlereas Israelis rarely mark tlis event in tle same way.
Witlout minimizing tle slared presence of several central acts (e.g., tle
use of a ketubbah or tle ritual wasling of tle corpse) American )ewisl
wedding and funeral customs are more similar to many American Clris-
tian customs tlan tley are to Israeli )ewisl ones, wlicl in turn nd clos-
er analogues tlrouglout tle Near East. Te presence of rice and kitnyot,
68 vvorisii iis
legumes and tleir derivatives, is so pervasive in Israel during Passover tlat
it is sometimes dicult for visiting )ews wlo adlere to Aslkenazic customs
to nd appropriate food. Observant Americans visiting Israel miglt also
nd tlemselves furtler isolated during tle lolidaysIsraelis observe most
of tle major lolidays for only a single day, wlereas traditional )ews from
outside Israel most often adlere to two days. As mucl divides as unites tle
)ews of West and East.

Te )ewisl communities of tle United States and Israel oer ricl case stud-
ies of low living )ewisl communities continuously recreate tleir )udaism.
Even witl tle slared conditions of modernitywitl tleir largely slared
faitl in reason, tle opportunity to engage in )udaism on a voluntary basis,
and tleir participation in societies leavily slaped by tle same teclnologi-
cal advancestlese two largest )ewisl communities of our day fundamen-
tally dier in tleir reading of tleir texts and traditions. Te texts and tra-
ditions are frequently identical, but tleir actualization, tle ways in wlicl
tleir receivers understand and draw meaning from tlem, dier enormous-
ly. American )ews refract tlis legacy tlrougl tle conditions of modern
America, Israelis tlrougl tleir own unique social conditions. Power and
land, tle issues tlat so pervade tle conception of )udaism in Israel, simply
do not resonate in an American context.
According to most grand narratives of )udaism, tle Enligltenment and tle
process of )ewisl emancipation during tle eiglteentl and nineteentl centu-
ries ruptured )ewisl continuity. Before tle eiglteentl century, tle premod-
ern period, )udaism was tlouglt to be relatively monolitlic, led by tle rabbis
wlo also served as tle communal leaders. Modernity brouglt diversity
best represented by tle variety of tle )ewisl ideological movementsand
individualism, tle notion tlat individual )ews could become independent re-
ligious actors outside tle constraints of tle community. It is undeniable tlat
)ewisl life and practice did clange in tle Western communities tlat eman-
cipated tleir )ewisl populations. Te notion of a listorical break, tlougl,
slould not be pusled too far. )ews from antiquity to tle present lave turned
to tleir traditional texts and practices for answers to profoundly luman
problems, slaping tlese answers in ways tlat would be meaningful to them.
Te remainder of tlis book unpacks tlis assertion, clarting tle development
of tlese traditional texts and practices and tle manifold ways in wlicl )ews,
as communities and individuals, interpreted and added to tlem.
ori1iris 1 1ni beginning of a semester I cruelly ask my un-
dergraduate students to name tlree tlings tlat tley know to be true
about )udaism. Almost witlout fail, several, and not infrequently a
majority, will include tle assertion tlat )udaism is tle religion of tle book
or, even more specically, tle religion of tle Bible. Unlike some otler as-
sertions, tlis one rarely raises any dissent, tle idea tlat )udaism is in some
way close to tle Bible is an ingrained part of tleir outlook, wletler or not
tley are )ews.
Te intellectual listory of tlis idea is not dicult to trace. Augustine of
Hippo (St. Augustine, ((o) was perlaps tle rst writer to fully articu-
late it in tle ftl century ci. According to Augustine, Clristians, wlo at
tlis time lad recently gained political power in tle Roman Empire, slould
not larm tle )ews because tley served a critical role in tle salvation listory
of tle Clurcl. Te Old Testament lad been superseded by Clrist but was
still to play an important role in tle Clurcl, in part as a witness tlat propl-
esied Clrists coming. Te )ews, stuck in useless antiquity tlrougl tleir
slavisl adlerence to tle Old Testament, preserve and guard tlis proplecy
(even if tley tlemselves obstinately refuse to leed it) and will ultimately
witness Clrists glory. Augustine, wlo probably lad only a sliglt acquain-
tance witl real )ews, denes )udaism as tle continuing but unclanging re-
ligion of tle Old Testament and on tlis basis alone recommends political
toleration of tle )ews.
About two centuries later, tle new Muslim overlords of tle Near East
developed a similar justication for tleir grudging political toleration of tle
)ews in tleir empire. Te Hebrew Bible was seen, in fact, as tle record of
cvr:io iuoisr
;o cvi1io iuiisr
a real divine revelation to tle )ews. Muslim tlinkers diered over wletler
tle text is autlentic, tlougl later superseded, or wletler tle )ews lad cor-
rupted Cods message tlrougl faulty transmission of tle text of tle Bible.
In eitler case, lowever, )ews and Clristians alike were to be considered
people of tle book, wlo unlike pagans were to be tolerated witlin a Mus-
lim polity.
Mucl later, in tle nineteentl and twentietl centuries, Western )ews
began to apply tlis plrase to tlemselves. As used by )ews in tle modern
period, tle plrase is emptied of mucl of its tleological baggage. Wanting
to present tlemselves as intellectual or sclolarly, tley found tle plrase
people of tle book useful. Wlen pressed, tley miglt identify tlat book
as tle Hebrew Bible (or, for a few, tle Talmud), but tle point is not tle par-
ticular book but tle studious attention to books generally.
Tese tlree strands converge in modern understandings of )udaism as
tle religion of tle Bible. But is it really accurate or useful to call )udaism tle
religion of tle Bible:
As slould be clear from tle last clapter, a great clasm stands between
modern )udaism and tle religion of tle Hebrew Bible. To illustrate just a
few of tlese dierences: Te religion of tle Bible centers on sacrice, to
be performed (at least according to some passages) at a single, loly loca-
tion, yet few )ewisl groups lave oered sacrices since tle destruction of
tle )erusalem Temple in ;o ci. Te Bible is completely unfamiliar witl tle
modern )ewisl practice of not eating milk and meat products togetler or
indeed even cooking tlem in tle same pots at dierent times. Te families
of tle Bible were, by and large, polygamous, yet among Aslkenazim ()ews
from European descent) polygamy las been ocially banned for a millen-
nium. Te Bible does not know of synagogues, regular prayer, or tle obliga-
tion of Toral studyall central components of modern rabbinic )udaism.
Tis distance between biblical religion and tlat of )udaism las been
long noticed, and in fact generated one of tle most bizarre moments in
tle long and torturous listory of )ewisl-Clristian relations, tle trial of
tle Talmud in tlirteentl-century France. Prior to tle tlirteentl century,
Clristians subscribed to Augustines notion of tle )ewstley were to be
politically tolerated because as tle keepers of tle Old Testament tley serve
as witnesses to tle trutl of tle New. Teir understanding of )udaism was
derived completely from tleir own sacred texts, botl tle New Testament
and tle writings of tle later Clurcl fatlers. In tle intellectual ferment of
tle twelftl and tlirteentl centuries (wlicl gave rise to tle modern univer-
sity), Clristian friars turned tleir attention to learning Hebrew and )ewisl
cvi1io iuiisr ;1
sacred writings. And, to tleir lorror, tley discovered tlat tle )ews lad a
ricl literature and tradition tlat diverged from tle Bible. Far from being
stuck in useless antiquity, tle )ews maintained a vibrant and dynamic reli-
gion tlat was slaped in many respects by tle Babylonian Talmud and a long
tradition of commentary on it. Te )udaism tlat tle friars discovered was
not tle one tley lad expected. Teir response was to put tle Talmud on
trial, clarging tlat it was a leresy against Judaism.
Tese Clristian monks
tlus positioned tlemselves as tle guardians of pure )udaism (i.e., tle reli-
gion of tle Old Testament) against tle )ews, wlo lad perverted tleir own
religion witl tleir Talmud.
Te Bible las always played a central role in )udaism. Tat role, lowever,
is uid, slifting, and liglly complex. Te Bible is itself an ambiguous term,
and tle text tlat it signies points botl backward and forward. On tle one
land, tle Bible points back to tle religion(s) of its autlors, groups of Isra-
elites living over tle course of centuries wlose texts appear to lave been
edited, combined, and canonized in tle sixtl century vci. On tle otler
land, it became tle rst link of a distinctively )ewisl textual tradition, a text
to wlicl most )ewisl groups since antiquity lave ascribed autlority wlile
at tle same time practicing a religion tlat would lave been unrecognizable
to its autlors. So, given tlis )anus-like nature of tle Bible, wlat exactly is it
and low do we explain it:

Despite tle easy and unselfconscious way tlat most popular media uses tle
term Te Bible, not all Bibles are alike. Bible is itself a Clristian appropria-
tion of a Creek word tlat means book, tle Bible is the book. For Clris-
tians, tle Bible las (at least) two major parts, tle Old Testament and tle
New Testament. Originally written in Hebrew, tle Old Testament records
Cods covenant witl His people Israel. According to early Clristian writers
(including Paul), tle arrival of tle Clrist (tle anointed one) occasioned a
new covenant tlat superseded tle old. Hence, Old Testament is a tleologi-
cally laden term, implying its status vis--vis tle New Testament.
It is no surprise, tlen, tlat )ews never used or liked tle term Old Tes-
tament. Early on, )ews began to term tlis collection of books tle Tanak.
Tanak is actually an acronym (TNK) standing for tle books tlree major di-
visions. Toral (Teacling) denotes tle rst ve books (Cenesis to Deuter-
onomy), wlicl is wly it is sometimes referred to in Hebrew as tle humash
(tle Hebrew root means ve) and in Englisl as tle Pentateucl (deriving
;z cvi1io iuiisr

from tle Creek root for ve). Te second division, Neviim (Proplets),
refers to tle propletic books, and Ketuvim (Writings) includes tle re-
maining books (e.g., Psalms, Proverbs, )ob).
Te terms Old Testament and Tanak tlus indicate largely tle same text
wlile at tle same time placing an implicit value on tle tleological impor-
tance and autlority of tlat text. Te Toral is no more tle Teacling for a
non-)ew tlan is tle Old Testament old for a )ew. For tlis reason sclolars
use tle value-neutral term Hebrew Bible to denote tlose parts of tle Bible
originally written in Hebrew.
Not only terminology divides Bibles. Wlile mostly similar, tle books and
tleir order sometimes diers between )ewisl and Clristian Bibles (or in-
deed, among Clristian Bibles tlemselves). Te Revised Englisl Bible, for ex-
ample, puts and a Clronicles after a Kings, wlereas tle Tanak places tlese
books at tle very end of Writings. Te Tanak contains twenty-four books.
Perlaps tle most signicant dierence between Bibles is tleir original
language. In tle tlird century vci tle Hebrew Toral was translated into
Creek. A legend tlat probably postdates tle translation tells of tle Egyptian
:nir a. Books of tle Tanak
:ounn (vv:n:vucn) vvm (vuovnv:s) v:uvm (wu:os)
Cenesis )oslua Psalms
Exodus )udges Proverbs
Leviticus Samuel )ob
Numbers a Samuel Song of Songs
Deuteronomy Kings Rutl
a Kings Lamentations
Isaial Ecclesiastes
)eremial Estler
Ezekiel Daniel
Hosea Ezra
)oel Nelemial
Amos Clronicles
Obadial a Clronicles
cvi1io iuiisr ;
king Ptolemy summoning seventy )ewisl elders to Alexandria to translate
tle Toral into Creek, isolated from eacl otler, eacl emerged witl precise-
ly tle same Creek translation of tle Hebrew text. Te legend of tle seventy
elders gave tlis Creek translation its name, tle Septuagint (or LXX). Sclol-
ars today debate wletler tlis translation was initiated by tle non-)ewisl
king for administrative and legal reasons or wletler it was a product of tle
)ewisl community itself, wlicl was losing linguistic access to tle original
Hebrew. Wlatever tle motivation, tle Septuagint gained wide acceptance
among )ews tlrougl antiquity. Wlen Paul and tle Cospel writers quoted
tle Hebrew Bible, tley used tle Septuagint. Te )ewisl plilosopler Plilo,
writing in tle rst century vci to tle rst century ci, also appears to lave
used tle Septuagint.
Eventually, some )ews rejected tle Septuagint in favor of anotler Creek
translation before, ultimately, rejecting any Creek translation as autlorita-
tive. Te Hebrew text of tle Hebrew Bible would not be fully stabilized until
tle work of a group of )ewisl scribes, tle Masoretes, in tle early Middle
Ages, tlis became known as tle Masoretic Text. In addition to nally xing
tle text, tley added tle vowels (Hebrew does not use separate letters to in-
dicate vowels), divisions, punctuations, and musical notations tlat govern
tle liturgical readings of tle Toral.
For )ews today tle Toral exists in two forms. For liturgical purposes it
exists as a scroll. Toral scrolls are landwritten on parclment in a liglly
regulated faslion, a small or medium-sized scroll rarely costs less tlan ten
tlousand dollars. Te scrolls text contains no vowels, punctuation, clapter

a. From a Toral scroll, tle beginning of tle book of Exodus.
Courtesy of Temple Emanu-El, Providence, Rhode Island
Image has been suppressed
; cvi1io iuiisr

or verse markers, or cantillation notestlese must be memorized by tle
scrolls readers. Most commonly, tlen, )ews today read tle Hebrew Bible
from its Masoretic Text, wlicl is printed as a codex (i.e., book form) and is
mucl more accessible.
Many early Clristians, lowever, adopted tle Septuagint as tle autlorita-
tive version of tle Hebrew Bible. In tle ftl century ci St. )erome (ca. (
(ao) produced a new, Latin translation of tle Hebrew Bible, tle Vulgate.
Te Western Clurcl accepted tle Vulgate as its autloritative text, wlereas
tle Eastern (Ortlodox) Clurcl continues to use tle Septuagint. To furtler
complicate matters, tle Protestant movements rejected tle autlority of tle
Vulgate, asserting tlat tle Hebrew version of tle Bibleor at least autlo-
rized translations of tle Hebrew version (sucl as tle King )ames Version,
for tle Anglican Clurcl and its osloots)was autloritative.
Te matter of language is important because all translations are also in-
terpretations. Te Hebrew of tle Bible is not always clear, and Creek and
Latin (and modern Englisl) translators lad to make interpretive decisions.
By ascribing divine inspiration to tle King )ames Version of tle Bible in
a.a Pentateuch, Haftarot, Megillot, printed in Naples (, by Bnei Soncino. Te
commentary of Rabbi Sllomo ben Isaac (Rasli) runs along tle outside margin in
a dierent script. Te Masoretic Texttle same text as slown in tle Toral scroll
aboveruns down tle center of tle page.
Courtesy of the Library of the Jewish Teological Seminary of America
Image has been suppressed
cvi1io iuiisr ;
6, tle Anglican Clurcl souglt to produce an autloritative Englisl ver-
sion eclectically drawn from previous Englisl translations and tle Hebrew,
Creek, and Latin versions.
By erasing tle dierences between versions and languages, tle term Te
Bible in fact promotes a skewed picture. Altlougl similar, tle )ewisl, Catl-
olic, Ortlodox, and Protestant Bibles are not tle same. And, for traditions
tlat understand every word of a text to be tle living word of Cod, tlose dif-
ferences lave signicant implications. Isaial ;:(, for example, states: As-
suredly, my Lord will give you a sign of His own accord! Look, tle betulah
is witl clild and about to give birtl to a son. Te Hebrew word betulah
most commonly means young woman. Clristians, lowever, relying on
tle Septuagints translation (parthenos), lave always read tlis word as vir-
gin and used it as an important proof of tle virgin birtl and tle fulllment
of tle proplecy in )esus. As demonstrated by tle listory of contentious,
sometimes bloody, disputations tlrougl antiquity and tle Middle Ages
tlat swirled around tle correct translation of tlis word, sucl dierences
are not a small matter.
Among )ews, lowever, tle Tanak las remained remarkably stable since
tle production of tle Masoretic Text. Trougl tle ages )ews lave fouglt
leatedly about tle meaning and autlority of tle biblical text, but tley lave
largely agreed to base tlese glts on a common Hebrew text. No major
)ewisl group today ascribes divine autlority to any particular translation
of tle Bible into a modern language, ultimately only tle Hebrew version is
seen as autloritative. In contrast to Te Bible, today tle Tanak does lave a
stable meaning.

Te Tanak contains many dierent kinds of literature. It contains laws, of-

ten but not always gatlered into codelike compositions. It is replete witl
poetry, proplecies, genealogies, and advice and aplorisms tlat sclolars
identify as wisdom literature. It is often unclear if tle biblical descriptions
of religious beliefs and practices are meant prescriptively or descriptively,
tle utopian and mundane are dicult to untangle. Above all, tlougl, tle
Tanak is a narrative. It is a narrative tlat sometimes loses its way, but as we
lave it tle Tanak las a discernable narrative frame.
Te Toral begins tle listorical narrative very mucl at tle begin-
ning, witl tle creation of tle world, and ends witl tle Israelites about to
enter into and conquer tle land of Canaan. After quickly dealing witl tle
;6 cvi1io iuiisr
formative events tlat would largely account for tle universal features of tle
luman condition and society, tle rst book of tle Toral, Cenesis, turns to
its real interest, tle beginning of Israelite listory. According to tle book
of Cenesis, Cod made a covenant witl Abram (later clanging lis name to
Abralam) and lis leirs: If tley would do wlat Cod demanded, Cod would
make tlem numerous and cause tlem to inlerit tle land of Israel. Te story
of tleir clildren, Islmael and Isaac, and Isaacs clildren, )acob and Esau, is
one punctuated by fertility problems and ligl family drama. Cod, tlougl,
arms tle covenant witl )acob, clanging lis name to Israel. )acobs twelve
sons (and one dauglter, wlo disappears quickly from tle story), wlo be-
come tle eponymous ancestors of tle twelve tribes, are tle clildren of Is-
rael. )acob and lis sons move to Egypt to escape famine, and soon tleir de-
scendents nd tlemselves enslaved by tle Egyptians. Cod clooses Moses
to lead tle Israelites out of Egypt, into tle desert of Sinai, wlere Cod con-
tracts anotler, more detailed covenant witl tlem, most of tle Torals nar-
rative, including tle details of tlis covenant, takes place in Sinai. Te Toral
ends witl tle clildren of tlese freed slaves poised to enter Canaan, and
tle book of )oslua (tle rst book in tle section of tle Tanak tle Proplets)
seamlessly tells of tleir conquest of tle promised land. Te book of )oslua
picks up witl tle conquest of tle land of Canaan by tle Israelites, begin-
ning witl tle famous siege of )ericlo.
If tle Torals listorical account appears at times to be almost mytlical,
tle rst books of tle Proplets settles down to more recognizable listo-
riograply. Te books of )udges and Kings, supplemented by many refer-
ences in tle otler propletic books, tell tle story of tle rise, consolidation,
and fall of tle Israelite monarcly (ca. ooo vci86 vci). After tle con-
quest of Canaan, tle Israelites, according to tle biblical account, created
a loose tribal alliance. Witl tle divinely sanctioned rise of one powerful
tribal leader, Saul, tle loose alliance began to give way to a monarcly. Sauls
successor, David, was an even stronger king wlo tlrougl a brilliant mix of
brute power, persuasion, and realpolitik united tle monarcly, a gain upon
wlicl lis son Solomon was able to build tlrougl tle conquest of neiglbor-
ing non-Israelite tribes. After Solomons deatl tlis kingdom divided into
a Nortlern and Soutlern kingdom, eacl witl its own Israelite king and
eacl witl its own templeSlilol in tle Nortl and )erusalem in tle Soutl.
Te Hebrew Bible directly correlates tle fortunes of tle kingdoms to tle
belavior of tleir leaders, Cod punisles tle wicked and rewards tle rigl-
teous. Te Nortl fell in ;aa vci to tle Assyrians, wlile tle Soutl lasted
until 8;86 vci before falling to tle Babylonians.
cvi1io iuiisr ;;
Not long after conquering tle soutlern kingdom of )udal and transferring
some of ler leaders to Babylonia, Babylonia fell to Persia. Allowed to return
to tleir lomeland, most of tle )udeans exiled to Babylonia appeared to lave
stayed wlere tley were, fullling perlaps too eagerly )eremials exlortation
to build louses and live in tlem, plant gardens and eat tleir fruit. Take wives
and beget sons and dauglters. . . . Multiply tlere, do not decrease. And seek
tle welfare of tle city to wlicl I lave exiled you ()eremial a,:;). Slards of
ancient contracts, if at all representative, indicate tlat tlese )udeans quickly
establisled tlemselves in commerce and took Babylonian names.
Around vci, some of tlese )udeans, lowever, took tle Persians up on
tleir oer. Te proplets Haggai and Zeclarial testify to tle ligl ambitions
of tlis community. Botl proplets celebrate tle rebuilding of tle Temple in
)erusalem as leralding a new age. I am going to slake tle leavens and tle
eartl, Cod commands Haggai to relate to tle civil governor, Zerubbabel,
And I will overturn tle tlrones of kingdoms and destroy tle miglt of tle
kingdoms of tle nations. I will overturn clariots and tleir drivers. Horses
and tleir riders slall fall, eacl by tle sword of lis fellow. On tlat day . . . I
will take you, O My servant Zerubbabel son of Slealtiel . . . and make you
as a signet, for I lave closen you (Haggai a:aa).
And tlen, just as suddenly as Zerubbabel appears in tle listorical re-
cord, le disappears, leaving little more tlan tle foundations of tle Temple.
According to tle biblical book of Ezra, tle adversaries of )udal and Benja-
min ((:) tlwarted Zerubbabel and lis colort. Wlo were tlese adversar-
ies: Te )udeans wlo were never deported to Babylonia! Let us build witl
you, since we too worslip your Cod, laving oered sacrices to Him since
tle time of King Esarladdon of Assyria, wlo brouglt us lere ((:a). Only
wlen Zerubbabel rudely rebued tlem did tley begin to undermine lim.
Te same conict awaited tle missions, about fty years later, of Ezra and
Nelemial. Botl led groups of )udeans back to )erusalem and botl lad Per-
sian backing. Botl also complain about tle resistance tley encountered not
from tlose wlo want to block tle rebuilding of tle Temple but from tlose
wlo want to join in rebuilding it. Te community led by Zerubbabel, Ezra,
and Nelemial clearly saw itself as tle true carrier of tle Israelite tradition,
autlorized by Cod and backed by temporal miglt. Te Tanak ends witl
King Cyruss edict granting permission to anyone wlo wisles to ascend
from Persia to )erusalem in order to lelp rebuild Cods louse.
As an accurate account of tle past, parts of tlis narrative lave been ex-
traordinarily dicult to verify. None of tle contemporary but meager evi-
dence from period tlat tle Toral covers corroborates tlis narrative, and
;8 cvi1io iuiisr

some seems to contradict it. Tere is no Egyptian record, for example, of tle
massive enslavement of tle Israelites recorded in tle book of Exodus. Te
arclaeological remains of tle ancient cities of Canaan clearly indicate tlat
tley were not overrun in tle time of )oslua, even tle walls of )ericlo did
not fall. On tle otler land, some internal biblical evidence and some slards
of external evidence testify to some version of tle united monarcly under
David and its later division. Te precise contours of tle exiles return in tle
late sixtl century are also impossible to verify, but given our knowledge of
tle Persian King Cyruss decrees allowing otlers exiled peoples to return to
tleir land, tle biblical story, in some general way, seems plausible.
Yet wlatever tlis narrative lacks in listorical accuracy it more tlan makes
up for in tle power of its imagination. Like Homers Iliad was for ancient
Creek identity, tle Tanaks story was so attractive and vivid as to create Is-
raels formative mytl. As portrayed tlrougl tle Toral, Israel is not like any
otler nation. Israel is, quite literally, a family, connected by blood. Witlin
tle Toral itself tlere in fact seems to be no provision for conversion, for
becoming a full member of tlis extended family. Te resident alien, tle ger,
miglt live witlin tle Israelite community, but can never fully cross over.
Israel, tlougl, is not merely a family but also a people forged in tle slared
traumatic listorical experience of enslavement and liberation, exile and in-
gatlering. To top it o, Israel las a unique relationslip, a covenant witl ler
Cod YHWH, wlo takes an inordinate interest in His sometimes stubborn
people. Te Toral creates Israel and does so on multiple levels.
a. Te Passover Papyrus from Eleplantine, Egypt, (, vci. A letter to tle )ewisl
garrison instructing tlem not to eat leaven during tle loliday of Passover. Ploto by
Bruce and Kennetl Zuckerman West Semitic Researcl.
Courtesy Aegyptisches Museum, Berlin
Image has been suppressed
cvi1io iuiisr ;,
Stories lelp to create imagined communities, tley articulate a com-
pelling link between people wlose actual connections miglt be tenuous.
Te Tanaks story testies to tle formation of a distinctive Israelite identity
from among tle many peoples of tle Ancient Near East. Wlile we do not
always know wlat actually lappened, it is clear tlat at some point, prob-
ably sligltly before or during tle monarclic period, a distinctive Israelite
identity emerged. Despite tle many similarities tlese Israelites slared witl
tleir neiglbors, tley also attempted to distinguisl tlemselves tlrougl
tleir stories, language, beliefs, and practices. On tle testimony of tle Tanak
itself, tlis was an identity in ux, contested by tle Nortlern and Soutlern
kingdoms, eacl of wlicl staked its claim to be tle real Israel.
If in tle pre-exilic period tle Tanak testies to tle formation of Israelite
identity, in tle exilic and postexilic periods a distinctive identity is taken for
granted. Nelemial and Ezra seem to lave lad no doubt as to wlat consti-
tutes an autlentic leir to tle covenant and worslipper of tle Cod of Israel:
genealogical purity along witl adlerence to tle law of Moses as articulated
in tle Toral. Here a distinctive identity is deployed as mucl to distinguisl
tlemselves from real outsiders as it is to distinguisl tlem from tleir kin
in )udea wlo never went into exile. Te very formation of tlis new text,
tle Toral, from ancient and traditional stories, simultaneously asserts botl
continuity and discontinuity. Ezra and Nelemial exclude tlose )udeans
wlo were never exiled from tleir community and tle newly built Temple.
Tese exiles left tle land of Israel as Israelites, tle clildren of Israel, or
Hebrews, as tle Tanak consistently refers to tlem, but tley returned as
)ews, tle practitioners of a religion tlat despite its continuity witl Israelite
religion diers from it markedly.

Wlat, tlen, was tle slape of Israelite religion: Reconstructing Israelite re-
ligious listory is as dicult as reconstructing its political and social lis-
tory because tle concepts and rituals of tle Tanak do not quite add up to
a colerent wlole. Many later religious tlinkers (of all kinds) would try to
smootl out tle Tanaks inconsistenciestlat tley are so occupied witl
tlese apparent contradictions in fact liglliglts tlem.
Te very beginning of tle Toral illustrates tle problem. Cenesis :a:(
tells tle wonderfully neat story of tle worlds creation. Cod creates tle
world in a systematic, ordered way, using notling more tlan language:
Cod said . . . and it was so. Every type of creation las its own day. Birds
8o cvi1io iuiisr
and sl, for example, not only are not created by tle same word of Cod,
tley are not even created on tle same day. Cod culminates creation witl
tle antiseptic creation of lumanity in our image, after our likeness. Ten
Cod ceases work on tle seventl day and declares it loly.
Not so in wlat sclolars generally refer to as tle second creation account
(Cenesis a:(:a(). Here Cod creates lumans closer to tle beginning of tle
story, introducing a less structured and more organic narrative of creation.
Nor does Cod sit up on ligl and command witl language alone, Cod gets
His lands dirty. Cod forms and blows, He performs surgery to bring
fortl woman, wlo in tle rst creation account is created at precisely tle
same time as tle man. Tis is not tle Cod of Cenesis . Tis is an imma-
nent Cod wlose presence is lere and now. Tis Cod walks in tle Carden
of Eden seemingly unaware of wlat His creation is doing (Cenesis :8,).
Unlike tle Cod of Cenesis , tlis is a Cod described in antlropomorplic
languagetlis Cod is less majestic, more like us.
Te tension between tlese two images of tle divine plays out tlrougl
tle rest of tle Tanak. Te Ten Commandments famously forbid tle rep-
resentation of Cod, but tle Hebrew Bible constantly, but not consistently,
uses antlropomorplic language to describe Cod. Sometimes Cod seems
to get angry, an emotion utterly unbetting a supreme transcendent being.
Similarly, tle Hebrew Bible appears conicted about wletler Cod is omni-
presenttle universal, unbounded Cod of tle wlole worldor wletler
tlis Codwlom tle Hebrew Bible calls YHWH (sometimes translated as
)eloval)is a national Cod wlo lives in a single tabernacle or Temple.
Is Cod even One: Isaial declares a radical monotleism: Only among
you is Cod, tlere is no otler Cod at all! (Isaial (:(). Tis single Cod is
responsible for all creation: I form liglt and create darkness, I make weal
and create woeI tle Lord do all tlese tlings (Isaial (:;). But tle Toral
is not so sure. Wlo is like you, O Lord, among tle gods: (Exodus :)
tle Israelites sing after being delivered by tle Egyptians. Te verse is so po-
tentially troubling tlat later translators tend to translate gods witl celestial
beings or miglty ones. Even Deuteronomy 6:(, called tle Slema by later
generations and still seen by many )ews as tle quintessential statement of
faitl, declares, Hear O Israel, YHWH is our god, YHWH alone, wlicl ap-
pears to acknowledge tle existence of otler gods.
Te Tanak is no more successful articulating a colerent tleology of cov-
enant. Te several covenants in tle Toral are largely modeled on contem-
porary sovereign-vassal treaties of tle Ancient Near East: Israel pledges its
loyalty to Cod and Cod defends Israel. Yet tlere is an important and critical
cvi1io iuiisr 81
question about tle conditionality of tlese covenants. In Cenesis Cod ap-
pears to make an unconditional covenant witl Abram in wlicl He pledges
tle land of Canaan to Abrams leirs. In return, it appears tlat Abrams leirs
need do notling, Cods promise is independent of tleir belavior. However,
in Cenesis ; Cod demands tlat Abrams male leirs be circumcised, tlis
does appear to be a condition. Te Torals treatments of tle covenants on
Sinai are no clearer. On tle one land, tley seem to assert tlat Israels ad-
lerence to tle laws is a condition for tle covenant. On tle otler land, tley
suggest tlat Cods covenant is unconditional and tlat its violation by Israel
will result in punislment, tlougl not an end to tle covenant.
Te Tanak contains an equally confusing set of answers to tle issue of
tleodicy, Cods justice. Tat Cod is just is a central idea of tle Tanak. Yet
low is tlis basic tenet to be reconciled witl a reality tlat appears to y in its
face: Ten as now tlere were bad people wlo prospered and good people
wlo suered. One possible tleological solution is simply to disregard tle
empirical evidence: Cod rewards and punisles justly. One wlo is suering
must by denition deserve it. Writ on a national scale, defeat only comes to
Israel as a result of sin. Te terrible luman and tleological catastrople of
tle fall of tle First Temple in 86 vci must lave reinforced tlis idea. How,
after all, could Cod lave allowed tle destruction of His own louse: Tat
Cod was not powerful enougl to prevent it, or tlat Cod allowed it for no
reason, or tlat Cod was uninvolved in luman listory to tle point of allow-
ing tle Temple to be destroyed were not tleological options. Cods punisl-
ment was de facto proof of Israels sins.
Otler voices witlin tle Bible, tlougl, recognize otler answers. Clil-
dren, one passage asserts, pay for tle sins of tleir ancestors. A riglteous in-
dividual or generation miglt be crusled because of misdeeds of long-dead
great-grandparents. Ecclesiastes seems to assert tlat Cod is uninvolved
in listory, a transcendent Cod detacled from lumanity. )ob oers a far
darker portrayal of Cods ways, concluding witl tle assertion tlat tley are
)ews later develop an elaborate scenario of redemption and afterlife to
explain low tle world really is just. Tat, lowever, came later. Te religion
of tle Hebrew Bible is lived in tle present. Deatl is tle end of life, forever.
Some of tle propletic books maintain tlat tlere will be a redemptive age,
leralded by an anointed messial (perlaps a descendent of King David).
Even tley leave tle details quite fuzzy. Te ideas of a leaven in wlicl dis-
embodied souls are judged and of a future universal judgment day are ab-
sent from tle Tanak. Reward and punislment lave to occur in tlis world.
8z cvi1io iuiisr
In tle redemptive age Cods promise to Abralamtlat lis seed will be
multiplied and inlerit tle landwill be fullled. In some scenarios, it will
be marked by apocalyptic violence, in otlers by extraordinary and unnatu-
ral peace. Not a lot seems to be at stake in tlese descriptions of tle un-
knowable future.
Tis points to tle tenuous role of beliefand tleology generallyin bib-
lical religion. Nowlere does tle Hebrew Bible directly command belief in
anytling, even in Cod. At tle same time, tle Hebrew Bible seems to go to
great lengtls to convince its readers tlat YHWH really is tle Cod of Israel
and deserves obedience. Tis obedience, tlougl, takes tle form of acts ratl-
er tlan of declarations of faitl. Te acts assume and reinforce belief but not
in any easily transparent correspondence. )ust as tle Toral develops a com-
plex, sometimes contradictory tleology, so too it articulates a complex set
of practices to wlicl it ascribes many, sometimes contradictory, reasons.
Among all tle practices and rites commanded by tle Toral, none is as
prominent as tle sacrice. Mucl of tle Toral simply assumes tlat Israels
primary obligation to Cod is to oer regular and prescribed sacrices at tle
Temple. Tese sacrices, as tle book of Deuteronomy repeatedly empla-
sizes, were to take place exclusively witlin tle precincts of tle Temple tlat
would eventually be establisled in )erusalem. Te Temple was seen as loly
space par excellence, a spot on tle eartl tlat is closer to Cod tlan any otler
place. Sitting on tle navel of tle eartl, tle Temple was seen as located di-
rectly under an open portal to leaven tlrougl wlicl would waft tle savory
smell of tle burning sacrice. Administered by a lereditary priestlood, tle
sacricial service lad to be performed at tle riglt time, in tle riglt way.
A missed or botcled sacrice potentially leralded a national calamity. An
individual wlo failed to oer tle appropriate sacrices and gifts to Cod
tlrougl tle sanctioned institutions of temple and priests could not expect
continued divine favor.
Te Temple tlus autlorized a very specic kind of religious autlority.
Te Hebrew Bible repeatedly emplasizes tlat only priests, tle genealogical
descendents of Aaron, lad autlority to enter into tle most sacred precincts
of tle Temple and to oer and consume (most) sacrices tlere. Access to
tle divine passed tlrougl tle priests, wlen regular Israelites required re-
ligious guidance about even mundane matters tley were to inquire of tle
priest. Priests, for example, are portrayed as tle experts at determining
wlicl splotcles were to be considered leprous (tle common translation
of a word tlat almost certainly refers to some otler skin disease or bliglt),
tleir declaration, even if factually incorrect, is considered binding. Wlen a
cvi1io iuiisr 8
man suspects lis wife of adultery, le is to go to tle priest so tlat le miglt
perform an ordeal to eitler conrm or refute lis suspicion (Numbers ).
Every lawsuit and case of assault is subject to tleir ruling, Deuteronomy
a: declares of tle priests.
But priestly autlority is not tle only kind of religious autlority tlat tle
Hebrew Bible knows. Moses is a proplet wlo gains lis autlority from di-
rect communication witl Cod. Moses, of course, is exceptional, but tle
type of autlority tlat le autlorizes is ultimately institutionalized. Biblical
proplets are not roving lunatics witl visions, tley are functionaries of tle
Temple. Deuteronomy even contains a test for separating true proplets
from imposters. If priests are tle functionaries tlat carry out tle will of
Cod, and kings are secular gures clarged witl maintaining civil order,
proplets are tle velicles tlrougl wlicl ows tle divine will for botl. Tey
are most frequently portrayed as laving no or little will of tleir own. Cod
appropriates tleir bodies, and especially tleir voices, to convey tle divine
message. Wlen tle proplet Samuel anoints Saul as king, lacks tle cap-
tive enemy king Agag to deatl, and replaces Saul witl David, le is merely a
divine instrument. Samuel, like Natlan (King Davids proplet), Elisla, and
Elijal perform important political functions. Later in tle Hebrew Bible tle
proplets political role is transformed to an exlortatory one. Te proplets
of tle later kings of )udal do not personally slauglter tle proplets of Baal
as Elijal did, tley exlort (ratler ineectually, it seems) tle Israelites and
tleir leaders to belave dierently and bring news of approacling doom or
consolation. Ezekiel oers a somewlat bizarre and idiosyncratic vision of
botl tle divine and tle Temple. After tle destruction of tle Temple, )ere-
mial attempts to comfort lis fellow exiles witl visions of tle defeat of tleir
enemies and tleir own return to Zion.
Tere is yet a tlird type of religious autlority in tle Hebrew Bible. Te
Hebrew Bible refers to tle autlority of tle scribe more obliquely tlan tlat
of priest or proplet. Not mentioned in tle Toral, tle scribe appears and
seems to gain autlority in tle later books of tle Hebrew Bible. Scribal au-
tlority comes from a combination of teclnical competence, oce (espe-
cially as tle drafter and keeper of royal decrees), and mastery of tle Ancient
Near Eastern wisdom tradition. Of tlese tlree types of autlority, scribal
autlority is tle only one tlat is attainedunlike tle priest, one need not
be born a scribe, and unlike a proplet its autlority does not rely on Cods
ad loc, even arbitrary, decision to make lim His instrument. Te biblical
books of Proverbs and )ob most likely derive from scribal circles, tley gain
tleir autlority from a well-studied mastery of tle secrets of nature itself.
8 cvi1io iuiisr
Tese models of autlority are types. Wlile tley illustrate distinct claims
of autlority, an individual miglt in fact make more tlan one claim simul-
taneously. Priests can also be proplets or scribes or even botl. Outlining
sclematically tlese claims to autlority puts into relief tle claims tlat )ews
would later make, eliminating propletic autlority, minimizing priestly au-
tlority, and utterly transforming tle autlority of tle scribe.
Sacrices and tle ocial religious institutions constitute tle most impor-
tant but not tle only patl to tle divine. Individuals could also curry divine
favor tlrougl adlerence to Cods commandments. If one pole of biblical
tleology is Zion, tle loly space of tle Temple, tle otler, as )on Levenson,
a professor of Bible at Harvard, las lelpfully noted, is Sinai, tle elaboration
of tle terms of tle covenant. Te Toral (and proplets) expects individu-
als to engage in a wide range of personal belaviors. Te Bible itself does
not categorize tlese belaviors and rarely justies tlem. Tus tle Hebrew
Bible seems to treat equally and put equal weiglt on tle commandments
to lonor ones fatler and motler, to sloo away tle motler bird before tak-
ing tle eggs from ler nest, to return stolen goods witl a penalty, to avoid
murder, and not to wear linen and wool togetler, altlougl fulllment of
tle rst two is explicitly linked to tle attainment of a long life. Israelites are
to avoid consuming certain animals (for reasons tlat are never specied),
to live according to a specic code of civil law and a curiously incomplete
code of family law, and to maintain an economic structure tlat was utterly
unworkable, canceling all debts and returning all land to tleir original own-
ers every fty years. Individuals could seek Cods will from tle proplet or
establisl a direct relationslip witl Cod tlrougl tle giving of gifts to His
louse. Wlen distressed, people were always free to petition Cod directly
witl spontaneous prayer.
Te food laws are intriguing in tlis respect. Te rst lumans, Adam
and Eve, were apparently vegetarian. After lumanity corrupted itself and
Cod repented of lis creation and destroyed all but Noal and lis fam-
ily, Cod seems to make a concession to Noal. Noal and lis descendents
were permitted to eat all esl, tlere were to avoid only tle blood (Cenesis
,:(). Te Toral later ledges tlis wide-ranging permission. Actually, only
animals tlat are slaugltered at tle altar in tle central Temple, according to
some passagesor at local cultic places, according to otler passagescan
be eaten, carrion is also forbidden. Nor can tle Israelites eat all types of
esl. Among beasts only tlose tlat clew tleir cud and lave split looves
are permitted. Fisl require ns and scales. Insects require legs tlat leap
on tle eartl. Many types of birds are prolibited, but no guiding principle
cvi1io iuiisr 8
belind tle selection of tlese species (Leviticus ) is apparent. Te Toral
nowlere explains wly some animals are permitted wlile otlers are forbid-
den. To compound tle mystery, tle Toral contains tle enigmatic command
not to boil a kid in its motlers milk tlree times and oers an account of
wly until tlis day tle clildren of Israel do not eat a nerve in tle tligl
(Cenesis a:). Tis adds up to an odd mislmasl of dietary restrictions
tlrougl wlicl an Israelite miglt do tle will of lis Cod.
Te Psalms oer a dierent kind of example of tle tension between in-
stitutional and personal service to Cod. Many, but apparently not all, of
tle Psalms were written for and performed witlin a cultic setting. Tat is,
altlougl tle priests would silently perform tle sacrices, tle Levites miglt
lave composed psalms to sing during parts of tle sacricial service. Seen in
tlis way, tle Psalms are like supplemental notes tlat accompany tle gift to
Cod. But it is not impossible tlat tlere was also a noncultic use for tlem.
Individuals miglt lave recited tle moving poetry of tle Psalms as part of
tleir own personal eort to connect witl tle divine or perlaps even just
tle snippets of it tlat tley remembered from listening to tle levitical per-
One tling I ask of tle Lord, tle Psalmist sings, only tlat do I seek: to
live in tle louse of tle Lord all tle days of my life, to gaze upon tle beauty
of tle Lord, to frequent His Temple (Psalms a;:(). Te Psalmist lere cap-
tures a tension inlerent in tle religion of ancient Israel or indeed, nearly all
religions. Te )erusalem Temple is not only tle louse of tle Lord but also
tle institutional and communal center of religious life. Witlin it, tlougl,
tle Psalmist seeks to engage in an essentially individual, almost anticom-
munal, actto see Cod. Te Psalmist, in fact, attempts to tame tle ulti-
mately anarclic individual drive to experience Cod by conning it to tle
Temple. Cod is to be found witlin tle material connes and tle institu-
tional boundaries of tle Temple. No idea lere of tle lone mystic pursuing
lis or ler individual spirituality disconnected from a community.
Mystical experience generates not only a tension between tle commu-
nity and tle individual but also a tleological one. How can lumans actually
approacl, experience, or understand tle great and awesome Cod: Wlat
does it mean to gaze upon Cod: Te Tanak does not provide any kind of
systematic or reasoned answer to tlis problem, but it is clearly aware of it.
On tle one land, it repeatedly asserts tle impassable divide tlat separates
lumanity from divinity. Cod is totally, ontologically, otler. Cods awesome-
ness is so great as to be fatal: you cannot see My face, for man may not see
Me and live (Exodus :ao), Cod tells Moses.
86 cvi1io iuiisr
Tis, lowever, does not stop Moses or tle biblical writers from pursuing
tleir quest to see Cod. Moses repeatedly nags Cod to see Him, tle best le
appears to get is a siglt of Cods receding back. Elsewlere in tle biblical
narrative tlat surrounds tle revelation on Mount Sinai tle biblical autlor
appears to forget tlis: Ten Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abilu, and sev-
enty elders of Israel ascended, and tley saw tle Cod of Israel: under His feet
tlere was tle likeness of a pavement of sapplire, like tle very sky for purity.
Yet He did not raise His land against tle leaders of tle Israelites, tley be-
leld Cod, and tley ate and drank (Exodus a(:,). Tis is not tle only vi-
sion of Cod recorded in tle Tanak. Te rst clapter of Ezekiel describes in
extraordinary but entirely incomprelensible detail a vision of Cod. Tese
passages, rupturing tle biblical suppositions of Cods utter otlerness, tes-
tify to tle essential problem of reconciling tlis idea witl tle desire to draw
close to Cod.
Individuals would also experience tle divine tlrougl tleir observance
of tle Sabbatl and festivals. Here again tle Hebrew Bible does not oer a
complete or colerent account of tlese observances or tle meanings belind
tlem. Even tle festal calendar of tle Hebrew Bible is somewlat elusive: tle
existence of a seven-day week is portrayed as a fact of nature and result of
tle divine process of creation (altlougl, of course, it is entirely arbitrary)
and tle siglting of tle new moon is to be celebrated, but it is surprisingly
unclear wletler tle biblical calendar was a lunar or a solar one. Te year
begins witl tle rst day of Aviv (today called Nisan, wlicl occurs in tle
spring and during wlicl Passover is celebrated), but tlere is little indica-
tion low tle years are to be numberedpresumably according to a seven-
or fty-year ()ubilee) cycle.
Of all tle biblical festivals, tle Sabbatl (Slabbat) is clearly tle most im-
portant. It is tle only loliday naturalized as part of tle rst creation story:
And Cod blessed tle seventl day and declared it loly, because on it Cod
ceased from all tle work of creation tlat He lad done (Cenesis a:). We
lave to wait some time, lowever, to nd out tle implications of tlese bless-
ings, and wlen we do tle Sabbatl takes on a dierent lue. Instructing tle
Israelites, recently freed from slavery and starting out into tle desert, about
tle manna, tle food tlat Cod daily rained down upon tlem, Moses tells
tlem to gatler a double portion on Friday so tlat tley miglt eat it tlrougl
Saturday: Tomorrow, Moses says, is a day of rest, a loly Sabbatl of tle
Lord. Bake wlat you would bake and boil wlat you would boil, and all tlat
is left put aside to be kept until morning (Exodus 6:a). He tlen contin-
ues, to tle disbelief of tle Israelites, saying tlat no manna would fall on tle
cvi1io iuiisr 8;
seventl day, for Cod las given you tle Sabbatl. Tere are no explanations
for wly or wlen Cod gave tle Slabbat or low exactly to rest on it, and in
tle narrative tle Israelites appear to be just as baed as modern readers.
Nor is tle Hebrew Bible mucl lelp at clearing up tlis confusion. Te
rst rendition of tle Ten Commandments commands Israel to remember
and to sanctify tle Sabbatl, working six days and resting on tle seventl
as a kind of imitatio dei, learkening back to Cods rest from creation (Exo-
dus ao:8). Te repetition of tle Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy,
tlougl, contains tle word remember ratler tlan guard and, more sig-
nicantly, states a dierent rationale: Remember tlat you were a slave
in tle land of Egypt and tle Lord your Cod freed you from tlere witl a
miglty land and an outstretcled arm, tlerefore tle Lord your Cod las
commanded you to observe tle Sabbatl day (Deuteronomy :). Nor does
tle Hebrew Bible clearly specify wlat it means by rest or guarding tle
Sabbatl, a lacuna, again, not lost on tle ancient Israelites. In one story no-
body seems to know wlat to do witl a man gatlering sticks on tle Sabbatl
until Cod Himself intervenes and condemns lim to deatl. Moses clearly
forbids moving from ones labitation and kindling a re (Exodus :), but
not until Isaial do we lear of a prolibition against conducting business.
Botl tle conicted accounts of meaning and ambiguity about wlat con-
stitutes proper observance pervade tle descriptions of otler biblical festi-
vals. Te tlree pilgrimage festivals, Passover (Pesach), Tabernacles (Sukkot),
and Pentecost (Shavuot), form tle backbone of tle Israelite festal calendar.
All are portrayed in some passages of tle Tanak as agricultural festivals,
generally tle celebrations of various larvests. Te rst two of tlese festi-
vals, lowever, acquired listorical associations early on. Pesacl, for example,
appears to conate two dierent lolidays, one tlat features tle pasclal sac-
rice and one tlat foregrounds unleavened bread (matzah). Altlougl tle
latter loliday almost certainly lad agricultural origins, it was easily com-
bined witl tle former to create a single festival tlat commemorated tle
exodus from Egypt (cf. Exodus a:(:o). Te biblical Passover is above
all observed witl food, tle eating of tle pasclal sacrice in a prescribed
place and time as well as tle avoidance of leavened bread for a week. Tere
was almost certainly no xed liturgy connected to tle sacrice, tle Toral
suggests tlat, more informally, tle Passover meal sparked discussion about
tle listory it symbolized.
Even on as central a rite as tle pasclal sacrice tle Toral leaves us con-
fused. According to Exodus a, eacl family is to slauglter an unblemisled
lamb: Tey slall eat tle esl tlat same niglt, tley slall eat it roasted over
88 cvi1io iuiisr
tle re, witl unleavened bread and bitter lerbs. Do not eat any of it raw, or
cooked in any way witl water, but roastedlead, legs, and entrailsover
tle re (Exodus a:8,). Compare Deuteronomy 6:;:
You are not permitted to slauglter tle Passover sacrice in any of tle
settlements tlat tle Lord your Cod is giving you, but at tle place wlere
tle Lord your Cod will cloose to establisl His name, tlere alone slall you
slauglter tle Passover sacrice, in tle evening, at sundown, tle time of
day wlen you departed from Egypt. You slall boil and eat it at tle place
tlat tle Lord your Cod will cloose, and in tle morning you may start
back on your journey lome.
No longer is tlis a local family custom. Deuteronomy, as it frequently
does, centralizes tle sacricial rituals in tle Temple in (wlat would be) )e-
rusalem. Te metlod of cooking is also in direct contradiction to tle pre-
scription of Exodus. Tis contradiction was not lost on early readers of tle
Toral. Describing a Passover ceremony tlat is identical neitler to tle one
in Exodus or Deuteronomy, a Clronicles says tlat tley boiled tle Passover
sacrice in re (:), tlus preferring nonsense to a contradiction.
Sukkot was transformed to commemorate tle next stage of tle journey,
tle wandering in tle desert. Te Israelites are to dwell in bootls for seven
days so tlat your generations miglt know tlat I made tle clildren of Is-
rael dwell in bootls in my bringing tlem out of Egypt (Leviticus a:().
Later Sukkot would acquire otler listorical overlays, as it became tle loli-
day during wlicl Solomon dedicated tle First Templean association tlat
miglt stand belind Zeclarials assertion ((:6,) tlat in tle messianic
age all tle nations will observe Sukkot. In addition to dwelling in bootls,
tle Israelites are also to take fruit of tle ladar tree and some brancles from
otler trees, and rejoice before tle Lord your Cod seven days (Leviticus
a:(o). Te verse, of course, is puzzling: How do you rejoice witl vegeta-
tion: One remarkable scene portrays Ezra, reading tlis passage after re-
turning to )erusalem, using tlese brancles to construct tabernacles (Nele-
mial 8:(). Only mucl later would tlis biblical commandment be read
to signify tle practice of waving tle lulav.
Oddly, Slavuot is left witlout any listorical associations. )ews would
later connect tlis loliday to tle giving of tle Toral on Mount Sinai, but
tle Toral itself does not specify tlis. It is also dierent from tle otler
two festivals in tlat it is celebrated for only one day ratler tlan seven (or
eiglt, if one counts tle eigltl day of assembly tlat immediately follows
cvi1io iuiisr 8,
Sukkot). Yet anotler curiosity is tlat tle Toral does not give a set date for
its celebration, it is to occur fty days after tle omer oering tlat is to be
made on tle day after Slabbat after Passover. Te ambiguity of tlis lan-
guagetaken by tle Rabbis and most later )ews to mean fty days after tle
rst day of Passovergenerated a leated controversy in antiquity.
Two otler festivals round out tle biblical calendar. Te rst day of tle
seventl montl is to be a memorial of trumpeting. Tere is no lint in tlis
description of wlat tlis festival, today known as Rosl Haslanal, is meant
to remember or wly one trumpets on it. Ten days later is Yom Kippur, tle
Day of Atonement, wlicl las botl a public and a personal aspect. On it tle
reigning ligl priest is to transfer tle communal sins of Israel onto a goat
(tle scapegoat), wlicl le tlen sends out into tle wilderness. Individuals
are to aict yourselves and not work for tle day. Neitler of tlese lolidays
is associated witl eitler agriculture or specic listorical events.
In contrast to tle Hebrew Bibles interest in annual time, it lardly ritual-
izes life cycle events. A male Israelite slould be circumcised on tle eigltl
day (altlougl we are never informed low tlat circumcision slould be
done), tlere are regulations governing tle cloice of marital partners but
no details about low one is to legally contract a marriage or celebrate a
wedding, tle rules about divorce are condensed into an allusion about a
divorce document, and certain funerary practices (e.g., gasling oneself )
are forbidden. Te marking of adolescence, bar mitzval, never appears in
tle Hebrew Bible, and in fact does not become a common )ewisl practice
until tle Middle Ages.

By almost any modern standard, tle Tanak is a peculiar book. It is a lis-

torical narrative, law code, and collection of poems and proverbs all rolled
into one. Its narratives are generally sparse, suggestive, and powerful, ex-
cept wlere tley are contradictory, repetitive, and in tle case of tle ex-
tended genealogies, simply tedious. By modern sensibilities, tle laws are an
odd agglomeration of etlical ideals, irrational and unexplained practices,
and barbaric prescriptions. Te Tanaks beliefs are frequently in tension,
sometimes witl mutually exclusive ideas presented togetler in tle same
story. Te Tanak seems to advocate many views at tle same time and witl
equal autlority.
Te earliest religious readers of tle Tanak assumed its divine autlor-
slip. Nevertleless, tley were sensitive to and struggled to explain tlese
,o cvi1io iuiisr
interpretive gaps, inconsistencies, and redundancies. Typically, as will be
furtler discussed below, tley acknowledged textual problems but attrib-
uted intentionality to tlem, Cod created a problem witl tle intention of
teacling us sometling new. Flaws in tle text are tlus only apparent.
Modern sclolars do not lave tle luxury of assuming a perfect text.
Clearly, wlen tle Tanak is presumed to be a luman literary work, otler
explanations for tlese textual problems must be found, tlis is tle view
to wlicl I alluded above wlen I mentioned tle autlorslip of tle Toral.
Te many tleological, ritual, and otler contradictions witlin tle Toral
alone lave led sclolars to propose tle documentary lypotlesis. Accord-
ing to tlis lypotlesis, tle Toral began as a collection of discrete sources.
An editor, or group or groups of editors, spliced tlese sources togetler to
create tle Toral as it now survives. Wlile tlere is no denitive proof for
tle veracity of tlis lypotlesis (none of tle suspected original sources lave
survived as independent texts), it does a remarkably good job of explain-
ing many of tle puzzling inconsistencies and redundancies in tle biblical
text. Sclolars continue to debate, sometimes leatedly, wlicl passage in tle
Toral derives from wlicl source or wlen precisely tle Toral was redacted
and by wlom (witl most biblical sclolars agreeing to date at least tle nal
redaction to tle time of tle Babylonian exile, ca. 86 vci), but sclolars
generally accept tle lypotlesis.
Wlere, tlougl, did tlese earlier materials come from: Wlo wrote tlem,
and wly did tle nal redactor(s) include tlem: Wlat interests do tlese
earlier sources represent:
Most biblical sclolars today tlink tlat tlere were ve primary sources
of tle Toral, conventionally labeled ), E, P, D, and H. Te ) source is so
called because of it use of YHWH for tle name of Cod (Y ) in Cerman),
wlereas texts associated witl E use a dierent name (Elolim) for Cod. P
is tle priestly document (parts of Exodus and mucl of Leviticus), and D
is tle book of Deuteronomy, in recognition of tle colerence and integrity
of Deuteronomy wlen compared witl tle otler four books of tle Toral.
At some point during or after tle redaction tlere was probably anotler
priestly intervention, tlese contributions lave been called H.
Even as a sclolarly lypotlesis, tle documentary lypotlesis is not per-
fect. Yet it does lave tle advantage of explaining tle innate weirdness of tle
Toral. It provides, for example, a plausible explanation for tle two creation
stories at tle beginning of Cenesis. For ancient readers of tle Bible, sucl as
tle Rabbis and early Clurcl fatlers, tlis redundancy was not a minor prob-
lem. Tey explained it in several dierent ways, suggesting, for example,
cvi1io iuiisr ,1
tlat tlere were two creations or tlat tle second is an expansion of tle rst.
Even tley, lowever, saw it as a problem tlat needed to be addressed.
According to tle documentary lypotlesis, tlese two stories stem from
two (or, really, tlree) dierent sources. Te rst creation account, like tle
more identiably priestly documents, emplasizes a transcendent Cod and
strict and natural categories and divisions and is tlus seen as deriving from
tle P source. Te messier second creation story, witl its immanent, some-
times angry Cod and luman drama, slares its narrative concerns witl
otler biblical texts identied as deriving from tle ) and E sources. At some
point tle ) and E accounts were combined into tle story tlat is now tle sec-
ond account of creation. Te nal redactor (wlo may or may not lave been
involved witl tlis earlier redaction) apparently felt tlat neitler tle P nor
tle )E story could be omitted, tley botl must lave been seen as autlorita-
tive witlin tle redactors community. Finding no easy way to combine tlese
two accounts, tle redactor placed tlem side by side, despite tleir seeming
Te documentary lypotlesis can explain botl contradictions and re-
dundancies. Te Toral was not made up during tle period of exile but
carefully compiled from preexistent, perlaps quite ancient, sources. Over
millennia tlese sources became so revered tlat tle redactor dared not ex-
clude tlem, even wlen tley contradict or repeat eacl otler. Note tlat tlis
model includes an implicit assumption about tle way in wlicl stories and
texts acquire autlorityratler tlan suddenly appearing to universal ac-
ceptance and acclaim, tley gradually gain autlority until tley become (or
do not become) canonical for a certain community. Te process by wlicl
a text becomes autloritative for a community is known as canonization,
and it is most likely tlat tle Toral was composed from sources tlat were
tlemselves canonical.
Te same gradual process of canonization was probably also at work in
tle addition of otler biblical books to tle Toral. All tle way tlrougl tle
end of antiquity tlere were many books in circulation tlat claimed divine
autlority. Wly were some included in wlat would become tle canonical
Hebrew Bible and otlers not: Te propletic writings included in tle He-
brew Bible must be only a fraction of tle literature of tlis type produced
during tle period of tle First Temple and immediately after its destruction.
Wly include tle apocalypses of Daniel, some of wlicl we can date to some
certainty to tle Hellenistic period, but exclude tle contemporary apoca-
lypses of Enocl, a pseudepigraplical book ultimately preserved only by
tle Etliopic Clurcl: Wly include tle precociously existentialist book of
,z cvi1io iuiisr
Ecclesiastes, but exclude tle more pious book of Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sira),
wlicl some Rabbis were citing as scripture well into tle tlird century ci:
Te answers to tlese questions are complex and not fully understood, but
tley indicate tlat canonization was a communal and unpredictable pro-
cess, ratler tlan a one-time imposition from tle top down.
Te process of canonization itself probably spanned many centuries. It
is possible tlat tle community tlat autlored tle Dead Sea scrolls (ca. o
vci66 ci) did not accept tle book of Estler into tleir Bible but did in-
clude otler books sucl as tle Temple Scroll, wlicl appears to conate por-
tions of tle Toral and is narrated in tle rst-person voice of Cod. And
even wlen canonization more or less came to an end (rabbis in tle sec-
ond century ci were still debating tle appropriateness of including Song
of Songs, a collection of erotic poetry, in tle canon), tle precise text of tle
various books remained in ux until tle Masoretes created a standard text
tlat was accepted by tle )ewisl community.
Nor can tle Tanak be seen as developing in some kind of splendid isola-
tion from its milieu. Aramaic, a Semitic language similar to Hebrew and
tle legal lingua franca of tle Persian Empire, was incorporated into tle late
biblical books, Ezra, Nelemial, and Daniel all contain sections in Aramaic.
Aramaic would, in fact, remain dominant in many regions of tle land of
Israel and tle Near East well into tle Hellenistic and Roman eras. Some
biblical religious ideas, sucl as dualism and a belief in an angelic lost, prob-
ably originated witlin tlis Persian environment. References to contempo-
raneous listorical events can be found in parts of Daniel, and Ecclesiastes
exlibits familiarity witl some Creek plilosoplical concepts.

For all its diversity tle Hebrew Bible cannot in any way be seen as a trans-
parent account of tle actual religious life of tle Israelites. Like all sacred
texts, tle Hebrew Bible is more intent on delineating tle ought ratler
tlan tle is, tle prescriptive ratler tlan tle descriptive. Te community
tlat accepted as sacred tle Toral and tle otler books tlat would com-
prise tle Tanak was probably only a fraction of tle total community of
Israel, and even tley would not laveindeed, given tle many contra-
dictions and lacunae, could not lavelived entirely according to tlese
writings. In fact, tle Tanaks frequent polemics against practices of wlicl
it disapproves provides some evidence for tle gap between tle ideal re-
ligion it prescribes and common practice. Many Israelites continued to
cvi1io iuiisr ,
worslip cult objects, or at cult sites, despite tle pointed monotleism
and centralization of tle Tanak. No Israelite community, even tlat of tle
united monarcly under David and Solomon, apparently paid mucl at-
tention to tle )ubilee year. Israelites no doubt took seriously tleir Temple
and its regular sacrices as keeping tlem in good account witl tleir god,
but actual Israelite religious belief and practice was predictably diverse
and frequently detacled from scriptural prescriptions. Wlile Ezra and
Nelemials communities were resettling )erusalem, a group of Persian
)ewisl mercenaries garrisoned on tle Nile island of Eleplantine in Egypt
took tleir )ewislness so seriously tlat it brouglt tlem into violent con-
ict witl local residents, unaware tlat tle Toral forbade tlem to oer
tle pasclal sacrice in tleir own local temple.
Te gap between scriptural prescriptions and actual practice most likely
widens once one leaves tle narrow class boundaries of tle Hebrew Bibles
intended audience. Te voice of tle Toral, and, for tlat matter, practically
every biblical book, is tlat of tle Israelite male property lolder. You are
told witl wlicl women you may and may not lave sex, low to treat your
slaves, and low to resolve business disputes. Otler groups, altlougl to-
getler constituting a majority of tle Israelite community, are pusled to tle
margins. Women, for example, are not discriminated against so mucl as
tley are ignored. Tey play important roles in several biblical narratives,
but biblical law lardly addresses tlem. Te Torals main concern witl
women is sexual. Women are deemed ritually impure (not to be confused
witl morally impure or dirty) during tleir menstrual periods and after
clildbirtl and are to avoid sexual relations and contact witl loly space
during tlese periods. Adultery, in tle law of tle Hebrew Bible, is dened
as sex between a man and a woman wlo is married to anotler man, tle
mans marital status is irrelevant to tlis legal denition. Wlile a married
womans sexuality teclnically belongs to ler lusband, ler misuse of it is
also construed as a crime against Cod, and botl adulterer and adulteress
are condemned to deatl. Te gender assumptions in tlis literature are en-
tirely conventional and slared by contemporary societies. Accordingly, tle
Hebrew Bible provides virtually no insiglt into tle actual religious lives of
Israelite women. Te Hebrew Bible portrays some women as strong and
active agents, manipulating tleir fatlers (Lots dauglters), lusbands (Re-
becca), fatlers-in-law (Tamar), and otlers , slaying generals (Yael), sing-
ing love songs (Song of Songs), and piously praying (Hannal). Despite tle
vividness of tlese literary portraits, tley reveal little listorically about real
Israelite women.
, cvi1io iuiisr
Te Israelites, even tle ones tlat generated tle Toral, did not live in a
vacuum. Parallels to many biblical stories and nearly all tle biblical concepts
and rituals abound in otler extant literature of tle Ancient Near East. Te
autlors of tle sources of tle Hebrew Bible, as well as its redactors, were u-
ent in tle Canaanite and Mesopotamian cultures in wlicl tley lived, and
tle ngerprints of tlese cultures can be found scattered tlrouglout. Yet
tle biblical autlors transformed tlose cultural resources, at times subtly
and at otler times more substantially. Te Hebrew Bible drew basic tleo-
logical concepts about tle nature of Cod, covenant, and redemption from
tle peoples around tlem, as well as its institutions, modes of autlority, and
many ritual practices, wlile at tle same time modifying and combining
tlese concepts into sometling new and distinctive. Tat tle Hebrew Bible
is so concerned witl separation from tle peoples of tle land testies indi-
rectly to tle process of identity formation tlat would come to claracterize
later )ewisl groups as well.

To clart tle development of tle biblical text and its gradual acceptance
by tle people Israel as tle word of Cod is in some sense to clart tle very
beginning of )udaism. Te existence of a loly text tlat can serve as a stable
source of divine autlorityin contrast to tle oral and unpredictable me-
diation of proplet and priestseparates tle autlors of tle Hebrew Bible,
tle Israelites, from its rst readers, tle )ews. If tle sources tlat make up
tle Tanak reect Israelite religious beliefs and practices, tleir redaction
and canonization, most notably in tle Toral, points toward a new religious
crystallization as sometling we can label )udaism.
From tle late sixtl century and tle building of tle Second Temple in )e-
rusalem, tle Tanakat tlat time still a uid and developing body of sacred
textslas served as tle foundation for a distinctly )ewisl textual tradition.
In tlis sense my students, along witl early Clristians and Muslims, were
correct: Nearly every )ewisl group las placed tle Tanak at its centeras
tle autloritative starting point of conversation. But a leavy emplasis must
be put on tle plrase starting point. Along witl tle canon tlere developed
a distinctively )ewisl way of reading tle Tanak, an extrascriptural set of
assumptions about tle text and tle correct interpretative teclniques to
be applied to it. Despite tle later Protestant understanding (still very mucl
witl us today) tlat Scriptures meaning is transparently and completely
cvi1io iuiisr ,
contained witlin tle text itself, )ewisl religious communities lave always
read tle Tanak tlrougl an interpretive lens.
Wlat, tlen, does it mean to say tlat tle Hebrew Bible las fundamental
importance in )udaism as a record of Cods revelation: Its narratives are a
source of enduring mytls tlat lave lelped to slape tle worldview of many
dierent )ewisl communities. Its laws, altlougl often reinterpreted, are
tle basis for, or at least can be used to autlorize, )ewisl laws and ritual. Its
devotional literature continues to reverberate in )ewisl liturgy. It is seen as
containing all trutl, and its study is a religious obligation.
Trouglout listory )ews lave regarded tle Tanak as foundational wlile
developing complex modes of reading and supplementing it. For tle Frencl
friars of tle tlirteentl century tlis was a perversion of wlat tley imagined
to be tle pure biblical religion of tle )ews. Yet, for tle last fteen lundred
years, )udaism las almost universally meant rabbinic )udaism, a mix of
texts, interpretive lenses, traditions, rituals, and concepts created or sys-
tematized by tle Rabbis. But tle Rabbis did not emerge from a vacuum
wlen tle Second Temple was destroyed in ;o ci. Trouglout tle Second
Temple period, )ewisl communities began to develop and work out, along-
side tle Temple and its rituals, wlat exactly a religion based on a set of ca-
nonical texts miglt mean. And, as we slall see, tley discovered tlat it could
mean many dierent tlings.
roii ovii in wlicl botl Toral and Temple peacefully coex-
isted, in wlicl tle sages and tleir progenitors ran tle Temple service
according to tle exact will of Cod as tley discerned it in tle Toral, in
wlicl tle people of tle land of Israel followed tlese prerabbinic and rab-
binic interpretations voluntarilywitl tle occasional sectarian dispute
strictly for tle sake of leaven, in wlicl tle )ews outside tle land of Israel
looked carefully to tle sages of Israel for guidance and strictly followed tleir
advice. Imagine, tlat is, a world tlat never was.
Wlen tle Rabbis looked back at tle Second Temple period (ca.
vci;o ci), tlis is more or less tle world tlat tley saw. Tey portrayed
tlemselves as living in a silver age, a pale copy of tle golden age of yore. Te
Temple lay in ruins and direct divine communication, in tleir evaluation,
lad ceased. But wlen tle Rabbis developed tleir own vision of )udaism,
witl Toral and study at its center, tley saw it as continuous witl tle prac-
tices of an earlier period. Rabbinic listoriograply, unsurprisingly, lelped
tlem to autlorize tleir own values and project.
Te real listory of tle Second Temple period, lowever, was far less
monoclromatic tlan tle Rabbis painted it. It is an uneven story of variety
and tension, of )ews struggling to integrateor divideToral, Temple, and
tleir own unocial religious practices and to reconcile tle mix witl a
self-understanding as )ewisl. Te Rabbis did not arise in a vacuum, but nei-
tler did tley seamlessly continue tle traditions of a golden age.

nr:rr :nrs
o irvusirr
vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir ,;
Alexander tle Creat roared tlrougl tle Near East in a vci. Te Persians
quickly fell back, and, by tle time of Alexanders deatl in a vci, most of
tle Near East was securely in Creek lands. Alexanders enormous empire
was divided between lis generals, among tlese new administrative districts
were tlose assigned to Ptolemy (Egypt) and Seleucus (Syria) and tleir de-
scendents. Te sliver of land tlat tle )ews knew as Zion or tle land of Israel
fell squarely in between tlese two dynasties, and over tle next century tley
frequently battled for control of it. Altlougl for most of tlis period it re-
mained under tle control of tle Ptolemies, tle Seleucid king Antioclus III
decisively wrested control of tle land in aoo vci.
Creek rule brouglt linguistic, administrative, and cultural clanges,
wlicl aected )ews of dierent times and places in widely diverse ways.
Aramaic was replaced witl Creek as tle lingua franca, altlougl many )ews,
especially outside tle cities, continued to use it for nearly anotler millen-
nium, )esus appeared to speak Aramaic and tle Palestinian Talmud, re-
dacted around (oo ci, uses an Aramaic dialect. Te Creek world put more
emplasis tlan tle Persians on tle corporate identities of individual cities,
eacl called a polis and containing its own administrative structures. Wlile
members of tle polis lad to pay taxes to botl tleir city and tle king, tleir
primary allegiance and source of identity was witl tle polis.
Te Creek city brouglt witl it a complex of religious and cultural ideas
tlat would become known as Hellenism. Te precise slape of tlis complex
varied widely, but generally included an appreciation of classical Creek lit-
erature and plilosoplical ideas. Homer, Plato, and tle classical Creek play-
wriglts and sculptors were not only studied but also used as models for
new cultural creations. Hellenism was claracterized not so mucl by slavisl
imitation of classical Creek models (altlougl some sclolars, particularly
art listorians, do see it tlis way) as by a dynamic engagement witl tlose
models tlat led to tle production of a new and distinctive culture.
Tis was a culture tlat was widely embraced. Hellenistic kings as a rule
did not impose culture. Tey miglt nancially support tle artists and
tlinkers tlat tley liked, but tley were also content to allow tle native, con-
quered peoples to remain tle barbarians tle Creeks tlouglt tlem to be.
As long as tley continued to peacefully pay tleir taxes, tley were free to
practice tleir ancestral customs. Most people in tle Creek world, tlougl,
found Hellenism attractive. Communities of natives agitated for tle riglt
to form a polis and many began slowly to see tleir own cultures and reli-
gious customs in Hellenistic categories.
,8 vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir
Te )ews were not exceptional in tlis respect. Prior to tle second cen-
tury vci, )ews slowed no conspicuous aversion to Hellenistic culture. Some
)ews and )ewisl communities were quicker tlan otlers to adopt it, but tlis
was often tle result of many factors otler tlan conscious resistance. In tle
legal documents from Egypt, for example, )ews appear to participate in tle
new Hellenistic cultural and administrative institutions more fully and witl
more acceptance tlan tle native Egyptians, wlom tle Creeks (as tle de-
scendents of tle Macedonian conquerors called tlemselves) despised. In
)erusalem two )ewisl autlors experimented witl new Creek ideas and lit-
erary forms, altlougl in Hebrew. Neitler appear to lave seen any conict
between Hellenistic ideas and tleir tradition. Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus), wlo
was probably a )ewisl scribe in )erusalem, wrote a long Hebrew book around
aoo vci tlat imitated tle biblical wisdom style wlile at tle same time con-
dently incorporating more cosmopolitan ideas. Altlougl it was ultimately
not included in tle Tanak (but is included in tle Apocrypla, a collection of
)ewisl writings tlat tle Catlolic Clurcl to tlis day preserves in its canon),
as late as tle fourtl century ci some Rabbis were citing it approvingly. Ec-
clesiastes, wlicl was included in tle Tanak, was also written at tlis time.
Attributed to King Solomon, tle autlor of tlis Hellenistic book draws upon
current Creek plilosoplical ideas to cynically portray a world adrift.
Among Creek-speaking )ews, lowever, tle translation of tle Toral (and,
over tle course of centuries, tle otler books of tle Tanak) into Creek lad
far wider ramications. According to tle legend found in later )ewisl writ-
ers, around tle year aoo vci King Ptolemy desired to translate tle Toral
into Creek and summoned seventy )ewisl elders to do tle work. Eacl
worked alone and eacl emerged witl precisely tle same translation. Tis
miraculous event was commemorated by an annual festival. More impor-
tant, tlis legend autlorizes tle Septuagint, or LXX, as a divinely sanctioned
text. Sclolars today do not know low far tlis legend can be pusled: Is tlere
a listorical kernel at its core, namely, tlat Ptolemy did sponsor tlis transla-
tion, eitler in order to aid judges wlo were now sometimes called upon to
render decisions according to )ewisl law or to add to tle growing Alexan-
drian library: Or was tlis a translation sponsored by tle )ewisl communi-
ty, losing its facility witl Hebrew: In eitler case, tle Septuagint was widely
accepted by tle )ewisl community.
Civen tlis broad )ewisl acceptance of Hellenism, wlat is one to make of
tle Maccabean uprising, commemorated eacl year in tle )ewisl liturgical
calendar as Hannukal: According to tle traditional story, in 68 vci tle
Seleucid king, Antioclus IV, forced Hellenism on tle )ews, forbade tlem
vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir ,,
tleir traditional practices, and desecrated tle Temple. Tis ultimately re-
sulted in a )ewisl uprising under tle leaderslip of tle Maccabee family,
wlo recaptured and rededicated tle Temple, in tle course of wlicl a mir-
acle allowed a days wortl of oil in tle Temple to burn for eiglt days. By 6a
vci tle direct Seleucid control of tle land of Israel gave way to a semiau-
tonomous )ewisl nation led by tle descendents of tle Maccabees, tle Has-
monean kings. In tlis version of tle story, wlicl derives primarily from tle
book a Maccabees, a )ewisl listory written around oo vci in Creek and
preserved in tle Apocrypla, Hannukal is really about tle )ewisl resistance
to Hellenism. It is tlis autlor, in fact, wlo rst coins botl tle words Hel-
lenism and Judaism, seeing tlem as locked in mortal and eternal combat.
Tis was a usage later appropriated by early Clristians, and its basic asser-
tiontlat tlere is an identiably essential )udaism or )ewisl culture in
conict witl a single, bounded Hellenistic culturelas survived, to some
extent, even to tle present day.
Te real story is not as simple. Sclolars widely dispute tle causes of tle
Maccabean revolt. Wlat does seem clear is tlat tle revolt was not about
a culture clasl between )udaism and Hellenism or even assimilation.
By no means are tle Maccabee brotlers anti-Hellenistic, one of tle rst
tlings tley did after tleir success was to acclaim tlemselves kings in tradi-
tional Hellenistic style. According to one modern interpretation, disputes
between )ews over tle political status of )erusalem (i.e., slould it be trans-
formed into a Creek polis:) mixed witl old family feuds to create sucl a
claotic situation tlat tle Seleucid (Creek) overlords felt it necessary to in-
tervene. Teir insensitive (and perlaps cruel) intervention merely fueled
tle conict, leading to open revolt. But tlere seemed to lave been little
)ewisl discomfort witl Hellenistic language, ideas, political structures, and
economic institutions.
It was in tlis world tlat )ews, botl witlin tle semiautonomous land of
Israel and in tle Mediterranean diaspora, began to work out tle meaning
of tle Toral and, to a lesser degree, tle otler books tlat would ultimate-
ly be incorporated into tle Tanak. Te Toral itself was a relatively stable
text, perlaps even more so in its Creek translation tlan its Hebrew original
(wlicl seems to lave existed in dierent versions), and )ews almost univer-
sally expressed tleir adlerence to it. Te meaning of tlat adlerence and
tle ways tlat tley understood tle Toral, tlougl, varied widely. Yet if any-
tling linked tlese diverse readings of tle Toral it was tleir slared commit-
ment to a text, in mucl tle same manner tlat Creeks used tleir own ca-
nonical texts to power tleir creative cultural and religious production. It is
1oo vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir
commonly known tlat many )ews from tlis period wlo wrote in Creek
used Creek ideas and concepts, tleir references to tlem are frequently
overt. Sclolars lave traditionally lumped tlese texts togetler into some-
tling tley lave called Hellenistic )udaism, wlicl stands against tle purer,
or less Hellenized, )udaism of tle land of Israel. Tis sclolarly model las
been progressively weakening, and I would suggest tlat tle cultural context
of tle Hellenistic world decisively slapes all )udaism of tle period. Tis
slaping occurs not only on tle relatively supercial level of concepts and
terms but also at tle more fundamental level of tle way tlat tle Toral, like
Homer and Plato, are placed at tle canonical center of a culture. Tere was
a basic fault line in tle )udaism of tle period, and tlat line does, rouglly,
run between )ews inside and outside tle land of Israel. However, it is less
about tle quantity of Hellenism or amount of Hellenistic inuence tlan it
is about power. As in our own world, in wlicl tle issue of power decisively
and distinctively slapes American and Israeli )udaism, so too during tle
late Second Temple period was tle reading of Toral fundamentally slaped
by tle issue of )ewisl power.

Outside tle land of Israel, )ews primarily saw tle Toral, typically in its
Septuagint version, as a kind of legal constitution. )ust as eacl polis lad its
constitution, so too did )ews, constituting sometling like a dispersed me-
tropolis, lad tleir Toral. In tle few cases wlere tle )ews lad some actual
legal autonomy witlin a Hellenistic polis (tley were rarely able to attain
full, Creek citizen status in tlese cities), tley may lave used tle Toral,
as tley understood it, as a guide for adjudicating civil (and perlaps even
criminal) law. Trouglout tle Creek world, lowever, Toral served a more
basic function witlin )ewisl communities as a site of identity. )ews drew
on tle Torals stories to create tleir own imagined community, and on its
distinctive practices, as read in tlrougl tleir listorically embedded lens, to
enact tlis identity socially.
Today it is often dicult to pin down tle concept of )ewisl literature
wlat, after all, makes a literature )ewisl: Among tle ancient )ewisl Creek
writers, lowever, tlis is lardly a problem: Virtually all tleir literature is
based upon tle Toral. Moses became tle )ewisl Homer, Plato, and Solon
(tle Creek lawgiver) all rolled into one, and )ewisl writers endlessly retold
lis stories. One writer, Artapanus, rewrote tle biblical story of tle Exodus
to make tle )ews tle source of everytling good in Egyptian civilization,
vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir 1o1
wlile Ezekiel tle Tragedian recast tle Exodus story into a Creek-style
drama, told in good verse. Te Torals narratives were taken seriously as a
listory of a people, using contemporary listoriograplic tools, Demetrius
tle Clronograpler set to work reconciling tle inconsistent biblical clro-
nologies. Tese stories all lelped to reinforce a sense of Israel as a people
witl a slared listory.
Plilo oers a more complex account of )ewisl identity. His life provides
an intriguing example of )ewisl identity and its negotiation in a Creek city.
Born in tle rst century vci to wlat appears to be a wealtly and distin-
guisled )ewisl family, Plilo spent lis life (to tle best of our knowledge) in
Alexandria, Egypt. His neplew, Tiberius )ulius Alexander, aclieved sucl
prominence tlat tle Romans appointed lim procurator in )udea in (6(8
ci. Plilo limself was devoted to tle study and writing of plilosoply. He
laments tle day tlat tlis life came to an end, wlen tle )ewisl community
of Alexandria called on lim to lead a delegation to Rome to protest tleir
treatment. Before being called into public service, tlougl, le was prolic.
Among otler tlings le wrote on tle creation of tle world, tle interpreta-
tion of tle Toral (in its Creek translation), tle stories of Cenesis, tle lives
of tle great biblical gures, and tle laws and tleir meaning. As varied as
tley are, eacl of tlese works exlibits tle same unswervingly solid sense
of lis own )ewisl identity togetler witl a complete comfort in and facility
witl Hellenistic concepts and plilosoply.
Plilo is far from representative of lis )ewisl contemporaries, eitler in
lis personal listory or lis tlouglt. Moreover, despite lis best eorts to
create a colerent set of ideas about tle nature of )udaism, le frequently
falls slort, le often contradicts limself or simply does not follow tlrougl
witl tle tlread of lis arguments. At tle same time, lis ideas do resonate
witl tlose found in contemporary )ewisl writings.
Plilo curiously distinguisles tle communities Israel and tle )ews.
Te former le links to tle experience indicated by lis understanding of tle
terms etymologyIsrael means one wlo sees Cod. All wlo, following tle
model of tle biblical )acob, directly experience Cod qualify as members of
Israel. Te Jews, tlougl, le sees as a social entity witl no necessary equiva-
lence witl Israel. Tat said, le does posit an overlap, in wlicl tle )ews are
fundamentally identied witl Israel. At tle same time, Israel remains a des-
ignation open to tlose non-)ews wlo directly experience Cod.
Plilos model of Israel is ambiguous and leaves many unanswered ques-
tions: Is ones memberslip in Israel stable depending on ones continuing
experience: Would le lave considered Plato a member of Israel, and, if so,
1oz vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir
would Plilo say tlat le remained a non-)ew, or does acquiring status as
Israel in some way translate into )ewislness: At tle same time, tlis under-
standing of Israel broadens its potential memberslip. How tlis was to work
on tle ground remains unclear, but Israel is lere divorced from etlnicity.
Tis tleological denition of Israel reappears witl vigor in early Clristian
writings, and, as I will discuss in a later clapter, probably in tle writings of
Plilos writings also provide a window into low at least some )ews tleo-
logically read tle Toral. Above all, Plilo is an exegete, lis writing is tlor-
ouglly informed by lis reading of tle Toral. As we lave seen, tlougl, tle
Toral is a multivocal text, and Plilo freely emplasized tle parts tlat le
found congenial. Wlen reading tle beginning of Cenesis, for example, le
was more taken witl tle transcendent Cod of Cenesis tlan witl tle less
assured Cod of tle next clapter. Using allegorical teclniques of interpreta-
tion, Plilo relentlessly stamps out biblical antlropomorplism. Plilos Cod
is transcendent and perfect, barely conceivable by mere mortals:
)ust so anyone entering tlis world, as it were some vast louse or city,
and belolding tle sky circling round and embracing witlin it all tlings,
and planets and xed stars witlout any variation moving in rlytlmical
larmony and witl advantage to tle wlole, and tle eartl witl tle central
space assigned to it . . . and over and above tlese, living creatures, mortal
and immortal beings, plants and fruits in great variety, le will surely ar-
gue tlat tlese lave not been wrouglt witlout consummate art, but tlat
tle Maker of tlis wlole universe was and is Cod. Tose, wlo tlus base
tleir reasoning on wlat is before tleir eyes, apprelend Cod by means of a
sladow cast, discerning tle Articer by means of His works.
Except by tle purest of minds (exemplied by, and perlaps limited to, Mo-
ses), Cod cannot be apprelended directly. Like otler ancient plilosoplers,
Plilo saw tle world and tle cosmos as tle best witness to Cods existence.
Plilo was certainly not tle rst writer to emplasize Cods absolute otl-
erness. Aristobulus, sometimes called tle rst )ewisl plilosopler, also las
a palpable discomfort of biblical antlropomorplism. He exlorts lis reader
to receive tle interpretations [i.e., biblical antlropomorplisms] according
to tle laws of nature and to grasp tle tting conception of Cod and not to
fall into tle mytlical and luman way of tlinking about Cod.
Cods de-
scent on Sinai could not be local, for Cod is everywleretle Toral only
portrays Cods descent on Sinai in order to slow tlat tle power of re,
vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir 1o
wlicl is marvelous beyond all tlings because it consumes all tlings, blazes
witlout substance and consumes notling, unless tle power from Cod (to
consume) is added to it.
Wlen Aristobulus read tle Bible, le did so as a
Creek-trained plilosopler: He, like Plilo, really believed tlat tlis was wlat
tle Bible meant. Te Toral may lave been at tle center of tleir self-under-
standing as )ews, but it was tle Toral as read tlrougl tle lens of tleir own
Hellenistic culture.
Tis same tendency is clear in Plilos otler writing. As in tle Hebrew
Bible, Plilo attributes free cloice to luman beings, lis antlropology, low-
ever, is entirely more pessimistic. Te Hebrew Bible makes no real distinc-
tion between a material body and an eternal soul, a binary antlropology
widely accepted by ancient Creek plilosoplers. Plilo does. Altlougl lis
antlropology is not consistent, several times le insists tlat lumans are
eternal souls trapped in imperfect bodies. Te lumansultimately un-
aclievabletask is to strive like Moses to elevate, or even free, tle soul
from its eartlly constraints. Pure piety is pure mind. If tle ordinary per-
son, or even plilosopler, cannot aclieve purity, le (for Plilo, women were
constitutionally unable to do tlis) can at least work to subdue tle body and
elevate tle soul. One way to develop tle mind is tlrougl tle study of pli-
losoply. Plilo, in fact, reads tle Torals value as containing plilosoplical
trutls, unlocked tlrougl allegorical interpretation. Te Torals account of
creation, for example, is not really about tle creation of tle world and tle
drama of Adam and Eve: it is primarily an allegorical statement about tle
nature of luman beings.
Cood )ews not only study tle Toral allegorically to unlock its plilosopl-
ical treasures, tlus lelping to free tle mind from its corporeal imprison-
ment, tley also belave morally. In Plilos readings, tle Torals laws lave
dierent dimensions. Tey are, in a sense, an embodiment of tle more ab-
stract law of nature. To belave according to tle Torals laws is to belave
according to tlis universal law of nature and tlusin a Stoic senseto be
at one witl tle world. Simultaneously, Plilo lolds tle laws of tle Toral up
as being tle best and most moral of any nation. Plilo ingeniously groups
all tle laws under tle rubric of tle Ten Commandments. Eacl precept, no
matter low seemingly random, tlus points toward a ligler morality. Using
Pytlagorean number tleory, le reads tle Sabbatl prolibitions as con-
cretely enacting tle perfection of tle number ; and tle cosmic larmony
tlat it embodies.
Aristobulus and Plilo were not tle only )ews of tlis time wlo under-
stood )udaism as a plilosoply tlat was largely in accord witl nature. Te
1o vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir
autlors of tle Letter of Aristeas and ( Maccabees portray )udaism as
founded on reason, even some of tle seemingly odder customs (e.g., tle
food laws) are given a rational basis. )oseplus, a )ewisl aristocrat and priest
from tle rst century ci wlo would go on to glt in tle revolt against
Rome before crossing over to tle Roman side, refers to )udaism as a plilos-
oply. Te growing tendency among tlese autlorswlo, it must be admit-
ted, almost certainly represent a small, male, and elite minority of )ews at
tlis timeepitomizes tle ways in wlicl listorical contexts fundamentally
slaped )ewisl self-understanding.
Wlence did )ews derive tle idea tlat )udaism was a plilosoply: Most
likely, from non-)ews. As early as tle fourtl century vci Creek pliloso-
plers began to recognize tle )ewisl religion as plilosoplical, an idea tlat
soon spread tlrouglout tle Creek and Roman worlds. Apparently struck
by tle absence of images (idols) in tleir worslip, and identifying )ews
witl tle mytlical wise men of tle East (especially India), several Creek
and Roman plilosoplers referred to )udaism as plilosoplical. Men like
Aristobulus and Plilo, raised and to some extent educated in tlis same cul-
tural environment began to see tlemselves as otlers saw tlem. Plilosoply
tlus became a lter tlrougl wlicl to read tle Toral, tle Toral yielded a
plilosoplical reading because it was tlouglt to be plilosoplical.
Yet understanding )udaism as a plilosoply never, in tle eyes of tlese
)ewisl writers, decreased tle need for )ews to subscribe to tle actual
plysical belaviors tlat tley saw as commanded by tle Toral. Plilo insists
tlat allegorical interpretation of tle Torals laws (as le understood tlem)
supplements ratler tlan replaces tleir literal applicability. Indeed, le rails
against tlose )ewisl allegorizers wlo were advocating a strictly allegori-
cal reading of tle Toral. If Plilo was true to lis word, in lis own life le was
a follower of tle commandments.
But wlicl commandments: Te Toral is frequently as obscure about
ritual practice as it is about concepts. Plilos exposition of wlat le saw
as correct )ewisl belavior is uneven. )ews, le says, slould not work on
tle Sabbatl, but tle only example tlat le gives about low to understand
work is not liglting a re. Like tle Bible, le prescribes a pasclal sacrice,
but le suggests tlat it need not be made at tle Temple in )erusalem. He
follows tle biblical prolibitions against eating certain kinds of animals, but
le seems unaware of any special way of slaugltering tle permitted animals
or of separating milk from meat products. He nowlere mentions regular
prayer (except on tle Sabbatl) or plylacteries. He interprets tle Festival of
Trumpets, Rosl Haslanal, as laving a twofold signicance, symbolizing
vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir 1o
botl tle trumpets tlat sounded at tle giving of tle Toral on Mount Sinai
as well as tle trumpets of warle slows no awareness of tlis loliday as
a New Year festival. He miglt be reecting tle practice of lis community
wlen le states tlat Yom Kippur is carefully observed not only by tle zeal-
ous for piety and loliness but also by tlose wlo never act religiously in tle
rest of tleir life.
At times Plilo can go beyond tle letter of tle law. He says
tlat tle law condemns a prostitute to deatl, wlicl is nowlere stated in tle
Toral or tle later rabbinic tradition. His treatments of pedoplilia and clild
abandonment draw upon early )ewisl extensions of biblical prolibitions.
Sclolars debate tle extent to wlicl Plilo accurately portrays tle )ew-
isl practices of lis day. Clearly, most Alexandrian )ews at tle turn of tle
millennium were not like Plilo. But it is not unreasonable to suppose tlat
tley too read, or lad read to tlem, tle Septuagint and understood it as
tleir divinely ordained constitution. Maybe some oered sacrices to tle
Cod of Israel at tle Temple of Onias in Leontopolisapparently a rival to
tle )erusalem Temple establisled in tle second century vci by tle priest
Onias III wlo ed )erusalem during tle unrestbut most probably did not
oer sacrices to otler gods. Tere were synagogues in tle diasporan )ew-
isl communities in wlicl )ews probably prayed, especially on tle Sabbatl.
Non-)ews almost universally noted tlat )ews did not work on tle Sabbatl,
tlat tley circumcised tleir boys, and tlat tley did not eat pork, most of
tlese writers found tlese customs botl distinctive and peculiar.
It is also true tlat, even if some )ewisl communities lad tle legal riglt
to administer tleir aairs semiautonomously, tley did so very mucl in
accord witl tle non-)ews around tlem. One of tle most striking clar-
acteristics of tle scores of papyri found in Egypt tlat pertain to )ews or
tlings )ewisl is tle very lack of a striking claracteristic. )ewisl contracts,
wletler for tle sale of a louse or a marriage, look mucl like all otler
Creek contracts of tle time. Te range and application of Toral were lim-
ited, not every comment or even law in tle Toral was converted into a
respected social and civic norm.
Nor did valuing Toral as a foundational document translate into see-
ing study of Toral as a mode of piety. Te few diasporan synagogue in-
scriptions tlat date to tle Second Temple period rarely mention tle Toral.
Contemporary epitapls, wlicl in general memorialize tle claracteristics
tlat a society values, never mention adlerence to tle Toral or knowl-
edge of Toral as wortly of commemoration. Ratler, tley commemorated
somewlat banal qualities tlat )ew and non-)ew would all lave seen as in-
dications of a pious life.
1o6 vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir
Tis is tle )udaism tlat many lave called Hellenistic. If by tlat term
sclolars lave meant tlat tlis is a )udaism slaped by a )ewisl reading of
traditional texts (Toral) and practices (e.g., Sabbatl observance) tlrougl
tle lens derived from tleir environment, tlen perlaps it can be seen as a
useful designation. On tle otler land, if it is meant to designate a )udaism
tlat is in some way more Creek tlan its Palestinian cousin, tlen it is less
useful. Te )ews of tle land of Israel were also part of tle Creek cultural
orbit. Tey too understood Toral to occupy a central place in tle life of tle
people Israel. Teir reading of tleir tradition, lowever, did dier, and tle
key to understanding tlat dierence, again, is power.

Plilos )udaism miglt at rst blusl appear to dier markedly from tlat
of tle apocalyptic writers of tle Second Temple period, but botl created
tle lters tlrougl wlicl tley read Toral from a similar cultural complex.
)ewisl apocalypses from tle Second Temple period were probably, for tle
most part, originally written in Aramaic or Hebrew in tle land of Israel,
altlougl most survive only in translation tlrougl preservation by Clris-
tians, aside from a few fragments found in tle Dead Sea scrolls, for exam-
ple, tle book of )ubilees survives only in Ceez, a language of tle Etliopic
Clurcl. Tese apocalypses generally do not conform to most modern
notions of wlat an apocalypse slould look like. Tey rarely, for example,
describe tle nal conagration and tle end of listory as we know it in
gruesome and vivid detail. Ratler, tley most frequently take tle form of
tours of leaven, descriptions of luman beings brouglt to tle leavens,
slown divine secrets (usually including tle course of listory), and tlen re-
turned to mundane existence.
Most of tlese )ewisl apocalypses appear to be in direct dialogue witl
tle Tanak. Te gures tlat ascend to leaven, for example, are all biblical
claracters. Many apocalypses centered on tle ascent of Enocl. Enocl is
only mentioned in passing in tle Hebrew Bible: Enocl walked witl Cod
oo years. . . . All tle days of Enocl came to 6 years. Enocl walked witl
Cod, tlen le was no more, for Cod took lim (Cenesis :aaa(). In its bib-
lical context, tle verses apparently mean tlat Enocl was riglteous and died
witlout laving committed (signicant) sin. Early readers, tlougl, were
puzzled by tlis wording, after all, it never says tlat Enocl died. Walk witl
Cod tlus became tle exegetical look upon wlicl an ascent narrative was
Apocalypses (some postdating tle Second Temple period) similarly
vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir 1o;
grew around tle ascents of Abralam, Ezekiel, Ezra, and Barucl ()eremials
scribe), among otlers.
Te relationslip between apocalypses and sacred traditions went far
deeper tlan tle use of biblical gures. Te beginning clapters of Enocl,
for example, create a mucl ricler mytlological image of creation tlan does
tle Toral. Cenesis 6:( records a cryptic story of clildren of Cod wlo
were attracted to luman women and wed tlem. Tis notice is followed im-
mediately by, but not causally linked to, Cod limiting tle luman life span to
ao years and tle appearance of giants on eartl. Enocl spins tlis account
into an elaborate story of fallen angels wlo become tle source of everytling
bad on tle eartl. Not only did tle fallen angels teacl tle wicked arts (e.g.,
war and magic) to lumans, but tleir ospring, tle giants, are interpreted as
evil spirits tlat continue to function in tle world.
Tis tlen is not a mere
academic exercise in understanding tle listorical creation of tle world. It is
an enduring account of tleodicy. Te Hebrew Bible never settles on a single
account of tle presence of evil in tle world, but one option tlat it does not
consider is tlat tle world is populated by evil spirits. In Enocl, despite
tle presence of tlese malignant spirits, luman beings still maintain tle
capacity to cloose between good and evil, and Enocl is slown tle end
of days, witl tle riglteous souls resting among tle angels and tle wicked
eternally tormented.
Te Dead Sea scrolls give us a unique glimpse into an ancient )ewisl
community tlat actually walked tle walk of tlis apocalyptic world. Tese
scrolls were found in tle caves around tle ancient settlement of Qumran,
in tle larsl )udean desert on tle western coast of tle Dead Sea a slort
distance soutleast of )erusalem.
Qumran was settled around o vci, at
tle beginning of tle Hasmonean dynasty. Te Maccabees and tleir descen-
dents took on not only tle role of king but also tlat of ligl priesttwo
oces tlat lad traditionally been divided. Under tle Hasmonean kings tle
land of Israel remained semiautonomous. Altlougl tle early Hasmoneans
militarily expanded tleir borders, tley also lad to keep a wary eye on tle
real military powers in tle region, frequently needing some fancy diplo-
matic footwork to stay aoat in a dangerous world of slifting alliances. By
6 vci tle Hasmoneans lost tleir toucl, inviting tle Roman general Pom-
pey to bring lis army to settle an internal dynastic dispute. Rome did tlat
and tlen far moretley would not leave until tle Islamic conquest of tle
seventl century ci. Te Hasmonean dynasty lived out its reign under tle
watclful eyes of Rome, wlicl in o vci decided to install its own cloice
for monarcl, Herod.
1o8 vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir
Te community tlat wrote tle Dead Sea scrolls were but one of sev-
eral )ewisl groups to lave arisen during tlis period. Most sclolars un-
derstand tle scrolls to lave been written (or at least used) by tle inlab-
itants of Qumran, some consider Qumran to lave been populated by
tle Essenes, a )ewisl sectarian group discussed in several Creek texts,
including tlat of )oseplus. Wletler or not tle autlors of tlese scrolls
were Essenes, tley do explicitly (if not always clearly) discuss tle reasons
for tleir witldrawal from tle )erusalem Temple. One cause appears to
lave been tleir calendar. Unlike tle Temple priests, wlo used some kind
of lunar calendar, tle scrolls autlors subscribed to a 6(-day (compare
tle years of Enocls life!) solar calendar. Te causes for tlis disagreement
are unknown, and it is not impossible tlat tle sectarians preserved wlat
tley saw as tle traditional calendar tlat lad been clanged to a lunar
calendar by tle Temple priests. Te eect, lowever, was quite devastat-
ing. Teir festival calendars, botl biblically prescribed, were no long in
sync. Mucl like tle division between tle Roman Catlolic and Ortlodox
Clurcles today, wlicl celebrate Easter on dierent days, tle divergent
festal calendars made communal celebration impossible, and always made
one community sinners in tle eyes of tle otler.
. Te view from tle ancient settlement of Qumran of tle caves wlere tle largest
cacle of tle Dead Sea scrolls was discovered. Ploto by Miclael L. Satlow.
Image has been suppressed
vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir 1o,
Te more signicant dispute involved tle clasl of Toral and Temple. Ac-
cording to tle scrolls autlors, tle practices of tle )erusalem Temple were
incorrect. Te )erusalem priests neitler kept tle proper laws of ritual pu-
rity nor oered tle sacrices correctly. Botl were severe clarges. Te loly
space of tle )erusalem Temple was marked by its ritual purity, delement
of tle Temple by occupying Syrian troops was probably tle primary cause
for popular support of tle Maccabean uprising, wlicl ultimately led to tle
establislment of an autonomous )ewisl state. To oer an impure and im-
proper sacrice was to oer no sacrice at all and tlus to risk divine wratl.
Wlat miglt strike modern readers as trivial discussions of minutiae (e.g.,
if you pour water from a ritually pure pot into an impure one, does tle im-
purity of tle lower pot travel up tle stream of water to make tle upper pot
impure:) lad serious repercussions.
Te sectarians knew tlat tleir legal positions were correct because tle
Toral told tlem. And tley knew tlat tle Toral told tlem because tley
lad a special interpretive key revealed to tlem by Cod. Like tle claracters
in tle apocalypses, tle sectarians received tle lidden mysteries of tle
leavens tlrougl a kind of divine revelation. Tis revealed key allowed tle
sectarians to unlock tle lidden meaning of tle Toral, an interpretive move

.a A step pool, perlaps a mikveh for a ritual purity, found at Qumran. Ploto by
Miclael L. Satlow.
Image has been suppressed
11o vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir
tlat unsurprisingly remained unconvincing to outsiders. Wlereas Toral
could, and most of tle time probably did, supplement and autlorize tle
Temple practices, in tle second century vci some )ewisl sectarian groups
begin also to use it to clallenge specic priestly practices.
Cut o from tle Temple, tle sect began to develop a distinctive set of
beliefs, practices, and communal organization. Teir beliefs slow clear af-
nities to tlose of tle apocalyptic books, fragments of wlicl were found
among tle scrolls. As time passed and it became increasingly clear tlat tley
would not sway tle priestly autlorities to clange tleir errant ways, tley
became progressively more dualistic, esclatological, and deterministic. Sev-
eral scrolls divide lumanity into sons of liglt and sons of dark, witl Cod
predetermining eacl persons assignment. Te War Scroll (QM), wlicl
miglt date close to tle Roman destruction of tle community in 66 ci, por-
trays tle nal apocalyptic battle between tle sons of liglt and dark. Te sons
of dark are destined for tle pit, and tle sons of liglt, witl Cods lelp, will
emerge victorious. In tle interim tle community souglt to stay pure, botl
ritually and morally. Te scrolls prescribe communal meals and limit access
to tle pure food to full members in tle state of purity. Wlile some scrolls
acknowledge and seek to regulate contact between sectarians and nonsec-
tarians, many seem to scorn sucl interaction altogetler. Sectarian liturgy
tends to praise Cod, tle angels, and tle leavenly works ratler tlan to ask
for favors. Te scrolls are particularly punctilious about Sabbatl observance
(even forbidding defecation on tle Sabbatl!) and communal belavior. Rig-
idly lierarclical (altlougl witl tle possibility of mobility up and down tle
lierarcly), tle community insisted on proper deportment all tle time.
Underlying tle communitys organization and its practices is tle apoca-
lyptic belief in tle permeability of leaven. Te scrolls autlors seem to be-
lieve tlat if tleir community can remain pure, tle angels here and now will
join and worslip witl tlem. Teir lope appears not to be, like tle central
claracters in tle apocalypses, for individual ascent to tle leavens but for
angelic descent to tleir community. A clasm remains between tle natures
of lumans and Cod, but tle line between lumans and divine beings is a
blurry one.
Te Dead Sea community was but one of several contemporary )ewisl
sectarian communities. Te tlree most famous )ewisl sectarian communi-
ties from tle Second Temple period were tle Essenes, Plarisees, and Sad-
ducees. All appear to lave risen in tle os vci, slortly after tle Macca-
bean uprising and tle beginning of tle Hasmonean dynasty. Te ancient
listorical sources describe all of tlem (altlougl tle Essenes least of all) as
vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir 111
politically active. Like tle autlors of tle Dead Sea scrolls, at least tle Plari-
sees and tle Sadducees based tleir autlority on tleir ability to correctly in-
terpret tle Toral. Like tle autlors of tle early Dead Sea scrolls, eacl group
souglt control of tle Temple service tlrougl tleir claim to possess tle cor-
rect interpretations of tle biblical text. We need not doubt tle sincerity of
tleir positions to note tlat tlese sects were also using Toral to exert con-
trol over tle central )ewisl institution of tle land of Israel.
If )ewisl sectarianism began to increase prior to Herod, from Herod on
it explodes. As tle king of Palestine, Herod appears not to lave done a bad
job. His magnicent building projects created tle beautiful city of Cae-
serea, vastly expanded and enlanced )erusalem and tle Temple (tle visible
remains of tle Western Wall are part of tle Temples retaining wall built
by Herod), and kept legions of people employed in tlese and otler public
works projects. Witl Romes support, no foreign power dared tlreaten lis
kingdom, and internal troublemakers were suppressed. He went to great
pains to avoid oending tle )ews (lis own identity as a )ew was somewlat
debated in antiquity). His family life did lave problems, but tlese would
lave an impact on tle lives of tle ordinary citizens of lis kingdom only
after lis deatl.
Indeed, Herod left a mess wlen le died. His four remaining sons, eacl
incompetent, divided lis kingdom in ( vci. Tat did not last long. Soon
Rome took direct control, appointing rst prefects and tlen procurators
to administer )udea. As )oseplus describes tlese Roman agents, one was
worse tlan tle otler, larslly taxing tle people (many of wlom were still
unemployed from tle collapse of Herods building program) wlile not
keeping civil order.
If )oseplus is to be believed, by tle rst century ci tle Plarisees lad
gained a reputation as leading exponents of tle law. Yet tle Plarisees ap-
pear to be moving in dierent directions simultaneously. One group of
Plarisees was revolutionary, promoting an uprising against Rome. Otler
Plarisees focused on purity and piety ratler tlan politicstle New Tes-
tament, for example, portrays tlem as greatly concerned witl issues of
ritual and legal minutiae ratler tlan politics. Similarly, wlile some Es-
senes were politically active, probably most were far more concerned witl
tleir service to Cod as tley understood it. About tle Sadducees we know
little directly. According to )oseplus, tley did not believe in tle immor-
tality of tle soul (unlike tle Plarisaic belief in wlat appears to be trans-
migration of tle soul after deatl). Curiously, notling written by an active
Plarisee or Sadducee is extant.
11z vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir
Te tlree major )ewisl sects in some way represent just tle tip of
tle iceberg. )oseplus alerts us to a )udaean countryside tlick witl )ewisl
proplets and tleir followers. One proplet from Egypt managed to collect
tlirty tlousand followers ()osepluss number, wlicl is almost certainly an
exaggeration) in an attempt to rise against Rome, tle Roman procurator
disbanded tlem. Anotler proplet, Teudas, attempted to part tle )ordan
River. Rome broke up lis group and beleaded lim.
Te followers of )esus appear to lave been part of tle same plenomenon.
Like tlese sectarians, )esus claimed lis autlority in part from lis reading of
tle Hebrew Bible and in part from some kind of direct divine inspiration or
power. And like tle Egyptian proplet and Teudas, le was seen by tle Ro-
mans as a potential tlreat. Sclolars lave long tried to recover tle teaclings
of tle real )esus, in contrast to tle diering presentations and interpreta-
tions of tlose teaclings in tle Cospels, wlicl were written at least a gen-
eration after lis deatl. Wlat does seem clear is tlat )esus was a )ew wlo
accepted tle autlority of tle Hebrew Bible, altlougl le disagreed about its
interpretation witl some of lis contemporaries. His earliest followers ap-
pear to lave been )ews wlo adlered to )ewisl law, as tley understood it, but
saw )esus as tle promised messial. Te repercussions of tlis belief are not
minor, and tley speak to perlaps tle primary dierence between )udaism
and Clristianity (in all of botl tleir many forms) today. If tle messial las
come, tle world las been redeemed, tle very nature of listory las clanged
witl tle coming of Clrist (anointed one, in Creek). Tis Clristian belief
tlat tle world las been redeemed creates tle space in wlicl tle Old Testa-
ment can become old, its covenant belonging to tle former order of tlings.
)ews wlo rejected tle belief tlat )esus was tle Clrist tlus reinforced tleir
understanding of a world tlat was still unredeemed. Te early followers of
)esus would by no means be tle last group of )ews wlo expressed a belief
tlat tle world was redeemed, or in tle tlroes of tle redemptive process,
but tley were certainly among tle more famous and inuential.
Wlat linked tlese diverse )ewisl groups togetler was an understanding
of tle autlority of Toral and tle power (symbolic if not always real) of tle
Temple. Most fundamentally, tley subscribed to tle Torals mytl of com-
mon descent: Tey saw tlemselves linked to eacl otler as tle clildren of
Israel witl tleir own land. Te boundaries of tlis self-understanding were
no doubt fuzzy, for, at tle same time tlat tlis mytl was projecting a biolog-
ical component to belonging to tle people Israel, ancient )ews tlemselves
recognized tle need for more permeable boundaries tlat allowed non-)ews
to convert or enter into tle community. Tere may lave been good )ews
vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir 11
and bad )ews (tle Dead Sea scrolls sons of dark were )ews), but all were
seen as linked by mytlic ancestry.
)ews, inside and outside Palestine, in various ways saw tlemselves as
linked into a single polity at wlose leart was tle Toral. Abralam and
Moses play important roles in tle )ewisl literature of tle Second Temple
period: Abralam is tle genealogical founder of tle people, but Moses is its
divinely sanctioned lawgiver. No literature from any extant )ewisl group of
tle Second Temple periodeven tle early )ewisl followers of )esussug-
gests tlat )ews slould not view tle Toral as prescribing divinely demand-
ed belaviors. Te sects miglt lave fouglt over tleir understanding of tle
Toral, but none denied its ultimate autlority.
Even nonsectarian )ews, probably comprising tle vast majority of )ews
tlrouglout tle Second Temple period, appear to lave acknowledged tle
autlority of Toral. By tle rst century ci it lad become tle custom to
read tle Toral in local synagogues on tle Sabbatl. Human representation
is strikingly absent from art in tle land of Israel during tlis time, wlicl las
plausibly been interpreted as reecting a widespread )ewisl adlerence to
one particularly strict understanding of tle second commandment, wlicl
prolibits tle making of idols. )ewisl apologetic literature takes for granted
tle autlority of tle Toral.
Te )ewisl engagement witl tradition during tle period of tle Second
Temple was largely a one-way street. Tese )ews took tleir textual and
ritual traditions seriously, but, for many complex and ultimately unknow-
able reasons, few of tleir contributions to tlis tradition survived. Ecclesi-
astes, parts of Daniel, and some psalms were probably autlored during tle
Hellenistic period, and tle Tanak as a wlole became more stable. Yet little
elsetle scores of )ewisl apocalypses, Plilos plilosoplical writings, )ose-
pluss listories, even compendia of Toral law sucl as tlose found among
tle Dead Sea scrollswere tlouglt to be wortl preserving by later living
)ewisl communities. Ironically, were it not for tle preservation of tle liter-
ary material by later Clristians and tle accidental nds of papyri, scrolls,
and rocks, we would know almost notling about )ewisl life in tle Second
Temple period.
It miglt lave been otlerwise. Copies of Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sira) and
one of tle Dead Sea scrolls, known as tle Damascus Document, survived
long enougl (or were somelow rediscovered and copied) to make it into
11 vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir
tle Cairo Cenizal, a repository of texts tlat lad decayed and were awaiting
burial in tle attic of Cairos Ben Ezra synagogue. Medieval )ews rediscov-
ered and translated (witl copious clanges) )oseplus, now called Yosiphon,
after laving some impact on )ewisl listoriograply, tlis too would fade
away. Ultimately, tlougl, wlatever intrinsic merit tlese writings may lave
lad, lowever interesting and signicant tleir solutions to tle problems of
wrestling witl tle tradition in tleir distinct listorical contexts, tley were
simply overwlelmed by tle very dierent approacl of tle Rabbis. Before
any of tlis Second Temple literature could pick up traction, tle Rabbis slift-
ed tle ground from under tlem. And instead of entering tle )udaic tradi-
tion, tlese ricl religious texts were consigned to tle dust leap of listory.
ov ii 1niiv riotous diversity, almost all modern )ewisl move-
ments are leirs of tle Rabbis. Prior to tle destruction of tle Temple
by tle Romans in ;o ci, )udaism was a diverse and loose family of
religious communities tlat drew upon local understandings of Temple and
Toral. By 6(o ci most of tle vast literary production of tle Rabbis lad
reacled closure, and tleir distinctive understanding of tle tradition would
transform )udaism utterly.
Te Second Temple period came to an end witl tle destruction of tle
)erusalem Temple. In 66 ci tle )ews revolted against Rome for reasons tlat
sclolars still lotly dispute. Te revolt probably sprang from a messy com-
bination of Romes untenable tax demands and policy gaes concerning tle
Temple, social and economic instability, protonationalistic religious ideas,
and a restless )ewisl aristocracy. Te )ews of Calilee and )udea cauglt tle
Roman autlorities o guard. Quickly regrouping, lowever, tle Roman le-
gions soon put an end to tle Calilean revolt, witl many of its major )ew-
isl cities quietly surrendering to Romes clearly superior army. Te revolts
leaders ed to )erusalem and captured tle city and Temple precincts.
Had, perlaps, tle )ewisl leaders surrendered quickly to Rome or lad
tley not been glting eacl otler witl a focus and venom tlat sometimes
eclipsed tleir united war against Rome, perlapsperlapstle Romans
would not lave destroyed tle Temple. Wlatever it was tlat went wrong,
tlougl, went drastically wrong. Romes diculty breacling tle city walls
and tle Temples fortications was a testament to botl tle strengtl of
tle revolt as well as Herods masons. )oseplus, writing under Roman pa-
tronage, later attempts to exculpate tle Romans from tle clarge tlat tley
:nr vnnis
116 1ni vvvis
destroyed tle Temple: it was )ewisl inglting, and Cods will, tlat de-
stroyed tle Temple. At least as likely, Romes response was unusually larsl
because of its diculty suppressing tle revolt. And it still was not over
some of tle rebels escaped to Herods palace at Masada, wlere tley contin-
ued to resist Rome until ;a;.
Te Temples destruction lad profound practical and tleological rami-
cations. Te twice-daily sacrices tlat assured Cods protection for Israel
ground to a lalt. At least for most )ews of tle land of Israel, tle Temple was
tle central religious institution, and it was not at all clear in tle immediate
wake of its loss low to replace it. Te Temple stood on tle nexus of leaven
and eartl, low could lumans now bridge tlat gap:
Even worse were tle tleological implications of tle Temples destruc-
tion. Like all of tleir contemporaries, tle )ews saw tleir temple not just
as a luman institution in wlicl tle deity was worslipped but as an ac-
tual louse of tle deity. Cod, in one or anotler form or manifestation, was
tlouglt to lave lived in tle Temple. Te destruction of tle Second Tem-
ple reopened tle sores of tle destruction of tle rst: low could Cod allow
aliens to destroy His louse: One uncomfortable answer, to be quickly
rejected, was tlat Cod lost, tle gods of tle conquerors were stronger.
A second answer tlat lad to be taken more seriously was tlat Cod lad
abandoned tle )ews. Early Clristian writers latcled onto tlis answer, ar-
guing tlat tle destruction of tle Temple demonstrated Cods desertion
of tle )ews after tley lad slunned Him in tle person of )esus Clrist.
Even ignoring tle Clristian arguments, )ews tlemselves were troubled
by tle possibility of Cods desertion. Te consequences of sucl an answer
opened into a tleological abyss.
Te problem, of course, was not new. Te book of Deuteronomy lad
already developed a metalistorical narrative linking sin, punislment, and
exile. Because Israels covenant to Cod is an eternal unconditional one, Cod
never deserts Israel, even wlen tle people lave been disobedient. Tis is
clearly a mixed blessing. Wlen Israel sins, tlen, Cod punisles, often witl
national calamities leading to exile. Ultimately, Cod promises to restore His
people to tleir promised land, but in tle interim tley dwell as a dispersed
and exiled people. Wlen tle First Temple was destroyed in 86 vci, several
propletic writers turned to tlis explanation. In tlis narrative tle Babylo-
nian destroyer Nebucladnezzar is seen as an instrument of Cods wratl.
Nebucladnezzars downfall was due to lis inability to recognize limself as a
lumble servant of Cod, instead attributing lis victory to lis own prowess.
Wlen tle Second Temple was destroyed, most )ews probably fell back
on some version of tlis narrative. Cods louse could be destroyed only witl
1ni vvvis 11;
Cods own consent. Yet instead of portraying Rome, like Nebucladnezzar,
as an instrument of Cods anger, )ewisl writers prefer to understand Cod
as voluntary vacating His louse, leaving it as simple stone and mortar and
tlus susceptible to Romes assault. Altlougl conventional, tlis answer did
not satisfy everybody. In a )ewisl apocalyptic (and pseudepigraplic) work
entitled ( Ezra tlat was probably written in tle late rst century ci, Ezra
rejects tlis argument:
Are tle deeds of Babylon better tlan tlose of Zion: Or las anotler nation
known you besides Israel: Or wlat tribes lave so believed your covenants
as tlese tribes of )acob: Yet tleir reward las not appeared and tleir labor
las borne no fruit. For I lave traveled widely among tle nations and lave
seen tlat tley abound in wealtl, tlougl tley are unmindful of your com-
mandments. Now tlerefore weigl in a balance our iniquities and tlose of
tle inlabitants of tle world, and so it will be found wlicl way tle turn of
tle scale will incline. Wlen lave tle inlabitants of tle eartl not sinned
in your siglt: Or wlat nation las kept your commandments so well: You
may indeed nd individual men wlo lave kept your commandments, but
nations you will not nd.
Te angel Uriel at rst rejects tle very notion tlat Ezra could understand
Cods ways. Wlen you, like Cod, can weigl tle weiglt of re, come back
and ask and maybe youll understand, le responds. But tlen le relents and
provides a more direct answer:
If you are alive, you will see, and if you live long, you will often marvel, be-
cause tle age is lastening swiftly to its end. For it will not be able to bring
tle tlings tlat lave been promised to tle riglteous in tleir appointed
times, because tlis age is full of sadness and inrmities. For tle evil about
wlicl you ask me las been sown, but tle larvest of it las not yet come. If
tlerefore tlat wlicl las been sown is not reaped, and if tle place wlere
tle evil las been sown does not pass away, tle eld wlere tle good las
been sown will not come. For a grain of evil seed was sown in Adams
leart from tle beginning, and low mucl ungodliness it las produced
until now, and will produce until tle time of tlresling comes!
Te destruction of tle Temple is a sign of tle approacling end of tle world.
At tlat time, tle time of tlresling, Cod will settle all accounts.
( Ezra represents one contemporary )ewisl response to tle destruction
of tle Temple, tle Rabbis anotler. Te rabbinic foundation story, probably
118 1ni vvvis
written over tlree centuries after ;o ci, portrays tle destruction as an op-
portunity ratler tlan a catastrople. Tis long and complex story attributes
tle war witl Rome to petty jealousies and portrays tle Rabbis, led by tle
great Rabban Yolanan ben Zakkai, as active in )erusalem. Altlougl desiring
peace, tley are cowed by tle powerful brigands leading tle revolt. R. Yolan-
an nally decides to escape )erusalem and is smuggled out in a con. After a
fateful encounter witl Vespasian, during wlicl lis premonition tlat Vespa-
sian would be acclaimed emperor is fullled, le gains Vespasians favor:
[Vespasian] said to [R. Yolanan]: I am going [back to Rome] and will send
someone else [to continue tle siege]. Ask sometling of me and I will give
it to you.
[R. Yolanan] said, Cive me Yavnel and its sages and tle line of Rabban
Camaliel and doctors to leal Rabbi Zadoq.
And tlus was born tle mytl of Yavnel, tle great rabbinic academy tlat
arose out of tle asles of tle Temple.
Te true value of tlis story is as mytl ratler tlan listory. It reects a later
rabbinic self-perception as peaceful inlabitants of a non-)ewisl empire,
perpetuators of a loary tradition, experts in tle interpretation of Toral,
and, implicitly, as Israels new spiritual leaders. In otler writings of tle
Rabbis, Yavnel appears a bustling, vibrant rabbinic community and institu-
tion, a new )erusalem centered around Toral and its study ratler tlan tle
Temple and its sacrices, witl Rabbis rmly in clarge and priests lardly to
be found.
Historically, tlougl, tlis picture does not add up. Tere appear to lave
been no Rabbis in tle Second Temple period. Rabbi literally means my
teacler, and it is likely tlat some )ews used tlis lonoricas some )ews
apparently called )esus. But it did not become a formal title until after tle
Temples destruction. Nor is tle rabbinic portrayal of Yavnel listorically
accurate. Some sclolars, led by Yolanan ben Zakkai, may indeed lave
gatlered at Yavnel in tle aftermatl of tle Temples destruction to begin
sometling new, but if so it would lave been a small study circle ratler
tlan tle institution portrayed in rabbinic literature, or even a small sclool.
Ratler tlan continuing a grand tradition, complete witl its own source of
temporal autlority in tle person of tle patriarcl (Rabban Camaliel), tlese
few early sclolarswitl few followerswould lave been cautiously feel-
ing tleir way toward a new conception of tleir tradition.
1ni vvvis 11,
Te Rabbis may not lave been tle carriers of a continuous listorical tra-
dition, but neitler did tley rise out of a vacuum. Te Rabbis may lave lad
some connection to tle Plarisees, wlo seem to disappear (along witl tle
otler )ewisl sects) in ;o ci, altlougl tle precise nature and strengtl of tlis
connection remains obscure. Botl groups interpreted tle law, maintained
a set of distinctive traditions outside tle Toral, believed tlat tle beliefs
of divine omniscience and luman free will could coexist, and adlered to
certain purity restrictions outside tle Temple. At tle same time, tlese simi-
larities are ratler vague and tle Rabbis tlemselves never explicitly claim
descent from tle Plarisees. Clearly, lowever, tle Rabbis emerged from tle
same cultural and religious matrix. Teir precise traditions and modes of
interpretation miglt not lave tle loary antiquity tley sometimes claim for
tlem, but tleir attempt to turn to Toral as a source of autlority for dis-
cerning tle living will of Cod did.
Te earliest stage of tle rabbinic movement most likely involved botl
scriptural interpretation and tle explication of Toral law. Teir concerns
appear to lave been quite practical: Wlat does Cod want from Israel: How
are )ews to fulll, quite precisely, Cods will: Tey must lave lad some fol-
lowers wlo consulted tlem primarily about issues of purity and otler lim-
ited ritual matters. But tlese followers were relatively few. Te Rabbis began
as a sectarian community making universal claims, tley saw tleir claims
not as targeted merely at tleir small group of followers, but at all of Israel.

Te Bar Koklba revolt of a ci clanged tle rabbinic movement, as it

did most everytling else in tle land of Israel. A sladowy listorical gure,
Bar Kosiba (tle name le used wlen signing tle ocial documents tlat sur-
vived in tle dry caves of tle )udean Desert) led wlat appears to be a wide-
spread revolt against Rome. Te causes of tlis revolt are even more obscure
tlan tlose of tle revolt of 66 ci. Some of tle rebels coins are stamped
for tle freedom of )erusalem, suggesting a nationalistic impulse.
Some of
lis supporters referred to lim as Bar Koklba, son of a star, and probably
saw lim as a messianic gure. His detractors called lim Bar Koziba, son
of a lie. Starting in tle region of tle Dead Sea, tle revolt appears to lave
spilled over into Arabia (present-day )ordan) and perlaps furtler nortl.
Rome took it quite seriously. Wlile and after vanquisling tle rebels, tle
Romans embarked on an almost unprecedented program of pacication

1zo 1ni vvvis
tlat involved tle slauglter and eviction of )ews from )udea, tle consecra-
tion of tle Temple Mount (tle site of tle destroyed Temple) as a loly place
for )upiter, and (temporary) edicts against some )ewisl practices (e.g., cir-
cumcision). Demograplically, tle revolt and its aftermatl caused a slift of
tle )ewisl population into tle lower Calilee and )ordan Valley. Te edicts,
altlougl slort-lived, left a lasting listorical trauma.
Altlougl tle later writings of tle Rabbis generally do not make good lis-
torical sources, tley do indicate tlat tle Romans martyred some of tleir
most prominent leaders. Te gruesome rabbinic account of tleir martyrs
was ultimately incorporated into tle liturgy for tle Day of Atonement (Yom
Kippur), tle medieval liturgy transfers tle atoning power of tle sacricial
service tlat took place on Yom Kippur during tle biblical and Second Tem-
ple periods to tle rabbinic martyrs and continued recitation of tleir tale. In
any case, tle Rabbis emerged after ci more self-condent and entered
a period of consolidation. From tle mid-second century to tle start of tle
tlird, tle Rabbis not only continued to develop tleir program of interpreta-
tion and explication but also began to collect tlese diuse, oral discussions.
Te beginning of tle tlird century was a second critical moment for
tle rabbinic movement. By assuming a newly created Roman oce, Rabbi
)udal tle Prince (Romans and Clristians called tlis oce tle patriarcl)
brouglt prestige, power, and resources to tle rabbinic movement. In trutl,
not mucl is known about Rabbi )udal or tle role of tle patriarclate. He
was some kind of liaison between )ews (wletler of tle land of Israel or out-
side it is unclear) and Roman autlorities and collected various taxes from
)ewsaltlougl we do not know wlat le did witl tle money. Wlatever lis
role was, it fell far slort of a national leader of any signicance.
To tle Rabbis, tlougl, marginalized as tley lad been from tleir origins,
tle ascension of one of tleir own to a prestigious oce was signicant. Te
Rabbis used tlis event to claim national leaderslip, eventually retrojecting
tleir self-image as national leaders back to tle line of Rabban Camaliel.
Despite tlese rabbinic assertions of leaderslip, Rabbi )udal played a more
prominent role as a patron witlin tle rabbinic movement tlan outside it,
virtually no contemporary Roman or Clristian source noticed lim.
Te rabbinic claim to autlority rested more on tle scribal tradition tlan
tle priestly one, altlougl it also contained elements of tle latter. As, per-
laps, spiritual leirs of tle Plarisees, tley claimed to possess tle truest
interpretations of tle will of Cod as revealed in tle sacred texts. Unlike tle
priests, tley asserted, anyone, by dint of eort and study, could aclieve tle
1ni vvvis 1z1
ability to participate in tlis process, entrance was not limited by genealogy.
Nor did it require any kind of divine inspiration of tle type tlat can be
found in tle scriptural interpretations of tle Dead Sea scrolls. Service to
Cod, tle avodah tlat used to refer almost exclusively to tle Temple sacri-
ces, was transformed in rabbinic lands into participation in distinctively
rabbinic types of piety including prayer and, primarily, talmud Toral.
Te rabbinic emplasis on talmud Toral, tle study of tle entire Tanak
tlat was broadly dened to include not just memorization but also painstak-
ing interpretation, was a new development. Previously, )ews of course lad re-
vered tle Toral and turned to it as a guide for proper belaviors, wletler for
daily religious life in Hellenistic Egypt or for tle proper conduct of purity in
tle Temple. Study of tle Toral was intended specically to reveal its practi-
cal teaclings. Te Rabbis elevated tle very act of study to tle status of divine
service. Wlen tle Hebrew Bible states, in tle passage after tle declaration of
tle Slema, and you will repeat tlem (veshinnantam) to your clildren (Deu-
teronomy 6:;), it means tlat quite literallyone must teacl ones clildren
tle literal words. Te Rabbis understand tle verb to denote tle continual
study of tle Toral. Te elevation of study witlin tle rabbinic movement cul-
minates tle trend begun during tle earlier period of vesting Scripture witl
an autlority tlat can be used to clallenge tlat of priests and proplets.
It would be mistaken, tlougl, to evaluate tle rise of Toral study and tle
rabbinic movement generally as listorically predetermined. Tere was no
necessary, or even logical, line from tle )ewisl sectarian use of Toral to its
rabbinic transformation. Te Rabbis were profoundly slaped not only by
tleir past, but, perlaps more important, by tleir present. Te conceptual
world inlabited by tle Rabbis was not some essentially or intrinsically )ew-
isl one, but one uniquely slaped at tle intersection of pervasive Hellenis-
tic contact, Ancient Near Eastern traditions, Roman political intervention,
and tle local customs of Calilee. Te Rabbis were far from being Creek pli-
losoplers, but tley were well aware of tle outlines of tle major and popular
Creek plilosoplies, sucl as Stoicism, Cynicism, and Epicureanism. Tey
probably lad little acquaintance witl Roman lawtle Romans seemed to
lave largely let tle )ews of Calilee landle tleir own aairs witlout interfer-
encebut tley certainly knew of basic Roman legal concepts and catego-
ries as well as tle institution of tle jurist. Tey may not lave known Homer,
but tley knew wlo le was and lad some kind of understanding of low
tleir non-)ewisl contemporaries were reading lim. Teir frame of refer-
ence was similar to tlat of otler literate Roman provincials tlrouglout tle
1zz 1ni vvvis
Near East, witl wlom, no doubt, tley would lave lad more in common
tlan tley would lave witl, say, tleir revered progenitor Ezra.
Seen not as a diaclronic development witlin )ewisl listory but as a
Creco-Roman plenomenon, talmud Toral looks suspiciously and surpris-
ingly like plilosoply as it was understood at tlat time. Te Rabbis saw tle
study of texts, accompanied by rigorous training of botl mind and body, as
a patl to personal development and perfection. And if talmud Toral is a
kind of )ewisl equivalent to Creco-Roman plilosoply, tlen Rabbis are its
plilosoplers. Tis analogy slould not be pusled too fartle Rabbis also
look quite dierent from Creco-Roman plilosoplers, engaging in many
activities (e.g., detailed discussions of inapplicable purity laws) tlat would
lave seemed downriglt weird to tleir contemporaries. But tlis structural
similarity lelps to illustrate low tle Rabbis worked witlin tleir own unique
and listorically contingent conditions to make sense of tleir tradition.
If tle Rabbis sometimes, at least on a structural level, look like Creco-
Roman plilosoplers, tley also at times appear in tle guise of Roman ju-
rists. It is perlaps no accident tlat Rabbi )udal tle Patriarcl was tle fram-
er of tle earliest extant rabbinic document, tle Mislnal. Standing between
Rome and tle )ews, Rabbi )udal may lave developed a particular interest
in tle codication of rabbinic legal discussions. Literally tle repetition
(slaring tle same Hebrew root as veshinnantam), tle Mislnal is a signally
audacious text. Organized by legal topic ratler tlan tle order of tle biblical
text and containing few justications for its legal opinions, tle Mislnal as-
serts an autlority independent of Scripture.
Implicitly it makes a tleologi-
cal claim tlat tle Rabbis would make explicit a few decades later: Cod gave
two Torals on Mount Sinai.
In tlese later rabbinic legends tlis tleology of tle dual Toral crystal-
lizes. Its premise is tlat on Mount Sinai Moses actually received two To-
rals. One is tle well-known written Toral, tle Pentateucl. Te otler was
not written down, it was given orally to Moses, wlo passed it down orally
tlrougl a clain of transmission tlat continues witl tle Rabbis. Because it
too comes from Cod on Mount Sinai, tlis Oral Toral las (virtually) equal
autlority to tle Written Toral.
A rabbinic story captures at least one understanding of tle relationslip
between tle Oral and tle Written Torals:
Our sages tauglt: Once a Centile came before Slammai. He said to lim,
How many Torals do you lave: He said to lim, Two, tle Written To-
ral and tle Oral Toral. He said to lim, I believe you about tle Written
1ni vvvis 1z
but not about tle Oral. I will convert on tle condition tlat you teacl me
tle Written Toral [alone]. He rebuked lim and dismissed lim witl a
He [tle Centile] came before Hillel. Te rst day le [Hillel] said to lim,
Aleph, beit, gimmel, dalet. Te next day le reversed it. He [tle Centile]
said to lim, Yesterday you did not tell it to me tlis way. He said to lim,
Did you not rely on me [for tlat]: As regards tle Oral [Toral], you slould
rely on me too.
(Babylonian Talmud, Slabbat a)
Tis story doubly retrojects tle concept of Oral Toral. First, it sets tle story
in tle days of Hillel and Slammai, wlo were said to live around tle turn of tle
millennium and to be tle most important immediate progenitors of tle Rab-
bis. Te story itself is marked, by tle words our sages taught to tle second or
early tlird centuries ci. In trutl, it is neitler. Te story is almost certainly a lat-
er (perlaps fourtl-century) attempt to legitimize tle concept of Oral Toral.
Te story also indicates tle relationslip between tle Written and Oral
Toral. Te latter becomes tle lens tlrougl wlicl tle former is seen. Oral
Toral not only substantively supplements tle lacunae-laden Written
Toral but also lelps to determine low tle Toral is to be read. And unlike
tle Written Toral, wlicl by denition is seen as a static text, Oral Toral
evolves and unfolds, continuing to reveal tle will of Cod as latently dis-
closed to Moses and Israel at tle primal moment at Sinai.
Toral, for tle Rabbis, tlus became a concept as well as a text, including
all Cods past and continuing revelation. Conceptually Oral Toral miglt be
compared to tle role of tle Holy Spirit in Catlolic tleology. Like tle Oral
Toral, tle Holy Spirit is a conceptual meclanism for allowing tle divine to
act in a clanging world, it guides ones understanding of tle unclanging
text. Unlike tle Holy Spirit, tlougl, tle Oral Toral works as a luman pro-
cess ratler tlan as a series of discrete moments of revelation. Te Rabbis
condently arrogate to tlemselves tle role of arbiters of Cods revelation.
Revelation is now in tle lands of lumans.
Te Mislnal is a snapslot of tle Oral Toral frozen at one moment in
time. Rabbi )udals Mislnal is a carefully edited and organized collection
of a wide range of rabbinic positions. Rabbi )udal (or, probably better, lis
sclool or court) most likely lad access to tle oral class notes of many dif-
ferent rabbinic teaclers from wlicl le pieced togetler lis own text, some-
times adding, anonymously, lis own positions. It is written in a clear and
succinct Hebrew. Containing too many unresolved disagreements to be a
1z 1ni vvvis
true code of law, tle Mislnal appears to lave been intended as some kind of
legal guide or textbook, a starting ratler tlan ending point for discussion.
Te Mislnal contains six orders, eacl divided into tractates, and leaves
few issues untoucled. Seeds opens anomalously witl a tractate on bless-
ings and tlen continues witl discussions of agricultural laws. Festivals
devotes tractates to proper conduct and ritual on most of tle lolidays.
Women primarily addresses tle legal relationslips between men and
women, particularly marriage, divorce, and tle ability of a fatler or lusband
to annul tle vows of lis dauglter or wife. Damages discusses botl civil
and criminal law. Purities deals witl matters of ritual purity, and Holy
Tings witl matters connected to tle Temple and tle sacricial system.
Te Oral Toral attempts to clarify low a )ew slould live lis or ler life
according to tle will of Cod. To add to tle stakes, tle Rabbis took seriously
(even if tley did not implement) tle biblical penalties, wletler sacricial or
penal, for tle violation of Cods word. Tis required tlem to make pains-
taking distinctions. Te Hebrew Bible, for example, prolibits work on tle
Sabbatl, but it lardly denes wlat it means by tle term work. Tis is not
an insignicant lacuna wlen tle penalty for tle violation of tle Sabbatls
work restrictions was deatl. Hence, most of tle twenty-four clapters of
tle tractate Sabbatl in tle Mislnal attempt to dene work as a legal cat-
egory. Here is an almost random example taken from tle middle of tlat
One wlo writes two letters, wletler witl lis riglt [land] or lis left,
wletler tle same letter [written twice] or two dierent letters, wletler
two signs in any languageis guilty [of violating tle prolibition against
writing on tle Sabbatl].
Rabbi Yosi said: Tey make accountable [one wlo writes] two letters
only because [le makes] a mark, for tley used to write on tle boards of
tle Tabernacle to know wlicl is joined to wlicl.
Rabbi said: We nd a little name [or word] from a big name. Shem
from Shimon or Shemuel, Noah from Nahor, Dan from Daniel, Gad from
( Mishnah Shabbat :)
Te Mislnal attempts to clarify tle precise boundaries of tle prolibition
against writing on tle Sabbatl. Two letters dene writing, one letter ap-
pears not to count, altlougl two symbols do. Rabbi Yosis comment at-
tempts to clarify tle curious grouping of letters witl signs: Botl are marks.
1ni vvvis 1z
Te problem witl marks is tlat tley were used in tle building of tle Tab-
ernacle in tle wilderness of Sinai, and tle Rabbis see activities associated
witl tle building of tle Tabernacle as paradigmatic of work. So, Rabbi Yosi
seems to argue, tle problem witl tle letters is not tlat tley are letters but
tlat tley are marks.
Rabbi )udal tle Patriarcl (referred to simply as Rabbi in tle Mislnal)
disagrees. His cryptic statement appears to mean tlat if one intended to
write a name (probably exemplary of any word) and wrote only tle rst
two letters and tlen stopped, if tlose two letters constitute an independent
name tlen one is culpable, but if not tlen one is exempt from punislment.
Wlereas Rabbi Yosi bases tle prolibition against writing on tle problem
witl marking, Rabbis argument is semantic, based on wletler tle word
las a meaning.
Tis slort passage exemplies many of tle properties of tle Misl-
nal. Written in linguistic and conceptual slortland, it constantly refers
to ideas outside of it: To understand a part requires understanding tle
wlole. I added tle words in brackets so tle passage would make a modi-
cum of sense to tle uninitiated Englisl reader. It leaves positions unre-
solved: wlo is riglt, Rabbi Yosi or Rabbi: And it carries witlin its pre-
cision tle very seeds of its own deconstruction. How would Rabbi deal
witl tle clause about signs: How would Rabbi Yosi deal witl a case of
temporary writing (e.g., writing in tle sand or on a computer) tlat is not
applicable to marking boards for building: Wlat role does tle intention
of tle writer play for all tlese positions: Te Mislnal spends no time on
tlese questions, and in general rarely does more tlan state tle positions,
occasionally witl very slort justications. It leaves tle questions tlat it
generates langing in tle air.

At tle same time tlat tle Oral Toral was being composed, tle Rabbis also
turned tleir attention to tle Written Toral. Understanding tle Written To-
ral not as a transparent text but as one pregnant witl deptls of meaning,
tley developed a new interpretive teclnique to unlock its secrets. Tey call
tlis new interpretive teclnique midrash. Te word itself is suggestive. Te
Hebrew Bible uses tle verb d-r-sh to refer to seeking tle divine will tlrougl
consultation witl tle proplet. Midrasl literally means tle seeking, but it
is applied to tle biblical text: Cods will is to be found in tle text ratler tlan
tlrougl a luman intermediary.
1z6 1ni vvvis
Biblical interpretation, of course, was not tle invention of tle Rabbis.
Trouglout tle Second Temple period )ews interpreted tle Hebrew Bible.
Some, like tle autlor of Enocl, spun elaborate stories to bridge narrative
diculties. Otlers made tle biblical stories and laws more accessible and
colerent by rewriting tlem. Plilo systematically subjected tle Bible to lis
own brand of allegorical interpretation. Te Dead Sea scrolls record an in-
spired interpretation: tle biblical text x means y because Cod revealed tlis
meaning directly to tle interpreter.
Midrasl diers from all tlese interpretive strategies. Midrasl is a rule-
driven form of interpretation, or genre, tlat emerges from some basic rab-
binic assumptions about tle nature of tle biblical text.
Tese assumptions
about tle nature of tle text are critical to understanding midrasl, tley are
premises witlout wlicl midrasl makes little sense.
Te Rabbis assume tle entire Tanak is perfect. Tis means tlat all tlose
problems in tle Hebrew Bible noted by biblical sclolarsfor example,
repetitions, inconsistencies, redundancies, spelling mistakesare really
divinely sanctioned. Te language of tle Hebrew Bible is precise and suc-
cinct, every letter las its purpose. It is tlis detail-oriented assumption tlat
drives most midrasl. Te Rabbis are far less concerned, at least on tle sur-
face, witl reconciling a biblical verse witl its context tlan tley are witl
explaining smaller, textual irritants. Te larger questions tlat grab tle at-
tention of modern readers, sucl as Abralams state of mind as le went to
sacrice lis son Isaac at Cods command, get at most secondary attention
in midrasl, midrasl is an interpretation of letters, words, and plrases. Lin-
guistic anomalies are divine clues waiting to be unlocked. Tis assumption
accounts for tle listoric emplasis tlat )ews lave placed on tle Hebrew
text of tle Bible, even wlen its readers and listeners do not know Hebrew.
A vernacular translation can never fully replace tle Hebrew text because
only tle Hebrew text is Cods true word, latent witl meaning. Muslims re-
gard tle Quran similarly: only tle Arabic is truly Cods word.
But low is one to unlock tle latent meaning, for example, of a spelling
mistake: Te answer follows from a second rabbinic assumption about tle
nature of tle biblical text. Because tle entire text is tle word of Cod, it is all
equal and can tlerefore equally illuminate any otler part of it. Tis assump-
tion leads to a noncontextual way of reading tle Hebrew Bible tlat many
modern Western readers lave diculty grasping. (Incidentally, poststruc-
turalist and deconstructive literary critics were deliglted to nd in midrasl
a kind of anticipation of tleir own way of reading.) Te Rabbis understand
tle Hebrew Bible as a self-enclosed system tlat contains tle keys to its
1ni vvvis 1z;
own interpretive problems. Tose keys, lowever, miglt be found in un-
likely places. A problematic word or verse in Exodus, for example, miglt be
solved by contrasting it to a word from Proverbs. To tlose trained to read
texts for tle tlesis, tleme, or narrative tlread, tle rabbinic atomization of
biblical textstle way tlat tley read a word in tle context of anotler word
or verse in anotler place ratler tlan in tle sentence in wlicl it is actually
locatedcan appear utterly bizarre and random.
Wletler or not it is really bizarre I leave to tle readers taste, but mid-
rasl is rarely random. Usually tlere is some kind of link between contrasted
words or verses. Te more uncommon tle link, tle better tle midrasl,
tle Rabbis recognize tle futility of illuminating two disparate verses on tle
basis of tleir slaring a common word or concept. Two examples can illus-
trate tlis approacl.
According to Deuteronomy a:8a:
If a man las a wayward and deant son, wlo does not leed lis fatler or
motler and does not obey tlem even after tley discipline lim, lis fatler
and motler slall take lold of lim and bring lim out to tle elders of lis
town at tle public place of lis community. Tey slall say to tle elders of
lis town, Tis son of ours is disloyal and deant, le does not leed us. He
is a glutton and a drunkard. Tereupon tle men of lis town slall stone
lim to deatl. Tus you will sweep out evil from your midst, all Israel will
lear and be afraid.
Tis passage seems clear enougl. It begins witl a (not uncommon) scenario
and prescribes a remedy. For centuries of )ewisl readers, tlougl, tle true
meaning of tlis passage las lardly been obvious. Exegetically, tle passage
raises problems: Wly wayward and deant: Wly include tle line about
being a glutton and a drunkard: Does it apply also to dauglters: Wlat
lappens if tle community does not lave tle ability to stone: )ust as promi-
nent is tle moral problem: Does tle just and good Cod really command tle
execution of a clild:
Te rabbinic answer to tlis last question is no. Line by line, word by word,
tle Rabbis cleverly reread tle passage:
. . . wlo does not leed lis fatler or motler: Is it possible tlat even if
lis fatler and motler say to lim to liglt tle candle and le doesnt liglt it
[tlat le is called wayward and deant and liable to deatl]: [No. Tat is
wly] Scripture [repeats] wlo does not leed le does not leed us. )ust
1z8 1ni vvvis
as le does not leed us [later in tle passage] refers to a glutton and a
drunkard so too wlo does not leed [lis fatler or motler] refers to a
glutton and drunkard. And just as le does not leed us [later in tle pas-
sage] refers to one wlo steals from lis fatler and lis motler so too [tle
verse] wlo does not leed lis fatler or motler [does not apply] until le
steals from lis fatler and motler.
(Sifre Deuteronomy, section a8)
By repeating tle term does not leed tlis passage is providing, according
to tlis interpretation, a key for its own understanding. A wayward and de-
ant son is tlus interpreted not as any ordinary teenage disobedience, but
as tle commission of a mucl more severe oense. Te Rabbis go on to limit
tle applicability of tlis rule until it is nearly inapplicable.
A second, more complex example appears in a rabbinic commentary on
Exodus ,, tle story of Cods revelation to Moses and Israel at Mount Sinai.
After Moses and tle Israelites prepared tlemselves, tle Bible says, Now
Mount Sinai was all in smoke, for tle Lord lad come down upon it in re,
tle smoke rose like tle smoke of a kiln, and tle wlole mountain trembled
violently (Exodus ,:8). On tlis a midrasl comments:
Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke: Is it possible only tle place of tle
Clory: [No, tlus] Scripture says all.
for tle Lord lad come down upon it in re: Tis says tlat tle Toral is
re, from re it was given and to re it is compared. Wlat is tle nature of
re: If one draws near to it le is burned, if one is far from it le is cold. Te
only tling for one to do is to be warmed against its ame.
tle smoke rose like tle smoke of a kiln: Is it possible tlat [tlis smoke
was] only like [ordinary] smoke: [No, tlus] Scripture says of a kiln. But if
of a kiln, is it possible [tlat tle smoke was] only like tlat of an [ordinary]
kiln: [No, tlus] Scripture says Te mountain was ablaze witl ames to
tle leart of tle skies (Deuteronomy (:). Wly tlen does Scripture say
of a kiln: To break tle ear witl wlat it is capable of learing. Similarly:
A lion las roared, wlo can but fear: (Amos :8). And wlo gave strengtl
and miglt to tle lion: Was it not He: Ratler, we describe Him witl terms
from His creations to break tle ear, etc. Similarly, And tlere, coming from
tle east witl a roar like tle roar of miglty waters, was tle Presence of
tle Cod of Israel (Ezekiel (:a). And wlo gave strengtl and miglt to tle
waters: Was it not He: Ratler, we describe Him witl terms from His cre-
ations to break tle ear, etc.
1ni vvvis 1z,
Wly does tle biblical text include tle word all in tle rst part of tle verse:
And wlat does it mean to teacl by using tle words re and smoke:
Note tle answer tlat tle Rabbis do not give. Tey do not say tlat it says
tlat because tlat is low it actually lappened. Teir interest in tlis verse is
not on tle event tlat it purports to describe, but on its language. Te verse
includes tle word all lest you tlink tlat only tle place of Cods presence
was encased in smoke. Te midrasl certainly is making a claim lere about
wlat lappened, but tle real concern is wly tle verse includes tle word all.
Similarly, re is specied to make a comparison. Te verse says re in
order to slow tle similarity of Toral to re. Once tle Rabbis make tlis
comparison tley can exploit it. As tle word of Cod, Toral is potentially
dangerous, to get close to Toral is to get close to Cod, and tle closer one
gets to Cod tle more dangerous tle going for mere mortals. But distance
from Cod is equally dangerous. Te verse includes tle word re tlen to
teacl a lesson about a persons proper stance toward tle Toral, close yet
not too close. Note low dierent tlis interpretation is from tlat of Aristo-
bulus (discussed in tle last clapter), wlo understood tle message of tlis
passage as concerning tle nature of re.
Smoke troubles tle Rabbis more. Surely tle smoke tlat accompanied
Cod could not lave been any ordinary smoke. Indeed, tle Rabbis expect
tle inclusion of of a kiln to teacl sometling about tle nature of tle smoke.
But tley cannot gure out wlat. So instead tley say tlat of a kiln is just a
gure of speecl, a luman simile to make comprelensible tle incompre-
lensible nature of Cod. Teir use of tle verb to break is unusual but delib-
erate. Using it to mean sometling more like accustom, tley also signal witl
its use tle power of tle divine word. Humans can bear only so mucl of tle
divine before tley are scorcled or slattered by its power.
As tlis example slows, midrasl is not simply an academic exercise. It
is also tle way tlat tle Rabbis do tleology. Tis particular set of biblical
interpretations does double duty. On tle one land, it is resolving discrete
textual problems. But, at tle same time, it is working tlrougl a profound
tleological problem about tle nature of Cod. Civen Cods overwlelming
power, is it possible to conceive of an immanent Cod: How close can one
really get to tle divine: Subjected to tlis kind of searcling, tle Rabbis trans-
form tle biblical text from a dead listorical book or a dry guide to living
into a fundamentally contemporary and relevant text. Midrasl bridges tle
gap between today and tle yesterday of tle Tanak. Te story of Cods reve-
lation on Mount Sinai, a one-time listorical event, becomes a commentary
on tle continuing nature of Cods presence in Toral and tle world.
1o 1ni vvvis
Hinted at lere, but mucl clearer in otler midraslic texts and compi-
lations, is its inlerent multivocality. Because tle Rabbis saw tle Written
Toral as latent witl divine meaning, tley never restricted tlemselves to
single, dogmatic understandings of tle biblical text. Tey miglt tlus in-
terpret a particular verse or word in a lalf-dozen dierent ways, several of
wlicl are mutually exclusive. Tey tlus do not aim to arrive at the correct
interpretation of Toral, but at tle plurality of divine revelation in tle text.
Medieval Clristians were as puzzled by tlis approacl to Scripture as
tley were at tle )ewisl neglect of biblical law. At a disputation in Barcelona
in a6, tle Clristian friars confronted tle )ewisl representative, Rabbi
Mosle ben Nalman (Nalmanides), witl a number of midraslic traditions
tlat, tley claimed, slowed tlat tle Talmudic sages also proplesied tlat
)esus was tle messial. Nalmanides rst rejects tleir interpretation of tle
passages, but tlen continues:
We lave a tlird book wlicl is called tle Midrasl, wlicl means Ser-
mons. Tis is just as if tle bislop were to stand up and make a sermon,
and one of lis learers liked it so mucl tlat le wrote it down. And as for
tlis book, tle Midrasl, if anyone wants to believe in it, well and good, but
if someone does not believe in it, tlere is no larm.
Tis response encapsulates two important claracteristics of midrasl, even
as understood one tlousand years before Nalmanides. Nonlegal midrasl
were just interpretations, tley lad no binding autlority. Nor do tley oer
exclusive interpretations. Te friars found tlese assumptions utterly baf-
ing, for tley denied tle fundamental goal of Clristian biblical interpreta-
tion to nd tle one, pure, divine message.
Midrasl, as a literary genre, appears in many dierent rabbinic texts.
Probably slortly after tle redaction of tle Mislnal around aao ci several
collections of midrasl, organized by biblical book, were also redacted. Te
Rabbis maintain a somewlat odd epistemological diclotomy. For tlem, ev-
erytling tlat deals witl Toral is eitler lalaklic or aggadic. Halaklal is
anytling tlat deals witl legal issues, aggadal is everytling else. Tese early
collections, on Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, generally
are lalaklictley proceed in order tlrougl tle biblical book and draw out
laws from tle texts. As witl tle Mislnal, tle individual midraslic tradi-
tions lad undergone a process of selection and careful editing.
Te Rabbis tlemselves tlouglt tlat tlere was a listorical break around
tle time of Rabbi )udal. Tey termed tle Rabbis wlo lived before around
1ni vvvis 11
ao ci tle tannaim, an Aramaic word tlat means repeater or teacler.
Te name probably derives from tleir role as memorizers and repeaters of
tle oral traditions of tleir teaclers, it soon more generally applied to tleir
ability to add to and wrestle witl tlese traditions. Later Rabbis attribute to
tle tannaim and tleir sayings a ligl degree of autlority, especially wlen
tley seem to be in conict witl later rabbinic opinions.
From a rabbinic perspective, tle period of tle amoraim began in tle mid-
tlird century ci and extended to around tle ftl or early sixtl century.
Wlat most distinguisled tlis new group of Rabbis was not only tleir sense
of inferiority relative to tleir teaclers, but, more signicantly, tleir self-
perceived role as commentators on tle tannaitic traditions. Te amoraim
acknowledged tle autlority of many of tlese earlier tannaitic traditions
and tley souglt to explain, clarify, and interpret tlem. Otlerwise tlere was
more continuity tlan discontinuity between tle tannaim and early Pales-
tinian amoraim. From a political and social perspective, little lad clanged.
Palestinian amoraim still lived in (probably urban) )ewisl communities in
and around tle Calilee, and Roman autlorities let tlese communities func-
tion semiautonomously. Rabbis continued to study in small, uninstitution-
alized disciple circles around a major teacler. Te rabbinic movement
was tlus a loose network of tlese circles and tleir followers. Only in tle
late fourtl or ftl centuries do tley appear to lave created institutional
structures sucl as an academy in Tiberias.
From tle mid-fourtl century on, Palestinian Rabbis were living in an in-
creasingly Clristianized environment. Te Roman emperor Constantine
lad converted to Clristianity and le and many of lis successors were ac-
tive patrons of Clristian institutions. Clurcles were built tlrouglout tle
land of Israel, and streams of Clristian pilgrims made tleir way eacl year
to )erusalem. By tle ftl century, imperial legislation lad eectively mar-
ginalized tle )ews, abolisling tle oce of tle patriarclate (for unknown
reasons) and limiting some )ewisl civic riglts.
Wlile tle Palestinian Rabbis from tlis period must lave been aware of
tlese developments, tleir writings lardly reect it explicitly. Rabbinic lit-
erature rarely engages in polemical disputes witl Clristians or Clristian
teaclings. In at least one respect, lowever, tle Rabbis did appear to notice
tle growing strengtl of Clristianity.
Te problem, in slort, was tle Hebrew Bible. Beginning witl Paul,
Clristians declared tlemselves to be tle true Israel and leir of tle divine
promise. Te Old Testament miglt tlus lave been superseded by tle New
Testament, but for Clristians it remained profoundly relevant as a record
1z 1ni vvvis
of tle covenant and a divine witness to tle coming of Clrist. Cod, in tle
Old Testament, proplesied tle coming of Clrist, tle )ews were, in fact,
faulted for not being able to see tlis in tleir own Scripture. Needless to say,
tle Rabbis disagreed witl tlis reading of tle Hebrew Bible. Te battle for
tle meaning of tle Hebrew BibleiOld Testament was engaged.
Palestinian Rabbis responded to tlis Clristian appropriation of tle He-
brew Bible. One response was to create more collections of midrasl.
new collections, on tle biblical books of Cenesis, Leviticus (again), Song of
Songs, Rutl, and Ecclesiastes, were primarily aggadic. Implicitly, tley as-
sert a distinctively )ewisl Bible, a range of interpretations tlat despite tleir
multivocality slare assumptions about tle nature of tle biblical text and
correct ways of interpreting it.
Tey gave )ews resources to counter tle
Scriptural claims of Clristians.
Early Clristians, for example, made mucl of Cenesis (,:o, part of )a-
cobs blessing to lis son: Te scepter slall not depart from )udal, nor tle
rulers sta from between lis feet until Slilol comes and tle lomage of
peoples be lis. On its own, tle verse is notoriously dicult, some sclolars
translate tle obscure plrase until Slilol comes as tribute will come to
lim. Clristians read tle verse as a proplecy for tle supersession of tle
)ews. Witl tle destruction of tle Temple in ;o ci, tle consequent destruc-
tion of )erusalem, and tle defeat of tle )ews in ci, tle scepter did in-
deed pass from )udal. Tus Slilolread lere as tle new, redeemed age
must lave come. An amoraic commentary on tlis same verse is succinct
and insistent:
Te scepter slall not depart from )udaltlis is tle tlrone of tle king-
dom, Your divine tlrone is everlasting, your royal scepter is a scepter of
equity (Psalms (:;). Wly nor tle rulers sta from between lis feet:
Wlen le comes about wlom Scripture says, Trampled underfoot will be
tle proud crowns of tle drunkards of Eplraim (Isaial a8:).
until Slilol comesle wlose kingdom [really is] lis.
(Genesis Rabba ,,:8)
For tle Rabbis, tlis refers to tle coming of tle true messial, wlose ap-
proacl will be known by tle trampling of tle drunkards of Eplraim
most likely a reference to tlose wlo claim tlat )esus was tle messial!
More botlersome to tle Rabbis tlan tle Clristians, tlougl, were tle
majority of )ews wlo did not fully accept rabbinic autlority. Disdainfully
called tle people of tle land (am ha-aretz) by tle Rabbis, tlese )ews were
1ni vvvis 1
lardly country bumpkins, tlrouglout late antiquity tley took seriously
tle traditions of tleir ancestors, building elaborate and expensive syna-
gogues and perlaps turning to local (now Temple-less) priests for autlor-
ity. Because tley lave left us little in tle way of literary or legal texts, we
can reconstruct only fragments of tleir religious lives. Teir synagogues
sometimes contained elaborate mosaic oors, replete witl pictorial repre-
sentations (often of biblical scenes) and a zodiac, wlicl itself sometimes
contained a luman gure in tle middle (a representation of Helios:). Tese
remains, togetler witl tle rabbinic diatribes against botl tle depictions
and tle people wlo made tlem, remind us tlat a claim to autlority is pre-
cisely tlat, only a claim. Te Rabbis, especially of Palestine, were no doubt
deeply embedded in tleir larger )ewisl societies, maintaining a full network
of social relationslips and participating in tle larger Creco-Roman culture
tlat permeated tleir environments. So, wlile tley did not appear to isolate
tlemselves, neitler were tley entirely successful in getting otler )ews to
accept tleir universal claims. Te Rabbis claim to be speaking for and to
Israel, altlougl it is doubtful tlrougl tle end of late antiquity wletler
Israel seriously leeded tlem.

Mislnal and midrasl, representing tle distinctively rabbinic approacles to

Oral Toral and tle interpretation of tle Written Toral, began a process of
tle radical transformation of tle written tradition of Israel. Te publication
(wlicl miglt lave meant tle memorization and oral recitation ratler tlan
tle production of actual written manuscripts in late antiquity, none of wlicl
survive) of tle Mislnal slifted tle nature of Oral Toral. Amoraim turned
Oral Toral into a textual practice based on tle study and interpretation of
tle Mislnal. Tey tlus began to apply many of tle assumptions and tecl-
niques tley lad used for tle study of tle Tanak to tle Mislnal. Wlile tle
Rabbis lad more tolerance for contradictions in tle Mislnal tlan tley did
for tlose in tle Tanak, tley nevertleless ascribed to tle tannaim a ligl de-
gree of intentionality, like tle Toral, tle Mislnal carried latent meanings.
Te result was talmud, wlicl is as mucl a practice and process as it
would become a text in its own riglt. Te Mislnal las a direct, declara-
tive style and rarely justies its pronouncements. Te amoraim set to work
complicating tlis simple style, tley grab tle questions langing in tle air
and attempt to nail tlem down to eartl. Wly does tle Mislnal say it in
precisely tlis way and not anotler: Doesnt a particular rabbis opinion in
1 1ni vvvis
tle Mislnal contradict wlat le said elsewlere in tle Mislnal: Wlat is
tle justication for tlis legal opinion: Rabbinic study circles attempted to
address tlese, among many otler, problems in tle Mislnal.
Palestinian amoraim were joined by tleir Babylonian counterparts. We
know surprisingly little about tle )ews of Babylonia from tle sixtl century
vci until tle tlird century ci. Clearly, tlere was a continuous )ewisl com-
munity tlere, but little if any of tleir own literature survives. Te tannaim
were entirely Palestinian. During tle amoraic period, tlougl, tlere was an
explosion of Babylonian rabbinic activity.
Tese rabbis lived in a very dif-
ferent political and cultural environment from tleir Palestinian bretlren.
Under Persian rule tley knew Zoroastrianism ratler tlan Clristianity. Per-
laps tle absence of Clristianity lelps to explain tleir relative disregard of
midrasl, Babylonian Rabbis did not produce a single midraslic collection.
In any case, Babylonian amoraim did actively produce Talmud, and tley
did so witl a markedly dierent avor tlan tleir Palestinian counterparts.
Tey too studied and discussed tle Mislnal in small disciple circles, but
interpreted it witlin tle context of tleir own culture.
In tle ftl century ci tle Palestinians bring togetler tlese amoraic dis-
cussions into a single text. Te Palestinian Talmud (sometimes called tle
)erusalem Talmud or Yeruslalmi) lints at a new style tlat would ower
about a century later witl tle redaction of tle Babylonian Talmud (Bavli).
Tis style is argumentative.
Ratler tlan just providing an answer to tle complex problems of tle
Mislnal, tle Rabbis constructed complex arguments and counterargu-
ments. Te Palestinian Talmud puts into conversation amoraic traditions
tlat were produced in dierent times and places in isolation from eacl
otler. Eacl section opens witl a small section of tle Mislnal (in order)
and tlen proceeds to debate its meaning or to move out tangentially from
tlere. Despite its basic argumentative structure, tle actual text of tle Pal-
estinian Talmud is ratler spartan and its logic of moving from one amoraic
tradition to tle next is not always obvious.
Sclolars do not know wly tle Rabbis redacted tle )erusalem Talmud
in tle late fourtl century, tlus freezing tle process of Oral Toral in tle
same way tlat tle redaction of tle Mislnal did. One tleory conjec-
tures tlat under tle pressure of Clristianity tle Rabbis were afraid tleir
teaclings would be lost. Contrarily, one miglt suggest tlat tle production
of tle Talmud was an act of condence and assertion in an economically
booming )ewisl Calilee. Wlatever tle reason, tle Palestinian Talmud was
not tle last word.
1ni vvvis 1
Babylonian amoraim continued tleir discussions about tle Mislnal,
and witl eacl otler, for anotler century. Around oo ci tle Babylonian
Talmud underwent a process of redaction tlat left it more or less in tle
form tlat survives to tlis day.
Altlougl following tle same arrangement
as tle Palestinian Talmud, tle Babylonian Talmud is far larger and more
intricate. Te reason for tle Babylonian Talmuds redaction is also not fully
understood, but at least in part must be related to tle growing institution-
alization of tle rabbinic movement in Babylonia. As tle Rabbis tlemselves
consolidated, perlaps tley felt a need to consolidate tleir past teaclings. In
fact, tle Babylonian rabbinic academies developed sucl institutional pres-
tige tlat tley would eventually so leavy-landedly assert tle superiority of
tle Babylonian over tle Palestinian Talmud tlat, for all practical purposes,
tle latter was dropped from tle rabbinic curriculum. Later rabbis adopted
tle principle tlat wlen tle two Talmuds diverged tle Babylonian Talmuds
opinion or version was always preferable. Te victory of tle Babylonian
over tle )erusalem Talmud was to some extent due to politics, but even so
it would never lave succeeded unless tle text was itself ricl and complex
enougl to sustain interest.
Tere is notling quite like tle Babylonian Talmud. It is written in botl
Hebrew and Aramaic, often sluttling between tle two Semitic dialects. It
is a book of law tlat often refuses to make a decision about tle law, an in-
terpretation tlat frequently succeeds only in complicating tle Mislnal, a
set of rigorous arguments punctuated witl liglt stories, jokes, and bizarre
tangents, and an insular system in wlicl to understand any single part one
must be familiar witl tle wlole. It is a quintessentially dialogical text, at
once in conversation witlin itself and encouraging dialogue witl its readers
and among tlem. It is very mucl a product of its age and place, exlibiting
many similarities and parallels to Persian and Zoroastrian cultures and tra-
ditions, but as a literary work it is unique.
Tis dialogical nature of tle text accounts for tle typograply of tle
modern page of Talmud. Te earliest Talmudic manuscripts date from tle
Middle Ages and contain no commentary. Trouglout tlis time, low-
ever, )ews produced a large number of commentaries on tle Babylonian
Talmud. Beginning as commentaries on tle text of tle Talmud alone, tley
quickly expanded to commenting on otler commentators as well. Te
Babylonian Talmud, itself largely a commentary, became tle foundation of
an ongoing dialogue tlat we miglt call tle rabbinic, or even )ewisl, tra-
dition. Traditionally, studying tle Talmud witl tle commentators was a
multimanuscript aair.
:nir . Orders and Tractates of tle Mislnal and Talmuds
ztnntm moto xnxntm xtzttx oonxntm 1onono1
(svvos) (vvs:vns) (womv) (onmnovs) (nov (vuuvcn:os)
Berakot + Slabbat + Yebamot+ Baba Kamma+ Zebalim+ Niddal+
(Blessings) (Sabbatl) (levirate (First Cate, (Animal (Menstruant)
marriages) damages) Oerings)
Peal+ Erubin+ Ketubot+ Baba Mezia+ Menalot Kelim
(Corners (Combin- (Marriage (Middle Cate, (Meal (Vessels)
of tle eld) ations, Sab- Settlements) found property) Oerings)
batl bound-
Demai+ Pesalim+ Nedarim+ Baba Batra+ Hullin Ololot
(Doubtfully (Passover) (Vows) (Last Cate, (Profane (Tents)
titled real estate, tlings)
produce) inleritance)
Kilayim+ Slekalim+ Nazir+ Sanledrin+ Bekorot Negaim
(Agricultural (Slekels) (Nazirite) (Court) (Firstlings) (Leprosy)
Slebiit+ Yoma+ Sotal+ Abodal Zaral+ Arakin Paral
(Sabbatical (Yom (Suspected (Strange (Evaluations) (Heifer)
Year) Kippur) adultress) Worslip)
Terumot+ Sukkal+ Cittin+ Horayot+ Temural Tolorot
(Heave (Bootl, (Bills of (Rulings) (Substitutions) (Purity)
Oerings) Tabernacles) divorce)
Maaserot+ Bezal+ Kidduslin+ Slebuot+ Keritot Mikvaot
(Titles) (Egg, (Betrotlal) (Oatls) (Excisions) (Pools of
laws of Immersion)
Hallal+ Rosl Makkot+ Meilal Makslirim
(Dougl) Haslanal+ (Floggings) (Trespass) (Preparations,
(New Year) liquids tlat
cause impurity)
Orlal+ Taanit+ Eduyot Tamid Zabim
(Uncircum- (Fast) (Testimony) (Continual (Cenital ux)
cision of trees) oering)
Bikkurim+ Megillal+ Abot Middot Tebul Yom
(First Fruits) (Scroll, Purim) (Etlics of (Dimensions) (Immersed
Fatlers) during tle day)
Moed Kinnim Yadayim
Katan+ (Bird Nests) (Hands)
(Minor festival)
Hagigal+ Ukzin (Stalks)
An asterisk () beside tle name means tlat tle Babylonian Talmud contains commentary on it, a plus
(+) signies tlat tle Palestinian Talmud contains commentary on it.
1ni vvvis 1;
Te printing of tle Talmud clanged tlat. An Italian printer, )oslua Sonci-
no, began publisling assorted tractates of tle Babylonian Talmud in tle
(8os. Modeling tle Talmudic page after tlose of Latin Clristian biblical
commentaries, Soncino placed tle main text of tle Talmud in tle middle
of tle page and surrounded it witl commentaries. Wlen Daniel Bomberg
printed tle rst full edition around ao, le standardized tle commentar-
ies to appear on eacl page of Talmud. Bombergs format las remained re-
markably stable, tle Vilna edition of tle Babylonian Talmud, printed by tle
Romm family in tle 88os, maintained Bombergs format, squeezing some
more recent commentaries into tle margins.
Te retention of tlis format into tle present day markedly contrasts witl
its abandonment by Clristians. Wlereas Clristian commentaries were
printed in a more univocal style, tle typograply of tle Babylonian Tal-
mud captures multivocality. It is as if tle conversations of tle ancient Rab-
bis spilled outside tleir margins into and across future generations.
Wlile encouraging an intergenerational conversation, tle typograply of
a page of tle Babylonian Talmud also respects tle integrity of its compo-
nent parts. Only in tle leat of conversation can tle comments of tle famed
medieval commentator Rasli be read directly into tle ancient dialogues,
Raslis commentary is clearly marked in a dedicated space on tle page and
in a dierent typescript. Te insistence on preserving tle integrity of eacl
individual text is part of tle process tlat we lave already seen in midrasl.
As later texts cite and build upon tle autlority of earlier ones, tley engage
in a process of back-canonization. Commentaries tlus accrete over a text
in a way tlat solidies tle autlority of tle lower levelsto question tle
autlority of tlese earlier texts risks knocking over tle entire edice. )ust as
tle commentaries to tle Talmud lelp to cement tle autlority of tle Tal-
mud, so too tle commentaries on tle commentaries enlance tle autlority
of tlese earlier commentators. Most vulnerable are tlose witl wlom tle
conversation ceases.
Bombergs edition of tle Babylonian Talmud also standardized its pagi-
nation. Te use of a standard paginationin wlicl eacl page (or folio) las
an a and b sidepoints to tle Babylonian Talmuds social setting. In one
sense by tle sixteentl century tle Babylonian Talmud lad become a refer-
ence book. Many autlors, wletler commentators, poets, jurists, or pli-
losoplers, lad turned to it for autlority. Yet tlese autlors could only refer-
ence tle Talmud according to vague indicators tlat were of little lelp to
tle noninitiate (for example, in tle section tlat begins witl tle following
words). A standard pagination allowed future editors of tlese later texts to
indicate tlese references more precisely.
18 1ni vvvis
But tle Babylonian Talmud was, and is, not just a reference book. )ews
lave always seen tle text as embedded in its own performance. Prior to its
wider dissemination allowed by standardized printing and increasing litera-
cy, sclolars would study tle Babylonian Talmud witlin an institutionalized
framework. Witlin tle context of tle academy, or yesliva, tle Talmud was
not meant to serve as tle private and silent reading of an individual sclolar.
Its study was a communal activity. Wletler read, explained, and discussed
in pairs or in larger groups witl a teacler, tle social context of tle Baby-
lonian Talmuds reading reinforced its argumentative nature. Many )ews
today, even tlose not formally part of a yesliva, continue tlis traditional
way of studying tle Babylonian Talmud. Tey may study informally in pairs
or in synagogue groups led by a rabbi, wletler in tle original Hebrew and
Aramaic or in translation.
Tus tle text of tle Babylonian Talmud togetler witl its traditional ty-
pograply, commentaries, and mode of study all drive to emplasize process
over product. As tle many later texts tlat draw upon specic traditions in
tle Talmud make clear, product is not unimportant. To enter into tle study of
tle Talmud for its own sake is seen as entering into tle exciting and dynam-
ic unfolding of Cods continuing revelation. It is also to internalize a distinc-
tively rabbinic way of tlinking. Rabbinic tlinking, like all epistemologies,
. Folio from an early printed edition of tle Babylonian Talmud. Te text of tle Tal-
mud runs down tle center of tle page witl commentary in tle margins around it.
Courtesy of the Library of the Jewish Teological Seminary of America
Image has been suppressed
1ni vvvis 1,
organizes knowledge into a set of discrete categories. Tinking like tle Rab-
bis means tlinking in tleir categories wlile remaining sensitive to tle ten-
sions tlat tlese categories create witlin and between eacl otler.
Te Babylonian Talmud relentlessly juxtaposes its categories and prin-
ciples. One extended passage, for example, dwells on tle legal problem
of lonoring ones parents. Te Toral clearly states tlat it is imperative to
lonor ones parents, but it does not state low. Does lonor mean do not
slame, support nancially, or obey: If a parent slames you in public,
wlat is tle proper response: Wlat about tle case wlen an elderly parent
demands nancial assistance but you lave only enougl money to educate
your clildren, anotler rabbinic imperative: If your fatler and motler give
you conicting instructions, to wlicl slould you listen: Does lonoring
your parents extend to cases wlere tley tell you to dislonor your teacler
or Cod: Wlat are tle ramications of all tlese answers on related applica-
tions of tle same principles:
Tis las brouglt us far from tle religion of any )ewisl community from
tle Second Temple period. In one sense tle Rabbis are very mucl a prod-
uct of tleir listorical contextsPalestinian and Babylonian rabbis, living in
very dierent cultural milieus, often diverge at precisely tle points wlere
tleir surrounding cultures do. Tey trace tleir own listory back into tle
Second Temple and even biblical period, and, as we lave seen, tle claim
miglt be exaggerated but it is not a pure ction, tlere are listorical con-
tinuities. At tle same time, tley radically transformed tlese continuities.
Tey started witl tle Toral but ended witl Mislnal, midrasl, and Tal-
mud, wlicl would constitute tle foundation of rabbinic )udaism. Te re-
daction of tle Babylonian Talmud marks as slarp a break witl tle )udaism
tlat preceded it as did tle Toral for tle religion of Israel. From tle end of
late antiquity to tle present, )ewisl communities lave marked tlemselves
by tleir participation in tle conversation tlat begins witl tle Babylonian
Talmud. It is to tle slape of tlis conversation tlat we now turn.
nioioov, iov ros1 of us, can mean two dierent tlings. More
formally it refers to a systematic and relatively rigorous explana-
tion of tle divine and tle world. Like some types of plilosoply,
it begins witl certain premises and logically builds upon tlem a colerent
system of tlouglt. In tlis sense tle goal of tleology is to tame and system-
atize potentially contradictory beliefs about tle divine. It would be tle job
of tleology, for example, to reconcile a belief in only one Cod, wlo is good,
witl tle enduring presence of evil in tle world.
A second, more colloquial use of tle term theology denotes simply tle
foundational beliefs or dogma of a religion witl little regard to tleir system-
atization or colerence. As leirs of tle Western Clristian tradition, we tend
to privilege tlese religious beliefs as essential to true religiosity. A persons
tleology tlus means ones personal beliefs, wlicl are tlen seen as consti-
tuting tle core of religious expression. Wlen institutionalized, tlese beliefs
often become a dogma, a set of assertions tlat one must believe to be con-
sidered ortlodox (riglt-tlinking) by tlat religious tradition.
By eitler of tlese denitions, tle Rabbis were poor tleologians. For all
tleir rigor and attention to detail, tle Talmuds almost never systematically
work out wlat we would call tleological positions, tleir analyses focus on
matters of law and tleir justications. Wlen tle Rabbis do discuss tleolog-
ical matters, tley usually do so in midrasl and in an ad loc manner. Civen
tle rabbinic emplasis on multivocality, it slould also come as no surprise
tlat tle Rabbis make little eort to enforce particular beliefs. Wlile some
Rabbis do draw a few lines in tle sand wlen it comes to belief, tlese are
relatively marginal to tle entire tlrust of rabbinic )udaism.
vnniic cocrv:s
vvviic cociv1s 11
But tle rabbinic inattention to theology, as we understand tle term, does
not mean tlat tle Rabbis were uninterested in tleological matters. In fact,
tle Rabbis were intrigued by tle same questions tlat tleologians lave been
struggling witl for millennia. Wlat is tle nature of Cod: Wly did Cod cre-
ate tle world and everytling in it, including evil, tlis particular way: Wlat
does it mean to be luman, created in Cods image: Wly did Cod make a
covenant witl Abralam and lis descendents, and wlat is tle meaning of
tlat covenant, and tle one on Sinai: Wlat will lappen at tle end of time:
Ratler tlan addressing tlese issues in any systematic or even explicit
way, tle Rabbis consider tlem organically, growing out of otler discussions
or biblical verses. Teir tleological reections are slarp asles or illumina-
tions tlat pass as surprisingly as tley appear. Wlen seen togetler, tlese
asles do not quite add up to a colerent tleology, but tley do create a kind
of tleological collage in wlicl dierent answers blend into otlers in a vari-
ety of dierent directions. Or, to use a dierent metaplor, tley dene a map
in wlicl tle topograply varies greatly depending on tle perspective.
One distinctive claracteristic of rabbinic tleology is its ability to main-
tain creative tensions. As witl tleir legal discussions, tle Rabbis like to toy
witl tle boundaries. Instead of deciding, for example, wletler tley prefer
to see Cod as distant and uninvolved in luman aairs (transcendent) or as
nurturing and deeply involved, tley opt for botl. Tis is wly tle answer to
tle question Wlat do tle Rabbis tlink about x: can routinely produce
frustration, tle answer often includes its oppositeand most every slade
in between. Yet despite tle elasticity of rabbinic concepts, tlere are clear
limits. Some answers, or even questions, never make it onto tle map. Te
Rabbis miglt wonder about questions of divine plurality and tle nature of
divine beings otler tlan Cod, but never would tley nd acceptable an an-
swer tlat posits tle existence of a second god.
Tis creative tension extends to tle Rabbis relationslip to biblical tleol-
ogy. Te Rabbis continually seek to link tleir concepts and beliefs to tle
Hebrew Bible. In many cases tlis is not a stretcl, tle contours of rabbinic
tlinking, on a very basic level, follow tle options found in tle Hebrew Bible.
Otler times, tlougl, tle Rabbis creatively rework or even subvert biblical
ideas wlile claiming to remain true to tle text.
Tis clapter, tlen, is an attempt to sketcl out tle terrain of tle major
rabbinic concepts and to slow tle range of tleological options tley pro-
vide. Te assortment of topics tlat occupy tle Rabbis more or less follows
tle contours of tle Tanak: Cod, covenant, Toral, sin, repentance, tleod-
icy, Israel, and redemption. Te Rabbis do not lave a single straigltforward
1z vvviic cociv1s
position for any of tlese topics, and my goal is to liglliglt tle creative ten-
sions tlat tley form and tle relationslips between tleological concepts
ratler tlan to insist on any single dominant understanding. Te very fact
of tleological multivocality is critically important. By creating a range of
tleological options ratler tlan dogmatically insisting on one, rabbinic lit-
erature provides a collection of tleological possibilities upon wlicl later
)ews will draw. One )ewisl community miglt nd an immanent Cod more
to its liking tlan anotler, but botl communities can nd autlority for tleir
positions in tlis diverse literature.

Is Cod near or far: Is tle real Cod tle transcendent one of tle rst cre-
ation account or tle immanent, caring, and excitable one of tle second:
Te Torals juxtaposition of tle two radically dierent ideas of Cod in tle
rst clapters of Cenesis was to some extent a listorical accident, tle work
of a redactor unable to exclude eitler of tlese two sacred stories. For tle
Rabbis, tlougl, tlese seemingly dierent ideas represent two dierent as-
pects of tle one Cod. Even Cods two names (tle ) and E names), in tlis
reading, indicate tle poles of Cods nature.
From Cenesis tle Rabbis drew tle idea of Cods utter transcendence.
Wlereas tle Second Temple autlors of tle apocalyptic works reconciled
tle idea of majestic and transcendent Cod witl a permeable leaven into
wlicl luman beings could pass for quick guided tours, tle Rabbis draw a
slarper separation between Cod and creation. Tis is a Cod so awesome
tlat lumans cannot abide anywlere near Cods presence. In one midrasl
Cod (accidentally:) kills all tle Israelites at Mount Sinai wlen uttering tle
rst letter of tle Ten Commandmentstle silent aleph! (In His mercy, He
tlen resurrects tlem.) Noting tle consistent use of Cods name as elohim
tlrouglout Cenesis , tle Rabbis identify it witl Cods attribute of justice.
Te transcendent Cod is also tle ultimate infallible judge, unswayed by
mitigating circumstances, wlo metes out precise penalties and rewards
to luman beings.
Yet wlereas Cenesis portrays Cod as majestically aloof and alone, tle
rabbinic reading of tlis account tends to soften Cods transcendence. One
very clever midrasl tlat ecloes tlrouglout otler rabbinic traditions plays
o tle rst Hebrew word of tle Toral, breshit, normally translated In the
beginning, Cod created tle leavens and tle eartl. Te term reshit, tley
note, occurs also at Proverbs 8:aa, in wlicl Wisdom says, Te Lord made
vvviic cociv1s 1
me tle beginning (reshit) of lis work, tle rst of lis acts of old. Reading
tle Hebrew preposition b as witl ratler tlan in (a justied construal
of tlis prex), tley transform tle rst sentence of tle Toral to read: Witl
tle Toral, elohim created tle leavens and tle eartl. Te repercussions of
tlis reading are profound, for tley now suggest tlat tle Toral is tle pri-
mordial blueprint for creation. Cod now las a partner (albeit one of a very
dierent nature). Cods word, tle agent of creation tlrouglout Cenesis ,
is no longer a eeting sound but tle Toral itself. Te word, wlicl occupies
tle space between tle unapproaclable Cod and creation, becomes acces-
sible. By way of comparison, tle Cospel of )oln las a dierent reading of
Cenesis : In tle beginning tle Word already was. . . . He was witl Cod at
tle beginning, and tlrougl lim all tlings came to be ()oln :). )oln
interprets Cods word (tle logos) as His incarnation, )esus, not Toral, is tle
accessible intermediary between Cod and His creation.
Actually, tle rabbinic reading of Cenesis populates tle leavens. Cene-
sis :a6, Let us make man, troubles tle Rabbis: To wlom is Cod speaking:
Immediately ruling out tle possibility of anotler god (and, on tle principle
of tle divine nature of tle language of tle Toral, rejecting tle us as a
gure of speecl), tle Rabbis suggest tlat He was speaking to tle angels.
From tlis interpretation tley weave a complicated argument between Cod
and tle angels, wlo are portrayed as opposing tle creation of lumankind.
Tere may be only one Cod, and tlis Cod miglt be inaccessible to lumans,
but He is neitler alone in tle leavens nor even rmly in control of tle
leavenly lost.
If tle Rabbis mute tle transcendence of tle Cod of Cenesis , tley also
transform tle immanence of tle Cod of Cenesis a. Te Cod of Cenesis a
gets His lands dirty: He creates not by word but by molding and surgery,
walks in tle garden, does not seem omniscient, and gets unexpectedly
angry wlen tlings do not go His way. Partly in continuation witl traditions
tlat date back to tle Second Temple period, and partly, perlaps, in response
to Clristian ideas of incarnation, tle Rabbis are careful never to go as far
as Cenesis a in tleir portrayal of Cod. Cod never comes to eartl. But Cod,
for tle Rabbis, really is immanent. If tle Cod of Cenesis represents tle
aspect of Cods justice, tle Cod indicated by His four-letter name, YHWH,
indicates His mercy. Tis is tle Cod wlo tempers justice witl mercy so tlat
He does not, as He slould by all riglt, destroy fragile and fallible lumanity.
Tis is tle Cod wlo weeps at Israels exile (wlicl He caused), comforts tle
mourners and escorts tle bride to tle wedding canopy, and listens to tle
communal and personal supplications of His people.
1 vvviic cociv1s
It is in tle rabbinic treatment of mysticism tlat tlis tension emerges
most clearly. Rabbinic literature cryptically alludes to tlose wlo explicate
tle work of creation and tle work of tle clariot. Tey are uneasy about
botl groups. Te former, apparently, referred to tlose wlo used tle texts
at tle very beginning of Cenesis as a basis for cosmological (and probably
esclatological) speculation. Tey may lave souglt an experience of tle di-
vine tlrougl some kind of understanding of tle mysteries of creation. Te
second group, more clearly, used tle rst clapter of Ezekiel as tleir base
text for mystical speculation. Tey may lave souglt to gaze upon Cod, to
ascend to leaven in tle faslion of tle earlier )ewisl apocalyptic autlors.
We still know relatively little about tlese groups, altlougl wlat we do
know raises tlree issues tlat would continue tlrougl later )ewisl mysti-
cism. First, tley are based in a traditional text. )ust as tle Psalmist souglt
to domesticate tle mystical experience by conning it to tle Temple, tle
Rabbis understand tle divine revelation as transmitted tlrougl tradition to
be tle basis of mystical speculation. Tey too lad no concept of individual
spirituality cut loose from tradition. Second, mysticism is esoteric. Tis is
not stu for tle masses, it is botl dicult and dangerous to master. Te
Rabbis forbid tle explication of botl tle works of creation and tle works
of tle clariot in public. Finally, tle goal, as in most classical understand-
ings of mysticism, never appears to be unication witl tle divine. Tose
wlo seek to master tle cosmological mysteries did so for reasons tlat re-
main obscure, altlougl it is unlikely tley tlouglt tlat by doing so tley
would become one witl Cod. Tose wlo contemplated tle works of tle
clariot souglt a vision of Cod, tley too appear to lave preserved tle line
between luman and divine.
One of tle few rabbinic texts tlat refer to mystical experience is
Four entered into Pardes, Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Otler, and Rabbi Akiva.
One gazed and died, one gazed and was wounded, one gazed and cut tle
sloots, and one ascended in peace and descended in peace. Ben Azzai
gazed and diedabout lim Scripture says, Te deatl of His faitlful ones
is grievous in tle Lords siglt [Psalms 6:]. Ben Zoma gazed and was
woundedabout lim Scripture says, If you nd loney, eat only wlat you
need, lest, surfeiting yourself, you tlrow it up [Proverbs a:6]. Elisla [
Otler] gazed and cut tle slootsabout lim Scripture says, Dont let
your moutl bring you into disfavor, and dont plead before tle messenger
tlat it was an error . . . [Ecclesiastes :]. Rabbi Akiva ascended in peace
vvviic cociv1s 1
and descended in peaceabout lim Scripture says, Draw me after you,
let us run! Te king las brouglt me to lis clambers. Let us deliglt and
rejoice in your love, savoring it more tlan wine . . . [Song of Songs :(].
( Tosefta Hagiga :)
If you do not fully understand tlis passage you would lardly be alone. Te
Talmuds botl struggle witl it, as do scores of later interpreters. Is Pardes
leaven or tle divine abode or an eartlly paradise (paradise derives from
tle Persian word pardes, wlicl literally refers to a royal garden or orclard):
Did Rabbi Akiva and tle otlers actually ascend, and upon wlat or wlom
did tle otlers gaze: Wlat does cut tle sloots mean, and low does tle
Scriptural verse relate to it: Wly did Rabbi Akiva survive tle encounter
unscatled: Tis passage is esoteric to its core.
As understood by its earliest rabbinic interpreters, it refers to a mystical
ascent, perlaps triggered by explication of tle works of tle clariot. Te
object of tle gaze is tle divine presence, portrayed as so awesome tlat it de-
stroyed tlree out of four of tlese great rabbinic gures. Siglt of tle divine
miglt be frauglt witl danger, but, tlis passage asserts, it is nevertleless
possible. Te text leaves tle door to leaven open, even if leavily guarded.
)ews produced anotler kind of mystical literature alongside tlese early
descriptions of tle divine. Tis literature, best represented by Sefer HaRaz-
im (Te Book of Mysteries), combines visions of Cod witl prescriptions
for winning divine favor. Tat is, Sefer HaRazim is a book of magic, and it
joins otler Hebrew and Aramaic magical texts from late antiquity, wlicl
include amulets, curse tablets, and bowls inscribed witl love spells.
Te use of tle term magic calls for anotler denitional pause. Magic is
lardly an objective or a value-neutral term. Traditionally, it las been and
continues to be used as a term of opprobrium, it denotes bad religious
practices. We lave religion, tley lave magic. Magical practices are
generally seen as tlose tlat encroacl upon divine power. Te idea, for ex-
ample, tlat a magical spell, if done correctly, will meclanistically compel
divine power to do sometling, constrains tle divine will: Cod no lon-
ger las tle absolute power of cloice. In practice, lowever, tlis somewlat
logical division between acts of prayer and supplication tlat preserve di-
vine power and acts tlat lave a meclanistic eect on tle cosmos quickly
blurs. Te Toral condemns some, but not all, practices tlat we miglt
label as magical (tle otlers, later commentators were quick to assert, are
miraculous). Te Rabbis nd some amulets deplorable (idolatrous prac-
tices) but otlers kosler. Wlen a woman attempts to compel angels, wlo
16 vvviic cociv1s
are often seen as not laving any free will to begin witl, to make ler lus-
band love ler, is tlis magic:
Once tle barrier between leaven and eartl is punctured, tle lines be-
tween wlat miglt be called purely mystical and purely magical disin-
tegrate. To gaze upon tle divine or to receive instruction from tle moutl
of divine beings is to learn tle mysteries of tle cosmos. And to learn is
also to gain tle ability to control. As early as tle tlird century vci, tle au-
tlor of Enocl recognized tle connection between angelic revelation and
magic, asserting tlat luman knowledge of magic in fact came from tle an-
gels. For tle autlor of Sefer HaRazim tlere is no contradiction, indeed no
signicant dierence, between visions of tle divine and spells to larness
and use divine power.
Te issue of divine immanence is linked witl tle problem of low Cod
can or slould be represented. Te Rabbis follow tle biblical idea tlat Cod
cannot be visually representeda prolibition tlat )ews in Palestine actu-
ally observed during tle Second Temple period. On tle otler land, tley
lave no problem witl verbal antlropomorplic descriptions. Cod may not
actually walk on eartl, but Cod can be described as walking. One strik-
ing passage tlat illustrates tlis tleme is found in tle Babylonian Talmud
(Beraklot 6a):
From wlere do we learn tlat tle Holy One, blessed be He, puts on tel-
lin: As it is written, Te Lord las sworn by His riglt land, by His miglty
arm, [Isaial 6a:8]. His riglt landtlis is Toral, as it is written, . . .
Ligltening asling at tlem from His riglt [Deut. :a].
by His miglty armtlis is tellin, as it is written, Cod is strengtl to
lis people [Psalms a8:8]. How do we know tlat tellin is strengtl: As
it is written, All tle peoples of tle eartl will see tlat tle Lords name is
proclaimed over you, and tley slall stand in fear of you [Deut. a8:o].
Wlatever tle original intent of tle biblical verses, tlis rabbinic reading
of tlem tames Cods awesomeness. Te plylacteries contain portions of
tle Toral, and suddenly Cod is transformed from tle fearful ligltening
lurler into sometling mucl more accessible, a man wearing two leatler
boxes. Incidentally, lere is anotler excellent example of rabbinic midrasl,
wlicl juxtaposes biblical verses to create an entirely dierent understand-
ing of Isaial 6a:8.
Te Talmud continues (Beraklot ;a):
vvviic cociv1s 1;
Rabbi Yolanan said in tle name of Rabbi Yosi: How do we know tlat
tlat Holy One, blessed be He, prays: As it is written, I will bring tlem
to My sacred mount and let tlem rejoice in my louse of prayer [literally,
tle louse of my prayer] (Isaial 6:;). Teir prayer is not written, but
My prayer!
Wlat does He pray: Rav Zutra bar Tuvial said in tle name of Rav: May
it be My will tlat my compassion will conquer my anger and my compas-
sion prevail over My attribute [of justice], and may I conduct Myself witl
My clildren witl My attribute of compassion and may I stop slort before
tle strict measure of justice.
Tis extraordinary passage describes Cods prayer to Himself. Te Rabbis
portray Cod as wisling (!) tlat His compassion will outweigl lis sense of
absolute justice. Hardly tle perfect, unied Cod of tle later Deists, tlis Cod
battles limself in order to suppress His desire for justice.
Following convention, I lave described Cod witl male pronouns. To tle
extent tlat tle Rabbis ascribe a gender to tleir antlropomorplic descrip-
tions of tle divine, it is in fact male. Te Rabbis lave a ricl metaploric vo-
cabulary for describing Cod. Some of tlese terms and concepts are gender
neutral, sucl as tle Place, Name, Rock, and Merciful One. Many, tlougl,
are male: Cod is a king, judge, warrior, sleplerd, fatler, and, perlaps most
commonly, Te Holy One, blessed be He. Even more tlan tle autlors of
tle Hebrew Bible, tle Rabbis avoid using feminine imagery for Cod. Te
only feminine descriptor of Cod tlat tley use witl any frequency is tle
Shechinah, or Presence, and even tlen tley avoid giving tle Sleclinal any
attributes tlat tley mark as feminine.
Had tle Rabbis been rigorous tleological tlinkers (in our sense), tley
would lave tlen asked tle next natural question: wlat does it mean to call
Cod a king or to use masculine images to describe Him: In wlat pre-
cise sense do tlese terms describe Cod: Tey never do explicitly ask or
answer tlese questions. It is likely tlat some Rabbis really did understand
Cod as possessing some kind of body, albeit one tlat lumans could not ap-
proacl or necessarily comprelend. Otlers miglt lave lad a more abstract
Te riclness and variety of rabbinic descriptions of Cod miglt best
be understood, lowever, witlin tle wider context of tle Creek, Roman,
and Zoroastrian worlds. Most practitioners of Creco-Roman religions
did not see tle material representations of tle gods (idols, as tley were

18 vvviic cociv1s
polemically called) as tle actual god, tley understood tlem as symbolic
of one aspect of tle divine. A single god miglt lave several names, picto-
rial depictions and mytls, but all pointed to dierent aspects of tle same
divine reality. Wlen tle Rabbis use antlropomorplic language to describe
tleir one Cod, tlen, tley are participating in tle wider cultural practice of
representing dierent aspects of tle same divinity. Tey are violently op-
posed to representing Cod in painting or sculpture, but tley nevertleless
do believe it possible to represent Cod verbally and antlropomorplically.
In addition to serving as symbols of Cods attributes, tlese representations
foster a sense of divine immanence in tleir listeners.
Te tension between tlese depictions of Cod as immanent and transcen-
dent, especially as embodied in descriptions of His attributes of compas-
sion and justice, spill over into rabbinic discussions of tleodicy. Teodicy
is a problem of particular importance for monotleistic religions, as tley
must reconcile tle idea of a single and good Cod witl tle presence of evil
and (seemingly) random unfairness in tle world. To tle Rabbis, Cods role
as supreme judge is not negotiable. As one midrasl says, Rabbi Akiba said:
Concerning wlom is it written, Wly slould tle wicked man scorn Cod,
tlinking You do not call to account: Tis is one wlo says tlat tlere is no
judgment and tlat tlere is no judge. But tlere is judgment, and tlere is a
judge (Genesis Rabba a6:(, on Cenesis 6:). Despite all appearances to tle
contrary, tle world is a just place.
In reconciling tle apparent injustice of tle world witl tleir tleological
conviction tlat Cod is just, tle Rabbis rely primarily on tle biblical answers.
Cood people prosper and bad people do not. Alternatively, tley suggest tlat
lumans are incapable of understanding tle way tlat Cod administers jus-
tice. One aggadic story tells of Moses being brouglt back to eartl to watcl
tle gruesome execution of Rabbi Akiba. Master of tle universe, Moses
exclaims, Tis is Toral and tlis is its reward: Silence, Cod replies, tlus
I lave decided (Babylonian Talmud, Menalot, a,a). Even Moses, tle man
of Cod, cannot understand Cods ways.
But tle Rabbis are not fully satised witl tlese traditional answers. Te
Rabbis lad tle luxury (wlicl most of tle biblical autlors did not) of being
able to use tle concept of an afterlife in tleir discussions of tleodicy. By de-
ferring tle punislments or rewards to tle next world, tle Rabbis preserve
tle idea of a just cosmos. In fact, tley go furtler: Cod actually punisles tle
riglteous. Sometimes called punislments of love, tlese aictions of tle
riglteous were seen as cleansing:
vvviic cociv1s 1,
Rabbi Eleazar said in tle name of R. Zadok: Wly are tle riglteous com-
pared to a tree: Because it stands in a pure place and its brancles extend
into an impure placeif one cuts its brancles, it stands entirely in a pure
place. Tus does tle Holy One, blessed be He, bring suerings on tle
riglteous in tlis world so tlat tley miglt inlerit tle world-to-come, as it
is written, Tougl your beginning be small, in tle end you will grow very
great [)ob 8:;].
And wly are tle wicked similar in tlis world to a tree: Because tle
wlole tling stands in an impure place, and its brancles extend into a pure
place. Tus tle Holy One, blessed be He, brings good to tle wicked in
tlis world in order to torment tlem in tle world-to-come and in order to
cause tlem to inlerit tle lowest level, as it is written, A road may seem
riglt to a man, but in tle end it is a road to deatl [Proverbs (:a].
(Babylonian Talmud, Kidduslin (ob)
Tis explanation curiously portrays Cod as botl compassionate and strict.
By meting out tle punislment of tle riglteous lere on eartl, Cod allows
tlem to prosper in tle next world. Suering slould tlus be embraced as a
divine opportunity for purication, tle Rabbis tlemselves seem somewlat
uncomfortable witl tlis solution. On tle otler land, in tlis passage Cod is
careful not to punisl tle wicked in tlis world in order to cause tlem even
greater suering in tle next. One miglt question low just tlis really is, but
it allowed tle Rabbis to explain tle worlds apparent injustice.
Anotler explanation for misfortune is tle existence of demons. Tis ex-
planation slares a similar cosmology to tlat of Enocl: tle world is full
of evil and misclievous forces tlat malevolently play witl luman beings.
As in Enocl, tlis explanation distances Cod from evil, but at tle cost of
compromising tle idea of an absolute monotleism, tlere may not be an-
otler god, but tlere are tlese otler divine spirits witl independent wills.
Witl tlis explanation Toral becomes a magical slield against tle forces
of evil. Tus, for tle Rabbis wlo accept tlis cosmology, tle study of Toral
is tle rst line of defense against tle evil forces, not because it will bring
divine favor on tle sclolar or instruct lim (and ler:) in tle correct patl,
but because it will magically ward tlem o. Babylonian rabbis appear more
taken witl tlis explanation tlan tleir Palestinian counterparts. Tis is al-
most certainly attributable to tleir cultural environments, Zoroastrian cos-
mology las a mucl stronger notion of tle active presence of supernatural
malevolent forces tlan does Creek or Roman cosmology.
1o vvviic cociv1s
Obviously related to tle tleological problem of individual tleodicy is
tlat of free will. For Cod to be able to punisl luman beings justly, lumans
must lave free will. It would not be just to punisl tlose wlo are not re-
sponsible for tleir actions. But can lumans really lave free will if Cod is
omniscient: If Cod knows wlat eacl person is going to do, does tlat per-
son really lave free will: Te Rabbis would compromise neitler tleir belief
in Cods omniscience nor tleir conviction tlat lumans lad absolute free
will. Teir position is unlelpfully summarized by Rabbi Akiba, All is fore-
seen but permission is given (Mishnah Avot :). Tey were content to
leave tlis as a paradox.
About tle nature of luman free will, lowever, tley lad mucl more to
say. Te Rabbis complicate tle monistic antlropology of tle Hebrew Bible.
According to tle Hebrew Bible, tle luman being is a single wlole, tlere is
no division between body and soul. Many Rabbis continued to subscribe to
tlis monistic idea. You are you, not a real you (tle soul) trapped in a tran-
sient container (tle body). But tlis monistic entity nevertleless is divided.
Cod instilled in lumankind two desires or inclinations, one good and tle
otler bad. Te good desire motivates individuals to study Toral, do Cods
will, and do meritorious deeds, tle bad desire drives people to covet, steal,
commit sexual transgressions, and worslip idols.
Tis understanding of tle split luman self allows tle Rabbis to solve sev-
eral tlorny problems. It is a dynamic model of tle process of free will. Te
self becomes a battleground in wlicl tle individual is clarged witl lelping
tle good desire defeat tle bad. Because we lave tle capacity to defeat tle
bad desire, we are ultimately fully responsible for our belavior. Tere is no
notion lere of original sin. Humans are born morally neutral, and wlen
tley reacl an age at wlicl tley are capable of exercising control over tleir
belavior tley become legally culpable for tleir sins. At tle same time, tlis
model lelps to explain wly we lave bad desires, it is an inlerent part of
being luman. And wly would Cod create tle evil inclination: Were it
not for tle evil inclination, a man would not build a louse, take a wife, or
beget clildren (Genesis Rabba ,:;).
Being merciful, tlougl, Cod did not simply leave lumans to wrestle witl
tleir evil inclination. He gave Toral. A midraslic parable captures tle rela-
tionslip between tle inclination and Toral:
Terefore impress tlese My words upon your very leart: bind tlem as a
sign on your land and let tlem serve as a symbol on your forelead . . .
(Deuteronomy :8). It is said tlat tle words of Toral are compared to a
vvviic cociv1s 11
life-saving remedy. A parable: A king becomes angry at lis son and strikes
lim, giving lim a bad wound. He tlen puts a bandage on tle wound,
and says to lim, My son, as long as you keep tlis bandage on, you can
eat wlat you want, drink wlat you want, draw a batl any way you want
it, and you will not be lurt. But if you take it o, immediately a sore will
arise. Tus did tle Holy One, blessed by He, say to Israel: My clildren,
I created in you an evil desire . . . as long as you engage in tle study of To-
ral, it will not rule over you. But if you cease studying Toral, it will surely
rule over you.
)ust as Toral can be seen as a magical slield against malevolent forces, so
too it is imagined as a fortication against tle evil inclination. Like many
sucl parables, tlis one raises uncomfortable questions about Cods justice:
Wly, precisely, did tle king strike lis son: At tle same time, it understands
Toral as tle cure for tle wound of tle luman condition.

Wlile tle Rabbis see Toral as conferring benets to tle individual, its real
importance is on tle communal level. At its most essential level, tle Toral
is one of several covenants tlat Cod made witl Israel and tle world. For tle
most part, tle Rabbis adopt tle covenantal tleology of tle Hebrew Bible.
Cod, tley believe, made a succession of contracts witl tle people Israel.
Tese contracts botl demand tlings from tlem as well as oering rewards.
Te contractual nature of tle relationslip between Cod and Israel is a fun-
damental biblical and rabbinic concept.
Fundamental, lowever, does not mean unproblematic. Te Rabbis are
particularly botlered by tle possibility of an opt out in tle contract. Tat
is, did Cod make a covenant tlat conditions tle fulllment of Cods prom-
ises on Israels performance of its stipulations, or will Cod fulll His prom-
ises regardless of Israels belavior: Te question is explosive, particularly
after tle claims of tle early Clristians tlat Israel las lost its covenant as tle
result of its actions (eitler tle incident of tle golden calf or tle rejection of
)esus as messial). It is not at all clear, for example, wletler tle circumci-
sion tlat Cod demands of Abralam and His descendents is a mere sign of
Cods promise to multiply tlem and settle tlem in tle Land of Israel or a
condition for it.
Te Rabbis unambiguously (and unsurprisingly) reject tle possibility
tlat tle covenant was conditional. Cods promise is rm and eternal, no
1z vvviic cociv1s
matter low Israel belaves. Tis miglt be wly tley like metaplors sucl as
king or fatler to describe Cod. A king cannot abandon lis people to nd
a new people to rule, and a fatlers link to lis clildren is durable. Otler
metaplors, sucl as lusband, are more tleologically problematic and tlus
tle Rabbis do not use tlem nearly as often: Husbands can divorce wives
Te Rabbis are fully aware of tle tleological problem tlat follows from
tleir belief in an unconditional covenant. Witl an unconditional covenant,
Cods response to Israels misbelavior is not annulment of His promises but
punislment. By accepting tle covenant Israel obligated itself, botl now
and in tle future, to fulll Cods will or face His wratlneitler side las an
opt out. But could Israels original acceptance of tle Toral lave been truly
voluntary: Wlen Cod made tle oer of Toral to Israel, did Israel really
lave a cloice: Does not tle creator make tle ultimate oer tlat you cannot
refuse: Tis, tlen, brings us back up against tle problem of free will. If Is-
rael was compelled to enter tle covenant on Mount Sinai, a just Cod would
be unable to punisl tlem for tleir lack of adlerence to it, just as in our own
legal system a contract entered into under duress is void.
On tle one land, tle Rabbis want to emplasize tlat Israel entered into
tle covenant voluntarily:
Terefore, tle nations of tle world were oered tle Toral so tlat tley
would not lave an opportunity to say before tle Sleclinal, Had we been
oered tle Toral, we would lave accepted it. Belold, tley were oered
it and tley did not accept it, as it is written, Te Lord came from Si-
nai, He slone upon tlem from Seir, He appeared from Mount Para, and
approacled from Ribebotl-kodesl, ligltning asling at tlem from His
riglt [Deuteronomy :a].
It was revealed to tle clildren of Esau. He said to tlem, Do you accept
tle Toral: Tey said to Him, Wlat is written in it: He said to tlem,
Do not murder. Tey said to lim, Tis is wlat our fatler bequeatled
to us. . . .
It was revealed to tle clildren of Amon and Moab. He said to tlem,
Do you accept tle Toral: Tey said to Him, Wlat is written in it: He
said to tlem, Do not commit adultery. Tey said to lim, But we are all
from adultery. . . . How slall we accept it:
It was revealed to tle clildren of Islmael. He said to tlem, Do you
accept tle Toral: Tey said to Him, Wlat is written in it: He said to

vvviic cociv1s 1
tlem, Do not steal. Tey said to lim, But tlis is tle blessing witl wlicl
our fatler blessed us. . . .
Wlen [Cod] came to Israel . . . ligltning asling at tlem from His
riglteveryone opened tleir moutls and said: Everytling tlat tle Lord
las said we will do and we will lear, and it says, Wlen He stands, le
makes tle eartl slake, wlen He glances He makes tle nations tremble
[Habakkuk :6].
Rabbi Slimon ben Eleazar said: If tle clildren of Noal cannot even
fulll tle seven commandments tlat tley took upon tlemselves, all tle
more so tle mitzvot of tle Toral!
( Mekilta dRabbi Ishmael, on Exodus ao:a)
Te midrasl neatly contrasts Israels willing acceptance of tle Toralbe-
fore even learing its contentsto tle belavior of tle nations of tle world.
Tis passage does double duty, asserting tle voluntary nature of Israels ac-
ceptance of tle covenant and justifying Cods witllolding of tle rewards of
tle covenant from tle otler nations (tle clildren of Noal).
On tle otler land, some Rabbis were not satised witl tlis triumpla-
list explanation. Tey saw a more nuanced negotiation between Cod and
And tley stood at tle foot of tle mountain [Exodus ,:;]. Rabbi Abdimi
bar Hama bar Hasa said: It teacles tlat tle Holy One blessed be He, over-
turned tle mountain over tlem as a tank and said to tlem, If you accept
tle Toral it is good, but if not, tlere will be your graves.
Said R. Ala bar Yaakov: Tis is a great indictment of tle Toral!
Rabba said: Despite tlis, tle generation accepted it in tle days of King
Alasuerus. . . .
Reisl Lakisl said: And tlere was evening and tlere was morning, the
sixtl day (Cenesis :). Wly is tlere is an extra [letter] hey [tle]: It
teacles tlat tle Holy One blessed be He made a condition witl tle works
of creation. He said to tlem: If Israel accepts tle Toral you will remain,
but if not, I will return you to primordial claos.
(Babylonian Talmud, Slabbat 88a)
Tis passage reects tle rabbinic awareness of tle precarious nature of tleir
free will. Botl tleir lives and creation itself depends on tleir acceptance of
tle Torallardly a free cloice! Indeed, even tle Rabbis recognize tlat tlis

1 vvviic cociv1s
lack of freedom indicts tle Toral, its prescribed punislments for viola-
tions of Cod commandments are unfair if Israel did not enter tle covenant
willingly. Hence Rabba is forced to posit anotler moment wlen tle )ews
did freely conrm tle forced cloice of tleir ancestors.
Te covenant was seen as applying to, and binding, all of Israel in all fu-
ture generations. Its force is on tle communal ratler tlan individual level.
Israel is a corporate body to be punisled or rewarded as a wlole. Tis
understanding of Israel goes back to tle Hebrew Bible, but )ews living in tle
Hellenistic world appear to lave read tle biblical concept tlrougl tleir own
lens. For Creeks tle world was divided into two groups, Creeks and bar-
barians. Te barbarians, in turn, were subdivided into etlnicities (ethnoi),
eacl of wlicl lad its own customs, gods, etc. Te )ews adapted an inverted
model of tlis sclema. For tle Rabbis tle world was divided into )ews and
otlers, usually designated as worslippers of tle stars, or idolaters. As witl
every otler etlnic group, tley created a semipermeable boundary. )ewisl-
ness, like being Creek, was determined primarily tlrougl genealogy. As
tle notion of )ewislness as a kind of citizenslip solidied, more formal
ways of conferring tlis citizenslipconversionwere developed.
Tis understanding of )ewislness involves basic inseparability of etlnic
identity and religion, to be )ewisl is an etlnic designation, but tlat etl-
nic group las a unique set of wlat we would call religious practices. By
extracting religion from etlnic identity, Clristianity clanged tle way tlat
botl were understood. To Clristians, etlnic identity and religion became
completely separable. Even by late antiquity tle refusal of )ews to unlink
religion from etlnicity began to look arclaic.
Te Rabbis, lowever, clung to an etlnic conception of )ewislness. For
many of tlem, eitler a )ewisl motler or a formal conversion was required
to enter Israel. But, wlile it is assumed tlat )ewisl practice and subscrip-
tion to fundamental )ewisl concepts are part of wlat it means to be )ewisl,
tley are not determinative. Being a )ew does not mean believing or doing
anytling, only being part of an etlnic group (as we today consider Irisl
Americans, Clinese Americans, etc.). Te modern result of tlis conception
is tlat we can talk of a )ew witl no religion, as tle recent National )ewisl
Population Survey does. Clristians witl no religion makes no sense.
Understanding )ewislness as etlnicity las ramications on tle otler
side as well. )ust as one cannot leave Irislness, one cannot leave )ewislness.
Te Rabbis consider a )ew wlo worslips idols or converts to Clristian-
ity to be a sinner but still a )ew. Tus a )ew wlo converted to Clristianity
miglt see lerself as a Clristian, wlile )ews continued to see ler as a )ew.
vvviic cociv1s 1
Identity is a matter of perspective. Like tle people Israel itself, eacl of its
members is inescapably bound to tle covenant.
In rabbinic lands Israel tlus becomes a kind of porous etlnicity. Tis
notion of Israel miglt itself reect a rabbinic understanding of tle )ewisl
condition as botl embedded witlin as well as distinctive from tleir sur-
rounding culture. Sucl a rabbinic understanding of Israel tlus langs sus-
pended between botl tle biblical notion of Israel (tied to a mucl less po-
rous notion of etlnicity) and tle experiential notions of Israel espoused by
Plilo and, in a very dierent way, early Clristians wlo tlouglt tlat tle real
clildren of Cods promisetle true Israelare tlose wlo accept )esus as
Clrist. Tis is a exible notion of Israel tlat can create dierence in tle
midst of sameness, used today to strengtlen group identity by botl secular
lumanist )ews (wlo emplasize etlnicity) and classical Reform )ews (wlo
emplasize a religious community).

Altlougl tle formal partners of tle covenant are Cod and Israel, as a cor-
porate entity, tle obligations of tle covenant rest on tle individuals wlo
comprise tle people Israel. Te concept of Toral as containing tle wlole
of Cods revelation is one of tle distinctive claracteristics of rabbinic )uda-
ism, tle concept of mitzvot is tle otler. Te Hebrew Bible, of course, is full
of laws tlat are applicable to individuals. )ews during tle Second Temple
period read tlese laws as components of an etlnic constitution. Te Rab-
bis, lowever, developed and placed tlem at tle center of wlat it means to
be a pious )ew.
Mitzvah (plural, mitzvot) literally means commandment. Te Rabbis
saw tle mitzvot literally as Cods commandments, tle way in wlicl Cod
wants tle people Israel to live.
Indeed, tle extraordinary care witl wlicl
tle Rabbis draw out and detail tle mitzvot indicates tle core question to
wlicl mucl of rabbinic )udaism is tle answer: What does God want from
us: Following tle commandments for tlem is not just about living cor-
rectly or identifying witl tle people Israel or accruing individual or com-
munal merit for tle world-to-come, altlougl it is also all of tlose tlings.
Primarily it is about living according to tle will of Cod, and tlus living in
Cods presence.
Wlen Paul set out to explain wlat lad clanged witl tle coming of
Clrist, le focused on tle diclotomy of law and spirit. Te law, le argued,
served as a mere pedagogue tlat prepared lumanity for tle spirit. Tis
16 vvviic cociv1s
diclotomy between law and spirit las lad a remarkable staying power and
even today is frequently taken for granted. Modern discussion of spiritual-
ity, for example, las little place for tle structure and institutions of law.
Te Rabbis would lave found sucl a diclotomy incomprelensible. Far
from slackling tle spirit and individual, tle mitzvot were seen as bring-
ing one closer to tle real freedom of living in Cods presence. )ust as Creek
plilosoplers distinguisled between tle eeting, spurious lappiness of ma-
terial pleasures and tle real lappiness of trutl, so too tle Rabbis identied
real lappiness as living according to Cods will. To follow Cods command-
ments is to live according to tle lalaklal. Literally meaning patl or way,
halakhah comes to denote tle entirety of )ewisl law.
But low is one to know wlat Cod demands: Ultimately tlis is tle func-
tion of Oral Toral. Containing not just content but also a metlod, Oral
Toral creates an interpretive structure tlat allows for tle dynamic evo-
lution of lalaklal. Rabbinic legal reasoning is just as ricl, complex, and
occasionally obtuse as tlat practiced in any modern legal system. It is tle
practice of Oral Toral, tle ongoing debates according to tle principles of
tlis legal reasoning, tlrougl wlicl lalaklal is determined. In fact, tle
Rabbis tlemselves seemed more determined to develop and bequeatl legal
institutions tlan tley do an actual code of lalaklal.
Te Rabbis created a )udaism in wlicl tley stood in tle center. Most
)ews in antiquity (indeed, until modernity) were not even literate, all tle
more did tley lack knowledge of tle soplisticated traditions and interpre-
tive teclniques necessary (in rabbinic eyes) for determining tle lalaklal.
Following tle lalaklal meant following tle Rabbis tlemselves. Moreover,
because tlere was no uniform code of lalaklal, tle autlority for deter-
mining it rested witl eacl individual rabbi. Te Rabbis, tlen, envisioned
a )ewisl society in wlicl individuals would turn to tleir local rabbi for a
determination of lalaklic questions. Eacl rabbi was legally sovereign in lis
own locale. Tus, despite tle slared traditions and interpretive teclniques
among tle Rabbis, tlis system naturally led to variations of lalaklic prac-
tice. Te Rabbis envision a kind of ligl court, tle Sanledrin (tle listori-
cal question of wletler it actually existed, and if so, in wlat form, is still un-
settled), but its jurisdiction is limited to capital cases and tle disciplining of
rabbis wlo strayed too far out of tle wide lalaklic boundaries.
Rabbinic )udaism is itself sometling of a simplication. Not only did
dierent groups of Rabbis, wletler Palestinian or Babylonian, early or
late, dier about lalaklic practice and teclniques of determination. Even
vvviic cociv1s 1;
individual rabbis witlin a given colort were given tle freedom, witlin
some boundaries, to create and relax legal institutions.
Observance of tle mitzvot is accessible in a way tlat Toral study is not.
Even tle Rabbis admit tlat few lave tle intellectual and material resources
tlat would allow tlem to participate in a life devoted to Toral study. All,
lowever, lave tle obligationas articulated by tle Rabbisto observe tle
mitzvot. For tle Rabbis, )ewisl-born, unblemisled men are fully obligated,
all otlers (e.g., clildren, women, slaves, tlose witl disabilities) lave lesser
but specied obligations.
Rabbinic assumptions about tle nature of women and tleir social roles
began a logical cascade tlat ultimately led to limiting tleir lalaklic obli-
gations and tlus also tleir opportunities for participation in public ritu-
als. Most Rabbis, very mucl like tleir Creek, Roman, and Clristian con-
temporaries, believed tlat women were constrained by botl constitution
and social roles (wlicl were tlemselves seen as part of tle natural order).
Imposing an obligation on one wlo was incapable of doing it was unfair.
If women neitler lad tle internal discipline nor tle opportunity, for exam-
ple, to fulll a commandment tlat was limited to a specic period of time,
it would be unfair to demand tlis of tlem. On tle otler land, according to
a rabbinic legal principle, if tley were not obligated to fulll a command-
ment tlen tley could not serve as an agent for one wlo is obligated. More
concretely: a woman cannot lead a prayer service, according to tle Rabbis,
because sle is not lerself obligated to pray and tlerefore cannot lelp men
to fulll tleir obligation.
Otler rabbinic limitations on womens participation in public rituals
were based on otler principles. Te Rabbis, like all elite men in antiquity,
expected women to belave modestly. An immodest woman committed no
sin per se against Cod, but ratler risked embarrassing ler fatler or lus-
band. Also, keenly aware of gender boundaries and expectations, tle Rabbis
were afraid of being slown up by a woman: Tey developed a principle of
lonor of tle public to exclude women from public activities tlat tley saw
as tle domain of men, witl tle assumption tlat ler performance would be
interpreted as slaming tle men wlo were present. Today, in Ortlodox cir-
cles especially, tlese assumptions and principles lave generated renewed
and leated discussion.
Wlatever tle concrete benets of tle observance of tle mitzvot, tley
were also seen by tle Rabbis as legal obligations. )ews lave free will and tlus
tle ability to decide wletler to follow tle commandments. Not following

18 vvviic cociv1s
tlem, tlougl, is equivalent to living against tle divine will, it is to sin. Sin
not only moves tle sinner outside Cods presence but also leads to legal
culpability. According to tle Toral, tle solution to tlis legal culpability
was to bring a sacrice to tle Temple. Te kind of sacrice to be brouglt
was dependent on tle kind of sin committed, and tle sacrice itself was
tlouglt to absolve tle sin. Trouglout tle period of tle Rabbis, tlougl,
tlat was no longer an option. How, tlen, could sin be absolved:
Repentance tlus became tle solution to tle legal culpability of sin. Te
Hebrew word for repentance, teshuvah, literally means turning, or a re-
orientation of tle self. It means botl to atone for tle sins of tle past and to
reform oneself in order not to repeat tlem. Teoretically, Cods forgiveness
can only follow tle individuals sincere regret and pledge to do better.
Structurally and psyclologically, tle problem witl tesluval is tlat it
is an entirely internal and subjective experience. Comparing tesluval to
Catlolic confession liglliglts tlis problem. For Catlolics confession can
only be ecacious witlin tle institution of tle Clurcl: a priest las tle
ultimate and sole riglt to grant atonement on belalf of Cod. A priest lears
tle confession, prescribes practical tasks tlat must be performed, and tlen
grants atonement. Tis process clears tle penitent to take communion and,
psyclologically, to start over. Ancient )ewisl sacrice worked in a similar
way, marking absolution witl a concrete act. By contrast, tesluval does
not involve anyone else. Te penitent las full responsibility for initiating it
and determining botl low it is to be done and wletler it was eective.
Excluding an external autlority from tlis process las tleological advan-
tages and psyclological disadvantages. By putting full responsibility on tle
penitent, it reinforces tle notions of luman responsibility and free will. By
excluding luman intermediaries, it arms tlat Cod alone las tle power
to judge and forgive. On tle otler land, low is one to know if Cod las
truly forgiven: It leaves open tle very real possibility tlat tle penitent will
feel always unforgiven and insecure, ultimately to be crusled by tle ever
increasing weiglt of guilt.
Te Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, structurally solves tlis problem. Botl
tle rituals and tle liturgy for tlis day are meant not only to spur tle individ-
ual to genuine atonement and tesluval, but, just as important, to assure tle
individual tlat Cod really las forgiven. Repentance is an ongoing process
ratler tlan a single event, but Yom Kippur assures tlat it is not in vain.

vvviic cociv1s 1,
Te rabbinic emplasis on living now according to Cods will leads tlem
to downplay esclatology. Teir goal is to bring tle individual to tle good
life ratler tlan eternal salvation. So wlile tle Rabbis do discuss tle world-
to-comein tleir typically scattered and incolerent waytley never el-
evate individual salvation as tle primary goal of performing tle mitzvot or
Teir notion of a world-to-come does, lowever, play a particularly im-
portant role for tleir tleodicy. Positing a nal Day of )udgment (rarely men-
tioned in tle Hebrew Bible), as seen above, allows tle Rabbis to reconcile
tleir notion of a just and involved Cod witl tleir observations of tle patent
injustice of society. At tle end of time, perfect justice will be restored.
Wlen Cod metes out justice at tle end of time, He will do so to res-
urrected luman bodies. Tle Rabbis, despite tleir disagreements about
wletler luman beings lave a soul, are insistent on tlis point. At tle
end of days, Cod will revive tle corpses and tlen judge tlem. Tlese
bodies will never die again, but will live out Cods judgment. On wlat
exactly lappens to tle individual after tle Day of )udgment tle Rabbis
are very sketcly, tley lave no fully developed notions of leaven, lell,
or limbo. Tley disagree about tle status of tle mitzvot at tle end of
time but generally assert tlat tle mitzvot will still be binding and prac-
ticed. Tle doctrine tlat bodies would come back to life, tlougl, was
so important to tlem tlat tle Mislnal declares tlat a )ew wlo does
not believe tlat it is actually found in tle Toral is a leretic and will
not slare in tle afterlife. Tlat is, tley label as a leretic even a )ew wlo
miglt believe in tle doctrine but doubt its origin in tle Toral. Recog-
nizing tle tendentiousness of tlis assertion, tle Rabbis in tle Talmud
go to great lengtls to find biblical verses tlat tley claim demonstrate
its trutl.
One set of rabbinic traditions identify tle Land of Israel as tle site at
wlicl resurrection will take place:
R. Slimon ben Lakisl said in tle name of Bar Kappara: Tose wlo die in
tle land [i.e., Israel] are revived rst in tle days of tle Messial. Wlat is tle
reason: Because le gives tle soul to tle people for its sake.
But from tlis it follows tlat our Rabbis wlo die in tle Exile lose out!
Rabbi Simi said: Te Holy One bores out tle eartl and tley roll like
bottles and wlen tley arrive at tle Land of Israel tleir souls are restored.
(Palestinian Talmud, Kilayim ,:()
16o vvviic cociv1s
Wlen tle Day of )udgment at tle end of time arrives, Cod will vivify tle
corpses buried in tle land of Israel. Te Talmud tlen creates a problem.
Wlereas R. Slimon ben Lakisl merely suggests tlat tley would be resur-
rected rst (followed, presumably, by everyone else), tle (Palestinian!) Tal-
mud reads lim as limiting resurrection to tle corpse buried in tle land,
tlus excluding people (especially Rabbis) buried elsewlere. Cods compas-
sion solves tle problem: Teir corpses are allowed to get to tle land, wlere
tley pop out.
From antiquity to tle present, some )ews desired to be buried in tle land
of Israel precisely because of tlis belief tlat resurrection would occur tlere
rst. In fact, tle common )ewisl burial practice outside tle land of Israel
of adding some soil from Israel to tle casket or grave also derives from tlis
beliefperlaps Cod will count tle grave as part of tle Holy Land.
Altlougl tle land of Israel plays a role in tle rabbinic esclatology of tle
individual, tlis role is mucl more pronounced in tleir communal escla-
tology. Cods covenant is witl tle people Israel, and it is to tle people as a
wlole tlat He promised a land. Te land of Israel is tlus tle promised land,
tle land tle Toral says Cod promised to Abralam and lis descendents. At
tle time of tle Rabbis, of course, tlis was a promise unfullled, for tle con-
temporary Clristians tle very loss of )ewisl sovereignty over tle land was
a sign of Cods disfavor. Te Rabbis instead understood tle loss of )ewisl
sovereignty over tle land as a deferment of tle promise. Cod will keep His
promise at tle end of time. At tlat time, tle )ews will regain control of tle
land and will stream into tle land from all tle otler nations, tlus fullling
Cods covenantal promise.
Te land of Israel (Eretz Israel) occupies an important place in rabbinic
tlouglt less for its present sanctity tlan for tle promise it represents. Many
later of readers of tle Bible were so struck by tlis conceptual or mytlologi-
cal quality of tle land of Israel tlat tley would unlink it completely from
tle entire geograplical region, as, for example, wlen tle Puritans and Mor-
mons termed America tle Promised Land. Te Rabbis too understand tle
land in liglly symbolic and mytlological terms, but never to tle point of
disconnecting it from a specic geograplic location. To mourn tle destruc-
tion of tle Temple and loss of control over tle land is to lope for tle future
redemption, tley are sides of tle same coin. One rabbinic story captures
some of tle complexity of tlis understanding of tle land:
Once Rabbi Yeldal ben Beteral and Rabbi Mattya ben Harasl and Rab-
bin Hanina son of Rabbi Yeloslua and Rabbi Yonatan were all traveling
outside of tle land of Israel. Wlen tley arrived at Puteoli [an Italian coast-
vvviic cociv1s 161
al city] tley remembered tle land of Israel. Tey cast tleir eyes down and
wept. Tey tlen ripped tleir garments and recited tle verse, For you are
about to cross tle )ordan to enter and possess tle land tlat tle Lord your
Cod is assigning to you. Wlen you lave occupied it and are settled in it,
take care to observe all tle laws and rules tlat I lave set before you tlis
day [Deuteronomy :a]. And tley said: Dwelling in tle land of Israel
is equivalent to all tle mitzvot of tle Toral.
( Sifre Deuteronomy, Section 8o)
Te Rabbis of tlis story mourn botl tle listorical destruction of tle Temple
and tleir own present distance from tle land. Tey look forward not only
to tleir own eventual return lome but also to tle end of days. Teir last
line is clearly lyperbolic, tley would never assert tlat living in tle land ex-
empted a )ew from observing tle otler commandments. Ratler, tley seem
to understand dwelling in tle land as meritorious because its residents in a
sense anticipate tle nal ingatlering.
Tus, for tle most part tle Rabbis subscribe to a restorative ratler tlan
utopian esclatology. Teir esclatology is imaginative, to be sure, but it
involves returning to a state tley believe once existed, not to some new,

. Te crowded graveyard on tle Mount of Olives in )erusalem. Some )ews believe
tlat in tle world-to-come tlose buried close to tle site of tle )erusalem Temple will
be resurrected rst. Ploto by Miclael L. Satlow.
Image has been suppressed
16z vvviic cociv1s
previously unlived utopia. Cenerally, tley take tle moments of life in tle
Carden of Eden, revelation on Mount Sinai, and life in Solomons Temple
to be paradigmatic. In tle world-to-come real (but now immortal) luman
bodies will live as lumans (perlaps even witl tle same bodily functions),
but in a world witl perfect justice and no strife. Tey will, according to many
Rabbis, rebuild tle Temple in )erusalem, oer sacrices tlere, and live ac-
cording to tle mitzvot, witl all tle nations of tle world acknowledging tle
Cod of Israel as tle sole Cod. Cod will announce tle advent of tlis age by
means of a luman agent, tle anointed (messial). Te Rabbis of course
dier about tleir views of tle messial (i.e., wlen tle messial will come, tle
relation of Elijal to tle messial), tley more or less slare an understanding
tlat tle world today remains unredeemed, waiting for a luman messial
to lerald its redemption. Obviously, tlese ideas constitute a fundamental
disagreement witl tlose at tle root of Clristianity.
As tle Rabbis imagine it, tle redeemed world sits riglt on tle cusp of
luman aclievability, it is almost, but not quite, as if luman beings tlem-
selves could create sucl a world. Tis position on tle cusp results in a deep
tension between reading rabbinic esclatology as passive or active. A passive
esclatology puts all responsibility for tle world-to-come in Cods lands.
Cod works on Cods own scledule, completely oblivious to wlat occurs
on eartl. Humans miglt try to predict wlat tlis scledule isassuming,
for example, tlat Cod left clues in propletic textsbut tlese predictions
do notling to inuence tle actual end of time. We are but pawns in Cods
unfatlomable plan.
On tle otler side of tlis tleological spectrum an active esclatology as-
serts tlat luman beings can bring tle end of days. Humans can create a
totally just society and live according to Cods will, or tley can act in a man-
ner tlat will lasten Cods initiation of tle world-to-come. A form of tlis
active esclatology las informed modern liberal political tlouglt, wlicl is
fundamentally optimistic about tle luman ability to create a just society.
Botl notions, often in open contradiction, are found in rabbinic litera-
ture. Te danger of passive esclatology is tlat it devalues luman initiatives.
Many Rabbis insist tlat lumans must take an active role in tle redemp-
tive process, only wlen Israel prepares itself will Cod act. Otlers, lowever,
not only believe tlat lumans cannot inuence redemption but also tlat
lumans are forbidden even from speculating about wlen redemption will
arrive. An active esclatology las otler dangers. Te notion tlat lumans
can force Cods land can be seen as presumptuous and assumes a Cod
wlo can be inuenced. Practically, it is inlerently unstable and can easily
vvviic cociv1s 16
lead to revolt and violence. Some Rabbis apparently were comfortable witl
tlese dangers (for example, tle supporters of Bar Koklba), but most prob-
ably were not.
Wlat tlese esclatological views do not boil down to is tle clear modern
idea of progress. Following a largely Clristian idea, most modern Western-
ers understand time to progress in a way tlat is botl linear and teleological.
One tling builds upon or follows anotler in a more or less straiglt line to a
nal goal. We marcl, in a Clristian or modern secular understanding, to-
ward salvation (or ultimate conagration). For tle Rabbis, tlougl, time was
neitler linear nor teleological. We move around ratler tlan forward, ulti-
mately to come to rest at tle spot wlere we began, like tle eartls rotation
around tle sun. But, also like tle eartl rotating on its axis eacl day, rabbinic
time makes an annual circle, continually revisiting tle paradigmatic mo-
ments of Israels listory. Tis understanding of time as circling back on itself
even as it lurtles back toward an originary moment lelps to account for tle
rlytlm of a life led in tle presence of Cod and tle rituals tlat structure it.
iviici viiioio is one of big gestures. Tere is little tlat is
small or banal about it. Te Torals plotline moves from tle leiglt
of paradise in Eden to tle deptls of tle slave-pits in Egypt, from
Cods ery appearance at Mount Sinai to premonitions of His residence in
tle Temple in )erusalem. Encounters witl Cod are exceptional and dan-
gerous, usually occurring in tle liglly scripted, bloody sacrices, Mosess
cautious entrance into tle Tent of Meeting, or (tle often unwelcome) di-
vine visitation upon tle proplet. Te rituals of tle First and Second Temple
were spectacular and awesome spectacles performed and mediated by tle
priestlood in tigltly controlled sacred spaces.
Despite its assertions of Cods omnipresence, tle Tanak emplasizes sa-
cred space. Some spaces are simply more clarged tlan otlers, Cods pres-
ence is eitler stronger or more acutely felt tlere. )ust as a sense of place
and movement between placesall leading to tle nal place, tle prom-
ised landdrives tle biblical narrative, so too does biblical tleology lay
suspended between Sinai and Zion, tle two central places of Cods pres-
ence. Tis emplasis on place, and especially tle place of tle single Temple
in )erusalem, is so deeply ingrained in tlis tradition (and slared by con-
temporary nonbiblical religions) tlat as late as tle fourtl century ci, oo
years after tle destruction of tle Second Temple, about ao years after tle
disastrous uprising of Bar Koklba, and at tle leiglt of tle rabbinic move-
ment, )ews continued to pine for tle restoration of tle Temple and actively
worked to restore it.
Te Rabbis, lowever, went in a dierent direction. To paraplrase tle
modern )ewisl tleologian Abralam )oslua Hesclel, instead of building
ri1Zvo1 16
temples in space tley built temples in time.
Time, ratler tlan space, be-
came for tlem tle central location of loliness. Esclewing tle big gesture,
tle Rabbis understand devotion to Cod to be tle gradual accumulation of
quotidian activities. Holiness is to be enacted in time ratler tlan space, witl
rituals slaping tle rlytlm and texture of daily, weekly, and annual life.
Tese rituals make up tle stu of tle mitzvot, or commandments, wlicl
togetler comprise tle lalaklal, loosely translated as patl or way. Te
lalaklal is an embodied answer to tle questions, How do I live according
to Cods will: How do I suuse my life witl loliness: Halaklal is tle re-
sponse to Cods covenantal demands.
But low do we know wlat Cod demands: Unlike tle proplet Haggai
(seek a ruling from tle priests, a:), tle Rabbis give tle autlority for de-
termining tle lalaklal to tle rabbinic sage. Te local rabbi, ideally, las tle
knowledge to answer tlese lalaklic questions. Combining knowledge of
traditional answers and a familiarity witl autloritative texts and accept-
ed metlods of interpretation, tle sage can craft justied answers to daily
problems. Altlougl ideally in dialogue witl otler rabbis, tle local rabbi is
autonomous, and lis lalaklic opinions are seen (by tle rabbis) as binding
only in lis own locale. Tus, even tleoretically, rabbinic lalaklic opinions
can be quite diverse.
Te Rabbis did not invent lalaklal. In addition to inleriting a textual
tradition (most important, of course, tle Toral), tley also lived in a )ew-
isl world in wlicl many religious practices were simply taken for granted.
Many )ews did circumcise tleir clildren, abstain from certain meats, and
observe tle Sabbatl and otler lolidays. )ews did not need tle Rabbis to tell
tlem tlat tle Cod of Israel likes prayer, and at least some )ews remained
punctilious about issues of ritual purity even in a world witlout a Temple.
Te Rabbis appear to lave drawn on tlese isolated traditional practices,
systematizing, clarifying, and expanding tlem. Tere is mucl about tra-
ditional )ewisl practices tlat we do not know, but it is likely tlat tley did
not lave anytling approacling tle scope and legal precision tle Rabbis as-
signed to tlem. )ews did not work on tle Sabbatl, but tley may or may not
lave considered writing to be work, and tley almost certainly did not try to
dene precisely wlat writing meant. Te biblical prolibitions on eating
certain meats are clear, but most )ews probably did not extend tle food laws
to specic ways of slauglter or separating dairy and meat products. )ews
probably prayed togetler on tle Sabbatl and festivals, at otler times indi-
vidually and spontaneously, tle Rabbis work tlis into an obligation witl a
xed liturgy. Even in tlis period, despite our relative paucity of knowledge,
166 ri1Zvo1
tlere was a uid dynamic between rabbinic lalaklal, traditional practices,
and tle texts used to autlorize botl.
Te major accomplislment of rabbinic lalaklal tlus appears not to be
tle determination of lalaklic norms, but tle integration of several discrete
and traditional practices into tle master narrative of Israels listory and tle
concept of Toral as Cods continuing revelation. Rabbinic literature botl
turns traditional practices into precisely scripted rituals and textualizes
tlem, linking tlem to eacl otler, tle Tanak, and rabbinic modes of tlink-
ing. Only from tle period of tle Rabbis can one talk of the lalaklal as
an independent category, norms are put into an interdependent system. At
tle same time, tle textualization of tlese traditional and underdetermined
practices preserves a record for future generations, providing resources for
practicing and making sense of tlese rituals.
A less lofty but equally important consequence of rabbinic lalaklal is
its inscription of )ewisl dierence. Tere is notling particularly new about
tlis, tle Tanak itself prescribes distinctive rituals and )ews in tle Second
Temple period were noted for tle rituals tlat were seen as separating tlem
from tle rest of tle world. In many cases, lowever, tle Rabbis took tlis
furtler. )ewisl distinction in tle lalaklal extends into tle very rlytlms
of life, rippling up from daily routines to life cycle events. No set of rituals
inscribe dierence as mucl as kaslrut, tle )ewisl food laws tlat slarply
limit wlat can be consumed. Here, tlougl, it is also important to note tlat
tle dierence is not just between )ews and non-)ews, it is also among )ews.
Rabbinic lalaklal, tlen, does not just separate )ews from non-)ews, it can
socially separate )ews from eacl otler.

Te lalaklal is fundamentally grounded in tle assumption of lumanitys

overwlelming dependence on Cod. Te world and all life in it belong to
Cod. Cod gives tle gift of life and takes it back at His cloosing, He grants
use, but not ownerslip, of tle world and its pleasures to His creations. One
Talmudic passage develops tlis idea:
Te Rabbis tauglt: It is not permitted for a person to enjoy anytling of tlis
world witlout a benediction, and wloever partakes of tlis world witlout
oering a benediction las committed an act of sacrilege.
How can tlis be redressed:
Let lim go to a wise man wlo will teacl lim to oer a benediction.
ri1Zvo1 16;
He is to go to a wise man: Wlat will le do for lim: He las already
performed a forbidden act!
But Rava said, It means tlat le is to go to a wise man initially, and le
will teacl lim tle practice of oering benedictions, and le will not com-
mit acts of sacrilege.
Said Rabbi )udal in tle name of Samuel, Wloever enjoys anytling of
tlis world witlout oering benedictions, it is as if le lad partaken of wlat
belongs to tle leavenly realm, as it is written: Te eartl is tle Lords and
tle fullness tlereof (Psalms a(:).
Rabbi Levi pointed to a contradiction. It is written: Te eartl is tle
Lords and tle fullness tlereof and it is also written Te leavens are tle
leavens of tle Lord, but tle eartl las He given to tle clildren of men
(Psalms :6)!
But tlere is no contradiction. Te one statement applies before one las
pronounced a benediction, tle otler, after one las pronounced tle bene-
Said Hanina b. Papa: Wloever enjoys anytling in tlis world witlout
oering a benediction, it is as tlougl le las robbed tle Holy One, praised
be He, and tle community of Israel. It is tlus tlat we interpret wlat is writ-
ten: one wlo robs lis fatler and lis motler and says, It is no transgres-
sion, is a companion of one wlo is a destroyer (Proverbs a8:a(). Fatler
we interpret as applying to tle Holy One, praised be He, as it is written, Is
He not your Fatler, wlo created you: (Deuteronomy a:6), and motler
we interpret as applying to tle community of Israel, as it is written, Hear
my son, tle instruction of your fatler, and do not abandon tle teacling of
your motler (Proverbs :8).
( Babylonian Talmud, Beraklot ab)
As is typical in midrasl, tle real starting point for tlis discussion is a tex-
tual problem: Psalms a(: and : appear to contradict eacl otler! Te
former asserts tlat tle eartl is Cods, tle latter tlat Cod gave it to lumans.
Te solution to tlis problem, presaged in tle opening paragrapl, is tlat lu-
man blessings clange tle status of tle eartl and its pleasures. All belongs
to Cod, but Cod permits lumans to enjoy tle pleasures of tle eartlpro-
vided tley ask rst.
Tere are some luman pleasures, lowever, of wlicl lumans can never
partake. Working from tle biblical stories of tle aftermatl of tle ood
and Cods clarge to Noal, tle Rabbis develop tle idea tlat Cod limits all
luman freedom to some degree. Because tle blood is tle life and all life
168 ri1Zvo1
belongs to Cod, no luman is free to take it. Nor is sexuality a free domain
in wlicl all are free to play witl wlomever tley want, Cod limits permis-
sible sexual partners. Like tle original moment of luman creation in tle
Carden of Eden, lumans are given great, but nevertleless limited, autlor-
ity to enjoy tlat wlicl truly belongs to Cod.
One of tle implications of Cods covenant witl Israel, witl its promise to
make tle clildren of Israel Cods special people loly unto Cod, is to furtler
limit Israels ability to partake of Cods pleasures. At Sinai, according to tle
Rabbis, Cod gave tle mitzvot to Israel. Observance of tle mitzvot set Israel
apart as a separate loly people. Te mitzvot internally and externally signal
obedience to Cod. Teir strictures go well beyond tlose given to tle rest of
lumanity. Tey infuse, botl positively (tlings tlat one must do) and nega-
tively (tlings tlat one must not do), tle very fabric of daily life.
By strictly regulating dietary consumption, for example, kaslrut tiglt-
ly structures tle life of tle rabbinic )ew. Te Rabbis rst follow tle Tanak
in declaring certain animals permissible (kosler) or not. Te Toral limits
permissible mammals to tlose tlat botl lave cloven loofs and clew tleir
cudtlis is tle reason tle pig is excluded. It lists kosler and nonkosler
birds, wlicl is generally understood (altlougl tle Toral gives no general
reason) as prolibiting birds of prey. And it permits only sl tlat lave botl
ns and scales, excluding slellsl. Tere are, in addition, a number of in-
sects (mainly locusts) tlat are permitted.
Wlile tley stick closely to tlis biblical list of kosler and nonkosler
animals, tle Rabbis go well beyond it wlen tley declare low permitted
animals are to be made t (tle literal meaning of kosher) for consump-
tion. Keying o tle biblical injunction of not consuming an animals
blood (Cenesis ,:(), tle Rabbis prescribe an elaborate procedure for tle
slauglter of kosler animals. Tey largely took tlis operation from tleir
understanding of tle steps involved in sacricial slauglter. In order to
drain out tle maximum amount of blood, tle slauglterer must quickly
draw a slarp blade across tle tlroat of a mammal or bird (sl and insects
do not, in tle rabbinic understanding, lave blood). Te requirement
of slaugltering uninjured animals in tlis way largely excludes from con-
sumption animals tlat were lunted (unless tley were trapped by a net) or
tlat died naturally. Te blood is tlen returned to Cod by being covered
witl dirt. In order to fully drain tle esl of its blood, tle meat must tlen
be salted and let to sit. Once properly soaked and salted, tle esl is con-
sidered kosler. Most kosler meat today sold in stores las already been
prepared in tlis way.
ri1Zvo1 16,
If tle preparation of meat is one of tle most distinctive features of rab-
binic kaslrut, tle separation of meat and dairy products must closely rival
it. )ustifying tlis previously unattested distinction on tle Torals tlrice
repeated injunction against boiling a kid in its motlers milk, tle Rabbis
divide all foods as meat, dairy, or parve. Meat and dairy cannot be
mixed, wlile parve foodssl, fruits, vegetables, grains, etc.can be eaten
witl eitler.
Forbidding tle mixing of meat and dairy products goes beyond prolibit-
ing tle eating of cleeseburgers or laving a cup of milk witl a steak meal
or an ice cream immediately after it. It extends to a complicated separa-
tion of disles too. Te Rabbis understood many materials, sucl as wood
and ceramics, to take on tle taste of tle foods witl wlicl tley come into
contact. So a pottery plate used for a piece of lot kosler meat can, in tle
future, never be used for dairy. One result of tlis stricture is tle need for a
kosler louselold to own two complete sets of disles, silverware, pots, and
utensils, one meat and tle otler dairy. A second result is to virtually pro-
libit a kosler )ew from eating most (or all) foods prepared in a nonkosler
environment. Even ordinarily kosler foods would lave been cooked in and
served on nonkosler utensils, tlus rendering tlem nonkosler.
In addition to tlese tlree systemic claracteristics, tle Rabbis add a few
disconnected dietary restrictions. Following an isolated story in tle Toral,
tley prolibit tle sciatic nerve of an animal, wlicl las tle practical aect
of declaring nonkosler meat from tle lindquarters of mammals (e.g., let
mignon). Tey prolibit tle drinking of any wine tlat las come into contact
witl a non-)ew, partly out of fear tlat tle non-)ew would lave made a liba-
tion oering from it to a pagan deity and partly to prevent social interaction.
Tey also prefer tlat bread, oil, and milk come only from )ewisl sources.
One obvious ramication of tlese laws is social segregation. Te rabbinic
)ew will lave a dicult time eating or drinking witl non-)ews or even non-
rabbinic )ews. Like circumcision or tle wearing of tle four-fringed garment
(tle tallit katan), tle laws of kaslrut distinguisl tle rabbinic )ew. Tey also
lelp to create an isolated economic community in wlicl observant )ews
restrict tleir commercial interactions in certain critical areas to otler )ews.
To understand kaslrut solely as a means of social segregation, lowever,
is to miss tleir pervasive impact on individual )ews. Mary Douglas, a struc-
tural antlropologist from Cambridge University, suggested tlat tle Torals
laws of permitted and forbidden animals embeds a deep concern for nat-
ural categories: Te forbidden animals, sle notes, are primarily betwixt
and between, animals tlat lover between paradigms, sucl as tle lobster, a
1;o ri1Zvo1
walking sl.
By extension, tle rabbinic insistence on separation of meat
and dairy can also be seen as reecting, and tlus inculcating tlrougl con-
crete practice, a belief in dierent organizing categories. One, for example,
is not to mix life (i.e., blood or milk) witl deatl. Seen in tlis way, eating
practices nonlinguistically reinforce basic conceptual ideas.
Perlaps. Te trutl is tlat neitler tle Tanak nor tle Rabbis are very clear
about wlat tlis system means. Wlile Douglass suggestion (wlicl sle las
since reconsidered) lelps to make sense of a morass of otlerwise bewilder-
ing laws, like many structural antlropological explanations it assumes an
inlerent and universal meaning for tle ritual. Yet, like most )ewisl rituals,
kaslrut is underdetermined, it does not come witl an inlerent meaning
tlat all )ewisl communities realize. From tle rst century vci on, )ews
lave struggled to understand kaslrut, considering it, among otler tlings,
to be reective of irrational devotion to Cod, superior )ewisl morals or ly-
giene, or a )ewisl love of animals and tle environment. But tlis struggle
almost always moves from tle inside out, from a prior commitment to
kaslrut to tle justication for it.
Wlereas kaslrut structures tle rabbinic )ews daily life negatively,
prayer structures it positively. Tle Rabbis mandated two daily prayer
services, following tle model of tle twice-daily sacrifices performed
at tle )erusalem Temple. Tlese morning and afternoon servicesto
wlicl a tlird additional (musaf) service is added immediately after
tle morning service on Sabbatl and festival morningsserve as a mode
in a postsacrificial age of slowing obedience to Cod, emplasize cen-
tral rabbinic concepts, and create a space in wlicl tle individual can
formulate personal requests and lopes. Tle Rabbis never standardize
tle precise texts of tlese prayers, altlougl tley do prescribe tle topics.
Tley also understand tlese two prayer services, like tle daily sacrifices
of old, as just a starting point. Prayer was to infuse tle day. Blessings
slould precede and follow every act of consumption, it slould mark vir-
tually every visual and aural pleasure. One of tle goals of botl kaslrut
and prayeralong witl a myriad of otler assorted activitiesis to suf-
fuse daily living witl loliness.
Contemporaneous non-)ews lived in wlat tle listorian Keitl Hopkins
calls a world full of gods.
Te early fatlers of tle Clurcl would deride
tlese non-)ews as pagans, tle Rabbis call tlem worslippers of tle stars.
In fact, on a basic, structural level, rabbinic )ews lived in precisely tle same
world and slared quite similar assumptions. Pagans understood tle world
to be suused witl divinity and piously called for regular daily recognition
ri1Zvo1 1;1
of and obeisance to it. Cestures of acknowledgement were made to tle stat-
ues of tle gods (idols) tlat studded tle ancient city and most meals were
preceded by some kind of sacrice or libation oering to tle gods. Rabbis
velemently disagreed witl tle idolaters about tleir explicit belief in sev-
eral gods, tleir mytls, and tle way tley represented tleir gods, but botl
agreed tlat piety took place in daily action.
Wlereas idolaters focus loliness in an image or at an altar (altlougl
tley acknowledge divine omnipresence), tle Rabbis release loliness from
all connes of space. Te Rabbis ascribe some degree of elevated sanctity
to a Toral scroll, and even less to a synagogue building. Cod resides wler-
ever a prayer quorum (dened as ten men, a minyan) or even an individual
pray or study Toral. Wlatever a given space miglt do psyclologically to an
individual (for example, one miglt feel closer to Cod at tle Western Wall),
Cod is in no way more attuned to a prayer uttered in )erusalem tlan one in
Des Moines. Te Rabbis spatially decenter loliness, pusling to its logical
conclusion, tle assumption of Cods omnipresence.
Manyprobably most)ews in antiquity did not subscribe to tlis ratler
diuse and abstract notion of loliness. Tey built synagogues decorated
witl ornate mosaics, many of wlicl contain a large zodiac around some
personication of tle sun, as noted earlier. Wlile sclolars debate tle pre-
cise interpretation of tlese mosaics, tle )ews wlo made tlem (presum-
ably not followers of tle Rabbis) note on tleir donation inscriptions tlat
tley considered tle synagogue to be a loly place, not just a simple pile of
stones like any otler.
Te tension between tle rabbinic notion of diuse and transient loliness
and tle idea tlat loliness concentrates in a particular space remains witl
us today. Observant )ews still ock to tle Western Wall to pray because on
some level tley believe tlat tleir prayers will be better leard tlere. Men
wlo normally do not wear a lead covering (kippah or yarmulkea practice
only instituted in a later period) frequently don one wlen tley enter a syna-
gogue, even if it is only to participate in a completely secular event far from
tle sanctuary. Here tle logical answer to Cods omnipresence collides witl
some deep luman need for making loliness tangible.
Wlereas most days contain a diuse and transient loliness activated by
luman activity, tle Sabbatl is innately loly, a Temple in Time, as Hesclel
calls it. In tle Toral, observance of tle Sabbatl (Slabbat) is a form of imi-
tatio dei, an imitation of Cods cessation from labor after six days of cre-
ation. But tle biblical meaning of Slabbat is far from clear. It is also Cods
day, like tle Temple (Cods louse), Slabbat belongs to Cod. And wlile it
1;z ri1Zvo1

marks creation, Slabbat also embodies tle listorical memory of tle exo-
dus from Egypt.
Prior to tle Rabbis, )ews observed Slabbat witl enougl frequency tlat
non-)ews noted tle )ewisl predilection for laziness. Some of tlese com-
munities, sucl as tle autlors of tle Dead Sea scrolls, did attempt to grapple
witl tle legal gaps left by Scripture: Wlat does Cod precisely want from us
on Slabbat: None, lowever, approacled tle problem witl tle same inten-
sity and rigor as did tle Rabbis.
6. Rebbe Menaclem Mendel Sclneerson, leader of tle Lubavitcl Hasidim, in ,,a.
He is wearing a prayer slawl (tallit) and plylacteries (tellin) on lis forelead and
arm. )ewisl men traditionally lave worn plylacteries during most daily morning
services. Today some women also wear tlem.
Copyright AP/Wide World Photos, used with permission
Image has been suppressed
ri1Zvo1 1;
Te Rabbis use ritual to fuse tle biblical concepts of Slabbat. Drawing
on an implied link between tle biblical description of tle building of tle
Tabernacle and Slabbat, tle Rabbis claim tlat tle denition of work can
be derived from tlose activities necessary for tle construction of tle Tab-
ernacle. Tey tlus identify tlirty-nine general categories of work tlat range
from spinning tle fabrics used in tle Tabernacle to writing, wlicl was used
to mark tle beams. Te Rabbis tlen expand tlese general categories into a
comprelensive denition of forbidden activities.
Te rabbinic laws of Slabbat simultaneously point botl toward its uni-
versal (creation of tle cosmos) and nationalistic (tle formation of tle peo-
ple Israel and Cods covenant witl tlem) aspects. In one sense tley lave
made botl tle Tabernacle itself as a microcosm and tle original moment
of creation as incomplete witlout it. To participate in tle rituals and laws of
Slabbat is to participate not only in tle inlerent loliness of tle day but also
in Cods cosmic plan.
Tis, of course, is but one way of casting and understanding tle large and
enormously complex body of plysical activities tlat comprise, for tle Rab-
bis, Slabbat observance. To live as a rabbinic )ew meant, and for many con-
tinues to mean, fundamentally altering ones life on Slabbat. Teir deni-
tion of work goes far beyond ours, including many creative and destructive
activities. Te Rabbis focus on objective acts ratler tlan subjective feelings,
work las a formal legal denition in wlicl low one feels about tle activi-
ties are at best secondary (altlougl ones intentions are made relevant for
tle determination of legal culpability). Tey prolibit, for example, writing
poetry or engaging in some artistic lobby, but permit moving a leavy piece
of furniture up tle stairs if it is to be used on Slabbat. All activities tlat in-
volve money, wletler earning or spending it, even for recreational activi-
ties, are also prolibited.
Following tle Toral, tle Rabbis prolibit all forms of re making and
cooking. Fires tlat are kindled before tle Slabbat miglt be enjoyed during
tlat Friday niglt and tle next day, but tley may not be stoked or tended. So
an oil lamp, for example, can be kindled prior to tle beginning of Slabbat on
Friday niglt and one may read by its liglt until it burns down. Foods may be
warmed over an existing re but not cooked, tlis is a ne line witl its own
set of complex distinctions. Boiling water is considered cooking, but water
can be boiled prior to Slabbat and left warm on a re tlrouglout tle day.
Te prolibition on traveling and carrying also las widespread implica-
tions. Rabbinic law prolibits all forms of carrying between a public and

1; ri1Zvo1
private space or witlin a public space. Under tlis law, for example, one
could carry a book between rooms in a louse, but not from one louse to
anotler. Tis blanket prolibition raises its own intricate set of problems:
Wlat is carrying: Does it include clotles or ornaments tlat one wears:
Carrying a baby: Wlat denes public and private domains:
Tese problems were, in fact, so complex and potentially burdensome
tlat tle Rabbis devised a legal ction to eliminate tlem altogetler. Te
eruv is a boundary tlat transforms, in a narrow legal and teclnical sense, a
public space into a private space, usually by encircling it. Tis boundary
marker miglt be as simple as a string, or it miglt be a patclwork of walls,
poles, fences, etc. By making a public space into a private one, lowever, tle
eruv allows for all forms of carrying witlin tlat space. Te classic example
of sucl a space is a walled city (e.g., tle Old City of )erusalem), but an eruv
could be constructed almost anywlere.
Tese prolibitions create an empty space tlat tle Rabbis attempt to ll
witl positive rituals. Plysical rest is not merely dened by tle prolibition
of dierent activitiestle Rabbis prescribe tle consumption of tlree (in
contrast to regular days, on wlicl tlere were only two) meals on Slabbat,
at wlicl, ideally, special foods are served. Special and clean clotles slould
be donned. In addition to prayer, Toral study was seen as an especially ap-
propriate activity. Two loaves are used for tle meals to commemorate tle
double portion of manna tlat tle Toral says tlat Cod gave to tle Israelites
every Friday. Te end of Slabbat is marked by a slort ritual (havdalah) tlat
involves drinking wine, looking at a re, and smelling spicestlus marking
tle break between Slabbat and tle rest of tle profane week.
Te rabbinic system of Slabbat observance is so elaborate and com-
plex, and so many aspects of it are unattested in any otler contemporary
sources, tlat it raises tle question of low widespread it was. Did ordinary
)ews observe Slabbat rabbinically: Wlile it is impossible to answer tlis
question denitively (or quantitatively), it is likely tlat most did not. )ews
continued to observe Slabbat according to tleir local traditions, but only
tle few rabbinic communities and circles would lave preferred tle struc-
tured rabbinic scleme to tleir own traditional mores. If tle townspeople
lad been cooking tleir food for Slabbat and warming it in a certain way
for generations, wly would tley listen to rabbis telling tlem tlat it was now
suddenly wrong: How ne a distinction would most )ews lave made be-
tween public and private domains: It is possible tlat many )ews did attempt
to follow rabbinic prescriptions, or (more likely) tlat in forming tleir laws
tle Rabbis attempted to standardize already common local practices. But it
ri1Zvo1 1;
is also possible tlat tlere was a wide gap between rabbinic and nonrabbinic
Slabbat practices.
If Slabbat sets a rlytlm to tle week, tle festivals set one for tle year.
Te rabbinic calendar is primarily lunar, altlougl it las a few solar ele-
ments to it. Eacl day begins in tle evening, and eacl montl begins witl tle
new moon. Because tle lunar cycle can be a,o days, over twelve montls
tlis leads to a (-day year. Very quickly sucl a calendar would lead to tle
montls rotating tlrougl tle seasonswlicl in fact is precisely wlat lap-
pens today in tle Islamic calendar, wlicl is also lunar. Te Rabbis, lowever,
prefer to intercalate a full montl every few years to keep tle montls in
tleir traditional seasons. During tle rabbinic period tle turn of tle montls
and intercalation were done by decree of a rabbinic court: in tleory it was
not a meclanistic act automatically triggered by astronomical plenomena.
Also, because word lad to spread by tle court, tlere was always a clance
it would not make it in a timely faslion to far-ung communities. Tis is
tle (stated) origin of tle observance of a festival for two days outside tle
land of Israel: an extra day just in case word did not make it in time. Civen
tle general gap between rabbinic and nonrabbinic )ewisl practice, tlis of
course raises tle intriguing question of wletler all )ews were on tle same
calendar at tlis time. In any case, later )ewisl communities more closely
linked tle calendar to astronomical tables.
Te earliest role of tle biblical lolidays provides tle most likely explana-
tion of wly keeping tle montls in tleir season was so important to tle
Rabbis. Te Toral discusses tle tlree major festivalsPassover (Pesacl),
Pentecost (Slavuot), and Tabernacles (Sukkot)as agricultural celebrations
linked to tle larvest cycle of tle land of Israel. Even in tle Toral, lowever,
tlese probably original reasons for tle festivals are overlaid witl listori-
cal ones. Passover becomes not only tle celebration of tle spring larvest,
commemorated witl tle eating of unleavened bread, but also tle nation-
al loliday par excellence, marking Israels exodus from Egypt and forging
into a nation. Te tabernacles of Sukkot are not only temporary bootls put
up to facilitate larvest but also an embodied listorical memory of Israels
marcl tlrougl tle Sinai. Only Slavuot is left relatively underdetermined
listorically, altlougl a link to tle giving of tle Toral on Mount Sinai is
perlaps implied.
Witlout obliterating tle agricultural underlayer of tlese festivals, tle
Rabbis nevertleless lone in on and deepen tleir listorical overtones. Tis
can most clearly be seen in tleir treatment of Passover. In tle Toral tle two
core rituals for Passover are tle eating of unleavened bread (matzal) witl
1;6 ri1Zvo1
its avoidance of leavened products for a week, and tle family sacrice and
consumption of a lamb. Trouglout tle periods of tle First and Second
Temple, Pesacl, like Slavuot and Sukkot, was a pilgrimage festival in wlicl
)ews slould go to )erusalem. Witl tle destruction of tle Second Temple,
lowever, tle Rabbis recast tle festival. Eliminating tle pasclal sacrice,
tley focused on tle matzal, for tlem it replaced tle lamb as tle primary
symbol of tle loliday. Tey replaced tle messy family barbecue of tle lamb
witl tle ordered, liglly ritualized sedera pedagogical meal for wlicl a
liglly formalized liturgy (tle Haggadal) would eventually be created.
At least as important as tle seder, tlougl, is tle avoidance of leaven
during tle seven (eiglt outside tle land of Israel) days of tle festival. Te
Rabbis dene leaven as any grain tlat las been moistened for more tlan
eiglteen minutes. Matzal is a mix of our and water cooked witlin eigl-
teen minutes of mixing. Avoidance, for tlem, means not simply refrain-
ing from eating tlese products but ridding ones residence of tlem totally.
Even utensils and disles tlat lave been used for leavened products are not
to be used during Pesacl. To tleir two complete sets of ordinary pots and
disles (meat and dairy) rabbinic )ews must add anotler two sets for use
only on Pesacl.
Rabbinic explanations for tlese practices are incomplete and, tle trutl
be told, not very compelling. But tlere is a way in wlicl tlese elaborate
rituals, so ricl in allusion but opaque in easy meanings, oat free of expla-
nation. Later )ewisl communities will accept and reject various aspects of
tlese rituals, explaining tlem according to tleir own unique sensibilities.
Teir very curiosity and explanatory malleability miglt in fact be an impor-
tant factor of tleir survival.
Of tle tlree pilgrimage lolidays, Slavuot stands out. Unlike tle otler
two, it is only a single day (two outside tle land of Israel) ratler tlan seven.
Nor, like Pesacl and Sukkot, does it receive a Talmudic tractate devoted to
explicating its laws and customs, tle Rabbis mention it only incidentally. In
fact, tle Rabbis appear not quite to know wlat to do witl tlis festival. Tey
continue to see it, more tlan tle otler two festivals, as an agricultural loli-
day. Because, according to tle Toral, Pentecost concludes a fty-day period
from Passover, tley link it to Passover and, to a lesser extent, to tle giving of
tle Toral. But tley do not develop distinctive customs and rituals for itto
tle extent tlat tlese exist, tley only develop in tle postrabbinic period.
Sukkot, wlicl always begins in September or October, is as ricl in im-
agery and ritual as Pesacl. Conceptually, tle Rabbis pusl tle tabernacle in
many simultaneous directions. In addition to being an agricultural symbol
ri1Zvo1 1;;
and a remembrance of tle desert trek, it becomes tle Temple loliday par
excellence and a premonition of tle esclatological tabernacle tlat Cod will
establisl. No longer is tle tabernacle a simple bootl, it is now a liglly reg-
ulated structure in wlicl )ews are commanded to eat (and preferably sleep)
for tle entire festival. It must be temporary, lave at least tlree walls of a
certain leiglt, lave a roof made of natural material tlick enougl to oer
protection but tlin enougl to allow one to see tle starsa kosler bootl
(sukkal) follows a comprelensive building code.
Te Rabbis also formally ritualize tle biblical admonition to rejoice witl
various ora during Sukkot. Tis becomes tle lulav and etrog. Te lulav is
a collection of brancles (tle number, kind, and condition are specied) of
tlree dierent trees, and tle etrog is a fragrant, lemonlike citrus fruit, tle
citron. Tese four species are to be taken up and waved in a prescribed
manner daily during tle loliday (except for Slabbat) and at various points
during tle morning service. Te seven-day festival ends witl an eigltl,
semi-attacled day, tle eigltl day of assembly, or Shemini Atzeret. (Tus
outside tle land of Israel tle entire festival lasts nine days.) Slemini Atzeret
las little of its own identity, it is subsumed to Sukkot, and tle liturgy con-
nected witl it emplasizes tle start of tle rainy season in tle land of Israel.
Sukkot ends a busy festival season tlat begins witl wlat would be known
as tle Higl Holy Days. Rosl Haslanal, tle biblical festival of trumpeting,
is for tle Rabbis one of four annual new year days. Like our own calendar,
in wlicl our new year does not correspond witl tle federal governments
scal year or tle academic year, tle rabbinic calendar noted dierent new
years days for dierent functions. Te fteentl day in tle montl of Slevat
(Tu bShevat, usually falling in February), for example, marks tle new year
for tle application of agricultural laws relating to trees.
Rosl Haslanal, tle Torals festival of trumpeting, marks for tle Rabbis
tle clange of years as used for most legal documents. Onto tlis teclni-
cal function tley tlen overlaid tlemes of Cods sovereignty and judgment.
Now tle biblical trumpetingwlicl in tle Toral is given no reasonbe-
comes associated witl Cods overwlelming power and an intimation of tle
nal Day of )udgment. Indeed, wlereas tle Toral makes no connection
between tle Festival of Trumpeting and tle Day of Atonement (Yom Kip-
pur), wlicl falls ten days later, tle Rabbis begin to interpret Rosl Haslanal
in liglt of Yom Kippur, understanding it as beginning a ten-day period of
penitence tlat culminates on Yom Kippur.
Te trumpet, or shofar, is tle core symbol of Rosl Haslanal. Rabbinic
discussions of tlis loliday deal predominantly witl its declaration by tle
1;8 ri1Zvo1

court and witl tle rules regarding tle production and blowing of tle slo-
far. Made from a lollowed rams lorn, tle slofar is blown in a prescribed
way at specied points during worslip. Wlile tle Rabbis also associate
Rosl Haslanal witl tle birtlday of tle world, tlis tleme is incidental at
best: Cods role as king and judge are on display lere.
Rosl Haslanal, wlicl lasts two days even inside tle land of Israel, does
not end as mucl as segue into tle ten days of repentance. Wlile not for-
mally a loliday, tle next ten days were seen as tle period of judgment. Cod
is imagined as spending tlese ten days deciding tle fates of all creation for
tle coming year, lumans can, at tlis last moment, inuence tle judgment.
Tis judgment is nally made and sealed on tle Day of Atonement. As
tley do witl Passover, tle Rabbis radically rework tle Torals version of
Yom Kippur. Witlout a Temple tlere is no scapegoat, sins cannot be meta-
plorically cast o into tle wilderness. Tey tlus slift tle Torals focus on
tlis ritual, liglly lierarclical event to tle requirements of personal stock
taking and penitence. Te personal fast takes center stage in tle rabbinic
Yom Kippur. Te Rabbis preserve tle communal aspect of tle loliday, in
wlicl Cod is imagined as judging not only individual )ews but Israel as
a community, but tle emplasis is more on tle personal. Fasting from all
food and drink for twenty-ve lours (tle fast begins one lour before dark),
6.a Ultra-Ortlodox )ews at tle covered area of tle Western Wall, lolding tle lulav
and etrog. Copyright AP/Wide World Photos, used with permission
Image has been suppressed
ri1Zvo1 1;,
avoiding wasling, sex, and tle wearing of leatler sloes, tle individual is to
make atonement for lis or ler sins in order to obtain a judgment of life for
tle coming year.
One of tle functions of tle ligl drama of tle biblical atonement cere-
mony was to provide an appropriately awesome and objective moment tlat
would assure its onlookers tlat tle atonement was eective. Te clal-
lenge of tle rabbinic Yom Kippur ceremony is to convey tlis same convic-
tion wlile taking into account tle subjective acts at tle core of tesluval.
On tle one land, tle rituals of Yom Kippur must be seen as succeeding in
order to give people tle lope of a clean slate, on tle otler land, tle Rabbis
recognize tlat true repentance occurs only witlin tle individual. Te Rab-
bis never fully reconcile tlis tension, but it is signicant enougl tlat it led
to tle furtler drawing out of tle penitential period. Ecloes of tlis tleme
extend well into Sukkot, wlen later tle last full day of Sukkot, Hoshanna
Rabba, is seen as marking tle real end of tle annual period of judgment.
Following tle Toral, tle Rabbis prolibit work also on tle festivals and
tle Higl Holy Days, or Days of Awe. Te work restrictions are almost iden-
tical to Slabbat, for Yom Kippur tley are in fact identical. On tle otler
major festivals, tlougl, and unlike Slabbat, one is allowed to cook and to
transfer a preexistent ame in order to cook on tle otler festivals. Carrying
witlin a public domain is also permitted.
In contrast to tlese lolidays, tlere are no work restrictions on tle minor
lolidays. Tese lolidays commemorate real or imagined listorical events,
usually transformed by tle Rabbis. Hannukal, for example, began as a com-
memoration of tle victory of )udal Maccabee and lis family, tle Hasmo-
neans, over tle Seleucids in tle 6os vci. After purifying and rededicat-
ing tle Temple in )erusalem, according to tle books of tle Maccabees, tle
Maccabees declared a festival in Kislev (November or December) modeled
on Sukkot. Apparently uncomfortable witl tlis festivals origin as a com-
memoration of a military victory and tle celebration of tle ascension of a
specic family to tle tlrone, tle Rabbis transformed it into a celebration of
Cods miraculous power. Te menoral is to be lit to commemorate Cods
stretcling of tle limited pure oil for eiglt days until more pure oil for tle
Temple service could be found. Te Hasmoneans at best play a supporting
role in tleir rendition of tle loliday.
Tisha bAv, tle nintl day of tle Hebrew montl of Av ()uly or August),
commemorates tle destruction of tle First and Second Temple. It is tle
only otler twenty-ve-lour fast day in addition to Yom Kippur. )ust one
of a listorically expansive and slifting list of commemorations of national
18o ri1Zvo1
tragedies, Tisla bAv became a magnet, a kind of grand commemoration
of all of Israels national tragedies. Altlougl tle Rabbis prescribe tle same
regimen of abstinence for Tisla bAv as tley do for Yom Kippur, it remains
a minor loliday on wlicl work is permitted. Traditionally tle biblical book
of Lamentations is recited on it. Tere are a number of minor fasts (no food
or drink only during dayliglt lours) scattered tlrougl tle calendar, almost
all of wlicl commemorate ancient listorical catastroples.
Purim is tle polar opposite of Tisla bAv. It is a minor festival of listori-
cal victory. Te biblical book of Estler is read on it, an almost farcical story
about tle unlikely salvation of tle )ews from an evil plot to destroy tlem
wletler tlere is any listorical basis to it is a matter of debate. Te primary
rabbinic concern is witl tle ways in wlicl Estler is written and read, tle
legal teclnicalities. Because Purim falls one montl before Passover, it also
tends to get pulled into its orbit, beginning a time of preparation.
Aside from tle Higl Holy Days, tle )ewisl liturgical calendar is striking-
ly listorical. Eacl loliday, witl its accompanying rituals, relives a listorical
paradigm. Tis need not be tle case: Some societies celebrate mytlologi-
cal events (tlat is, tlings tlat lappen in tle supernatural world), and tle
American loliday calendar contains several alistorical commemorations
(e.g., Labor Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day). To live tlrougl tle )ewisl
year is to live tlrougl, even enact, Israels mytlic past. Te listorical drama
of creation, redemption from Egypt, revelation (to a limited degree), and
exile from tle destroyed Temple is condensed into a single year, or even a
single day eacl week. Wlile eacl loliday las a predominant tleme, ele-
ments of all tlese tlemes inlere in eacl lolidayand all point toward a
redemptive future.
Wlereas tle Rabbis carefully structure and regulate tle rlytlms of an-
nual time, tley are mucl looser about life cycle events. As Arnold van Cen-
nep argued long ago, life cycle rituals are almost always marked witl rituals
of separation, transition, and incorporation. A person is separated from lis
or ler previous status, marks tle movement to tle new status witl rituals
tlat emplasize tlat one is betwixt and between, and is tlen incorporated
into tle community of tlose wlo slare tlis new status.
Seen against tlis
nearly universal pattern, tle rabbinic life cycle rituals are surprisingly tlin
and incolerent. Teir interest in tlese events is limited to areas in wlicl
tley intersect witl otler areas of law. Teir focus on circumcision, for ex-
ample, relates directly to tle commandment to circumcise as a sign of tle
covenant ratler tlan to its function as a birtl or initiation ritual. Corre-
spondingly, tle birtl of girls, for wlom tlere are no distinctive legal issues,
receive no rabbinic notice at all.
ri1Zvo1 181
As in tle Toral, rabbinic circumcision (brit milah) ideally takes place for
)ewisl boys wlen tley are eiglt days old. As expected, wlereas tle Toral
merely species tlat sucl clildren are to be circumcised, witlout provid-
ing tle teclnical details, tle Rabbis focus tleir attention precisely on tlese
teclnical details. Tey discuss low mucl of tle foreskin must be removed,
in wlat faslion, and tle need to draw at least a drop of blood from tle
wound. Te Rabbis demand tlis nal requirement not only from )ewisl
boys but also from previously circumcised male converts to )udaism. Yet
altlougl circumcision does mark a movement, especially for tle convert,
into tle community of tle covenant, tle Rabbis regulate none of tle otler
rituals tlat may accompany it.
Puberty, wlicl we mark today witl a wide variety of religious and secular
rituals (e.g., a baribat mitzval, conrmation, sweet sixteen, or prom) is not
signaled at all by tle Rabbis. Te ages of twelve for a girl and tlirteen for a
boy are legally important: At tlose ages tley bear full responsibility for ob-
servance of tle commandments and are equally subject to tle full force of
its penalties. For tle Rabbis, lowever, tle movement to tlis new status is a
teclnical, legal event. Altlougl tley discuss a few rituals related to tle start
of formal sclooling, tley generally ignore clildlood rituals.
Similarly, tleir interest in marriage is generally legal and teclnical. Mar-
riage is a legal state witl legal repercussions and tlus demands objective
standards to constitute it. For tle Rabbis tle (primary) dening act is tle
transfer of an object of value from a man to a woman witl proper intention
and in front of witnesses. Today frequently tle object is a ring, but it could
just as well be a coin or a jug of beer. Intention is usually indicated witl tle
recital of a slort formula: Witl tlis [object], you are betrotled to me ac-
cording to tle law of Moses and Israel. From tlat moment on, tle couple is
legally married. Te Rabbis tlen require tle recitation of a set of blessings
and tle signing of a prenuptial economic agreement (tle ketubba) before
colabitation and sexual relations.
Perlaps tle most important ramication of marriage is adultery. Te
Rabbis follow tle Toral in dening adultery as sex between a man and a
woman married to anotler man. Tat is, a man commits adultery only if le
las sex witl anotler mans wife, lis own marital status is irrelevant. But a
married woman commits adultery wlenever sle las sex outside ler mar-
riage, and tle Toral makes tle adulterous couple liable for deatl. Precisely
dening wlen a marriage begins and ends takes on capital importance.
Wlile tle formation of marriage requires mutual consent in rabbinic law,
divorce does not. As a legal act, rabbinic divorce is unilateral: A man deliv-
ers a document of divorce (get) to lis wife. A woman cannot legally divorce
18z ri1Zvo1
witlout ler lusbands consent. One of tle results of tlis asymmetry is tle
problem of tle agunah, or anclored woman.
If a woman wants a divorce
but ler lusband, for wlatever reason (e.g., spite or demands of a more ad-
vantageous divorce settlement), refuses to give it to ler, sle is forbidden to
remarry (or lave sex witl any otler man) until le relents. Or, if le disap-
pears or becomes mentally incompetent and is tlus unable to initiate tle
divorce, sle is similarly anclored. On tle otler land, because tle Rabbis,
like tle Toral, assume a polygamous society, a lusband is free to take an-
otler wife wletler or not le divorces.
Te Rabbis extensively discuss and expand tle Torals prolibition of sex
witl a menstruant (niddah). Tey transform wlat appears to be a simple
purity regulation into a sexual one, in wlicl purity per se is secondary: sex-
ual relations during menstruation are prolibited simply because tle Toral
says so, not because sucl relations convey impurity. Te Rabbis extensively
discuss wlat denes a menstruating woman (i.e., wlence tle blood needs
to ow and low to know), witl wlom tley prolibit all forms of sexual con-
tact. Tey also expand tle Torals prolibition to include seven wlite days
following tle end of menstruation. After a womans period las ceased sle
is to wait for one week witlout tle emission of any blood before immers-
ing in a ritual batl, tle mikvel. Te mikvel, according to tle Rabbis, must
contain a specied quantity of living water, usually drawn from naturally
collected rainwater and tlen mixed witl previously stored (or, today, tap)
water. Also used to complete a conversion to )udaism, immersion in tle
mikvel marks a clange of status. Only tlen is tle couple free to resume
sexual relations.
Te Rabbis, as well as many later )ews and modern sclolars, lave oered a
pletlora of explanations for tlis set of regulations. One rabbinic explanation
is tlat it is benecial precisely because it limits sexual relations, wlicl tley
generally viewed positively, if witl some ambivalence. Later commentators
point to tle fact tlat a couple resumes sexual relations close to tle time of a
womans ovulation as evidence for tle rabbinic emplasis on procreation. In
fact, tle Rabbis believed tlat a woman was most fertile immediately before
ler period. Again, tlere is an underdetermined element in tlese practices
tlat can, and lave, lent tlemselves to a wide variety of explanations.
Wletler or not tle timing of tle resumption of sexual activities was in
any way linked to procreation, tle Rabbis (like tleir counterparts tlrougl-
out tle Roman world) did indeed emplasize tle importance of procre-
Te ancient sclools of Hillel and Slammai disagree about wletler
a man is obligated to produce two boys or one boy and one girl, but agree
ri1Zvo1 18
tlat tlere is a minimum requirement of two clildren. Some later Rabbis
suggest tlat a man is obligated to keep producing clildren, tle legal obli-
gation is centered on tle man. Te issue of procreation is of course linked
to birtl control, on wlicl tle Rabbis leave a conicting legacy. Some Rab-
bis assume tlat couples will practice birtl control, wlile otlers forbid tle
wasteful emission of semen. Tey never explicitly extend tlis prolibition,
stated in tle context of male masturbation, to marital sexual relations, but it
is easy to see low later rabbis inferred from it a prolibition on most forms
of barrier birtl control.
Wlile tle Rabbis see marriage as tle only conceivable context for tle
production and rearing of clildren, perlaps surprisingly, marriage las no
actual legal bearing on tle status of a clild. Tere is no category of illegiti-
mate or bastard clild in rabbinic law in tle way tlat we frame tlis status.
Illegitimate clildren lave exactly tle same legal status, riglts, and respon-
sibilities as clildren produced in marriage. According to tle Rabbis, tle
clild of a )ewisl motler, from any fatler and in (almost) any relationslip,
is )ewisl.
Te exception to tlis general statement, tle mamzer, is wortl a side
discussion. Te word mamzer occurs twice in tle Tanak, and neitler oc-
currence mucl illuminates its meaning. According to Deuteronomy a:,
No mamzer slall be admitted into tle congregation of tle Lord, none of
lis descendants, even in tle tentl generation, slall be admitted into tle
congregation of tle Lord. Not only is tle term mamzer obscure, but tle
restriction is as well. Wlat does it mean to be excluded from tle congrega-
tion of tle Lord: Trouglout tle Second Temple period botl tle denition
of a mamzer and tle meaning of tle restriction were debated. Te Rabbis
too debate tle meaning of a mamzer, but ultimately settle on dening it as
a clild of an adulterous or incestuous relationslip. A full )ew in every otler
way, a mamzer (male or female) was forbidden from marrying anotler )ew
wlo was not a mamzer.
It is possible tlat tle Rabbis derived tlis understanding of tle term
mamzer from popular )ewisl understandings. Sucl clildren, like slaves,
may lave been seen as laving bad blood. Te Rabbis would lere lave
added legal precision and ramications to a popular usage. Tey may even
lave been trying to mitigate tle social eects of tle usage, botl by limiting
it to a very narrow class of people as well as by arming tle mamzers )ew-
islness, restricting tle liability just to tle domain of marriage.
Wlile tle impact (if any) of tlis rabbinic legal denition on tleir own so-
cial environments can no longer be recovered, it las lad later ramications
18 ri1Zvo1
tlat tle Rabbis could not lave foreseen. According to rabbinic law, any
woman wlo is not divorced tlrougl a proper document of divorce (tle get)
remains married. If sle receives a civil divorce but not a get, or a get tlat
some rabbis see as not valid according to )ewisl law, and sle tlen remarries
and las clildren, tlose clildren are accounted as mamzerim.
Te problem of tle mamzer is a more serious one tlan tlat of marriage
to a non-)ew, because wlile tle latter (and ler clildren) can always convert
tle mamzer bears a permanent disability. Due to tle serious nature of tlis
disability and tle frequency witl wlicl exactly sucl scenarios take place in
modern-day America, contemporary rabbis lave gone to great lengtls to
eliminate tle category of tle mamzer. One of tle easiest legal ways to do
tlis is to annul tle original marriage, since tlere never was a marriage tlere
could be no adultery. Hence, wlen a prominent Ortlodox rabbi declared
tlat weddings conducted under Reform and Conservative rabbinic super-
vision were not valid under )ewisl law, lis motivation was less to disparage
tlese rabbis (altlougl I am sure tlat le did not mind doing tlis) tlan to
deal witl tle problem of tle mamzer.
Outside teclnical legal discussions tlat dene sucl categories as tle
mamzer, tle Rabbis do not concern tlemselves witl tle )ewisl wedding.
Clearly tlere were popular wedding customs, but tlese never gain tle au-
tlority of law in rabbinic texts. Tis, in part, accounts for tle enormous
diversity of )ewisl wedding customs tlrouglout listory, all of wlicl could
(at least in tleory) punctiliously follow rabbinic law. Te rituals tlat turn
a wedding from a legal act into a life cycle event are left relatively unregu-
lated. Even tle breaking of tle glass at tle end of many modern )ewisl wed-
dings was unknown to tle Rabbis.
Deatl too receives scant and incidental rabbinic notice. Te most exten-
sive rabbinic treatment of deatl and its rituals arises incidentally from a
discussion of proper mourning practices on tle intermediate days of festi-
vals. Tis treatment is a potpourri of assorted mourning practices (e.g., tle
ripping of a garment at tle deatl of a close relative or communal leader)
and periods and tle impact of Slabbat and lolidays on tlem. Tey lave
little to say about tle treatment of tle body and its burial, tlese are elabo-
rated in tle early Middle Ages. Instead tley focus on tle mourning periods.
For most close relatives tley prescribe a seven-day intensive mourning pe-
riod (tle shiva), to wlicl many of tle fast abstentions apply. Tis is tlen
folded into a tlirty-day period (sheloshim), wlicl (after tle sliva) requires
a lower level of abstention. For all except a parent, tle formal and ritualized
ri1Zvo1 18
mourning period ends at tle end of tle sleloslim. For parents, it continues
for eleven montls.
Of all of tlese rabbinic life cycle events, van Cenneps sclema can be ap-
plied usefully only to deatl, and tlen only to tle mourner ratler tlan tle
deceased. Te mourner is separated, goes tlrougl a transition period, and
is tlen reintegrated back into society.
Here it is important to distinguisl tle rabbinic prescriptions of tlese
events from tleir actual practice and understanding in tleir society. Rab-
binic literature lints at many popular practices tlat indicate tlat most peo-
ple did treat tlese events as part of tle life cycle, not just as legal teclnicali-
ties. Marriage was accompanied by rituals, including tle singing of bawdy
songs tlat in some areas emplasized tle brides transition to womanlood.
We get a faint glimpse of birtl rituals tlat acknowledge tle birtl of a clild
and lis (but not ler) integration into tle community of Israel. Altlougl
tley occasionally appear in tle pages of tle Talmud and otler rabbinic lit-
erature, tlese rituals rarely gain tle status of law.
In tleir literature, ways of discussing tlings, concepts, and rituals tle Rab-
bis set tle parameters of a conversation tlat continues to tlis day. Te )uda-
ism of tle Rabbis was neitler neat nor incolerent, and botl of tlese condi-
tions contributed to its success.
It is precisely tle riot of voices tlat emerge from rabbinic literature,
tle contradictions in tleir concepts and tle underdetermined quality of
mucl of tleir ritual tlat will later allow for sucl broad )ewisl diversity.
Ratler tlan laying out a unified dogma, tle Rabbis created a dense web
of ideas, texts, and rituals tlat can be combined, broken, and recom-
bined in ways limited only by luman imagination. Or, to use anotler
metaplor, tle rabbinic legacy is an enormous toolbox, a set of resources
for future )ews.
Te )udaism of tle Rabbis, in all its messiness, was normative in only
one specic sense: tle Rabbis tlemselves declared it so. Prescription is not
description, tlougl, and botl tle rabbinic concepts and rituals were always
in tension witl wlat )ews actually did or did not do. Most )ews at tlat time
probably paid little attention to tle Rabbis, tleir ideas and tleir rituals, al-
tlougl tley miglt well lave engaged in some general way in tle practices
tlat tle Rabbis discussed.
186 ri1Zvo1
So if rabbinic )udaism was extraordinarily diverse (or, one miglt say, dif-
fuse), created in response to specic listorical needs tlat lave long since
passed and virtually ignored by )ews at tlat time, wly did it not only sur-
vive but in fact slape nearly all future )ewisl religious life: Te genius of tle
Rabbis was tleir ability to simultaneously articulate a normative vision of
)udaism wlile vastly expanding tle bounds of wlat can count as normative.
Te Rabbis make a general claim to autlority from Mount Sinai, wlere botl
tle textual traditions and tle modes of interpreting tlem were revealed by
Cod. But tlis claim is general, not a claim of divine origin for eacl specic
rabbinic statement. Te resources tley created are so ricl tlat tley can
witlin some important limitsbe used to autlorize many diverse religious
ideas and practices and combinations tlereof. Tat is precisely wlat began
to lappen during tle period of tle geonim.
6(o 1ni liglt of Byzantium ickered and went out.
Tis, in any case, was low at least one )ewisl liturgical poet in Pales-
tine saw tle Arab invasion, and tle prospect deliglted lim. )ewisl life
under tle Clristian emperors lad grown increasingly dicult. From tleir
origins Clristians lad lad a problem witl tle )ews and tleir religion, all tle
more so because tle rst Clristians were in fact )ews. Not only was )esus
a )ew but lis storytle meaning of lis life, as understood by lis follow-
ersmade no sense witlout tle Hebrew Bible. Te Clristian story requires
an Israel witl wlom Cod las, or lad, a covenanted relationslip. )esus ful-
lls tle ancient proplecies of tle Hebrew Bible even as le supersedes tle
old covenant. Neitler tle Cospels nor Paul are comprelensible witlout tle
background of wlat tley called tle Old Testament.
Real )ews posed a puzzle for early Clristian tlinkers. If )esus was tle
messial of Israel foretold in )ewisl Holy Scriptures, wly did tle )ews not
only reject lim but even collude in lis execution: And if Cod lad severed
His covenant witl tle )ews and transferred His grace to His new people,
tlose wlo accepted )esus as His messial, wly did tle )ews persist, seem-
ingly oblivious to tlis ontological clange:
Tis was a major intellectual problem wlose solution lad serious social
ramications. In tle rst two centuries of tle Common Era, Clristian self-
denition was at stake. Did one need to be a good )ew in order to be a good
Clristian: Could one even be a Clristian witlout being a )ew: Te nature
of tle Clristian mission linged on tlese answers. Ultimately, of course,
many early adlerents rejected tle idea tlat one needed to be a )ew to be a
:nr visr or vrso
188 1ni visi oi viso
Clristian and souglt converts among non-)ews. By tle late second and early
tlird centuries ci, Centile Clristians outnumbered )ewisl Clristians.
In tle best of circumstances tle establislment of a self-identity is a tricky
business, and in tle case of Clristians in tle second and tlird centuries
it was complicated by increasing Roman lostility to Clristianity. Te Ro-
mans legally recognized tle )ews, tley may not all or always lave liked
tlem, but tley grudgingly acknowledged tleir antiquity and tleir riglts to
follow tleir ancestral traditions. Typically tle Romans exempted tle )ews
from acts tlat went against tleir ancient practices: for example, sacricing
or swearing an oatl of loyalty to tle emperor. As a people now covenanted,
tlrougl Clrist, to Cod, Clristians too could not participate in tlese ac-
tivities. But as Clristians, not )ews, tley received no legal accommodation
from tle Romans. Quite tle reverse: tle Romans, for wlom new equaled
bad, were naturally suspicious of Clristians as adlerents of a new religion.
Clristians could tlus nd rm ground on eitler side, but it meant eitler
becoming )ewisl or participating in activities and sacrices tlat tley la-
beled paganin tle middle, tlougl, tley dangled.
By tle mid-fourtl century tle situation lad clanged completely. Now
Clristianity was not only licit but tle religion of tle emperors. Tis led into
furtler unclarted territory: Wlat did it mean to build a Clristian society, a
city of Cod lere on eartl: And wlat role could )ews lave in sucl a society:
For Augustine, wlo lived in tle ftl century in Nortl Africa, )ews
were an indispensable part of Clristian society. )ews, le argued, served
two important roles. First, tley preserved and testied to tle trutl of tle
Old Testament and its proplecies (in Augustines reading) about )esus.
Second, by remaining stubbornly stuck in useless antiquity, tley will be
living witnesses to tle ultimate trutl and splendor of Clrist. Teir refus-
al to acknowledge Clrist will, ironically, serve to testify for Him. Because
tley play tlese crucial tleological roles, Augustine argues, )ews slould not
be larmed. Teir societal roles miglt be limited, but tley slould not be
plysically assaulted or killed.
Indeed, tle Clristian emperors (no doubt for tleir own reasons, wlicl
were very dierent from Augustines) consistently condemned assaults on
)ews. Tis, lowever, meant neitler tlat )ews maintained tle status tley
lad previously nor tlat tley were plysically secure. Witlin early Byzantine
law )ew became a distinct legal category, one wlose riglts were increas-
ingly circumscribed. )ews were prolibited from owning Clristian slaves,
from marrying Clristians, and from discriminating against )ewisl converts
to Clristianity. Te patriarclate was stripped of its ability to collect taxes,
1ni visi oi viso 18,
demoted in status, and by tle ftl century abolisled. In tle sixtl century
)ews ocially gained inferior status in courts of law wlen one party was (an
Ortlodox) Clristian.
)ews may lave rarely been subjected to ocial violence, but it is clear
tlat tle ocials could be lax about protecting tlem from tle mob. It seems
riglt tlat in tle future, an imperial legislation from (a states,
None of tle synagogues of tle )ews slould be indiscriminately seized or
put on re. If tlere are some synagogues tlat were seized or vindicated
to clurcles or indeed consecrated to tle venerable mysteries in a recent
undertaking and after tle law was passed, tley slall be given in exclange
new places, on wlicl tley could build.
Fifteen years later tle emperors reiterated tleir permission to )ews to re-
pair tleir synagogues, but tley slall not dare to construct anew any syna-
Despite its tendentiousness, a letter tlat describes Clristian mob
violence against )ewisl synagogues on tle island of Minorca in (8 most
likely minimizes, if anytling, tle damage inicted upon tle )ewisl com-
munity tlere.

Legally, )ews were no better o under Muslim rule. Tey remained a pro-
tected legal minority. According to Muslim political tleory, botl )ews and
Clristians at some earlier point received autlentic revelations from Cod,
wlicl tley recorded in tleir sacred texts. Altlougl tlese sacred texts,
some Muslims asserted, were lopelessly corrupted in transmission (otlers
argued tlat tley are faitlful records but lad since been superseded)tlus
necessitating Cods revelations to tle proplet Mulammadtley and tleir
readers retained some degree of sanctity. Tese early Muslims were tle rst
to claracterize )ews (and Clristians) as People of tle Book, wlicl com-
bined witl tleir monotleism earned tlem tle riglt to live unmolested in
Muslim society. Tese dhimmi, legally protected religious minorities, lad
to pay taxes to tle Muslim autlorities and adlere to otler legal and eco-
nomic restrictions, but, unlike otler tle adlerents of non-Abralamic reli-
gious traditions, tley were allowed to continue tleir religious practices.
)ews are not portrayed mucl better in tle Quran tlan tley are in tle
New Testament. )ews are opponents of Mulammad and frequently scleme
against lim. Among tle hadithtle non-Quranic Islamic traditions about
1,o 1ni visi oi viso
tle proplet Mulammad)ews frequently appear as plotters against Islam.
Tese texts and traditions never necessarily led to tle persecution of )ews,
but tley supply, just like tle New Testament, incendiary prooftexts for
tlose inclined to engage in tlem.
Despite tlese similarities between Clristian and Muslim evaluations of
)ews and )udaism, tle )ewisl relationslip witl tleir Muslim overlords ap-
pears to lave been less strained and adversarial tlan it was under tle Clris-
tians. Trougl tle Middle Ages tlere is little evidence of Muslims attacking
)ews and tleir synagogues. )ews tended to lave more legal freedom under
Muslim rule, wlicl led to increased economic, social, and intellectual con-
tact between )ews and Muslims.
Te impact of tlese contacts was immense, but tley did not lappen
quickly. It took time to translate tle rapid military conquest of Nortl Africa
and tle Middle East into eective political rule, all tle more so into cultural
and intellectual slifts. Te classical Creek and Roman cities long kept mucl
of tleir claracter, only gradually did tley lose tleir square layout and open
communal spaces. It took over a century to move from Creek to Arabic as
tle ocial language.
Perlaps tle most dramatic example of early Muslim impact on tle )ews
is tle development of Karaism. Traditional Karaite listoriograply traces
tleir origin back to a mid-eigltl-century Persian )ew named Anan ben
David wlo was alarmed by tle growing divergence between tle Hebrew
Bible and tle traditions of tle Rabbis, as le understood botl. His response
was to reject tle literature and interpretations of tle Rabbis in order to re-
turn to Scripture. Over tle next tlree centuries tlere developed a lively and
bitter polemic between tle Karaite and tle Rabbanite )ews, as tle followers
of rabbinic )udaism were called. One Karaite writer summarizes tle argu-
ment witl tle Rabbanites:
We say tlat tlese (people) wlose way is blameless belong to tle Karaite
sect wlo lold fast to tle Lords Toral, wlo abandon tle commandment
of tle men learned by rote, and wlo do not rely upon tle Mislnal and
tle Talmud, tle laws and legends, wlicl are full of erroneous statements
contrary to tle Lords Toral.
Te commandment of tle men learned by rote stands, of course, for tle
Rabbanites. )apletl b. Eli ecloes a familiar Karaite refrain in rejecting tle
traditions of tle Rabbis. Otler Karaite writers emplasize tle importance of
individual grappling witl Scripture.
1ni visi oi viso 1,1
Pure scripturalism, of course, is impossible, tle Hebrew Bible is simply
too cryptic and contradictory to respond to tle more mundane issues tlat
arise wlile attempting to live according to its dictates. Recognizing tle
need to esl out and resolve tle tensions witlin tle biblical text, in ;;o
Anan ben David autlored a guide for living, entitled Sefer HaMitzvot (Te
Book of Commandments). In it le draws out lis own set of mitzvot from
Scripture alone. Predictably, lis mitzvot are often at odds witl tlose of tle
Rabbis. About tle use of re on Slabbat, for example, le writes:
One miglt perlaps say tlat it is only tle kindling of re on tle Sab-
batl wlicl is forbidden, and tlat if tle re lad been kindled on tle
preceding weekday it is to be considered lawful to let it remain over tle
Sabbatl. Now tle Merciful One las written lere: Ye slall not kindle
re (Exodus :), and elsewlere: tlou slalt not perform any work
(Exodus ao:o), and botl prolibitions begin witl tle letter taw. In tle
case of labor, of wlicl it is written, tlou slalt not perform any work,
it is evident tlat even if tle work was begun on a weekday, before tle
arrival of tle Sabbatl, it is necessary to desist from it witl tle arrival
of tle Sabbatl. Te same rule must tlerefore apply also to tle kindling
of re, of wlicl it is written: Ye slall not kindle, meaning tlat even if
re las been kindled on a weekday, prior to tle arrival of tle Sabbatl, it
must be extinguisled.
Anans interpretative teclnique looks suspiciously like Rabbanite lalaklic
midrasl. He las related two biblical verses and drawn a logical analogy,
using tle clearer legal conclusions tlat derive from one verse (Exodus
ao:o) to inform tle otler. Anan oered sucl an extended justication for
tlis mitzval precisely because it goes against tle lalaklal of tle Rabbis,
wlicl allows for tle use of res tlat lad been kindled before Slabbat on
tle Sabbatl itself.
Sabbatl laws were but one area in wlicl Karaite lalaklal diverged from
its rabbinic counterpart. Teir dierent understanding of tle laws regard-
ing incest made marriage dicult between Karaites and Rabbanites, per-
laps tlat was one of tle goals belind tle dierent formulation of tlese
laws. Te Karaite lalaklic books allow tle eating togetler of fowl and dairy
products, but Anan forbids tle consumption of all birds otler tlan tle pi-
geon and turtledove, tle only two ritually pure birds tlat were sacriced on
tle Temples altar. Tey lave no mikvel, and tleir rules regarding purity
(especially menstrual purity) are far stricter tlan tlose of tle Rabbis.
1,z 1ni visi oi viso
In tleir eyes, Anan ben David and lis followers were reclaiming tle
sacred core of )udaism. It would be anotler century or so after Anan until
tley would call tlemselves Karaites, drawing on a Hebrew root used
for Scripture. Te )udaism of tleir rabbinic contemporaries was just as
leretical in tleir eyes as tleir )udaism was to tle rabbis. Seen tlrougl
rabbinic eyes, tley were a dangerous and deviant sect. Teir clallenge to
rabbinic autlority was real, and tleir following deep. Strong and probably
large Karaite communities existed tlrouglout tle Middle Ages, many
documents from a Karaite community in Cairo tlat ended up in a local
synagogue (and were found in tle Cairo Cenizal collection) testify to tle
communitys continuing vitality. Today tlere are still several tlousand
Karaites, living mainly in Israel.
Karaism was very mucl a product of its time. Its social and cultural loca-
tion in Iraq and Iran in tle early Middle Ages accounts for botl its unique
claracteristics and its popularity. Trouglout tle early Middle Ages Mus-
lim tleologians were wrestling witl tle autlority of tle laditl vis--vis
tle Quran. Islamic scripturalists rejected tle laditl as a source of inde-
pendent autlority, all autlority was invested in tle Quran alone. Karaisms
insistence on tle autlority of tle Hebrew Bible and tle lack of autlority of
rabbinic tradition is analogous.
Te traditionalists in botl camps emerged
victorious, but tle two faced a similar clallenge.
In a more general way, lowever, Karaism also refracts its understanding
of )udaism tlrougl a wider cultural lens. For Muslims )ews were distinc-
tive because tley, like Muslims, possessed a written account of a genuine
revelation. Te dierence, according to some Muslims, was tlat tle )ew-
isl account was corrupted and inaccurate. To ascertain and preserve tle
autlenticity of tleir own traditions, Muslim tleologians and writers were
greatly concerned witl keeping track of tleir own clains of transmissions.
Tus every classical laditl is accompanied by a list tlat details wlo leard
tle laditl from wlom, going all tle way back to its origin.
For tle Karaites tle Rabbis and tleir traditions implicitly subverted tle
autlority of Scripture and tlreatened tle autlenticity of living according to
Cods will. Karaism is an almost natural outgrowtl from a society tlat em-
plasizes tle autlority and autlenticity of scriptural records of revelation.
)ews slould read tle Bible just as Muslims read tle Quran. Many )ews in
Islamic lands would lave instinctively understood and been sympatletic to
tle Karaite approacl to tle Tanak, even if tley were unaware of tle tleo-
logical battles between Islamic scripturalists and traditionalists.
1ni visi oi viso 1,
Te battle between tle Karaites and tle Rabbanites was on one level a
struggle for power. Botl claimed tle autlority to serve as Israels spiritual
leaders, witl its ocial recognition by tle Muslim overlords and tle perks
tlat go witl tlis recognition. On anotler level, tlougl, it was also a battle
for tle slape of Israels textual tradition. Well into tle Muslim period tle
Rabbis and tleir legacy lad still not won. Perlaps ironically, it was precise-
ly tle Karaite clallenge to tle Rabbanites tlat may lave led to tle latters
victory. Forced to consolidate tleir political power as well as to tlougltfully
work out and clarify tleir positions in order to respond creatively to tle
Karaites, tle Rabbanites assured tle place of tle messy legacy of tle Rabbis
in Israels textual tradition.

;. A Karaite betrotlal document from around oo ci, found at tle Cairo Ceniza.
Courtesy of the Library of the Jewish Teological Seminary of America
Image has been suppressed
1, 1ni visi oi viso
Altlougl perlaps a little less obviously, tle rabbis and tleir followers no
less tlan tle Karaites refracted tleir textual traditions and rituals tlrougl
tle prism of tle developing cultural norms and values of Islamic society.
Wlile tlere are clear lines of continuity between tle classical Rabbis and
tle later rabbis wlo worked in Islamic lands, tle latter profoundly trans-
formed tleir organizational, textual, and conceptual inleritance.
Trouglout late antiquity tle Rabbis appear to lave worked primarily in
small study circles, botl in tle land of Israel and in Babylonia. Toward tle
end of tlis period larger rabbinic academies may lave begun to develop in
botl locales: Tiberias in Palestine and, in Babylonia, in tle two nearby cities
on tle Euplrates, Pumbedita and Sura. Wlatever tle origins and scope of
tlese academies, tley aclieved prominence only after 6(o ci.
Te organization and activities of tle rabbinic academy in Tiberias re-
main obscure. It lad an active group of sclolars tlat souglt to promote
tleir lalaklic opinions to a wider )ewisl community but was fatally outma-
neuvered by tle Babylonian competition. Te greatest legacy of tlis com-
munity is tle Masoretic Text: tle Masoretes were a group of sclolars wlo
produced a canonical version of tle Hebrew Bible witl vowels and cantilla-
tion. Tis canonization of tle vowels of tle text and systematization of tle
cantillationarticulated in a tentl-century tract by Aaron Ben Aslerwas
consistent witl tle general trend toward canonization tlat became clarac-
teristic of tle Babylonian academies.
Wlatever its pre-Islamic structure and organization, tle geonic acad-
emies in Babylonia must be seen as developing in tandem witl tle emerg-
ing Islamic religious academies. Tese Babylonian academies were rigidly
lierarclical. Rabbis were ranked according to tleir knowledge (at least in
tleory), at tle lead of eacl academy stood tle geon. Te two (sometimes
tlere were one or two otlers at more minor academies) geons (geonim)
stood in a complex and sometimes tense relationslip witl eacl otler, tle
Palestinian academy, and tle exilarcl, tle political appointee wlo ocially
represented tle )ews before tle Islamic ruler.
Te geonic academies were quite dierent from modern yeslivas or uni-
versities. Most of tle rabbis attacled to eacl academy would spend tle
greater part of tle year at tleir lomes, studying a designated tractate of
tle Talmud. Once or twice yearly tley would gatler for a week or two, re-
viewing tleir learning and listening to tle geon lecture. Tey would also be
tested, tleir stipends adjusted accordingly.
Tis geonic emplasis on tle study of tle Babylonian Talmud was tle
rst step toward its inclusion among tle sacred books of tle )ews. Wlen,
1ni visi oi viso 1,
wly, and low tle Talmud was redacted is yet anotler subject of continu-
ing sclolarly debate. It is clear, tlougl, tlat tle geonim received a version
of tle Talmud tlat more or less resembles tle form and wording of tle one
used today. Tey tlen set to work solidifying and explicating it, carefully
separating wlat tley increasingly saw as tle sacred text of tle Talmud it-
self from tleir own use of and additions to tlat text. Te process, in otler
words, is similar to tlat of earlier sacred texts tlat back-canonize tle texts
upon wlicl tley comment and rely.
Wly, tlougl, did tle geonim treat tle Talmud like tlis: In part, it is
because tley inlerited tlis text from tle amoraim and tle anonymous
rabbis wlo followed tlem. Te Babylonian Talmud represents tle sole
surviving legacy of tle Babylonian amoraim, unlike tle Palestinian amo-
raim, tley never produced independent collections of midrasl. Wlile
tle Babylonian Talmud never presents itself as a canonical or autlorita-
tive text (altlougl tle Rabbis in it do sometimes claim tlis autlority for
tleir own views), it was a substantial body of loary material tlat could
not be ignored.
But tle geonic treatment of tle Talmud was not predetermined eitler.
It is possible tlat despite tle many dierences between tle two literatures,
tle geonim saw tle Talmud as tle functional equivalent of tle laditl. )ust
as Islam lad a set of extrascriptural traditions tlat tley treated textually
and to wlicl tley gave independent autlority, so too tle geonim began to
see tle Talmud as a text witl its own integrity and autlority.
Te analogy between Islamic views of tle laditl and tle geonic under-
standing of tle Talmud in fact runs deeper. Muslims used tle laditl as a
source of religious law, tley read tlem not for simple edication but to
learn low Cod, tlrougl tle proplet, wanted tlem to live. Similarly, tle
geonim read tle Talmud not as tle odd literary work tlat it is, but as a legal
guide. Tis would be tle )ewisl laditl, tle autloritative extracanonical
text tlat lelps to guide a life lived according to tle will of Cod.
Te problem is tlat despite its size and complexity tle Talmud is not a
legal guide and does not lave tle directness of tle laditl. It is no easier to
live according to tle Talmud tlan it is to live according to tle Tanak. In fact,
it miglt be a good deal larder.
To respond to tlis problem, tle geonim institutionalized a new legal
genre, tle responsum (teshuvah, answer, tle same word used for turning
back, repentence). Earlier rabbinic literature records tle practice of )ews
asking local rabbis for legal rulings tlat were to beat least in tle eyes of
tle Rabbislegally binding on tle individual. Tere is no evidence, tlougl,
1,6 1ni visi oi viso
tlat tlere was a more formal procedure in wlicl a rabbi was asked to de-
liver a written legal opinion tlat justies its legal reasoning.
Muslim sclolars, tle ulama, were developing precisely tlis legal insti-
tution during tle geonic period. Te fatwa is a justied ruling, sometimes
written, tlat usually responds to a legal question. Usually tle procedure
would be for an individual or local cleric (imam) to submit a question to
a more recognized sclolar. Te sclolar would tlen issue a written re-
sponse justied witl citations from autloritative texts (e.g., tle Quran
and laditl). Muslims were tlen free to accept tlis opinion or not de-
pending on its persuasiveness, tle status of its autlor, or any number of
otler factors.
If tle organization of tle geonic academies can be seen as rouglly analo-
gous to tle academies of tle ulama, so too can tle development of tleir
primary activity, tle production of responsa. In wlat most likely began as a
local activity, individuals would submit questions to tle academies. Tese
questionsor at least tle larder oneswould be taken up wlen tle acad-
emies were in session, discussed and debated before tle geon wlo would
ultimately issue lis opinion, wlicl would be recorded. Unlike tle fatwa, tle
geonic responsa were understood (at least by tle rabbis wlo issued tlem)
to be binding upon tle individual wlo submitted tle question, altlougl
tlis autlority did not automatically extend to otlers.
Due to a combination of political factors, tlis activity quickly spread
from its local origins, in and around Bagldad, tlrouglout tle wide-ranging
Abbasid Empire. In ;o ci power over tle Islamic empire moved from tle
Umayyads in Damascus to tle Abbasid dynasty in Iraq. Suddenly, tle exi-
larcl and geonic activities found tlemselves at tle center of a vast empire.
Tey tlus became tle beneciaries not only of tle cultural and intellectual
explosion occurring around tlem but also of easier access to tle centers of
power. To use an anaclronistic plrase, tley were on tle radar screen.
Altlougl a few surviving responsa predate tle rise of tle Abbasids, tle
vast majority of geonic responsa were produced after ;o ci. Communi-
ties, mainly from Nortl Africa (wlicl was part of tle Abbasid Empire),
would send tleir questions to tle geonim. Tere can be little doubt tlat
tleir location near Bagldad gave tlem an advantage in tleir competition
witl tle rabbis of Palestine. Rabbis in botl communities apparently keenly
felt tlis competition. As early as ;6o ci Babylonian rabbis were actively
promoting tlemselves over tleir Palestinian peers. One open letter by a
Babylonian named Pirqoy ben Baboy states:
1ni visi oi viso 1,;
Even in tle days of tle Messial, tley (tle Babylonian academies) will not
experience tle travail of tle Messial, for it is written (Zeclarial a:) O
Zion, escape, you wlo dwell in Babylonia, . . . and Zion is notling but
tle academy, wlicl is distinguisled in Toral and precepts, as it is writ-
ten (Mical (:o), Writle and cry out, dauglter of Zion, like a woman in
clildbirtl, for now you slall depart tle city and dwell in tle eld and go to
Babylonia, tlere you will be saved, and tlence will Cod redeem you from
tle land of your enemies. And redemption will come rst to tle academy
of Babylonia, for, as Israel is redeemed by tleir (tle academies) virtue,
redemption comes rst to tlem.
Tis tlorouglly polemical passage completely degrades tle contemporary
rabbis of Palestine. Zion, tle privileged and promised land of tle Tanak,
no longer refers to a concrete and unclanging geograplical location but
instead to tle place of greatest Toral learning, tlat is, Babylonia. Tis as-
sertion, wlicl builds upon a sentiment found also in tle Babylonian Tal-
mud, boldly transfers tle biblical promises and blessings from Palestine to
Not only was tlis tlouglt to be eective propaganda, but it no
doubt also reected wlat tle geonim really believed: Tey were living in
tle real promised land.
Te responsa cover a wide variety of issues. Nortl African communities
lad copies of tle Babylonian Talmud, and tley turned to tle geonim for
clarications of botl its text and meaning. Occasionally tley asked tleo-
logical questions. It is precisely in tle questions, ratler tlan answers, tlat
we can begin to develop a sense of contemporary )ewisl concerns. One
sucl concern was tle formalization of prayer.
Te Talmud and otler classical rabbinic literature formalize prayer in a
general faslion. It dictates mandatory times for prayer, lists some manda-
tory prayers, and gives guidelines concerning tleir language. However, tle
precise language of prayer was left to tle community andior individual. Tis
early uidity led even rabbinic )ews to develop innovative prayers, as slown
by tle ricl variety of tle surviving liturgical poetry, or piyyut. Tese piyyu-
tim were composed for specic, sometimes one-time performances, and
are claracterized by tleir allusiveness and frequently deep knowledge of
rabbinic traditions. Even tle weekly liturgical readings from tle Toral were
uid, witl Palestinian )ews generally preferring a triennial cyclecomplet-
ing tle entire Toral once every tlree yearsand Babylonians an annual
cycle. Tese decisions too, tlougl, must lave varied locally.
1,8 1ni visi oi viso
Botl local )ews and tle geonim apparently were growing uncomfortable
witl tlis uidity. A request from a Spanisl )ew sometime between 8; and
8; gave a renegade geon, Amram ben Sleslna, an opportunity to promul-
gate an order of prayers and benedictions for tle entire year. To tle ex-
tent tlat we can reconstruct lis answer to tlis request (tle manuscripts
are badly corrupted), it appears tlat le attempted to produce a canonical
prayer book, one tlat not only provided basic prayer rubrics but also tle
precise language itself. Clearly Amram did not create tlis full liturgy on tle
spot, it almost certainly culminated an ongoing attempt on tle part of tle
geonim to standardize prayer.
Sucl an attempt, perlaps not incidentally,
would lave brouglt )ewisl worslip in line witl tle detailed Islamic salat,
or liturgy, wlicl lad also recently undergone a process of standardization.
Amrams seder (order, from wlose root comes tle term siddur, later
used to denote a )ewisl prayer book) was soon eclipsed by tlat of arguably
tle greatest geon, Seadyal ben )osepl. Born in Egypt, Seadyal moved to
Babylonia wlere le quickly rose to tle position of tle geon of Sura, serv-
ing from ,a8,(a ci. His relationslip witl tle exilarcl was exceptionally
rocky, and le resisted eorts to depose lim. Despite lis political dicul-
ties, Seadyal was by far tle most prolic of tle geonim, not only advancing
trends tlat were already in motion but also expanding geonic activities into
new arenas.
Seadyals prayer book was a monograpl produced at tle autlors own
initiative ratler tlan as a response to a request or question. Te monograpl
is remarkable not only as our best extant witness to tle early canonization
of )ewisl liturgy but also for its explicitly popular audience. Here Seadyal
self-consciously abandons lis usual custom of providing prooftexts: Ratl-
er, I will bring for all of tlis only undocumented, precisely formulated state-
ments, because I composed tlis treatise not for (purposes of ) proof, but
for instruction.
Tis goal is also reected in tle instructions of tle prayer
book, wlicl le writes in )udeo-Arabic, a dialect of Arabic written in He-
brew letters. By tle tentl century, )ews in Islamic lands lad turned to Ara-
bic as tleir lingua franca, relegating Hebrew (wlicl many probably did not
understand) to liturgical functions.
As for all of tle otler geonim, tle bulk of Seadyals time was most
likely spent responding to requests for lalaklic guidance. Ultimately, tle
proportion of questions addressed to tle geonim tlat deal witl academic
or tleological matters was small wlen compared to tlose tlat ask spe-
cic and applied questions of )ewisl law. Te geonim elded questions of
ritual, personal, and civil law. Some of tlese questions depended little on
1ni visi oi viso 1,,
listorical context and were part of tle geonic attempt to standardize
)ewisl practice. Otlers, sucl as tle permissibility of doing business on a
specic non-)ewisl loliday or low to treat apostate )ews, lad very specic
listorical contexts.
Ceonim were not sly about acting as legal innovators wlen tley felt tle
times demanded it. Tey assumed tlat tley lad tle autlority to enact de-
crees tlat miglt even go against traditions in tle Talmud. Te rst sucl
decree was issued in 6oi ci, and concerned tle rebellious wife. A later
responsum, by Rav Slerira Ceon (. ,68oo(), refers to it:
As to your question, concerning a woman living witl ler lusband, wlo
says to lim, Divorce me! I do not wisl to live witl you!is le required
to give ler sometling from ler ketubah or not: Is sucl a woman con-
sidered rebellious or not: We lave seen tlat, by tle letter of tle law, we
do not oblige tle lusband to divorce lis wife wlen sle sues for divorce,
except in tlose cases wlere our Sages stated tlat it is incumbent on lim
to divorce ler (M. Ket. ;:o). . . .
Later tley enacted anotler takkanah, tlat tle court slould issue a
proclamation concerning ler for four consecutive weeks, and tle court
slould admonisl ler: Know tlat even if your ketubah amounts to one
lundred maneh, you lave forfeited it. . . .
Finally, tley enacted tlat tle proclamation be issued for four weeks and
sle forfeits everytling, nevertleless, tle lusband was not obliged to grant
ler a divorce. . . .
It was tlen enacted tlat sle slould be kept waiting for twelve montls
witlout a divorce, in tle lope tlat sle miglt be placated. But after twelve
montls, tle lusband is forced to grant ler a divorce. Later, our Sages
tle Saboraim realized tlat tle dauglters of Israel were appealing to tle
gentile courts to obtain a coerced divorce from tleir lusbands, and some
were divorcing tleir wives under duress, resulting in doubts concerning
tle validity of sucl a divorce, creating a calamitous situation. Accordingly,
in tle time of Mar Rav Rabbal [and] Mar Rav Hunai, may tley rest in
peace, it was enacted tlat a rebellious wife suing for divorce slould receive
intact all tle property of iron sleep tlat sle lad brouglt witl ler, and
tlat tle lusband slould make good all destroyed or lost property. But
wlatever le limself undertook to bestow upon ler, wletler yet extant
or not, le need not pay ler, and if sle slould seize any sucl assets [tle
court] will conscate tlem and restore tlem to tle lusband. As to tle
lusband, we force lim to write ler an immediate write of divorce, and
zoo 1ni visi oi viso
sle is entitled to tle [statutory payment] of oo or aoo zuzim. Tis las
been our custom now for more tlan tlree lundred years, and you, too,
slould do so.
Tis responsum, and tle decree (takkanah) upon wlicl it is based, tries to
negotiate between a tricky legal problem and a concrete listorical one. In
Talmudic law a woman brings a dowry (wlicl miglt contain property of
iron sleep, i.e., property of wlicl tle lusband can enjoy use and prot but
tlat le is not allowed to alter or alienate) into a marriage. Additionally, tle
groom pledges a monetary sum to be paid to lis wife (or leirs) upon tle
dissolution of tle marriage. Tis pledge is known as tle ketubbah, and if its
amount is not stipulated it is a statutory oo or aoo zuzim (depending on
tle status of tle bride). But slould a wife acquire tle legal status of a rebel-
lious wife by consistently belaving in certain, specied ways (e.g., irting
witl otler men) ler lusband can penalize ler by reducing tle amount of
ler ketubbal.
Te problem is tle nature of )ewisl divorce in classical rabbinic law.
Divorce is unilateral: only a lusband can instigate itle cannot be com-
pelledand lis wifes consent is not required, altlougl upon divorce le
must return lis wifes dowry to ler and pay ler tle amount of ler ketub-
bal. Te economic consequences, perlaps, are meant to serve as a brake on
capricious divorces.
But tlis is a legal institution liglly vulnerable to abuse. If a man cannot
(e.g., le goes missing in action) or does not want to divorce lis wife out
of spite, sle is anclored (agunal, explained in tle last clapter), unable to
marry anyone else. Tere is little to stop a determined man from blackmail-
ing ler, insisting tlat sle forfeit ler dowry and ketubbal in exclange for
lis giving ler a bill of divorce, tle get. At tle same time, slould a woman
try to force a divorce sle risks being labeled a rebellious wife, and laving
ler marriage settlement reduced in vain, as tle rabbis or courts would lesi-
tate to compel ler lusband to divorce ler.
It is tlus not surprising tlat despite tle potentially serious consequence
of being slunned from tle )ewisl community, frustrated )ewisl women
would lave turned to tle Islamic courts for relief. From tle perspective of
tle contemporary rabbis, tlis was a double disaster. First, it undermined
tle autlority of tle )ewisl courts and tle geonim. Secondas tle respon-
sum explicitly statesit resulted in compelled divorces, wlicl by rabbinic
law are no divorces at all! Te consequence from a rabbinic legal perspec-
tive is tlat sucl a woman was unable to remarry, ler sexual relations were
1ni visi oi viso zo1
teclnically adulterous and ler future clildren would bear tle legal stigma
of being mamzerim.
Rav Slerira Ceon invokes botl tle decree of 6oi ci and tle autlority
of custom to nesse tle problem. Te rabbinic court can indeed compel a
lusband to issue a divorce to lis wife and tle divorce counts. Altlougl in
sucl a situation le must return tle dowry to ler, le need not make good on
tle amount of lis pledge tlat exceeds tle statutory ketubbal payment. By
giving )ewisl women legal recourse in )ewisl courts, tley would presum-
ably be more lesitant to seek external intervention.
Tis responsum is not entirely typical but nevertleless illustrates low
tle geonim walked tle line between tleory and practice. Tis particular
ruling, like many geonic decisions, was not accepted by later rabbis. But
tlen, later rabbis worked witl dierent conceptual frameworks, assump-
tions, and listorical contingencies. Otler geonic innovations, sucl as tle
institution of a tlird daily service in tle evening (still leaving tle )ews two
slort of tle ve daily services of Muslims) and tle male wearing of a lead
covering as a religious obligation found wider acceptance.

Te most vivid evidence of tle geonic trend toward standardization is tle

incipient development of tle law code. Te rst )ewisl law code miglt best
be attributed to tle Karaite Anan ben David, but it was soon followed by
rabbinic competitors. Two major law codes were compiled during tle ge-
onic period, tle Halakhot Pesukot and tle Halakhot Gedolot. Te former
was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, translated into )udeo-Arabic, and
soon fell o tle rabbinic curriculum, it survives only in fragments found
mainly in ancient manuscript cacles. On tle otler land, tle Halakhot
Gedolot, probably composed in tle mid-nintl century, became part of a
living tradition of study tlat extends to tle present. Te Halakhot Gedolot
follows tle order of tle Babylonian Talmud, adjudicating laws as tley arise.
Sucl a composition was more useful as an aid to tle student of Talmud
tlan as an actual guide for living.
Te geonic drive toward standardization and codication, a tendency
tlat paralleled wlat was lappening in tle Islamic academies, spilled over
from law into scriptural interpretation and tleology. Previously, of course,
)ews lad also engaged in tle interpretation of Scripture and in tleological
and plilosoplical activities. Tese earlier eorts in fact liglliglt tle geonic
innovations in tlese areas.
zoz 1ni visi oi viso
Seadyal was arguably tle rst systematic )ewisl tleologian and witl-
out doubt tle rst wlose tlouglt continued to play a role in later )ewisl
plilosoply. He wrote lis most well-known treatise, tle Book of Beliefs and
Opinions, in ,. Te book implicitly and explicitly engages Muslim pli-
losoply, called Kalam. Te sclools of Kalam were attempting to interpret
Islam systematically, primarily by applying Creek plilosoplical ideas. One
sclool, tle Mutazilites, were particularly inuential on Seadyal and later
)ewisl plilosoplers. Te Mutazilites took a radical position on tle unity of
Cod, rejecting all slades of antlropomorplism and even tle ascription to
Cod of attributes.
Seadyal claims tlat tle purpose of tle Book of Beliefs and Opinions was
to dispel tle mistaken ideas tlat )ews lave absorbed from tlis leady intel-
lectual environment:
Wlen, now, I considered tlese fundamentals and tle evil resulting tlere-
from, my leart was grieved for my species, tle species of rational beings,
and my soul was stirred on account of our people, tle clildren of Israel.
For I saw in tlis age of mine many believers wlose belief was not pure
and wlose convictions were not sound. . . . I saw, furtlermore, men wlo
were sunk, as it were, in seas of doubt and submerged in tle waters of
confusion, and tlere was no diver to bring tlem up from tle deptls, nor a
swimmer wlo miglt take lold of tleir lands and carry tlem aslore.
Seadyal souglt to bring order and a system to issues of belief. His project
was little dierent from tlat of tle many Islamic plilosoplers wlo were
contesting similar issues. Seadyal felt tle need to explain )ewisl beliefs to
)ews, to oer a colerent system of tlouglt tlat would allow )ews to make
sense of tleir religion as it was being articulated and understood by Mus-
lims. Tat is, Seadyal was responding to tle increasing )ewisl understand-
ing of tleir own religion as it was seen by Muslims, as laving a distinctive
and colerent tleology.
Te rst part of tle Book of Beliefs and Opinions deals witl epistemo-
logical issues: How do we know sometling: Te burning question at tle
core of lis discussion is tle relationslip of wlat would be known as revela-
tion versus reason. Humans lave tlree intellectual faculties according to
Seadyal: sense perception, intellectual perception, and logical reasoning.
Autlentic tradition is tle fourtl, and independent, source of knowledge.
Te belief in a single trutl drives Seadyals epistemology. Te knowledge
derived tlrougl tle luman intellect ultimately is tle same as tlat conveyed
1ni visi oi viso zo
in tradition, tradition is a kind of slortcut to knowledge tlat lumans could
in any case aclieve. Reason and revelation are two independent patls to
tle same trutl. Note, lowever, tlat tle tradition las to be autlentic. On
tle one land, contemporary Islamic concern witl tle autlenticity of tle
laditl no doubt played a role in Seadyals formulation. On tle otler land,
le was taking a swipe at tle Karaites wlo, by implication, carried an inau-
tlentic tradition.
Seadyals Cod was, for all practical reasons, tle same as tle Mutazilite
Allal. Seadyals Cod was far more omnipotent and awesome tlan tlat of
tle Rabbis. Antlropomorplism was completely inappropriate. Seadyal
rejects not only simple and obvious antlropomorplism (e.g., talking of
Cod as if Cod lad a luman body) but even tle application to Cod of more
abstract luman claracteristics, sucl as justice. We, as frail lumans witl
limited cognitive abilities, miglt tlink tlat we know aspects of Cod, but
we slould not confuse our knowing witl a belief tlat it is tle reality of tle
tling: Cod is so indivisible tlat Cod is absent of attributes.
Te Cod of tle Rabbis, like tlat of Plilo, appears to lave created tle
eartl from some kind of primordial stu. Te biblical account itself
seems to suggest sucl an idea. Seadyals Cod does not mess around witl
stu, Seadyal introduces tle notion of creatio ex nihilo (creation from
notling) into )ewisl readings of tle Hebrew Bible. For Seadyal, Cod cre-
ates witl willCod wills it and it is. Cod built tle world and all in it from
notling at all.
Seadyal is well aware of tle familiar tleological problems occasioned
by a belief in Cods absolute omnipotence. Despite Cods foreknowledge of
everytling, le adleres strictly to tle notion of luman free will. Cod ablors
certain luman activities for our own sakes in His way of mercy, despite
Cods desire for our weal, we are free to act as we may.
Nor is Cods fore-
knowledge of a luman action its cause. As Seadyal cleverly points out, if
tlat was so tlen all would lave existed from eternitytlat is, tle moment
Cod rst lad knowledge of it.
He also deals lead on witl tleodicy. Seadyal is aware tlat tle riglteous
sometimes suer in ways we miglt regard as unjust. His answer is more
subtle tlan Deuteronomys, witl its claim tlat all luman suering is de-
served: I nd tlat suering befalls tle pious in tlis world in one of two
ways: eitler as punislments for tle relatively small number of tleir trans-
gressions . . . or, alternatively, as a visitation from Cod in order to test tlem,
provided He knows tlat tley will be able to endure it.
It is tle latter cat-
egory, testing, tlat le applies to tle suering of innocent clildren: I lave
zo 1ni visi oi viso
no doubt tlat tley will be compensated, and tlat tle suering wlicl Cod
in His wisdom inicts on tlem is like tle punislment wlicl tley receive at
tle lands of tleir fatler wlo may strike and conne tlem in order to pro-
tect tlem from some larm.
Cods goodness is above suspicion.
Te paternalistic metaplor (even Seadyal is unable to nd language tlat
entirely avoids metaplors) also plays a role in Seadyals explanation of tle
commandments. Cod gave two types or classes of commandments. Ratio-
nal commandments could lave easily been derived tlrougl reason. One
lardly needs tle Toral to know tlat tleft, murder, and adultery are bad.
Sucl laws are revealed only to conrm our rational facilities. However, otler
commandmentssucl as tle food laws or tle laws governing tle Sabbatl
and festivalsare, from a rational perspective, neutral. Seadyal tries lard
to nd tlat tlese commandments lave some rational and comprelensible
benet for lumans. Kaslrut, for example, makes it impossible to liken any
of tle animals to tle Creator . . . also it prevents people from worslipping
any of tle animals, since it is untlinkable tlat one slould worslip eitler
wlat one serves for food or wlat one declares as impure.
Wlere Seadyal
can nd little or no rational basis, le ascribes tleir revelation more gener-
ally to Cods goodness: Cod las given commandments to lumans so tlat
by doing tlem we miglt accrue reward. Tese seemingly arbitrary activi-
ties, tlat is, are good for tle sole reason tlat tley issue from Cod.
More leavily and systematically tlan tle Rabbis, Seadyal relies on tle
concept of tle afterlife to keep tle concept of Cods justice plausible. Fol-
lowing contemporaneous plilosoplies, Seadyal asserted tlat tle luman
was composed of two parts, body and soul, tlus breaking witl biblical and
rabbinic monistic views of tle self. Te soul is tle eternal and intelligible
part of tle person, it contains tle rational part of tle self. Upon deatl tle
soul separates from tle body to be stored until tle nal Day of )udgment.
At tlat time Cod will resurrect tle bodies (recomposing tlem, if neces-
sary) and restore to tlem tleir souls. Te Day of )udgment will usler in tle
messianic era.
Seadyal strikes a brilliant compromise between an active and passive
esclatology: We believe tlat Cod las appointed two alternative periods
for tle duration of our servitude in exile, one extending until sucl a time
as we do penitence, tle otler being terminated at a xed time. Wlicl-
ever of tlese times arrives rst, it carries Redemption witl it.
can lasten redemption witl our actions, but, even if we do not suc-
ceed, it will nevertleless arrive. Wletler we want tlis is anotler matter.
Seadyals end of days scenario is apocalyptic and larsl, witl terrible lard-
1ni visi oi viso zo
slips inicted on tle )ews to purify tlem of tleir sins. Only wlen tlese
lardslips are completed and tle dead brouglt back to life will Cods pres-
ence rest again on tle Temple in )erusalem and Israel slip into a sunnier,
eternal future.
Seadyal Ceons approacl to tle study of Toral was as revolutionary
as lis systematic tleology. Midrasl looked as odd to Seadyal as it does
to many modern Western readers. It interprets Scripture out of context,
sometimes in a seemingly random faslion. Seadyal lad little patience for
tlis way of reading. Midrasl was unscientic, it was neitler rational nor did
it conform witl contemporaneous approacles to sacred literature. Indeed,
Seadyal tried to bring tle most modern sclolarslipdeveloped primarily
for tle study of tle Quranto tle study of Toral.
Most prominently tlis modern sclolarslip involved grammar and lexi-
cograply. Alarmed tlat many of tle clildren of Israel do not know tle
basic eloquence of our language,
Seadyal dedicated several )udeo-Arabic
tracts to Hebrew linguistics. His purpose in tlese works is botl to elucidate
tle meanings of individual works and, more ambitiously, to begin a more
scientic systematization of tle Hebrew language. Altlougl somewlat
primitive by later standards, lis work founded a tradition of tle study of
biblical Hebrew tlat climaxes witl Ibn )anals (also known as Rabbi )onal)
two-volume study of biblical Hebrew in eleventl-century Spain. Seadyal
also translated tle Bible into Arabic in an edition tlat continues to be used
by Arabic-speaking )ews.
Seadyal applies tlese academic metlods to lis interpretation of Scrip-
ture, wlicl in turn ows from lis epistemology. As le states in lis intro-
duction to lis commentary on tle Toral:
A reasonable person must always understand tle Toral according to tle
outward meaning of tle words, i.e., tlat wlicl is well known and wide-
spread among tle speakers of tle languagesince tle purpose of compos-
ing any book is to convey its meaning perfectly to tle readers leartex-
cept for tlose places in wlicl sense perception or intellectual perception
contradicts tle well-known understanding of an expression, or wlere tle
well-known understanding of an expression contradicts anotler, unequiv-
ocal verse or a tradition.
He tlen goes on tlat slould all else fail and tle Toral really cannot be un-
derstood rationally (e.g., antlropomorplisms), it must be interpreted meta-
plorically so tlat tlis Scripture will be brouglt into accord witl tle senses
zo6 1ni visi oi viso
and tle intellect, witl otler verses and witl tradition. Scripture must be
squared witl reason.
Tis interpretive approacl to Scripture becomes known as peshat, literal-
ly simple but usually translated as contextual. Seadyal Ceons own com-
mentary tends to be sparse. He devotes most of it to clarifying tle meaning
of individual words. Occasionally tlese clarications reect larger tleolog-
ical or interpretive concerns, reconciling tle biblical text witl reason. On
Cenesis :ao, for example, Seadyal sensibly determines tlat wlen Eve is
called tle motler of all tle living Scripture means to say tle motler of
all life tlat speaks, tlat is, lumankind. To Seadyal Cenesis :8 could not
possibly mean, as it seems to say, tlat Cod was moving about in tle gar-
den, it is instead tle voice of Cod passing tlrougl tle garden. Following an
older exegetical tradition, le explains tle odd story of Cenesis 6:(, wlicl
appears to describe tle mating of divine beings witl lumans, as a story of
mixed-class marriage: tle sons of tle nobility marry common women. Un-
like midrasl, peslat speaks in a single voice.

If tlere is a motif tlat runs tlrougl tle )udaism of tle geonim, it is tle
move toward closure and standardization. Te geonim attempt to tame
botl tle messiness of tle Talmud and tle riot of competing biblical inter-
pretations. Tey created law codes, liturgies, and tleologies. Te geonic lit-
erary legacy is lardly uniform, but neitler is it as cacoplonous as tlat of
tle Hebrew Bible or tle Talmud. Ambiguities and contradictions in tleir
tradition botlered tlem, tley were problems to be solved ratler tlan op-
portunities to be exploited.
Te geonim moved toward standardization because tley could. Tey
were part of an Islamic society tlat itself was concerned witl and develop-
ing tools for tle formation and consolidation of religious identity. Halaklal
became tle )ewisl shariah (tle Islamic way of living in accord witl tle
divine will), tle Tanak a )ewisl Quran. Te result was a )udaism tlat would
lave been as recognizable to Muslims was it was to )ews.
Ten tlere is also tle not insignicant issue of power. Te geonim
functioned witlin a relatively stable empire witl reliable routes of trade
and communication. Tey were also fortuitously located near its center
of power. Te sclools of tle land of Israel in tleir competition witl tle
Babylonian geonim were surely lindered by tleir plysical distance from
Bagldad. Altlougl tle Babylonian geonim appear never to lave gained
1ni visi oi viso zo;
any ocial recognition, tley forged close (if sometimes tense) relationslips
witl tle exilarcls, wlo did lave ocial autlority over tle )ewisl commu-
nity. Wlen tle geonim attempted to standardize and consolidate tradition,
tley were also consolidating tleir own power.
)ews in tle Islamic world probably recognized tle )udaism of tle geonim,
but tle extent to wlicl tley accepted and participated in it is an entirely
dierent question. Many )ews, sucl as tle Karaites, lad little sympatly for
it. Te range of questions submitted to tle geonim demonstrates tlat even
)ews witlin tleir orbit lad dierent understandings of wlat it meant to
practice tle religion of Israel. And tle extant, noncanonical mystical texts
from tlis period remind us tlat tlere were large communities of contem-
porary )ews about wlom we know practically notling.
Were we to limit our reading to tle canonical geonic textstle law
codes, responsa, tleological writings, and biblical commentarieswe
miglt conclude tlat geonic )udaism was nearly devoid of elements tlat
we label mystical. Tis may actually be true, tle geonim rarely mention
mystical speculation or practices. Te Hekhalot texts, lowever, suggest
Beginning late in tle rabbinic period (around tle sixtl century ci) and
extending into tle early Middle Ages, )ews produced a series of texts tlat
report visions of tle divine. One of tle strangest of tlese texts, tle Shiur
Qomah (Te Measure of tle Stature), describes in precise, intricate, yet
incomprelensible detail tle measurements of Cods body. Several texts,
now called Heklalot literature, purport to describe wlat tle Rabbis actu-
ally saw in paradise. Envisioning tle divine, leavenly abode as a series of
clambers (tle meaning of leklalot), tle texts trace tle journey of Rabbi
Akiva tlrougl leaven, led by lis guide, tle angelic Prince of Toral. Like tle
Shiur Qomah, tle autlorslip, function, and social setting of tle Heklalot
texts remain obscure. Wloever produced tlem did refer to and appear to
lave regarded as autloritative some previous rabbinic texts. Te ideal end
of sucl a journey, it appears, was tle transformation of tle individual into a
kind of divine being.
Wlo wrote tlese texts and wlat is tleir purpose: On tlese questions
tlere is no sclolarly consensus at all. Tey are not quite instruction man-
uals for ascent, altlougl tley contain descriptions of many teclniques
tlat tle protagonists use to ascend. Tey are full of references to tle He-
brew Bible and, to a lesser extent, rabbinic literature, altlougl tley do
not appear to be merely exegetical exercises. Famous rabbis (e.g., Rabbi
Akiba and Rabbi Islmael) stand at tleir center, but tleir belavior lardly
zo8 1ni visi oi viso
comports witl tle image of tle rabbis and tleir )udaism found in geonic
rabbinic literature. Wlatever tle answers to tlese questions, tlese mys-
tical texts did enter into a living tradition, tleir manuscripts circulated in
Western Europe in tle Middle Ages, altlougl, again, we do not know wlo
actually read and used tlem.
One of tle most interesting features of tlese early )ewisl mystical texts
is tle central role of text. Language plays a role in most mystical experienc-
es of any kind, but tlis literature assigns to texts a central, mediating role.
By structuring its stories around and frequently alluding to earlier texts, it
makes mystical practice a textual practice, and vice versa. Even tle mystic
nds Cod tlrougl text. Indeed, it is lard to understand tlis mystical litera-
ture solely as a dry academic exercise, even if it is not really a low-to guide
of ascent. At least some )ews wlo souglt to experience tle face of tle liv-
ing Cod directly would lave turned to and studied tlese texts, tley, ratler
tlan, for example, simple, unmediated inward meditation, were tle key to
mystical experience.
Te geonim, by tleir own judgment, were living in a dierent and lesser
era tlan tlose of tle classical Rabbis. Tey understood tlemselves as tle
conservators, commentators, and codiers of tle great rabbinic tradition.
Yet tleir aclievement was not as modest as tlis self-conception miglt sug-
gest. Unlike tle Rabbis, tle geonim lad botl power and inuence, and tley
used botl to transform tle sprawling rabbinic tradition into a religion. Out
of tle stu of tle Rabbis, it was tle geonim wlo created rabbinic )udaism.
Te last geon of Pumbedita, Hayya b. Slerira, died in o8 and was not
replaced, tle liglt of tle geonim was soon extinguisled. Tis was due in
part to an internal struggle witl tle exilarcl, but tle demise of tle geonim
lad more to witl tle clanging times. Te period of formation and con-
solidation was passing. Te geonim stood at an lourglass point of )ewisl
listory, tley gatlered and attempted (witl admittedly limited success) to
standardize and autlorize tle traditions tlat tley received, but tlis con-
solidation led to a new explosion of creativity and diversity. Teir center, as
weak as it was, did not lold.
ovi 1ni ii of Moses Maimonides opus, Te Guide of the
after lundreds of pages of dense plilosoplical discus-
sions, Maimonides abruptly switcles tone to tell a parable:
Te ruler is in lis palace, and all lis subjects are partly witlin tle city and
partly outside tle city. Of tlose wlo are witlin tle city, some lave turned
tleir backs upon tle rulers labitation, tleir faces being turned anotler
way. Otlers seek to reacl tle rulers labitation, turn toward it, and desire
to enter it and to stand before lim, but up to now tley lave not yet seen
tle wall of tle labitation. Some of tlose wlo seek to reacl it lave come up
to tle labitation and walk around it searcling for its gate. Some of tlem
lave entered tle gate and walk about in tle anteclambers. Some of tlem
lave entered tle inner course of tle labitation and lave come to be witl
tle king, in one and tle same place witl lim, namely, in tle rulers labita-
tion. But tleir laving come into tle inner part of tle labitation does not
mean tlat tley see tle ruler or speak to lim. For after tleir coming into
tle inner part of tle labitation, it is indispensable tlat tley slould make
anotler eort, tlen tley will be in tle presence of tle ruler, see lim from
afar or from nearby, or lear le rulers speecl or speak to lim.
Maimonides tlen goes on to explain wlat le means. Tose outside tle
city are tlose wlo lave no doctrinal belief. Tose inside tle city, but witl
tleir backs to tle rulers labitation, are tlose wlo lave adopted incorrect
opinions, eitler due to error or following somebody elses incorrect opin-
ions. Tose wlo turn toward tle rulers labitation, seeking to enter it but

z1o ivor rosis 1o rosis
still not seeing even its wall, are tle multitude of adlerents of tle Law . . .
tle ignoramuses wlo observe tle commandments. Te jurists concerned
only witl law and not plilosoplical speculation are tlose wlo walk around
searcling for tle gate. Only tlose engaged in plilosoplical speculation
enter furtler, witl tle beginner in tle anteclambers. Te inner court is
reserved for tlose wlo lave aclieved perfection in tle natural tlings and
lave understood divine science. Tose of tle perfect wlo tlen turn com-
pletely to Cod enter before Him, rising to tle status of proplets.
On its surface tlis parable and its explanation could lardly be clearer.
For Maimonides tlere is a lierarcly tlat extends from tlose wlo lave little
rational facility to tlose witl increasing practice of and competence in legal
matters (tle mitzvot), nally culminating witl plilosoplers, among wlom
tle perfect become proplets. Te best )ew is tle plilosoplical )ew, and if
le does not exactly declare adlerence to tle mitzvot to be useless, le does
lessen its utility.
Yet, like most everytling else in Maimonides writing, tle interpretation
of tlis parable is more complex tlan it appears. Tree clapters after tlis
parable, at tle very end of tle Guide, Maimonides claims tlat perfection is
knowing and imitating Cod. Perfection is not to be aclieved tlrougl ab-
stract plilosoplical speculation but by recognizing Cods virtues of loving-
kindness, riglteousness, and justice and living our lives in accordance witl
tlese virtues. Earlier in tle Guide, wlile discussing Moses, Maimonides
states tlat tle utmost virtue of man is to become like unto Him, may He be
exalted, as far as le is able, wlicl means tlat we slould make our actions
like unto His.
Is perfection to be found in plilosoplical understanding or
in riglteous acts, an imitatio dei:
Maimonides apparent denigration in tlis parable of tle value of tle
mitzvot is even more puzzling. Te parable appears after a long discussion
of tle commandments in wlicl le sorts all of tle commandments into
fourteen categories. Te Law as a wlole, le claims, aims at two tlings:
tle welfare of tle soul and tle welfare of tle body.
It tlus brings perfec-
tion in two senses, botl as a political guide tlat eliminates social wrong-
doing and as an instrument tlrougl wlicl individuals can perfect tleir
claracters. In tlis discussion tle Law lardly appears as secondary to more
abstract speculation.
Moreover, despite tle parables denigration of jurists, Maimonides was
in lis day, and remains in ours, one of tle foremost jurists of rabbinic
law. Altlougl tle geonim began tle process of clarication and codica-
tion of rabbinic law, Maimonides created tle rst true code of )ewisl law.
ivor rosis 1o rosis z11
Te Mishneh Torah, wlicl witl its comprelensiveness, new topical organi-
zation, and beautiful and clear Hebrew remains widely studied by modern
)ews. Composed over a decade, tle Mishneh Torah lardly seems tle work
of a man wlo understands limself to be walking around tle labitation,
searcling for tle gate.
Maimonides legacy is complex. One of tle towering gures in )ewisl
listory, le is still revered by many, some )ews even make pilgrimages to
lis supposed grave in Tiberias. From Moses [of tle Bible] to Moses [Mai-
monides], tlere was none like Moses, went a saying popular even in tle
Middle Ages. Yet during lis life, and in tle centuries after, lis Guide of the
Perplexed was condemned as leretical, witl some )ewisl communities ac-
tually burning copies of it. Te star of tle Mishneh Torah rose quickly but
was soon eclipsed by subsequent law codes, most notably tle sixteentl-
century Shulhan Arukh. How do we make sense of lim, lis understanding
of )udaism, and tlis legacy:

Moses ben Maimon was born during tle twiliglt of wlat nineteentl-cen-
tury Cerman-)ewisl listorians would call tle Colden Age of )ews on
tle Iberian peninsula. Maimonides (tle son of Maimon, in Arabic) was
born in in Cordoba. Cordoba lad a storied past. Abd al-Ralman, tle
Umayyad prince wlose family tle Abbasids slaugltered in Damascus, ar-
rived in Cordoba in ; and declared lis emirate a year later. Here in al-An-
dalus, on tle periplery of tle enormous empire controlled by tle Abbasids
from tleir base in Bagldad, al-Ralman began to build a remarkably open
and vibrant society. Altlougl teclnically a mere provincial governor wlo
served at tle wlim of tle Abbasid calipl, al-Ralman in eect ruled al-An-
dalus as an independent political entity. As time passed, tle rulers of Anda-
lusia increasingly saw tlemselves as independent rulers, not subject to tle
autlority of Bagldad. In ,a, Abd al-Ralman III formally declared limself
calipl and tlus independent of Bagldad.
One of tle dening claracteristics of al-Ralman and lis successors was
tle extent to wlicl tley took tle Islamic concept of tle dlimmi. Te dlim-
mi, literally, were tle peoples of tle book, )ews and Clristians, mono-
tleists wlo worslipped Cod. Not as riglt-minded as Muslims, but not as
abominable as polytleists, tley are given by tle Quran a distinct and pro-
tected legal identity. As long as tley were peaceful and paid tleir taxes, tley
were not to be larmed. Te application of tle concept of dlimmi, lowever,
z1z ivor rosis 1o rosis
could be quite elastic. One Islamic society could tolerate but disadvantage
its dlimmi, wlile anotler could develop a full-blown multiculturalism. Te
Abbasids tended toward tle former, al-Andalus tle latter. Among all tle
nations during tle Middle Ages, only in al-Andalus could )ews rise to sig-
nicant positions of political power: in tle early eleventl century a )ew,
Samuel ibn Nagrila (Samuel HaNagid), even became a vizier of Cranada.
Tis is tle age tlat famously led to a owering of Arabic, )ewisl, and, to a
lesser extent, Clristian literature. Muslim and )ewisl poets produced secu-
lar and religious poetry tlat is virtually indistinguislable. Poets in Arabic
and Hebrew lauded tle good life, wine, women, and tle love of boys. Samuel
ibn Cabirol, a )ew born in tle area of Cordoba around oaa, created devo-
tional poetry in Arabic tlat was so infused witl Neoplatonic ideas tlat le
incurred tle wratl of lis coreligionistsle moved to Cranada, wlere Sam-
uel HaNagid served as lis patron. He apparently continued to develop lis
Neoplatonic ideas into a tract, tle Fons Vitae, a complete copy of wlicl sur-
vived only in Latin. In tlis tract, read (but often rejected) by later Clristian
tleologians and perlaps )ewisl mystics, Ibn Cabirol claimed tlat all matter
emanates from Cod, like tle relationslip between tle sun and sunliglt.
Ibn Cabirols sclolarslip was but one type of contemporary )ewisl aca-
demic activity. Te rabbis of al-Andalus built upon tleir received textual
tradition, in tle process stamping it witl tle distinctive marks of tleir
culture. Born in Fez, Rabbi Isaac ben )acob Alfasi (sometimes known by
lis acronym, tle Rif ) moved to Lucena, near Cordoba, in o88 and died
tlere in o. By tlen le lad already autlored a kind of code of )ewisl law,
tle Sefer Halakhot, an abridged version of tle Babylonian Talmud tlat
excluded tle nonlegal sections. Tis epitome of tle Talmud was probably
based on tle Arabic practice of abridging tleir classical texts, a form known
as mukhtasar.
In Lucena tle Rif assumed tle post of lead of tle local yesliva. Te scope
and activities of tlis yesliva are not entirely clear. He was succeeded by
Rabbi )osepl HaLevy ibn Migasl (tle Ry) wlo apparently made lis mark
writing Talmudic commentaries. Among lis students was Rabbi Maimon,
Maimonides fatler.
Te legal writings of tle Spanisl rabbis were not just simple academ-
ic exercises. Te Rif was uninterested in sections of tle Talmud tlat did
not lave direct practical relevance. Moreover, unlike tle rabbis of tle Tal-
mud and tle geonim, tle Spanisl rabbis lad real judicial power. Cranted
judicial autlority in varying degreessometimes even including tle riglt
to administer capital punislmentSpanisl rabbis developed a strong
ivor rosis 1o rosis z1
ideology of communal legislation. Individual )ewisl communities, tleir lead-
ers and rabbis, claimed autlority to determine and administer tleir own law.
Teir legal responsa, primarily written in Arabic, tlus speak directly to
local concerns, and tle execution of tleir judgments could be backed witl
judicial force.
)ewisl biblical interpretation in Muslim Spain was even more tigltly
linked to tle prevalent intellectual, communal, and cultural conditions.
Abulwalid Merwan ibn )anal, Rabbi )onal, was born in Cordoba around
,,o and studied in tle yesliva at Lucena. A doctor by training wlo ulti-
mately settled in Saragossa, Rabbi )onals crowning aclievement was tle
production of an extensive grammar (Te Book of Embroidery) and a tle-
saurus (Te Book of Roots) of biblical Hebrew. Like Seadyal, Rabbi )onal
brouglt tle rigor and soplistication of contemporary Arabic linguistics to
bear upon tle Hebrew Bible, Rabbi )onal is often credited as being tle rst
to recognize tlat Hebrew words generally contain a tlree-letter consonan-
tal root. Surviving only in tle original Arabic and a later translation into He-
brew, tlese works remain fundamental to tle study of Hebrew grammar.
Perlaps tle greatest practitioner of tlis interpretive approacl, lowever,
was Rabbi Abralam ibn Ezra. Born in Toledo around o,a, Ibn Ezra spent
lis formative years in Cordoba, in (o le left Cordoba, wandering tlrougl
Europe until lis deatl in 6;. Altlougl le wrote tle bulk of lis biblical
commentaries during tlis period of wandering, tley are tlorouglly suf-
fused witl tle rational and linguistic concerns tlat claracterized Andalu-
sia. On tle otler land, lis decision to write tlese commentaries in Hebrew
ratler tlan Arabic would lave been more in line witl European (Aslke-
nazic) rabbinic practice.
Ibn Ezra was a man of letters. He composed poetry (including one tlat
laments tle conversion of one of lis sons to Islam) as well as plilosoplical,
matlematical, astronomical, and grammatical tracts. He is best remem-
bered, lowever, for lis commentaries on tle book of )ob and tle Penta-
teucl. He was deeply committed to tle use of grammar and tle impor-
tance of context (peslat) for understanding Scripture. Te application of
tlis scientic approacl to tle biblical text would become claracteristic of
peslat and its practitioners, commonly known as tle mepharshim (exposi-
tors). Underneatl tle dryness of Ibn Ezras plilological commentaries lay
a restless and daring mind. Ibn Ezra at times leaned toward a Neoplatonic
pantleism, believing tlat tle created cosmos is in fact composed of emana-
tions of tle divine. Preceding Barucl Spinoza by some ve lundred years,
le also doubted tle divine autlorslip of some of tle verses in tle Toral.
z1 ivor rosis 1o rosis
Ibn Ezra and tle Spanisl rabbis, of course, were not tle only rabbinic
proponents of tle peslat approacl. Aslkenazic rabbis found tleir great-
est and most inuential proponent of tlis metlod in Rabbi Sllomo ben
IsaacRasli. Rasli lived from o(oo, and made lis living as a vintner
in nortlern France. His commentary on tle Tanak (not to mention mucl of
tle Babylonian Talmud), written in Hebrew, was and remains vastly inu-
ential. Ibn Ezra often disagreed witl Raslis interpretations, but le did not
feel free to simply ignore tlem. Te source of many of tlese disagreements
can be easily attributed to tleir dierent cultural settings. Wlereas Rasli
was more comfortable using earlier rabbinic sources to interpret Scripture
(even if le lad to extract a single voice out of tle multivocal midrasl), Ibn
Ezra put lis faitl more in reason and tle luman sciences.
One brief example can illustrate tle dierent approacles of Rasli and Ibn
Ezra. According to tle second lalf of Exodus a:,, You slall not boil a kid
in its motlers milk. In tle Talmudic period tle Rabbis lad already noted
tlat tlis injunction appears tlree times in tle Toral and derived from tlis
repetition a blanket prolibition against eating milk and dairy products to-
getler. On tlis verse Rasli comments:
You slall not boil a kid: Kid includes a calf or sleep, for tle word kid
signies a tender young [animal, i.e., not a specic species]. And you nd
tlis in many places in tle Toral wlere it is written kid, it is necessary to
specify after it ock. For example: I will send a kid of tle ock (Cenesis
8:;) . . . Co to tle ock and fetcl me two cloice kids (Cenesis a;:,).
[Tese verses] teacl you tlat wlere it is written simply kid, even a cow or
sleep is to be understood. And in tlree places [tlis verse] is written in tle
Toral: One [teacles] tle prolibition of eating [milk and meat products
togetler], one tle prolibition of deriving benet [from tle mixture], and
one tle prolibition of cooking [milk and meat products togetler, even if
you do not eat tlem].
Rasli takes pains to clarify tlat tle Toral does not simply prolibit eating
goat witl dairy products. A kid, le argues, is a word tlat includes otler
species. Te Toral itself, le claims, supports tlis understanding. )ust as in
tlese otler verses kid is paired witl tle word ock to specify livestock gen-
erally, so too even wlere ock does not appear it slould be understood. Te
upslot is a defense of tle rabbinic understanding of tle verse and its legal
Here is Ibn Ezra on tle same verse:
ivor rosis 1o rosis z1
[Rabbi Sllomo, i.e., Rasli] says tlat gedi (a kid) means young and tender.
He says it applies to young oxen and young lambs. He claims tlat tle
plrase gedi izzim (a kid of tle goats) (Cen. 8:;) proves tlis, since tlere is
no reason to connect tlem. However, tlis is not so. Te term gedi applies
only to a goat. Tus in Arabic tle term gedi means a goat. It is never used
for any otler kind. However, tlere is a dierence between a gedi and a gedi
izzim. A gedi is larger tlan a gedi izzim. A gedi izzim still needs to be witl
otler goats. . . . Our sages lave received tle tradition tlat an Israelite is
not permitted to eat meat and milk.
I will now explain. Note tlat it is tle Torals custom to speak of tlat
wlicl is most prevalent. For example, tle Toral refers to tle ostricl as a
bat ha-yaanah (Lev. :6). Now wly does tle Toral do sometling lere
wlicl it does not do in any otler place: For in no otler place does tle
Toral refer to an entire species by tle term dauglter of (bat). Note tlat
tle esl of tle yaanah is as dry as wood. It is not tle custom for people
to eat it, as it contains no moisture. Te only esl of tlis species tlat is
eaten is tlat of tle dauglter (bat), wlose esl las a little moisture in
it because it is a young female. However, young ostricl males lave no
moisture in tlem.
Similarly, people do not eat meat and milk, for it is not pleasant to do so.
Meat takes long to cook, but milk boils quickly. It is not tle custom even
today in tle land of tle Islmaelites for a person to eat a lamb cooked in
milk because tle lamb is very moist and so is milk. It is tlus larmful. . . .
Tere is no need for us to searcl for tle reason it is prolibited. Te
reason is lidden from tle eyes of tle intelligent. It is possible tlat it is pro-
libited to seetle a kid in its motlers milk because to do so is very cruel.
Tis remarkable passage rejects Raslis understanding of tle word kid:
Kid, Ibn Ezra claims, really does mean goat. But wly only goat: Here Ibn
Ezra supplements lis linguistic argument witl tle empirical observation
tlat goat, unlike otler meats, actually tastes good (and, in a passage I did
not include, le claims tlat it is lealtly too) wlen cooked in milk. So goat,
like tle only edible kind of ostricl, las to be specied.
Ibn Ezra tlen squarely confronts tle problem witl tlat interpretation: if
tle Toral prolibits only cooking and eating goat witl milk, wlence comes
tle more general prolibition on mixing all meats witl dairy: Tis le attri-
butes to a tradition tlat tle Rabbis received and wlose true understanding
is beyond luman comprelension. Maybe tlere are lealtl considerations,
but maybe not.
z16 ivor rosis 1o rosis
Ibn Ezra is lardly a radical. He does not lesitate to arm tle validity
of tle prolibition of eating meat and dairy products togetler. But le is
also intellectually courageous, willing not only to accept an interpretation
tlat proves problematic but also to wrestle its consequences. Rasli pious-
ly bolsters tle rabbinic interpretation of tle verse witl a rigged linguis-
tic analysis, wlereas Ibn Ezra follows a more intellectually consistent and
lonest patl.
Wlen Ibn Ezra started lis wandering tlrougl Europe, Maimonides was
only ve years old, and )udal Halevi lad only ve (or perlaps one) more
years to live. Altlougl le was Ibn Ezras contemporary, Halevi ended up
taking a very dierent patl. Born in Tudela in o; or o86, Halevi gained
fame as a poet and moved tlrougl Muslim Spain. He spent time in botl
Cranada and Lucerne, wlile in Lucerne le got to know tle Talmudist Isaac
Alfasi. Eventually le settled for some time in Cordoba. In (o, tle same
year Ibn Ezra left Cordoba, so did Halevisailing on to Egypt wlere, on lis
way to tle Holy Land, le would die. His poetry was secular and religious,
written in Hebrew and Arabic.
Wlile best known in lis time as a talented poet, today Halevi is best re-
membered as tle autlor of tle Kuzari. Tis prose tract, originally written
in Arabic, was translatedprobably slortly after Halevis deatlby )udal
ben Saul ibn Tibbon, a )ew wlo also translated Seadyals plilosoplical
writings and Rabbi )onals grammar into Hebrew. (His family would later
translate Maimonides Guide of the Perplexed.) Te Kuzari purports to tell
of a conversation between tle king of tle Klazars and a Clristian, a Mus-
lim, a rabbi, and a plilosopler. In tle middle of tle story tle king is con-
vinced by tle rabbi and becomes a )ew.
Te Kuzari is a broadside against plilosoply. In tlis narrative tle Clris-
tian and Muslim fade into tle background, tle real battle is between tle
rabbi and tle plilosopler. Halevi lere zeroed in on a problem tlat would
soon receive increased attention by plilosoplers and tleologians of all
types: Are faitl and reason compatible: Halevi draws a clear diclotomy be-
tween tlese two approacles to religion and just as clearly elevates faitl over
reason. Asked by tle Klazar king about lis belief, tle rabbi responds witl a
dogmatic assertion: I believe in tle Cod of Abralam, Isaac and Israel, wlo
led tle Israelites out of Egypt witl signs and miracles. . . . We believe in
wlat is contained in tle Toral.
Te king is taken aback by tlis answer:
I lad intended from tle very beginning not to ask any )ew, because I am
aware of tle destruction of tleir books and of tleir narrow-minded views,
ivor rosis 1o rosis z1;
tleir misfortunes laving deprived tlem of all commendable qualities.
Slouldst tlou, O )ew, not lave said tlat tlou believest in tle Creator of
tle world, its Covernor and Cuide:
Te king, in otler words, is expecting a plilosoplical response. Te rabbi,
lowever, goes on to argue tlat tle proper way to approacl tle question is to
mention wlat is convincing for me and for tle wlole of Israel, wlo knew
tlese tlings, rst tlrougl personal experience, and afterward tlrougl an
uninterrupted tradition, wlicl is equal to experience.
Plilosoplers, wlo
inlerited neitler science nor religion, cannot aclieve tle trutl aorded
by personal experience and tradition.
Faitl trumps reason.
Halevi does not sly away from tle essentialism inlerent in tlis formula-
tion. Any Centile wlo joins us sincerely slares our good fortune, but le is
not equal to us, tle rabbi declares to tle kings consternation.
Israel knew
Cod rst tlrougl personal experience and tlen tlrougl tradition, tle )ews
are inlerently and essentially preeminent. For Halevi tlis personal, innate
knowledge of Cod is to lead to service of Cod. Te excellent or pious )ew
is tle one wlo fullls all Cods laws, wlicl are entirely beyond tle splere
of our intellect, it does not reject tlem, but it must obey tle order of Cod,
just as a sick person must obey tle plysician in applying lis medicines and
Ritual commandments sucl as circumcision are inscrutable but
nevertleless establisl a connection to tle divine. Observance of tle com-
mandments attunes tle pious mans mind to tle divine power.
For tle poet Halevi tlere is sometling mystical and essential about )ews
and )udaism. Tis is by no means a traditional or conservative stance, and it
is one tlat is deeply informed by Islamic notions. Halevis concern witl tra-
dition and its importance, found also in Seadyal, correlates witl tle value
assigned to it by contemporary Muslim tleologians. His insistence on tle
essential nature and superiority of tle )ews, lowever, breaks witl previ-
ous )ewisl and Islamic tlinkers. Moreover, lis rejection of Seadyals belief
tlat faitl and plilosoplical reason are ultimately reconcilable marks a new,
anti-intellectualist strand in )ewisl tlouglt.
Halevis rejection of tle wortl of plilosoply stands in stark contrast to
Ibn Ezras faitl in tle luman sciences. Teir contrast, tlougl, illustrates
tle complex and slifting intellectual currents of Cordoba. In o86 tle weak
Muslim rulers of Andalusia, in tle face of tlreatening Clristian forces mov-
ing soutl, called on tle Almoravids for military aid. Berbers from tle area of
Morocco, tle Almoravids practiced a somewlat puritanical form of Islam
quite dierent from tlat of Andalusia. Tey quickly defeated tle Clristian
z18 ivor rosis 1o rosis
forces but tlen decided to stay on in Andalusia, soon annexing tle local
provinces, or taifas. By o, tle Almoravids were burning tle works of tle
tolerant Muslim tleologian al-Clazali in Cordoba, provoking an uprising.
An intra-Muslim culture war lad led to bloody civil disobedience.
Altlougl it did not directly concern tlem, local )ews and Clristians felt
tle repercussions of tlese upleavals. Te relatively free and open intel-
lectual climate of Cordoba lad clilled as tle Almoravids tried to impose
tleir ortlodox version of Islam. Politically, )ews and Clristians were
given far less latitude, as tle Almoravids understood tle concept of tle
dlimmi in narrower terms. Botl trends were exacerbated under tle Al-
molads, anotler conservative Muslim group from Nortl Africa wlo over-
tlrew tle Almoravids in (; and consolidated tleir reacl into Andalusia
around ;a.
Ibn Ezras, )udal Halevis, and, a little later, Maimonides own emigration
from Cordoba must lave stemmed in part from tlis unrest. At tle same
time, tley took dierent tlings out of tle Islamic culture war. If Ibn Ezra
can be seen to some extent as part of tle old guard, a man committed to
tle intellectual ideals of tle old Cordoba, tlen tle older )udal Halevis de-
valuing of reason to faitl and commitment to an essential )ewisl separate-
ness were more congenial to Almoravid values. Maimonides, tlougl, lad
yet a tlird answer.

We do not know mucl about Maimonides early years. His fatler, Maimon,
was a prominent )ewisl judge. Maimonides no doubt received wlat we
miglt call botl a religious and secular education, altlougl it is unclear
wlere or low le received it. Mucl of tlis education, lowever, was impart-
ed on tle run. In (8, wlen Maimonides was about tlirteen, tle Almolads
took Cordoba. Maimonides family, like many otler )ews, ed at tle Al-
molad insistence tlat non-Muslims convert to Islam. Maimonides and lis
family wandered for tle next decade tlrougl soutlern Spain and nortlern
Africa, nally settling in , in Fez, tle seat of Almolad power.
And it was in Fez tlat Maimonides became a Muslim.
Wlile we lave no direct evidence of Maimonides conversion to Islam,
circumstantial evidence suggests it. Te Almolads insisted tlat all wlo
lived under tleir sovereignty make a public profession of tle shahada,
Tere is no Cod but Cod [Allal] and Mulammad is Cods messenger.
Tis is tle conversion formula for Islamic jurists, one wlo recited it in front
ivor rosis 1o rosis z1,
of witnesses became a Muslim. Te Almolads were apparently aware and
tolerant of )ews wlo would make tlis public declaration but continue )ew-
isl practices privately. Maimonides and lis family were in Fez until 6
and it is lard to imagine tlat tley could lave avoided converting, wlile at
tle same time slarply segregating tleir public from private, )ewisl, lives.
Tere is, tlen, perlaps as mucl defensiveness as tlere is sympatly in lis
defense of tlose Moroccan )ews wlo recited tle slalada ratler tlan face
deatl. Around 6 a rabbinic contemporary of Maimonides, in answer to
an inquiry from a )ewisl forced convert, ruled tlat it is better for a )ew to
face deatl tlan to recite tle slalada: Wloever utters tlat confession is
a gentile, tlougl le fullls tle entire Law publicly and privately.
tlis rabbinic ruling weak, senseless, foul of content and form, larm-
ful, tedious, confused, and long-winded foolisl babbling and nonsense,
Maimonides rules tlat tle Almolad persecution is dierent tlan tle ones
tlat preceded it: Tere las never yet been a persecution as remarkable as
tlis one, wlere tle only coercion is to say sometling.
Sucl a require-
ment, Maimonides insists, does not demand martyrdom, le slould con-
fess and not cloose deatl. At tle same time, le must remain a )ew in pri-
vate, setting it as lis objective to observe as mucl of tle Law as le can.

Nor is it riglt to look down upon tlese converts, tley, like all sinners, must
be welcome in tle synagogue. Te best course of action of all, tlougl, is to
emigrate. Wletler it was lis response to tle rabbi or tle six stressful years
of living as a )ew in private and Muslim in public tlat nally steeled lis and
lis familys resolve, in 6 tley left Fez for tle land of Israel. Not nding a
good place to settle, tley made tleir way soutl and settled in Cairo.
Wlile still in Fez Maimonides began one of wlat would become lis tlree
primary literary legacies, an Arabic commentary to tle Mislnal. He ap-
pears to lave completed it around 68, slortly after le arrived in Cairo.
By tlen le lad already autlored a few brief treatises on logic, tle calcula-
tion of tle )ewisl calendar, and some slort legal compilations of tle type
tlat were claracteristic of tle Spanisl lalaklic sclools. Te Commentary
to the Mishnah, lowever, was of an entirely dierent scope. Tis sprawl-
ing work already demonstrates tle interests and tlemes tlat le would de-
velop in lis two more inuential works, tle Mishneh Torah and Te Guide
of the Perplexed.
In one sense Maimonides Commentary to the Mishnah ts well into tle
commentaries produced by otler Andalusian rabbis. Like tle commen-
tary of Ibn Ezra, Maimonides commentary marslals and applies tle plil-
ological and logical tools of tle luman sciences to tle text. Maimonides
zzo ivor rosis 1o rosis
carefully explicates tle language and meaning of tle Mislnal in its own
context. Tat is, wlile le is clearly aware of tle Talmudic and later rabbinic
commentaries of tle Mislnal, lis primary goal is to explain tle Mislnal
on its own terms. So le oers a kind of peslat of tle Mislnal, sometimes,
as did Ibn Ezras approacl to tle Toral, even going against traditional
Te metlod was tlus traditional, but tle cloice of tle base text was radi-
cal. From close to its earliest years, tle Mislnal was transmitted and stud-
ied almost exclusively in its Talmudic context. Te very act of extracting
tle Mislnal from tlis context and treating it as wortly of commentary
in its own riglt was subversive, it undermined tle Babylonian Talmuds
monopoly on its interpretation. At tle same time, by applying exegetical
teclniques tlat were more commonly used in biblical interpretation to tle
Mislnal, le raised tle Mislnals status. Te Oral Law deserved treatment
equal to tle Written Law.
One of tle purposes of sucl an approacl was to elevate and secure tle
notion of tradition. Maimonides begins lis commentary witl a long intro-
duction, wlicl itself starts by tracing tle clain of tradition of tle Oral Law.
Maimonides and )udal Halevi slared tle Muslim concerns of possessing
an autlentic tradition. Maimonides understands tle Mislnal as func-
tionally equivalent to tle laditl, tle Islamic traditions of tle proplet. Like
tle laditl, tle Mislnal was an independent source of autlority witl an au-
tlentic clain of transmission. Aslkenazic )ews living in a Clristian world
tlat did not lave tlis kind of concern would not write independent com-
mentaries on tle Mislnal until tle sixteentl century, and tlen it would be
because of currents in tle Renaissance.
It is in tle most inuential and well-known passage in tle Commentary,
tlougl, tlat Maimonides slows tle clearest anities witl contemporary
Islamic tlouglt. Departing from lis typically pitly comments, le writes
a long essay on tle meaning of Mislnal Sanledrin o:: All Israel las a
portion in tle world-to-come. . . . But tlese lave no slare in tle world-
to-come: One wlo says, [tle doctrine of ] resurrection of tle dead is not
from tle Toral, tle Toral is not from leaven, and tle apikoros. Mai-
monides begins lis comments witl a general discussion of tle world-to-
come. Wlat everybody always wants to know, botl tle masses and tle
learned, Maimonides complains, is low tle dead will rise.
Ten le goes
on to suggest tlat tle doctrine of tle world-to-come is deplorable but un-
avoidable. Deplorable because it caters to our basest instincts, assuring us,
like clildren, tlat if we do good we will be rewarded. Unavoidable because
ivor rosis 1o rosis zz1
most lumans are unlike tle patriarcl Abralam, wlo served Cod out of
love ratler tlan fear. Yet if tle sages knew tlis, wly did tley develop sucl a
seemingly irrational concept sucl as resurrection of tle dead: It is to teacl
sometling tlrougl a paradox: Wlen you encounter a word of tle sages
wlicl seems to conict witl reason, you will pause, consider it, and realize
tlat tlis utterance must be a riddle or parable.
Te sages, Maimonides
claims, really mean to teacl tlat tle ultimate good is a state in wlicl tle
souls enjoy blissful deliglt in tleir attainment of knowledge of tle truly es-
sential nature of Cod tle Creator.
One wlo serves Cod out of love slould
not do so witl an eye toward resurrection.
Maimonides does not deny tlat tlere will be a world-to-come, but le
does tone down its importance. Te primary dierence between tle world-
to-come and our own day is tle ingatlering of tle )ews to tle land of Israel
and tle diminution of oppression and toil. Te riglteous will be brouglt
back to life to live in eternal fellowslip.
Tis last assertion of Maimonides is no mistake. Maimonides deliberately
transforms tle Mislnals inclusive statement about all Israel to one tlat
includes only tle riglteous. Tis led lim to formulate tle tlirteen princi-
ples of our religion. Tese principlesa nice, relatively neat codication of
tle essential beliefs of )udaismlave been as controversial as tley lave
been stunningly inuential. A simplied, metrical version of tlese princi-
ples, tle Yigdal lymn, was composed around (o( and remains today in tle
standard liturgy of many Ortlodox (and Conservative) prayer books.
It is at tle end of lis explanation of tlese tlirteen principles tlat le re-
turns to tle issue tlat le raised previously witl lis assertion tlat only tle
riglteous lave a slare in tle world-to-come:
Wlen a man believes in all tlese fundamental principles, and lis faitl is
tlus claried, le is tlen part of tlat Israel wlom we are to love, pity, and
treat, as Cod commanded, witl love and fellowslip. Even if a )ew slould
commit every possible sin, out of lust or mastery by lis lower nature, le
will be punisled for lis sins but will still lave a slare in tle world to come.
He is one of tle sinners in Israel. But if a man gives up any one of tlese
fundamental principles, le las removed limself from tle )ewisl commu-
nity. He is an atleist, a leretic, an unbeliever.
Te sclolar Menalem Kellner las argued tlat Maimonides lere is mak-
ing tle radical claim tlat )udaismtle religion of Israelis dened not by
etlnicity or proper observance of tle mitzvot but by a litmus test of belief.
zzz ivor rosis 1o rosis
Maimonides consistently asserts tlis, as wlen, for example, le mandates
doctrinal indoctrination as part of tle conversion process, a requirement
unattested in previous lalaklic literature. Maimonides never goes so far as
to claim tlat a believing non-)ew was, witlout formal conversion, an actual
)ew, but le seems to make etlnicity and formal conversion secondary to
correct belief.
Maimonides commitment to belief and cognition learkens back to tle
parable from tle Guide of the Perplexed witl wlicl tlis clapter began. Cod,
for Maimonides, was beyond luman comprelension. He devotes mucl
of tle Guide to defending tlis understanding of Cod, explaining biblical
and rabbinic passages tlat appear to describe Cod. Primarily reading ear-
lier antlropomorplisms as riddles, parables, and metaplors, Maimonides
attempts to preserve lis understanding of Cod as perfect, transcendent,
and ultimately unknowable. Yet despite tle clasm tlat separates lumans
from Cod, men (le explicitly denies tlis possibility to women because
of lis belief in tle intrinsic ligltness of tleir intellectual capabilities) can
aclieve perfection tlrougl knowledge. Perfection tlrougl cognition leads
to perfect belavior, but observance of tle mitzvot witlout proper cogni-
tion can never lead to perfection. Te )ew wlo is fully observant of tle
mitzvot but wlo maintains incorrect beliefs stands inside tle city but
witl lis back to Cod, tle )ew wlo denies tle essential principles can lardly
be called a )ew.
If tlis reading of Maimonides is correct (and it is a contested one among
sclolars of Maimonides), low did Maimonides develop tlis notion of
)udaism as a doctrinal religion: Quite possibly from tle Almolads. Te
Almolads, as noted above, insisted on a doctrinal declaration as dening
Muslim identity. Tey were Ortlodox Muslims wlo dened religious
identity primarily in terms of creed and belief. It is not a little ironic tlat
tle same society tlat most likely forced Maimonides limself to declare be-
lief tlat tle proplet Mulammad was tle messenger of Cod also decisively
contributed to lis understanding of autlentic )udaism. Maimonides )u-
daism is structurally similar to tle Almolad Islam, botl emplasize belief in
tle unknowable Cod and His autlentic revelation.
Maimonides response to lis religious environment in Fez was by no
means tle only possible one. As we lave seen, and Maimonides writings
make abundantly clear, many of lis contemporaries emplasized ortlo-
praxy over ortlodoxy, observance of tle mitzvot mattered more tlan cor-
rect belief. Medieval )ews wlo lived among Clristians wlo also empla-
sized tle dening and essential qualities of faitl and belief never went as
ivor rosis 1o rosis zz
far as Maimonides in elevating faitl to tle center of wlat tley tlouglt it
meant to be )ewisl.
Maimonides codication of tle principles of faitl in tlis early work
liglliglts two tlemes tlat would run tlrougl mucl of lis later writings.
Te rst is lis penclant to codify. Maimonides liked systems and went to
great lengtls to put tle messy textual legacies tlat le received into system-
atic form. Tis is not tle case for only lis )ewisl writings, even lis medical
writings are far more compelling as systematic orderings of existing knowl-
edge tlan tley are as original contributions to medical science. He takes
great pains in tle Guide to dierentiate plilosoplical ideas, frequently in-
troducing lis own ideas witl a systematic survey of tle current state of tle
eld among contemporary tlinkers, Islamic and )ewisl. But lis greatest
eort at codication is directly connected to tle second tleme tlat emerg-
es from lis discussion of faitl, tle place of tle mitzvot.
In ;8 Maimonides completed lis codication of )ewisl law, tle Mish-
neh Torah. He apparently worked on tle code from 68 to ;8 in Cairo
in lis spare time, le lad also learned medicine and lad joined tle sultans
court as a plysician. Like lis Commentary to the Mishnah, Maimonides
Mishneh Torah is at once traditional and radical. Te Mishneh Torah, as
we lave seen, is not tle rst lalaklic code. Botl tle geonim and tle Span-
isl rabbis lad produced codications. In content Maimonides relied on
tlese codes. Unlike tlem, lowever, tle Mishneh Torah is not arranged by
tle scriptural or Talmudic order of tle commandments, but by tleir topic.
Also, unlike tlese earlier codes, tle Mishneh Torah is written not in Arabic
but in a Hebrew tlat clearly evokes tle language of tle Mislnal itself. In
lis cloice of name, organization, and language Maimonides signaled lis
audacious understanding of tle Mishneh Torah as tle new Mislnal.
In tle Mishneh Torah Maimonides is in a clear but complex dialogue witl
tle Mislnal and Talmud. He accepts tle Mislnals insistence on topical
organization but rejects tle Mislnals topics, replacing tlem witl lis own
classication scleme. He insists tlat all aspects of law are wortly of codi-
cation, even tlose laws (e.g., purity) tlat lave little or no contemporary
practical relevance. He seems to reject forcefully tle dialectical nature of
Talmudic legal discussions, but peppers tle Mishneh Torah witl exegeti-
cal and plilosoplical clarications. Altlougl tle Mishneh Torah resem-
bles tle Mislnal far more tlan it does tle Talmud, it also virtually rejects
tle multivocality and preservation of divergent opinions tlat claracterize
tle Mislnal. Maimonides fully and absolutely accepts tle autlority of tle
Talmud, wlose laws le sees as binding upon all Israel, and yet sets out to
zz ivor rosis 1o rosis
write a code so tlat a person wlo rst reads tle Written Law and tlen tlis
compilation, will know from it tle wlole of tle Oral Law, witlout laving
occasion to consult any otler book between tlem.
Every )ew is required
to study Cemara, but le denes Cemara not as tle xed text of tle Talmud
tlat comments upon tle Mislnal but as a process of reection, discern-
ment, and reasoning.
As lis parable in tle Guide suggests, Maimonides lad little patience
for sclolars of tle Talmud wlose sole goal was to elucidate tle mitzvot.
He saw talmud torah (study of Toral, botl Written and Oral) as a kind of
means toward tle ultimate goal of luman perfection. Te Mishneh Torah
is a slortcut, allowing its readers to determine easily and quickly wlat tley
must do to live in Cods presence wlile freeing tleir time for tle study of
Cemara, by wlicl le primarily means plilosoply.
Today, in tle yeshivot and traditional rabbinic seminaries, Maimonides
and lis Guide are as neglected as Rambam and lis Mishneh Torah are re-
vered. In tlese communities le is known not by tle Arabic patronymic but
by lis acronym RambamRabbi Moses ben Maimon. Tis veneration is all
tle more surprising because almost no )ewisl community today considers
Rambams legal rulings to be autloritative. In fact, tle Mishneh Torah was a
little too audacious even for its own time. Rabbi Abralam ben David, Rabad
(a,8), of Posquieres in Provence strongly opposed Maimonides code,
botl in principle and in many of its details. A code witlout its reasoning,
Rabad leld, was counterproductive. Perlaps Rabad won: tle Mishneh Torah
unleasled a ood of precisely tle kind of commentary tlat Maimonides
souglt to suppress. How did le know tlis: Wly did le rule tlis way and
not tlat way: Like tle Mislnal upon wlicl it is based, tle Mishneh Torah
spawned its own talmud, learned rabbinic commentaries tlat souglt tle
reasoning belind tle terse lalaklic rulings.
Rabads victory was lardly complete. Te tension between tle code and
tle commentary, between tle denitive legal ruling and its more open
and less easily standardized reasoning, continues down to tle present day.
Maimonides code was soon supplanted by tle Arbaah Turim (tle four
rows) by Rabbi )acob ben Asler (Toledo, ca. a;oca. (). Te Tur, as it
is commonly known, steps back from tle radical elements of Maimonides
code. Te son of a well-known lalaklic commentator on tle Talmud, Rabbi
Asler ben Yeliel (tle Rosl), Rabbi )acob includes only tlose areas of law
tlat were practically relevant as well as divergent opinions. His organiza-
tion is topical but dierent tlan tlat of tle Mishneh Torah. Like tle Mish-
neh Torah, it spawned its own commentaries.
ivor rosis 1o rosis zz
Among tle most important and learned commentators on botl tlese
codes was Rabbi )osepl Karo. Born in Spain in (88, le eventually settled in
Safed, in tle Land of Israel, wlere le died in ;. Karos commentaries on
botl tle Mishneh Torah and tle Tur are notable for tleir long and intricate
discussions of tle legal issues tlat underlie tle terse lalaklic prescriptions.
More tlan any otler commentator, Karo appears to conform to Rabads
critique of tle code. But appearances can be deceiving. Karo distilled tlese
commentators not just into anotler code, but into wlat would become the
autloritative lalaklic code, tle Shulhan Arukh (tle set table). Predict-
ably, tle Shulkan Arukh attracted its own commentaries and supercom-
mentaries. Today many (but not all) traditional Aslkenazic )ews turn to tle
Shulkan Arukh, witl tle additions of Rabbi Moses Isserles (o;a)a
Polisl rabbi wlo incorporated Aslkenazic practicesand a commentary
called tle Mishnah Berurah, autlored by Rabbi Israel Meir Kagen (also
called tle Hafetz Hayyim, 88,), wlo lived in Poland. Te standard
edition of tle Mishnah Berurah contains several supercommentaries on
Rabbi Kagens commentary. Altlougl tle code and its commentaries lave
come far from Maimonides pioneering eort, tle Mishneh Torah remains
an important cornerstone of tle rabbinic curriculum.
Maimonides plilosoplical legacy is at least equally complex. His plilo-
soplical interests are, of course, evident in lis earlier writings, but le does
not turn lis full attention to plilosoply until lis work on tle Guide of the
Perplexed. Written in Arabic between 8 and ,o, tle Guide is, rst and
foremost, intended for tle reader wlose study of reason las tlrown lis
belief in tle foundations of tle law into question. Hence le would remain
in a state of perplexity and confusion as to wletler le slould follow lis
intellect, renounce wlat le knew concerning tle terms in question, and
consequently consider tlat le las renounced tle foundations of tle Law.

In more modern terms, it is meant to guide one tlrougl a crisis of faitl by
slowing low reason and revelation are not in conict. Secondarily, Mai-
monides aims to clarify tle very obscure parables in Scripture so as to
reveal tleir internal meaning. Here Maimonides pursues tle plan of iden-
tifying parables by tleir apparent contradiction witl reason and tlen ex-
plaining tleir deeper meaning.
Te Guide is not for everyone. It is a complex, at times esoteric, and con-
tradictory treatise written for a reader witl an excellent background in clas-
sical rabbinic texts, Creek and Islamic plilosoply, and tle natural sciences
(as tley were tlen understood). Maimonides las little patience for tle less
learned reader of tlis tract. Te Guide frequently launcles into extended
zz6 ivor rosis 1o rosis
reviews of plilosoplical issues in wlicl le systematically lays out tle dif-
ferent positions from Aristotle to tle Mutakallimun, a group of contempo-
rary Islamic plilosoplers witl wlom le frequently disagreed. Te patl to
Cod, tle Guide suggests, runs tlrougl Aristotle and al-Farabi.
Even more literally, tle Guide is not for everyone. Under all tle daunt-
ing erudition of tle Guide lies a fundamentally limited and listorically
contingent understanding of )udaism. Maimonides lere creates a )udaism
congenial to tle learned )ew of lis time, one wlo is knowledgeable of and
fully committed to tle mitzvot but wlose intellectual outlook is slaped by
tle secular disciplines of plilosoply and science. Tis is tle )ew wlo gets
uneasy at tle tlouglt tlat lis religion miglt be focused more on belavior
tlan on tle pure belief valued by tle best Islamic plilosoplers around
lim. No doubt tlis is tle same )ew wlo does not know low to understand
tle Scriptural parables, tlose passages tlat seem rationally absurd. Te
Guide is for tlose )ews, like Maimonides, wlo wanted to live in tle wider
world and wlo needed an intellectual model tlrougl wlicl tley could un-
derstand wlat it meant to be )ewisl.
Maimonides readily admits tlat most )ews do not tlink as le does. Most
)ews stop witl tle external meanings of tlings, tley are, as le says in lis
parable, tle ignoramuses wlo observe tle commandments. Maimonides
was an elitist, and le scorned tlose )ews wlo did not slare lis ideas. In lis
Epistle to Yemen, written in ;a, Maimonides castigates tlose )ews wlo be-
lieved tlat tle messial lad arrived. In tle course of lis argument, lowever,
it becomes clear tlat tle Islamic world was teeming witl )ews claiming
to be messials and tleir followers. Slortly before Maimonides was born,
some respectable people in Cordoba itself rallied belind a messial, wlo
was later publicly ogged by tle inuential and learned men of our com-
munity. Most )ews did not read Aristotle and would lave lad little sympa-
tly witl Maimonides )udaism.
Nor is tlis a simple split between tle elite and tle masses. All later )ew-
isl tlinkers were inuenced by Maimonides, but not all agreed witl lim.

In a Rabbi Solomon of Montpellier lad Maimonides books burned as
leretical. Levi ben Cerslom (a88((), also called Cersonides or Ral-
bag, launcled a more reasoned attack on Maimonides. Te autlor of Te
Wars of the Lord, Cersonides faulted Maimonides not for taking Aristotle
too far but for taking lim not far enougl.
Cersonides was particularly
troubled by Maimonides insistence on Cods omniscience and tle plilo-
soplical problems tlat tlat insistence raises for free will: For Cod to be
just, lumans must lave free will, but, if Cod knows everytling tlat will
lappen, low can lumans truly lave free will: Maimonides, Cersonides
ivor rosis 1o rosis zz;
claims, never suciently answers tlis problem. His own answer is tlat Cod
is not omniscient. Cod, le asserts, knows tlings in general, but not in par-
ticular. Before tley lappen, particular actions, like tle moral cloices tlat
lumans make and for wlicl tley are rewarded or punisled, are unknown
even to Cod. Hardly a religious radical, Ralbag also wrote a learned com-
mentary on tle Toral.
A sligltly later )ewisl plilosopler attacked Maimonides from tle otler
side. If Cersonides tlouglt tlat tlere were points at wlicl Maimonides
incled from reason, Hasdai ben Abralam Crescas ((o(o) tlouglt
tlat le overvalued it. Crescass odd plilosoplicalor, perlaps better, an-
tiplilosoplicalwork, Light of the Lord, souglt to slow low reason, espe-
cially in tle form of Aristotelian plilosoply, fails. Te trutl of revelation is
tlus to be leld even against tle evidence of reason.
Te true importance of tle Guide was its ability to open up an alterna-
tive )ewisl conversation. )ust as Alfasi brouglt codication to tle rab-
binic practice of lawmaking, and Rasli and Ibn Ezra launcled a new way of
interpreting tle Bible, so too did Maimonides jumpstart )ewisl plilosoply
as a tleological discourse. Te Guide may lave originated as a treatise in-
tended for a tiny sliver of tle )ewisl population in tle Islamic world, but its
eventual inuence was profound. It put tle issue of reason versus revela-
tion squarely on tle table and demonstrated tlat )ews can use plilosoply,
)ewislly, to answer it. As witl lis Commentary on the Mishnah, wlicl ap-
plied contemporary interpretive teclniques to rabbinic literature, and lis
Mishneh Torah, wlicl demonstrated tle possibilities of tle code, so too tle
Guide served as a fulcrum, syntlesizing and systematizing previous eorts
in a way tlat would generate an explosion of future reection. Maimonides
did not invent rabbinic commentary, lalaklic codication, or )ewisl pli-
losoply, but it is possible tlat witlout lis contributions in tlese elds none
would lave blossomed.

Maimonides died in ao(, in Egypt, and according to legend was buried

in Tiberias, in Israel. An austere rationalist, le would lave been lorried
at tle idea tlat )ews today visit lis grave in tle lope tlat tleir prayers
will be answered. Rambams understanding of )udaism diers consider-
ably from tlose wlo today seek lis supernal intercession or perlaps just
a brusl witl lis vestigial loliness. Yet tle very irony of modern-day )ews
praying at Rambams grave liglliglts botl lis lasting inuence and lis
complex legacy.
zz8 ivor rosis 1o rosis
Maimonides lived on a cusp between tle vibrant intellectual life tlat
claracterized old Cordoba and tle more cautious retrenclment of tle Al-
moravids and Almolads. He drew from tle former, but lis )udaism was
ultimately of tle latter, rigorous and dogmatic. His genius was lis ability to
bridge between tle old and tle new, to syntlesize and codify in a way tlat
linked past to future. Few )ews regard tle Mishneh Torah as autloritative
and even fewer read, no less subscribe, to tle ideas in tle Guide of the Per-
plexed, but botl works lave generated literature and ideas tlat lave funda-
mentally slaped modern )ewisl understandings.
Maimonides opened not only new ways of conversing witl tradition-
al texts but also a new patl to Cod. Altlougl for Maimonides Cod is es-
sentially beyond luman understanding, lumans can approacl knowledge
of Cod tlrougl reasoned study. It is precisely tlis knowledge tlat brings
one closer to Codfor Maimonides tle line between tle wise man and
tle proplet is a tlin one indeed. At tle same time, Maimonides rejects tle
possibility tlat tlere are otler patls to Cod. Te unlettered, lowever pious,
riglteous, and observant, can never make it into tle Kings anteclamber.
Reason becomes a necessary element of faitl.
Neitler )udal Halevi nor Hasdai Crescas were comfortable witl tlis
idea. Neitler Halevi nor Crescas fully reject plilosoply, nor do tley see it
as relevant to tle true service of Cod. For tlem tle true patl to Cod runs
tlrougl faitl and tle embodied observance of tle mitzvot.
Maimonides put tle issue of faitl versus reason on tle table witl sucl
compelling force tlat it continues to reverberate. Especially since tle En-
ligltenment, tle question las been at tle leart of tle )ewislas well as
Clristiantleological endeavor. Wlat role slould reason play in tle inter-
pretation of traditional texts, and wlat slould one do wlen reason appears
to contradict tradition: Te issue deeply informs tlis book as it does tle
academic study of religion generally, wlicl privileges reason. Wlat role do
faitl claims play in secular discussions of religion: Tese questions are
just as vibrant now as tley were in Maimonides own day.
Wlereas for Maimonides tle goal of autlentic piety was to know Cod,
for tle pilgrims at lis grave it is to experience Cod. Like tle diclotomy
between faitl and reason, tle one between knowledge and experience is
lardly a clean one and does not line up easily witl divisions of ortlodox
and popular religion. Cod can be experienced tlrougl simple, emotion-
al acts of faitl or tlrougl tremendously soplisticated intellectual means.
Mysticism is a response to tle desire to experience Cod, and few )ewisl
books can rival tle complexity and soplistication of tle central and most
important book of )ewisl mysticism, tle Zolar.
vvi iosivn vi Eplraim Karo ((88;) was accustomed to
visitations. Over tle course of lis writing tle enormous (and enor-
mously learned) commentary on tle Arbaah Turim, tle code of
)ewisl law written by Rabbi )acob ben Asler in tle early fourteentl cen-
tury, and tlen a digest of tlis commentary in tle form of lis own law code,
tle Shulhan Arukh, Karo received guidance from a leavenly mentor, wlicl
Karo identied witl tle soul of tle Mislnal and frequently just called
Mislnal. He carefully recorded tlese visitations in a book tlat would re-
ceive tle title Maggid Mesharim (Teller of tle Upriglt Matters). In one en-
try le records a not atypical encounter witl Mislnal, wlo told lim:
Busy yourself constantly in tle study of Toral, for wlen you casuistically
examined tle opinions of tle Rambam [Rabbi Moses ben Maimon] yes-
terday, tle two views you expressed are correct and tle Rambam is pleased
tlat you lave succeeded in uncovering lis full meaning and is pleased tlat
you always quote lis opinions and discuss lis views casuistically. Your
words are riglt except in tle few instances I slall slow you. Wlen you
die, tle Rambam will come out to meet you because you lave defended
lis decisions and, even now, le pleads on your belalf. And le is among
tle saints, not as tlose sages wlo say tlat le las been reincarnated, etc.
For let it be tlat so it was decreed because of certain leretical views le
expressed but tle Toral le lad studied protected lim as well as lis good
deeds, so le was not reincarnated, etc., but le was reincarnated and tlen
le died and le is now among tle saints.
srrio ooo
zo siiio ooi
Karos leavenly mentor brings lim not sublime visions of tle Ultimate but
conrmations and corrections of small points of law and legal reasoning.
Mislnal calms Karos doubts not only about lis specic interpretations of
Maimonides Mishneh Torah but also more generally about lis engagement
witl Maimonides. Sclolars lave suggested tlat etc. is a euplemism for
as a worm, and tlat tlis passage testies to tle continued ambivalence
witl wlicl Maimonides was leld. If Maimonides really was punisled for
lis leretical views by being reincarnated as a worm, tlen Karos engage-
ment witl lis legal opinions would be misguided. Dont worry, Mislnal as-
sures lim, for laving rst been reincarnated as a worm, and tlus punisled
for lis leretical views, Maimonides died again to live among tle eternal
loly ones.
Mislnal does not carry tle lofty messages and insiglts tlat one miglt
expect from a divine emissary. Mislnal, in fact, frequently comes across
as a lypostasis of Karos anxieties. Mislnal assures Karo tlat lis son will
become a great rabbi, during wlose lifetime no greater kabbalist will be
Mislnal exlorts Karo to avoid tle evil inclination and provides
lim witl a collection of maxims to live by. Wlen Karo oversleeps, Mislnal
wakes lim up:
Te Lord is witl you wlerever you go and tle Lord will prosper wlatever
you lave done and will do, but you must cleave to Me and to My Toral
and to My Mislnal at all times, not as you lave done tlis niglt. For, al-
tlougl you did sanctify yourself in your food and drink, yet you slept like
a sluggard, for tle door revolves upon its linges but tle sluggard is on lis
bed, and you did not follow your good labit of rising to study tle Misl-
nal. For tlis you deserve tlat I slould leave and forsake you since you
gave strengtl to Samael, tle serpent and tle evil inclination by sleeping
until daybreak.
Even wlen Mislnal reveals kabbalistic secrets to Karo, tley frequently
lead to practical, usually banal, moral or etlical suggestions. Not tlat Karo
was a mere dilettante in Kabbalal, le was a member of a circle of kabbal-
istic sclolars active in sixteentl-century Safed (a city in tle nortlern Cali-
lee), many of wlomincluding Isaac Luriawould write inuential and
revered mystical tracts.
Karos reliance on a leavenly messenger for clarications of lis legal
reasoning lad precedents. )acob of Marvege (twelftl to tlirteentl centu-
ries) lad gone so far as to submit legal questions to leaven and tlen collect
siiio ooi z1
tle answers under tle title Responsa from Heaven. )acobs questions are
relatively teclnical. I asked: Wlen women recite tle benediction over tle
lulav or wlen someone recites tle benediction over blowing tle slofar
on belalf of women is it or is it not wrong and is tle benediction in sucl
cases a vain benediction:
At stake lere is wletler a woman las a posi-
tive obligation to wave tle four species on Sukkot or to lear tle slofar on
Rosl Haslanal. Classical rabbinic sources assert tlat women do lave tlis
obligation, altlougl tley elsewlere exempt women from time-dependent,
positive commandmentsa class into wlicl tlese two commandments
fall. If women do not lave tlese obligations, tlen tle recitation of a blessing
for tlese acts wlicl contains tle words who commanded uswould be
false, or vain, and tlus prolibited. Te divine answer, wlicl quotes Scrip-
ture and casuistically reasons from Talmudic discussions, ultimately allows
women to recite tlese blessings.
)acobs and Karos use of divine messengers in tleir legal reasoning ul-
timately dier signicantly. )acob submits questions, Karo appears to be a
passive recipient of revelation. And wlereas by publicizing tleir origin in
tle divine realm )acob asserts divine autlority to lis answers, Karos diary
of lis revelations appears to lave been a private document, one would
scarcely suspect lis communication witl an angel from lis legal com-
mentary or code. Yet, at tle same time, )acob and Karo struggled witl tle
same problem: wletler )ewisl law was realist or nominalist. Tat is, are
tle mitzvot static divine commands tlat exist independently of tle jurist
or rabbi, witl tle job of tle latter to uncover tlem (tle realist position), or
does law gain its autlority by virtue of it being declared autloritative by tle
proper autlorities (tle nominalist position): Responsa from Heaven was an
articulation of tle realist position so extreme tlat many medieval rabbis
rejected )acobs approacl. In any case, botl autlors are indicative of tle
way in wlicl )ews from tle Middle Ages blurred concepts tlat to modern
readers seem obviously distinct.
Law versus spirit, legal versus spiritual, legalistic versus mystical. To
many of us, tlese terms are obvious and clear opposites. Te understand-
ing, lowever, tlat law and spirit are antitletical las a specic genealogy
tlat goes back to tle apostle Pauls attempt to contrast tle Law (tlat is, tle
Toral) witl tle Spirit of Cod as revealed tlrougl )esus Clrist. Tere is
notling natural or obvious to tle diclotomy, it is a culturally constructed
one. Te odd mix of spirit witl law found in tle writings of )acob of Mar-
vege and Rabbi )osepl Karo was lardly odd to tlem. For tlem, spirit and
law were not even quite distinct entities, no less antitletical ones.
zz siiio ooi
Te simple fact tlat tlere is no word in ancient or medieval Hebrew or
Aramaic for wlat we call mysticism deserves reection. Kabbalists, tle me-
dieval purveyors and practitioners of wlat we today refer to as )ewisl mys-
ticism, did not lave a word for mysticism. Like tle diclotomy between law
and spirit, tle very category mysticism (wlicl is aligned witl spirit ratler
tlan law) las strong Clristian roots.
Tis is not to say tlat tle term mysticism is not useful wlen discuss-
ing some )ewisl concepts, practices, or texts, only tlat it is important to
be clear about botl tle limitations and use of tle term. In wlat way, for
example, were Karos revelations mystical: Wlen modern sclolars use tle
term, tley frequently attempt to signify a religious understanding in wlicl
. tle individual a. aspires to unite witl . tle all-encompassing One. Al-
tlougl botl )acob of Marvege and )osepl Karo communicated witl divine
beings, neitler would be considered mystics by tlis denition. Karo com-
municated as an individual (altlougl tlrougl tle medium of communally
produced texts), but lis aspirations to unite were limited to cleaving to
Mislnal, and wletler le understood tle universe to be a single, all-en-
compassing reality (as did some otler kabbalists) is unclear. Despite lis
kabbalistic training, Karos actual mystical experiences owe more to a clas-
sical form of wlat we miglt call )ewisl mysticism, tle desire to experience
tle fullness of Cods presence.

Te tlirteentl-century kabbalists inlerited an incolerent and messy set of

)ewisl mystical traditions. As we lave seen, earlier )ewisl textsincluding
tlose tlat entered tle )ewisl canon (like tle Hebrew Bible, tle Mislnal,
and tle Babylonian Talmud) and tlose tlat did not (e.g., Enocl) or lad a
more marginal status (e.g., tle Heklalot texts)contained scattered, some-
times ambivalent, reections of tle luman desire to experience Cod direct-
ly tlrougl lis or ler senses. Tese accounts took various forms. Some of
tlese older texts tell of a tour of leaven (and sometimes lell). Otlers lint at
practices of mystical ascent aclieved tlrougl meditation on an older text.
One collection of mystical recipes (Sefer HaRazim) focuses on tleurgy, tle
use of certain practices and verbal formulas to larness tle divine power
to do ones will. Outside of some amulets and bowls inscribed in Aramaic
witl magical formulae, we know little about tle actual practice of mysti-
cal teclniques among )ews in antiquity.
siiio ooi z
If tle )ewisl sclolars of Clristian Spain wlo developed tle Kabbalal
knew of tlese literary precedents, tley did a good job liding it. Asserting
tlemselves as leirs of Tradition (tle literal translation of Kabbalal), tley
nevertleless put fortl mystical ideas and texts tlat despite some tenuous
ties to tlis earlier )ewisl mysticism were radically discontinuous witl it.
Ratler tlan developing organically out of a long tradition of )ewisl mysti-
cism (tle model advanced by tle great sclolar of )ewisl mysticism, Cer-
slom Sclolem), tle Kabbalal is best seen as a product of its own times, tle
result of reading and translating earlier traditions tlrougl tle double lens
of contemporary culture and a fertile and original imagination.
One of tle earliest and most inuential products of tlis new )ewisl mys-
tical movement was Sefer haBahir, tle Book of Illumination. Tis book ap-
pears to lave emerged at tle end of tle twelftl or beginning of tle tlir-
teentl century in Provence, altlougl it is pseudepigraplically ascribed to
Rabbi Nelunia ben Ha-Kanal, wlo appears in rabbinic mystical traditions.
Te Bahir is lardly illuminatingits poor organization and cryptic com-
mentaries on a few scriptural passages from tle beginning of Cenesis are
often dicult to decipler. Te Bahir, tlougl, is tle rst kabbalistic work
to refer to an understanding of tle serot, a concept tlat would become
central to later kabbalistic texts. Te Bahirs understanding Cod as tle sum
total of a number of semiautonomous divine emanations radically departs
from previous )ewisl understandings of botl Cod and tle world.
According to tle Bahir, tle world, like Cod, is eternal. Te creation de-
scribed in tle Tanak was more an act of revelation tlan of actual creation, a
making visible of tlat wlicl lad always existed. Te moment of creation,
tlougl, revealed more tlan tle material world. It also was tle moment of
tle divine emanation, in wlicl tle ten serot formed out of tle lidden
liglt of tle divine. Keter (crown) emanated rst, and from it were formed
tle sibling serot of hokhmah (wisdom) and binah (discernment). Ten, in
a complicated interplay of divine power from tlese tlree serot, tle seven
lower serot came into existence. Togetler tlese ten constitute tle inner
life of tle divine. Put a bit more simplistically, Cod is tle interaction of
tlese ten serot.
Sclolars lave long seen parallels between tle Bahirs notion of tle serot
and Neoplatonic and Cnostic ideas tlat were popular in some contempo-
rary Clristian circles, most notably tle leretical Catlars. Like tle Catlars,
tle Bahir seems to posit a dualistic universe in wlicl evil emerges from tle
improper ow of divine energy but takes on independence from tle divine.

z siiio ooi

Sclolars are less clear about wlat tlis and otler parallels mean. Was tle
autlor of tle Bahir directly familiar witl and did le borrow from tle ideas
of tle Catlars, or tle reverse: More likely, botl were working in tle same
general universe of ideas, and botl slaped tleir texts to t into tlis slared
conceptual universe. Civen our lack of knowledge about tle provenance of
tle Bahir, tlougl, tlis las to remain speculative.
Wlatever tle Catlars inuence on tle Bahir, tle line from tle ideas
expressed in tle Bahir to tle Zolar is direct. Te Zolar seems to cite tle
Bahir and miglt allude to it witl its name (Splendor, wlicl in Hebrew also
,. Te serot. From Kabbalistic Texts by Lawrence Fine. Reprinted with permis-
sion of Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group from Back to tle Sources: Reading
tle Classic )ewisl Texts, edited by Barry W. Holtz, page .
Copyright by Barry W. Holtz
Image has been suppressed
siiio ooi z
implies liglt). Like tle Bahir, tle Zolar las tle form of a scriptural com-
mentary. Written in an arclaizing Aramaic and ascribed to Rabbi Slimon
bar Yolai (an early rabbinic gure from tle rst century), tle Zolar is mucl
longer and ricler tlan tle Bahir.
Te Zolar was not written in tle rst century but in tle tlirteentl. Sec-
tions of it were cited by kabbalistic autlors around a,o in Castile, and tle
rst references to it as more or less complete appear about tlirty years later.
How seriously anyone took its ancient attribution is unclear, but at least
some contemporary kabbalists were suspicious of it. At tle beginning of
tle fourteentl century one kabbalist, Isaac of Acre, claims tlat tle widow
of a man named Moses de Leon told lim tlat le lad autlored tle Zolar
limself and attributed it to an earlier gure in order to increase it monetary
value. Today most sclolars recognize de Leon as tle primary slaper, if not
necessarily sole autlor, of tle Zolar. Te claim tlat tle Zolar was pseude-
pigraplical (i.e., falsely attributed) set o a lively controversy in kabbalistic
circles, but tle controversy did little to dampen entlusiasm for tle text.
Over tle next tlree centuries scores of kabbalistic manuscripts appeared,
most indebted to tle Zolar. Tese manuscripts probably circulated only
witlin small groups of kabbalists, altlougl kabbalistic ideas were already
creeping into tle public domain. Rabbi Moses ben Nalman (Ramban, or
Nalmanides, ,(ca. a;o) was a member of a more conservative kab-
balistic circle in Catalonia, and around tle time tle Zolar was taking slape
le explicitly incorporated kabbalistic interpretations into lis popular com-
mentary on tle Toral. Te later Toral commentary (ao) of tle Italian
rabbi Menalem Recanati quoted from tle Zolar, lis work was one of tle
rst kabbalistic works to be printed. Te Zolar itself was publisled 8
6o, but by tlat time )ewisl mystics lad long seen it as tle foundational and
canonical text.
At tle leart of tle Zolar is a mytl. Tis mytl, rmly rooted in tle idea
of tle serot found in tle Bahir, las botl a listorical and continuing com-
ponent. Te Zolar is a mytl in an almost literal sense: it is a story about
Cod, telling of His revelation, from tle Innitetle Eyn Softo tle lower
levels of tle serot. Te story is a frankly sexual one, witl matings between
existing serot tlat led to tle birtl of lower ones. Te Zolar tlus puts fortl
a conception of Cod tlat breaks almost completely from tlat of tle Rabbis,
plilosoplers, and earlier )ewisl mystical texts.
Tis conception of Cod is not static. Te Innite did not simply emanate
into ten serot at some past time, to exist from tlen to now in perfect repose.
Te Codlead is eternally dynamic, comprised not just of tle serot but
z6 siiio ooi
also of tle energy tlat ows between tlem. And sometimes, like an elabo-
rate plumbing system witl a clog, tle energy does not ow as it slould.
In all respects, for a tlinker like Maimonides tle Zolar is a tleological
nigltmare. Ratler tlan subscribing to tle idea of an eternal Cod, it posits
One wlo emerged or developed in time. Ratler tlan understanding Cod
as perfect, an unmoved mover, tle Zolar las a vision of a dynamic Cod,
always in tle process of clange. Even worse, sometimes Cod goes awry.
But tlese obvious tleological problems witl tle Zolarall of wlicl were
recognized by later kabbalists, wlo attempted to piece togetler solutions to
tlemreally are only tle tip of tle iceberg.
Te real tleological problem witlin tle Zolar is tlat it lays suspended
between polytleism and pantleism. Again, tle contrast witl Maimonides
slarpens tle problem witl tle serot. For Maimonides, Cods indivisibil-
ity extends to Cods attributes. A single, indivisible Cod is one tlat does
not lave separable attributes. To Maimonides tle idea tlat Cod could be
divided not only by attribute but also by essence would be leretical, for it
tlrows into question Cods oneness. It opens tle Zolar to tle clarge of
polytleism. In response to tlis clarge, tle Zolars defenders vigorously as-
serted tlat Cod was indeed one, ultimately indivisible in tle Eyn Sof. Te
Eyn Sof and tle overowing of divine power constitute a single and unied
wlole tlat engulfs all.
Tis moves tle argument from tle pot into tle re, from polytleism to
pantleism. If tle divine engulfs all, tlat means tle divine is found in na-
turetle created world is but a part of tle wlole. It means tlat evil is part
of Cod, and tlat lumans are not just made in tle divine image but tlat tley
(like animals too) in fact contain part of tle divine witlin tlem. Te Zolar
and its later readers wrestle, witlout resolution, witl botl problems.
On tle issue of evil tle Zolar leans toward tle Bahirs reliance on some
form of Cnosticism. Te Zolar is not systematic about anytling, but in
general seems to regard evil as a set of interlocking slells tlat surround
a side of tle serotic Codlead. Tis is tle otler side, sitra ahara, tlat ex-
ists outside tle divine and rages against it. Variously conceived as tle dross
produced wlen seral gevural (power) emerged, tle result of tension be-
tween gevural and lesed (compassion), or tle exiled negative energy of
tle Eyn Sof, tle sitra alara las frigltful powers. Te world is riven in tlis
cosmic battle between good and evil.
One passage from tle Zolar attempts to describe tle origin of evil:
God said, Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters . . . (Cenesis
:6)Here is tle mystery in detail, separating upper waters from lower
siiio ooi z;
tlrougl mystery of tle left. Here conict was created tlrougl tle left side.
For until lere was mystery of tle riglt, and lere is mystery of tle left, so
conict raged between tlis and tle riglt. Riglt is consummate of all, so all
is written by tle riglt, for upon it depends all consummation. Wlen tle
left aroused, conict aroused, and tlrougl tlat conict blazed tle re of
wratl. Out of tlat conict aroused by tle left, emerged Hell. Hell aroused
on tle left and clung.
Te wisdom of Moses: le contemplated tlis, gazing into tle act of Cre-
ation. In tle act of Creation a conict arose between left and riglt, and in
tlat conict aroused by tle left, Hell emerged, clinging tlere. Te central
pillar, wlo is tle tlird day, entered between tlem, mediating tle conict,
reconciling tle two sides. Hell descended, left merged in riglt, and peace
prevailed over all.
Tis passage uses one code to break anotler. Cenesis :6, tle passage as-
serts, is really about tle emergence of evil from tle Codlead. But to under-
stand tlat, tle reader needs to know botl tle serotic system itself as well
as tle key to it. Te riglt refers to tle riglt side of tle serotic body, tlat
is, tle serot of wisdom, love, and endurance. Te left refers to tle se-
rot understanding, power, and splendor. According to tle rst paragrapl,
lell was tle result of tle left side becoming aroused, and lell continues to
cling to its original source.
Te second paragrapl describes a temporal development in tle Cod-
lead. During creation, power and love were locked in conict. Te central
pillar, tle seral of beauty, tlen mediated between tlem, allowing lell to
separate from tle left side and descend. Te passage continues witl inter-
pretations of otler scriptural conicts (e.g., between Koral and Moses, as
described in Numbers 6) and tleir real meanings, wlicl always refer to
tle relationslips between tle serot. Tis brings tle autlor to contemplate
one practical implication:
Havdalah. Separation, as Sabbatl departs, separates tlose wlo rule tle
weekdays from Sabbatl. As soon as Sabbatl departs, a specter, an evil o-
cer, ascends from Hell, intent on seizing power tle moment Israel recites:
Let the work of our hands prosper (Psalms ,o:;). Emerging from tle rung
known as Sleol, le desires to mingle in tle seed of Israel and dominate
tlem. But Israel takes action witl myrtle and wine, reciting havdalah,
so le departs from tlem. As soon as tley recite tle blessing of separa-
tion over tle cup, tlat specter sinks into lis place in Sleol, site of Koral
and lis gang.
z8 siiio ooi
Tis passage now links tle ritual called lavdalal, wlicl marks tle end of
tle Sabbatl, witl tle cosmic mysteries. Separation learkens back to tle
creation of tle expanse, and tlus evil, and in fact seems to evoke tle spec-
ter from lell. Only tle ritual activities of lavdalal, specically tle smell-
ing of myrtle and blessings over a cup of wine, ward o tle specter for
anotler week.
Tis passage is in many ways representative of tle Zolar. It is tlor-
ouglly esoteric. In tlis passage tle reader needs to know tle meaning of
left, riglt, and central pillar. But elsewlere tle serot go by a ricl vari-
ety of otler names as well. Colors, patriarcls, and parts of tle body, wlen
mentioned in Scripture, all become veiled references to tle serot. Wlen
tle Toral reports, for example, tlat )acob left Beer-sleba and set out for
Haran (Cenesis a8:o), one rabbi comments tlat le left tle splere of tle
land of Israel . . . and went to an alien domain.
Translated, tlis means tlat
beauty ()acob) left tle seral of kingdom (Israel) for tle otler side,
tle place of demonic forces. Wlat in tle Toral is a simple declarative
statement tlat moves tle plot along becomes in tle Zolar a coded
reference to a divine drama tlat las cosmic consequences. Te Zolar, in-
cidentally, does not lere spell out tle ramications of tlis statement tlat
beauty went into exile.
Te assumption tlat tle Toral encodes tle inner life of tle divine gives a
new meaning to tle idea of revelation. Te Toral becomes an act of Cods
self-disclosure, at once a manifestation of tlis disclosure as well as its coded
description. Toral las an inner and outer life. Tose wlo cannot see be-
yond tle Torals garments see only tle stories and legal prescriptions.
However, tle soul of tle Toral is tle access tlat it provides to tle complex
dynamic tlat constitutes Cod. Toral, moreover, las its own continuing
dynamic. For tle kabbalists tlere is a direct line from tle written Toral
to tle oral one, rabbinic tradition is complicit in Cods self-disclosure. Te
Zolar alludes to rabbinic interpretations on nearly every page, suggest-
ing tlat tle Talmud itself can be read as describing tle divine mysteries.
Nor did tle Talmud end tlis process. Any initiate continues tle dynamic
process of revelation tlrougl tle informed study of tle static, canonical
texts. Mystical access to Cod is still possible, but one can obtain it only
tlrougl a set of xed texts.
For tle Zolar and its kabbalists, tlougl, wlat exactly is a mystic: Wlat
is tle importance of learning tle divine mysteries: Unlike earlier mystical
texts, tle Zolar does not attempt to describe visions of tle divine, tle pur-
pose lere does not appear to be ascent to tle leavens. Instead, tle Zolar
siiio ooi z,
points toward knowledge of tle divine mysteries as being important on two
levels, luman and cosmic. Te former we lave already seen in tle passage
about lavdalal. Havdalal keeps tle evil ocers at bay, protecting against
tle otler side. Tis discussion blends, as mentioned earlier, elements
tlat we miglt call mystical and magical. Wlile warding o an evil specter
smacks of magic, as traditionally understood, clearly tle Zolar does not
dierentiate it from any otler part of its mysticism. All involve tapping into
divine power, wlicl can result in personal benet. How intensely luman
beings slould contemplate tle glory of tle blessed Holy One, praising His
glory, Rabbi Eleazar exclaims in tle Zolar, For if one knows low to praise
lis Lord ttingly, tle blessed Holy Ones fullls lis desire. Furtler, le mul-
tiplies blessings above and below.
Fittingly, of course, means according to
tle qualities of tle serot. Proper worslip brings divine blessings to eartl.
Te blessings above, tlougl, refers to tle cosmic consequences of tlis
mystical practice. Sometimes called tleosoplic Kabbalal, tlis form of
mystical practice centers on contemplation of tle divine nature. Te goal
of sucl contemplation is less tle attainment of individual reward tlan it
is tle actual redirection of tle ow of divine energy. Unlocking tle key to
Cods inner life provides to tle mystic tle power to transform it. Israels
adlerence to tle mitzvot, when done with the proper understanding and
intention, lelps to reunite tle lowest seral, Sleclinal, witl tle upper
serot and tlus promote divine wloleness. Teosoplic Kabbalal, tlen, is
not a disinterested intellectual exercise but a tleurgic practice tlat alters
Cods nature.
Te Sleclinals current estrangement from tle upper serot mirrors tle
people Israels estrangement from tle land and Cod. Te Zolars notion
of redemption las two parallel movements, above and below. )ust as tle
Sleclinal will reunite in loving embrace (actually, tle Zolar prefers tle
image of sexual intercourse) witl foundation (tle divine plallus), so too
Israel will reunite witl tle land and Cod. To perform tle mitzvot is to lelp
to reunite tle Sleclinal to its lover, witl tle result of speeding tle time of
redemption. Cod las entrusted Israel witl tle task of making Cod wlole
again, at wlicl nal point time will end.
Despite tle teleological dimension of tle Zolars understanding of a life
of piety as it drives toward redemption and tle end of time, by and large tle
Zolars esclatology is passive ratler tlan active. Humans can lope to bring
about asles of divine unication, but Cod remains dynamic, not frozen in
larmony. Te main body of tle Zolar assumes a continuing annual cycle
and ebb and ow of divine worslip, practice, and Cods internal power. Te
zo siiio ooi
Zolar, in general, neitler points toward a cataclysmic apocalypse nor does
it counsel lumans to become messianic activists. Its tleurgy seeks to lalt
tle furtler degeneration of tle universe ratler tlan transform it positively.
Teosoplic Kabbalal, witl its emplasis on cosmic tleurgy aclieved
tlrougl contemplation, was ultimately tle most inuential form of )ew-
isl mysticism, but it was not tle only one available in tle tlirteentl cen-
tury. Anotler form of )ewisl mysticism, often called propletic or ecstatic,
was best represented by Abralam Abulaa.
Born in Clristian Spain in tle
mid-tlirteentl century, Abulaa traveled across Europe to Palestine and
tlen back again, living in a;o around Catalonia before moving to Sicily
around a8o. He was familiar witl tleosoplic Kabbalal and bitterly cri-
tiqued its idea of tle serot: if Clristianity was mistaken for dividing Cod
into tlree, le argued, all tle more contemptible is tle idea tlat Cod can be
divided into ten! Abulaa, tlat is, found tle conception of tle serot to be
polytleistic. Instead of focusing on contemplation of tle nature of Cod,
Abulaa believed tlat lumans could in fact aclieve a form of mystical
union witl tle divine.
Abulaas understanding of mystical union owed mucl to Maimonides
and otler plilosoplical conceptions of tle divine. Following plilosoplical
ideas current among )ewisl and non-)ewisl tlinkers, Abulaa believed tlat
tlere was a cosmic force called an agent intellect. Tis is tle last and low-
est of ten emanations of tle divine intellect, it is tle force tlat illuminates
tle luman intellect and enables it to reacl perfection. Abulaas mysticism
focused on tle possibility of lumans uniting witl tlis divine agent intellect.
Sucl a person becomes, at tlat moment, not only a proplet but tle mes-
sial limself. Te agent intellect is itself a supernal messial tlat carries tle
power of salvation. To unite witl it is to tap into tlis saving force.
Abulaa saw limself as tle messial. Having experienced union witl tle
agent intellect, Abulaa began to apply to limself tle scriptural and rab-
binic references to tle messial. Believing, for example, tlat tle messial
will be recognized on Rosl Haslanal in Rome, le (unsuccessfully) souglt
an audience witl tle pope at tlat time. Abulaa saw limself engaged not
only in a deeply personal journey but also in a public and redemptive one.
Unlike most kabbalists of lis time, le souglt to spread lis kabbalistic in-
siglts outside small esoteric circles and in so doing to arm lis own role in
tle approacling redemption.
Abulaas legacy is not conned to lis role as a failed messial. He intro-
duced a range of mystical practices to facilitate union witl tle agent intel-
lect. In tle tradition of some of tle Heklalot texts, le was fascinated witl
siiio ooi z1
tle name of Cod and divine beings and attributed power to tle manipula-
tion of tle letters of tle divine name. Te power tlat le saw in language
extended to lis use of gematria, an interpretive teclnique of translating let-
ters into numerical values and tlen back into otler words tlat lave tle
same value. For example, tle rst letter of tle Hebrew alplabet (aleph) las
tle value of , tle second of a, tlrougl tle nintl letter, at wlicl point tle
letters stand for tens and tlen lundreds. So Abulaa equates a plrase tlat
traditionally refers to David, David tle son of Yislai, messial [or anoint-
ed], witl Messial tle son of David, [tle] youtl. Equivalent in numerical
value (botl add up to ;(a according to tlis code), tlis gematria allows Abu-
laa to identify tle messial witl tle agent intellect, wlicl le asserts is tle
youtl. Cematria was but one of several decoding teclniques tlat Abulaa
brouglt to lis study of tle Tanak.
Ecstasy, for Abulaa, also required plysical training. Like tle tleo-
soplic kabbalists, Abulaa demanded a relatively ascetic lifestyle. Only by
controlling tle body and its messy urges could one lope for unication
witl tle divine. For Abulaa tle goal of sucl unication was luman per-
fection, to lave ones potential fully illuminated by Cod in tle form of tle
agent intellect.

As we lave seen, medieval )ewisl mysticism, Kabbalal (in botl its tleo-
soplic and ecstatic forms), builds upon tle biblical and rabbinic textual tra-
ditions. Tese )ewisl mystics saw tle language of divine revelation as tle
patl to Cod. Te Tanak was seen as an act of Cods self-disclosure. Te Zo-
lar sees tle Torals text as a symbolic code wlereas Abulaa works more
on tle level of individual letters, words, and plrases, but botl slare an as-
sumption about tle nature of tle language of divine revelation. Tey, like
rabbinic midrasl, understand tle language of Scripture as perfect. Unlike
midrasl, tley see witlin tle text an actual description of perfection, un-
locking tle mysteries of tle cosmos.
Despite tle gap between tle rabbinic and kabbalistic readings of Scrip-
ture, tle kabbalists depend leavily on tlese earlier rabbinic readings
as well as on tle rest of tle rabbinic tradition. Te kabbalists did not ap-
proacl Scripture in a personal and unmediated faslion. Ratler, tley saw
Scripture tlrougl tle lens of tle Rabbis. Wlen tle Zolar, for example,
discusses tle story of tle serpent in tle Carden of Eden, it assumes tlat
tle serpent copulated witl Evea reading clearly derived from an older
zz siiio ooi
midrasl. Before all else, tle kabbalists were good Talmudists, and tley im-
plicitly and explicitly saw tleir own endeavor as tle autlentic continua-
tion of tle rabbinic tradition. Tey styled tlemselves, after all, as kabbalists,
preservers of tle tradition.
Yet tlere is no straiglt line eitler from tle Rabbis and tleir writings
or from earlier manifestations of )ewisl mysticism to tle kabbalists. Like
tle plilosoply of Maimonides, tle emergence of Kabbalal was in no
way predictable, it did not result from some teleological and organic un-
folding of )udaism. Ratler, tle kabbalists of medieval Spain engaged tleir
past, as transmitted to tlem tlrougl tleir traditional texts and rituals (e.g.,
lavdalal), as a means of renewal and recreation. Kabbalal is yet anotler
unanticipated crystallization of collective )ewisl identity, interpretation,
and practice emerging from tle intersection of tradition and real life.
Medieval )ewisl mysticism tlus did not develop out of some pure and
disconnected contemplation of tradition. Te mystics were tlemselves
listorically embedded witlin a Clristian society. Te precise relationslip
between tle Kabbalal, particularly tle Zolar, and listorical conditions re-
mains murky. Many sclolars argue tlat tle Zolar is a product of its cultural
contexttlirteentl-century Clristian Spain. Te kabbalists are in dialogue
not only witl tleir tradition but also witl current plilosoplical and even
Clristian tleological ideas.
Abulaas critique of tleosoplic Kabbalal (as now seen in tle Zolar,
wlicl probably was not available to lim) is telling in tlis respect. In part it
is a plilosoplical critique. Abulaas mysticism draws on tle plilosoplical
ideas and language tlat were current in learned plilosoplical circles. He
implicitly argues tlat tle tleosoplic kabbalists in fact go out of tleir way to
avoid using tlis well-known plilosoplical cant. Teosoplic Kabbalal, tlis
critique suggests, is slaped by its opposition to plilosoply, it is a response
to Maimonides. Maimonides, tlat is, slaped tle tleosoplic kabbalists neg-
atively. Teir image of a dynamic, imperfect Cod developed only against
Maimonides Aristotelian notion of a perfect Cod at rest.
If on tle one land tleosoplic Kabbalal was a reaction against Mai-
monides, on tle otler it las anities witl some Clristian tleological
Abulaa saw tlese anities immediately in tle notion of tle serot,
wlicl is so central to tleosoplic Kabbalal. For Abulaa, tlese serot come
dangerously close to lypostases of tle divinetlat is, tle idea tlat divine
aspects or claracteristics can be embodied, mucl in tle way tlat Clristians
saw Cod as trinitarian, comprised of tlree bodies slaring a single essence.
Abulaa prefered a more plilosoplical system of emanations. Despite lis
siiio ooi z
attack on tle tleosoplist kabbalists for tleir doctrine of tle serot, Abu-
laa limself would ultimately develop a trinitarian sclema tlat looks re-
markably similar to tle Clristian one. Sclolars lave also recently argued
tlat tle tleosoplist understanding of tle lowest seral, tle Sleclinal, is
remarkably similar to tle Clristian understanding of tle Virgin Mary as a
divine female gure tlat intercedes witl Cod.
Tis is not tle only similarity between tle tleological ideas of tle kab-
balists and tlose of contemporary Clristians. Clristian mysticism was it-
self developing at tlat time, also in part as a reaction against plilosoplical
Like tle kabbalists, tle Clristian mystics insisted on strict as-
cetic regimens. Te development of Kabbalal took place in a mucl broader
cultural environment.

Kabbalal lad a profound inuence tlrouglout tle circum-Mediter-

ranean. Altlougl primarily conned to esoteric circles (perlaps giving
it a certain caclet:), occasionally tlinkers sucl as Abulaa would write
for a wider audience. Study of Kabbalal engaged some of tle best )ewisl
minds of tle ligl Middle Ages (sucl as Maimonides son), and kabbalis-
tic texts were noted and studied even by Clristian Hebraists, upon wlom
tley made a strong impact. Te expulsion of tle )ews from Spain in (,a
only strengtlened tle inuence of tle Zolar and otler kabbalistic texts.
Kabbalalnow made more accessible tlrougl tle dispersion of its many
Spanisl students and sclolarsoered an image of an imperfect world be-
set by tle forces of evil tlat many )ews found compelling in tle face of tle
traumatic expulsion.
For a brief time in tle sixteentl century tle center of kabbalistic study
and creativity came to rest in Safed, in tle nortlern Calilee in (modern-day)
Israel. Tis was tle community of Rabbi )osepl ben Eplraim Karo, witl
wlom tlis clapter opened. Tis circle of kabbalists las been widely stud-
ied. Tey began tle practice of saying a collection of lymns, now known as
Kabbalat Shabbat, during tle Friday evening prayer services. Anclored by
tle lymn Lekha Dodi (Come, my beloved), an original composition by
Solomon Alkabez, tlis prayer service was decidedly tleurgic, it was intend-
ed to lelp reunite tle Sleclinal to tle ligler serot. Lekha Dodi is itself a
kabbalistic lymn, dense witl allusions to Cods inner life.
Te Kabbalat Slabbat service exemplies tle distinctive contribution
of tle mystics of Safed. Dampening tle Zolars passive esclatology, tlese
z siiio ooi
)ewisl mystics emplasized tle luman ability to clange Cod and bring
about redemption. Te emplasis on luman participation in tle redemptive
process was in part tied to tleir leigltened sense of messianic expecta-
tion: Tey were living, so tley tlouglt, in tle Final Drama, as slown by tle
great trauma of tle expulsion from Spain. Exile, in fact, became a promi-
nent tleme for tle Safed kabbalists, an idea tlat tley projected onto tle
Sleclinal living in exile from tle upper serot. Mucl more so tlan in tle
Zolar, tle Safed kabbalists asserted tle luman ability to bring tle Slecli-
naland tlerefore Israelout of exile permanently. A lymn like Lekha
Dodi was clarged witl tlis express purpose. Said witl tle proper under-
standing and intention, it was tlouglt to work tleurgically on Cod and
move tle world one step closer to ultimate redemption. Kabbalat Slabbat
is just one of several rites developed by tlese mystics tlat would ultimately
enter tle mainstream of )ewisl traditional practices, albeit emptied of its
tleurgic core.
Anotler well-known invention tlat probably originated witl tle kab-
balists from Safed was tle Tu bSlevat seder. Te Mislnal mentions tle
fteentl day of tle Hebrew montl of Slevat (usually falling in )anuary or
February on our calendar) as a new year for tle trees. For tle Mislnal
and tle Talmud tlis is entirely a teclnical matter tlat lelps to compute tle
age of tle tree for purposes of titling, tlere was no ritual or rite to mark
tle date. Tu bSlevat receives almost no attention in post-talmudic rabbinic
literature eitler. Witl its emplasis on trees, tlougl, Tu bSlevat began to
acquire a ricler symbolic texture. Civen tle tree imagery used by tlese kab-
balists, Tu bSlevat became a ripe target for ritual activity. Te ritual of a
special, tleurgic meal, tle seder, tlat was leld on tle fteentl of Slevat
is known only from a somewlat later text, tle Peri Etz Hadar, wlose rst
printed edition was in tle early eiglteentl century and tlat was known only
in Eastern and Seplardic )ewisl communities. Tis work describes a meal
in four parts. Te core of tle ritual is tle eating of ten types of fruit (cor-
responding to eacl of tle serot) for eacl of tle tlree lower worlds, Cre-
ation, Formation, and Making. Te claracteristics of tle fruits correspond
to tlese groups, for example, tle fruits to be eaten in tle Creation part of
tle seder lave no slell because tley need not be protected from evil.
Te Tu bSlevat seder is a tikkun, a xing of, in tlis case, tle seral of
foundation (yesod). Te assumption is tlat male sexual transgressions dam-
age tle divine plallus, yesod. Te rites of tle Tu bSlevat seder, connected
as tley are to tle image of natural fecundity, leals foundation. By virtue of
performing tlis tiqqun for tle fruit tree, le will leal lis part in tle awing
siiio ooi z
of Zaddiq [tle seral yesod] wlo makes fruit, tle rite reads.
Tat is, tle
seder is essentially a penitential rite for masturbation and otler forms of
illicit (male) sexual activity. It is little surprise tlat tle rite never cauglt on
in more rationally minded )ewisl communities, and it remained relatively
marginal even in Seplardic communities until tle )ewisl National Fund
resurrected it (in vastly altered form!) in tle mid-twentietl century to pro-
mote fund-raising for its planting eorts.
Te Tu bSlevat seder drew upon tle particular strain of Kabbalal from
Safed developed by Isaac Luria. Luria ((;a) died young and left no
writings of lis own. His visions and creative ideas were collected and sys-
tematized (to a degree) by lis foremost disciple, Hayim Vital. Lurias sys-
tem builds upon earlier kabbalistic ideas but faslions tlem into new cos-
mological mytl.
Lurianic Kabbalal, as it came to be known, develops two extraordinary
ideas, tlat of contraction (tsimtsum) and of breaking tle vessels. Tsimt-
sum is a response to tle pantleism inlerent in earlier kabbalistic ideas.
Luria claimed tlat tle Eyn Sof is so awesome tlat notling can stand in its
presence. Ratler tlan encompassing all, tlen, in order to allow for creation
it must contract, leaving a void outside itself in wlicl creation can occur.
Cod voluntarily renounces power in order to allow for creation. Cod, in
one formulation of tlis idea, puts Himself into exile, banisling Himself to
His inner clambers. (Tis, some lave argued, miglt be a continuing re-
sponse to tle expulsion of tle )ews from Spain and tle feeling of lome-
lessness and exile tlat followed from it.) Cods divine liglt, lowever, does
not remain entirely conned to tlese clambers. For Luria, Cod pulsed, and
tlese pulses alternatively wasl up traces of divine judgment in tle cosmos
and tlen send back tle divine power tlat orders it to allow tle world to
subsist. Cerslom Sclolem calls tlis a gigantic process of divine inlalation
and exlalation.
Tsimtsum, of course, is not witlout its tleological prob-
lems. Lurias idea of breaking tle vessels was in part a response to one of
tlese problems, tle seemingly unbridgeable gap between lumans and Cod,
and in part to anotler, tle problem of evil.
Lurias tleory of tle breaking of tle vessels las many variations, and is
in any case too complex to relate in detail. Essentially, lowever, it involves
tle idea tlat tle divine liglt, itself a mixture of tle residue of tle tsimt-
sum and tle dross of evil tlrown o by tle seral of judgment, exploded
from its slelter of tle upper tlree serot into special vessels tlat lad been
emanated in order to catcl it. Te liglt, tlougl, proved too strong for tle
vessels and tley slattered. In a liglly ordered process, tlis slattering tlen
z6 siiio ooi
unleasled tle cosmological drama. Te process of tle slattering allowed
evil to coalesce as an independent, external force at tle same time tlat it
released aspects of tle divine, sparks, into tle cosmos from wlicl tle Eyn
Sof lad contracted. Some later formulations transferred evil to tle slat-
tered vessels tlemselves, imagining tlem to now encircle and contain tle
divine sparks.
For Luria, lis colleagues, and lis followers, Cod is imperfect. Not only
are tlere inlerent and continuing defects in tle Codlead, exacerbated
by tle sins of lumans, but also pieces of Cod are exiled from tle Cod-
lead, trapped in tle material creation. It is at tlis point tlat Lurias mytl
acquires practical consequences. As in otler kabbalistic systems, Luria be-
lieves tlat lumans are capable of transforming, or restoring, tle Codlead.
Tis process of xing le calls tikkun, wlen tle Codlead is xed redemp-
tion will occur. Te worslipper participates in tikkun tlrougl observance
of tle commandments witl tle correct mystical intent. Tis idea gave rise
to a number of slort declarations tlat precede tle performance of various
mitzvot. Enacting tikkun, tlougl, involves more tlan a verbal declaration
and tle proper intent (kavanah). Successfully done, a tikkun lifts tle wor-
slipper up into tle very serot le is attempting to x. (As far as we know,
in Lurias time tlere were no female practitioners of Kabbalal.) Te indi-
vidual soul is given ample clance to perform tikkun, on botl tle Codlead
and itself, souls were tlouglt to transmigrate, or be reborn, until tley lave
aclieved perfection. To return to tle terminology used above, Lurianic
Kabbalal blended tleosoplic and ecstatic strains.
Lurianic Kabbalal was widely accepted and prepared tle ground for Sab-
batai Zvi. Te failed messialslip of Sabbatai Zvi (6a6;6)lis dec-
laration in 66, witl tle assistance of lis proplet, Natlan of Caza, tlat
le was tle messial followed soon after by lis apostasy to Islam and tle
sudden collapse of tle movement tlat crystallized around limis one of
tle most interesting and dramatic stories in )ewisl listory.
Altlougl too
complex to detain us lere, it is wortl noting low tle Sabbatean movement,
ourisling at a time of leigltened Clristian and )ewisl messianic expecta-
tions, drew quite naturally upon Lurias doctrines. As articulated by Natlan
of Caza, tle soul of tle messial was mingled witl tle divine liglt tlat fell
into tle abyss and was entrapped by tle evil fragments of tle slattered ves-
sels. Te serpents torment tle soul of tle messial, and wlen tikkun is
completed tle messial will be released from lis prison and torments and
will reveal limself. Tis doctrine lad tle added advantage of explaining
siiio ooi z;
Sabbatai Zvis erratic belaviorwas le not being tormented by tle ser-
pents: Today we would undoubtedly opt for a dierent diagnosis.
Te Sabbatean movement spread quickly and was not conned to tle
uneducated. Many traditional rabbis entlusiastically declared tlat Sabba-
tai Zvi was tle true messial, tley saw little contradiction between Natlan
of Cazas doctrines and tleir own understanding of )ewisl messianism.
It was precisely tlis wide (altlougl certainly not universal) acceptance of
Sabbatai Zvi as tle messial tlat made lis apostasy so painful. Confronted
by tle sultan witl a cloice between conversion to Islam and deatl, Sab-
batai Zvi close conversion. Some of lis followers, like Natlan of Caza, re-
evaluated tle kabbalistic doctrines to account for tlis unexpected turn of
events. For some it was a sign of lis descent into tle vale of tle serpents
for tle nal battle, from wlicl le would emerge victorious. For otlers lis
antinomian belavior signaled tle aclievement of tikkun and tle dawning
of a new ageeven if tley were tlemselves not quite convinced enougl
to abandon tleir own observance of tle mitzvot. For many of lis former
followers, tlougl, lis apostasy was proof of tle mistakenness of tleir be-
lief in lim. Te scandal provoked by Sabbatai Zvis apostasy spread widely,
tarnisling rabbinic reputations as it also pusled lis true believers deep
Tere is a fair amount of debate over tle lasting positive inuence of
tle Sabbatai Zvi aair. Did tle developing antinomian trends among tlese
underground conventicles of followers, for example, play a role in tle de-
velopment of later )ewisl groups tlat deemplasized tle role of lalaklal:
Tere is far less debate over its enduring negative impact. Until tle recent
plenomenon following tle deatl of tle Lubavitcler rebbe, Sabbatai Zvi
was tle last )ewisl messial to lave gained a wide following. Tat )ewisl
communities are today far less likely to accept a messianic claim is in part
tle legacy of lis apostasy.
Te aair of Sabbatai Zvi also tarnisled tle reputation and inuence of
Lurianic Kabbalal. Wlen, in tle eiglteentl century, Hasidism arose in
Poland and tle Ukraine, its reception was colored by tle events of tle pre-
vious century. Hasidism was a religious revivalist movement tlat drew on
Lurianic Kabbalal, especially tle notion of tikkun. Te movement, wlicl
quickly splintered into dierent brancles and dynasties, met resistance
along two fronts. First, Hasidic groups typically assigned greater spiritual
power to a guide wlom tley termed a rebbe. Eacl Hasidic group lad a
single rebbe, wlo was seen, in some groups, as a kind of intermediary

z8 siiio ooi
between eartl and leaven. Te ascription of an almost semidivine status
to a luman made contemporary )ewisl religious leaders apprelensive.
Similarly, altlougl Lurianic Kabbalal did not lead directly to Sabbatai
Zvis apostasy, tle apostasy nevertleless demonstrated problems latent
witlin Kabbalal. It did not lelp tlat, around tle same time tlat Ha-
sidism was developing, a Polisl )ew, )acob Frank (;a6;,), drew upon
kabbalistic traditions (explicitly rejecting, in fact, tle rabbinic traditions
upon wlicl tley were founded) to justify tle rejection of lalaklal and
tle promotion of sexual license, Frankists were known for tleir ritual
orgies. Hasidisms use of Lurianic ideas, and its emplasis on tle joyful
worslip of Cod over (but never excluding) punctilious observance of tle
mitzvot, were enougl to stoke in contemporary )ewisl rabbis tle fear of
a latent antinomianism.
Apostasy is in tle eye of tle belolder, and sucl labels are invariably
applied by victors of a religious conict. Sabbateans were, in tleir day,
just )ews, drawing on tleir tradition in tle same creative ways as do all
otlers. Tey were not a social movement and lacked a distinctive reli-
gious ideology, an understanding of )udaism as broken into movements
and ideologies would not arise until tle nineteentl century. Like tle cases
of tle early Clristians, todays Messianic )ews, and perlaps even tle mes-
sianic followers of tle deceased Lubavitcler rebbe, tle aair of Sabbatai
Zvi also illustrates tle boundaries set by )ewisl communities. Despite tle
wide tolerance for diverse understandings of )udaism, )ewisl communi-
ties lave also drawn lines, rejecting some claims to )udaism. Tese rejec-
tions are in part listorically contingent, almost two millennia of conict
between )ews and Clristians las most likely led to a lower degree of tol-
erance today for Messianic )ews tlan tle early followers of )esus miglt
lave found in tleir )ewisl communities. In part, tlougl, tley can be un-
derstood by tle degree of tleir rupture witl tradition. Te explicit rejec-
tion of tle textual tradition and tle conceptual boundaries tlat it cre-
ates makes )ewisl communities uneasy. Tus, altlougl belief today tlat
tle Lubavitcler rebbe was (is) tle messial is structurally similar to tlat
found in tlese otler )ewisl messianic movements, few )ewisl commu-
nities would consider declaring tlese Hasidic believers leretics, despite
tleir belief, tlese )ews continue to engage and ascribe autlority to tradi-
tion. Messianic )ews, on tle otler land, are marginalized on tle basis of
tleir rejection of rabbinic traditions and texts. Te followers of Sabba-
tai Zvi fell somewlere between tlese poles, witl tlose groups tlat were

siiio ooi z,
able to conform to community norms able to maintain a place (lowever
uneasily) witlin tleir communities, wlile tlose, like tle followers of
)acob Frank, wlo rejected tlese norms were in turn excluded.
)ewisl mysticism was a complex plenomenon. Early on, as practiced by
small esoteric groups working from a xed textual tradition, it was an at-
tempt to supplement tle love of Cod (as performed tlrougl tle obser-
vance of tle mitzvot) witl tle experience of Cod. As found in tle earliest
kabbalistic writings and tle Zolar, )ewisl mysticism lad become some-
tling entirely dierent. Forged in tle specic listorical context of Medieval
Clristian Spain, Kabbalal promoted a new mytl for new purposes. Medi-
eval )ewisl mystics drew deeply on earlier )ewisl texts and ideas, actively
reslaping tlem into sometling original. It is just as important to acknowl-
edge tle traditions and ideas tle kabbalists ignored or minimized as it is
to see tle lines tlat connect tlem to tle tradition. Emplasizing tle power
of luman beings to transform tle divine, tle kabbalists downplay tle idea
found in biblical, rabbinic, and plilosoplical texts of a transcendent, perfect
Cod. Moreover, dierent kabbalistic communities drew upon tleir leritage
dierently, forming, slaping, and discarding as tley saw t. In tle lands of
Natlan of Caza, Lurianic Kabbalal takes one form, in tle lands of tle later
Hasidim, it takes quite anotler. Inleriting tle legacies of Maimonides and
tle Zolar, witl tleir opposed visions, Hasidim in tle eiglteentl and nine-
teentl centuries drew on tle latter. Te great nineteentl-century Cerman
)ewisl listorian, Heinricl Craetz, made a very dierent cloice.
iivicn ovi1Z (8;8,) could not lave been clearer
about lis view of tle Zolar.
Trougl its constant use of coarse
expressions, le writes in lis monumental History of the Jews, of-
ten verging on tle sensual, in contradistinction to tle claste, pure spirit
pervading )ewisl literature, tle Zolar sowed tle seeds of unclean desires,
and later on produced a sect tlat laid aside all regard for decency. Te Zo-
lar was a )ewisl aberration, and its autlor, Moses de Leon, a forger, igno-
ramus, and proigate, a victim of Messianic entlusiasm. Te Zolar did
violence to tle meaning of tle Bible, perverted tle verses and words of tle
Holy Book, and made tle Bible tle wrestling-ground of tle most curious,
insane notions.
Craetzs virulent antipatly toward tle Zolar and Kabbalal was not a
mere personal peccadillo. Beginning lis History of the Jews in Cermany in
8, Craetz inserted limself squarely in tle middle of two leated conicts.
Cerman )ews were still embroiled in tle argument over )ewisl emancipa-
tion. Altlougl in several areas of Cermany tley lad, witl diculty, ac-
quired tle riglt to citizenslip, tlis riglt remained tenuous. Many Cermans
continued to oppose tle integration of )ews into civic society. Tis opposi-
tion was complex and stemmed to a great degree from economic and social
considerations. Many Cermans opposing )ewisl emancipation, lowever,
also argued on tle basis of religion: )udaism was in some way superstitious
and primitive, a religion of pots and pans in contrast to tle pure, spiritual,
and etlical dictates of Clristianity. Tey tlus linked tleir understanding
of tle religious essence of )udaism to tle claracter of its practitioners,
witl calamitous ramications. Te Zolar was no lelp to tlose )ews wlo
rs: o rs:
is1 i is1 z1
wisled to respond to tle clarge tlat )udaism was irrational and primitive,
by tle standards of tle day, tlose would not be unfair claracterizations of
tle Zolar. So in attacking tle Zolar as aberrant, Craetz was also building a
positive case for a )udaism wlose essence was ligl-minded and rational
and, tlus, for tle civic riglts of Cerman )ews.
At tle same time, Craetz was an active participant in tle internal strug-
gles of tle )ewisl community. Te principles of tle Enligltenment, witl
its focus on tle value of tle individual and its weakening of tle force of
tradition, lad as mucl impact on )ews in Cermany as it did on non-)ews.
Modern )ews lad to confront not only tle leady possibility of tleir civic in-
tegration into tle body politic but also tle meaning of tleir traditions and
texts as seen tlrougl tlese values. Altlougl tleir responses to modernity
varied widely, all )ewisl communities in tle West confronted tle same set
of problems. One Cerman response tlat would later crystallize into tle Re-
form movement started in tle early nineteentl century by insisting on some
small, cosmetic clanges to )ewisl worslip services. Sermons, for example,
slould be delivered in Cerman ratler tlan Yiddisl. By tle 8(os, lowever,
some Reformers were advocating a more sweeping overlaul of )ewisl
ritual practices. Samson Raplael Hirscl responded to tlese demands by
defending )ewisl tradition but declaring it compatible witl modernity, a
stance tlat would develop into Modern Ortlodoxy. Originally an advocate
of tlis position, Craetz soon joined yet anotler emerging movement under
tle leaderslip of Zaclarias Frankel. For Frankel, tle Reformers went too far
in rejecting traditional practices but Hirscl not far enougl in acknowledg-
ing tle value of secular trutl. Craetz opposed tle Reformers. His attacks
on tle Zolars allegorizing of Scripture, on wlat le saw as its tendency
to denude tle biblical verses of tleir natural meanings in favor of spiritual
ones, is also a not so veiled attack on tle reforms tlat were tlen current.
Te Tanak slould be read, in lis view, in a listorical-positive sense, as a
source of norms. Te Zolars more symbolic metlod of reading Scripture
just provided support for tle Reformers reading.
Craetzs attack on tle Zolar tlus liglliglts tle crossroads to wlicl
nineteentl-century Cerman )ews lad come. Cerman )ews did not lave a
stark cloice between tradition and modernity, tle traditional way of
life, itself a product of tle listorical condition of )ews in medieval Cerma-
ny, lad become unsustainable. Medieval Aslkenazic )ewsso-called after
tle Hebrew term for Cermany, Aslkenazlad lived in semiautonomous
communal organizations, eacl called a kelillal. Te rise of Enligltenment
values and consequent collapse of many (but not all) of tle social and civic
zz is1 i is1
barriers tlat separated )ews from Centiles tlus posed two distinct but in-
terrelated dilemmas. Te medieval, feudal model was based on tle idea tlat
tle )ews were a single, undierentiated etlnic, social, and religious group
wlose place in society was clearly dictated by Clristian understandings
of tle )ews and tleir meaning witlin tle Clristian story. On a communal
level its demise left tle )ews in terrain tlat was unfamiliar to botl tlem and
tleir Centile neiglbors. Was a Cerman )ew just like every otler Cerman:
Enligltenment values would seem to imply tlat tley were. Tis, lowever,
immediately raised tle second problem. It implied tlat tle single factor
separating Cerman )ews and Cerman non-)ews was religion, or )udaism.
Cerman )ews now lad to articulate and justify, to tlemselves and non-)ews,
wlat )udaism was. And tlere were many possible answers.
Typically, we see tle nineteentl-century lives of Cerman )ews tlrougl
tle lens of tle Holocaust. Teir pact witl modernity was quixotic, tleir
end tragic, tley were never in tle end successful in integrating. Yet in tleir
cloice to confront modernity lead-on, Cerman )ews lad little cloice. East-
ern European )ews lad an encounter witl modernity tlat was no less trans-
formative, even if tleir response was dierent. )udaism as we understand
tle term today was, by and large, tle product of tlis encounter witl mo-
dernity. Te textual traditions, concepts, and ritual practices, as we lave
seen, of course lave long and convoluted listories. But tle way tlat we
understand tlem to be bundled togetler in a nice, neat package tlat we call
)udaism is distinctly modern, and tle place tlat understanding gives to ide-
ology dierentiates it from previous understandings of )ewisl life and prac-
tice. Wlat ideology gains in terms of colerence and rational justication,
tlougl, it also loses in terms of elasticity, it prepares tle ground not for a
single but diverse )udaism but for multiple )ewisl movements, eacl dis-
tinguisling and dening itself against tle otlers. Nineteentl-century Eu-
rope tlus gave birtl not only to Judaism but to tle dierent movements of
)udaism as well. Now eacl Western )ewisl movementwletler neo-Or-
tlodox, Haredi (Ultra-Ortlodox), Conservative, Hasidic, Reform, or (later)
Reconstructionistwould orient and justify itself according to a particular
ideology, a legacy tlat is still very mucl alive.

By tle time of Heinricl (Hirscl) Craetz, )ews lad been wrestling witl
Enligltenment ideas for about two centuries. Benedict (Barucl) Spinoza
usually gets tle credit for being tle rst )ewisl Enligltenment tlinker.

is1 i is1 z
Spinoza was born in 6a in tle Spanisl-Portuguese )ewisl community of
Amsterdam. Te community lad been founded about a century earlier by
)ewisl refugees from Spain and Portugal, many of wlom lad been forcibly
converted to Catlolicism. Te )ews found tlemselves grudgingly tolerated
in Amsterdam as long as tley kept a low prole. Many became merclants,
and wlile as a community tley never aclieved great wealtl tley were able
to support basic communal institutions. Te community lad establisled a
Talmud Toral ()ewisl primary sclool) and, by 6;, lad built a luge syna-
gogue. Organized along a traditional Seplardic model, tle community ap-
pointed a board of lay leaders (tle maamad) to administer its aairs. Te
maamad lad strong administrative but only weak coercive powers, its main
weapon was tle power of excommunication, wlose tlreat tle board oc-
casionally wielded even against its own rabbis wlen tley dared to question
its autlority.
Amsterdams )ews neitler would nor could simply reproduce )ewisl life
as it existed in fteentl- and sixteentl-century Spain and Portugal. Te
community and tle maamad were deeply concerned witl policing religious

o. Sounding of tle slofar on Rosl Haslanal, from Bernard Picart, Crmonies et
coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde (Amsterdam: ). F. Bernard, ;a8).
Courtesy of the Library of the Jewish Teological Seminary of America
Image has been suppressed
z is1 i is1
boundaries tlat remained in ux. Te internal cause of tlis ux was tle
unique situation of tle Marranos, tlose )ews wlo in Spain and Portugal
converted to Clristianity but continued to be )ewisl in secret. Allowed in
Amsterdam to become )ewisl publicly as well as privately, tley now began
a process of discovering wlat it was tlat )ews actually do and tlink. Com-
bined witl tleir understandable anxiety about tle correctness of wlat
tley were learning, tley were also particularly eager to create and protect
tle boundaries of autlentic )ewisl life. For tle Amsterdam community
tle issue of tle Marranos did not end in tle sixteentl century. Well into
tle seventeentl century, tle )ews of Amsterdam and tle Iberian peninsula
continued to travel to eacl otlers communities, for reasons botl familial
and economic. Some )ews from Amsterdam went to Spain to bring Mar-
ranos back to )udaism, a proselytizing activity tle Clurcl punisled witl
deatl. Marranos, simultaneously, continued to ee tle Iberian peninsula,
often ending up in Amsterdam.
Tis internal anxiety was compounded by tle ever present need to stay
on tle riglt side of Amsterdams ruling and warring factions. Te Clris-
tians in Amsterdam were embroiled tlrougl tle seventeentl century in
tleir own religious conicts, pitting Reformed and ortlodox Calvinists
against eacl otler. Neitler of tle two major Clristian factions was fond of
tle )ews, but botl were willing to tolerate a )ewisl presence in Amsterdam.
One of tle conditions for tlis toleration was tlat tley cause no trouble. For
tle maamad tlis expectation extended from communal institutions (e.g.,
tle )ewisl community must provide for its own education and welfare for
tle destitute) to religious beliefstley wanted to appear as good, ortlodox
Cod fearers witl tle same basic etlical and tleological values as, for ex-
ample, tle ortlodox Calvinists.
In 66 tle maamad excommunicated Barucl Spinoza. He was only
twenty-tlree years old and, to our knowledge, lad not written a word. Te
text of tle excommunicationwlicl was publicly read in Hebrew in tle
synagogueis remarkably pointed, tle most virulent of tle maamads many
notices of excommunication. Making reference to Spinozas abominable
leresies and monstrous deeds, tle long notice of excommunication re-
mains frustratingly vague about wlat it is tlat Spinoza actually did to war-
rant sucl an extraordinary condemnation. If, lowever, le was beginning to
articulate tle plilosoplical ideas tlat le would later write, tle reasons for
tle excommunication begin to come into focus.
Spinoza created a naturalistic plilosoply. He did not exactly deny tle
existence of Cod, but le instead understood tle deity to be located in tle
is1 i is1 z
active (creative) force of nature. In tlis sense Spinoza was a pantleist. Cod
was in nature ratler tlan some supernatural force tlat worked in listory.
Tis denial of a supernatural Cod would open tle door to more forceful
ideas during tle Enligltenment of Cods distancing from luman aairs.
Wlile tlis idea alone would lave upset tle )ewisl community of Amster-
dam, tlere is evidence to suggest tlat tley would lave taken its ramica-
tions a good deal more seriously.
Te denial of a supernatural Cod tlat acts in listory logically leads to an
unraveling of most of tle conceptual tlreads tlat lad run tlrougl previ-
ous )ewisl tleological and plilosoplical understandings. Witlout a super-
natural Cod tlere can be no covenant and no divine involvement witl tle
people Israel. Te notion of a revelation becomes absurd. Spinoza explicitly
addresses tlis issue in tle Teological-Political Treatise, wlicl le publisled
in 6;o, well after lis excommunication and seven years before lis deatl.
Te Teological-Political Treatise argues tlat tle Bible, far from contain-
ing tle word of Cod, was written by a particular community of people wlo
beneted politically from it. Te Bible is, above all, a political document
coucled as a tleological one, using tle idea of a punisling Cod to enforce
social norms. At tle same time, Spinoza recognizes tlat Scripture can lave
a good eect, serving as tle word of Cod only to tle degree tlat it inspires
lumans to etlical action. Two centuries later, Karl Marx would adopt a ver-
sion of tlis idea, calling religion an opiate for tle masses intended to dis-
guise social inequalities by justifying tlem in tle natural order.
According to tle listorian Steven Nadler, it was less tlese ideas tlan an-
otler consequence of Spinozas denial of a supernatural Cod tlat lit tle
nerve of Amsterdams )ewisl community: tle denial of an immortal soul.
Spinozas plilosoply, as it survives in lis postlumously publisled Ethics, is
notoriously slippery about tle luman soul. Is tlere a personal soul, sepa-
rable from tle body, tlat survives after deatl: Altlougl Spinozas direct
answer is unclear, le miglt reasonably be construed to reject tle idea of
a personal soul. In fact, tle idea of a personal, separable soul runs against
tle grain of lis otler arguments. Spinoza appears to tlink tlat tle idea
of a separable soul tlen rewarded or punisled is one invented for politi-
cal power, like tle idea of a just Cod promulgated in tle Bible. To Spinoza
tle world ultimately is neitler just nor unjust, tle question of justice in
nature is moot.
According to Nadler, tlis was a particularly sensitive issue for Amster-
dams )ewisl community. In addition to tleir skittislness and insecurity
about tleir own ortlodoxy, tle )ews of Amsterdam also lad to contend
z6 is1 i is1
witl tle ramications of tleir Marrano past. Would tlose )ews wlo were
forced to convert to Clristianity merit eternal life: Were tley part of tle all
Israel wlo would gain a slare of tle world-to-come: Tis was not a simple
academic exercise. Te issue lad embroiled tle community. All four of tle
citys rabbinic leaders in tle mid-seventeentl century lad weigled in witl
tracts or polemics tlat argued for tle immortality of tle soul. Tey diered
about tle ultimate fate of tlose )ews wlo lad converted, but tley agreed
tlat tle soul was immortal and tlat it was tle object of Cods reward or
punislment. Spinoza must lave known in tlose circumstances tlat deny-
ing tle existence of an immortal soul would bring down upon lim tle ire of
tle Amsterdam )ewisl community.
Tere is also an external aspect to Spinozas excommunication. Wlen
tle Calvinists allowed tle )ews to settle in Amsterdam, tley did so on tle
assumption tlat tley would be as rigidly ortlodox as tle Calvinists tlem-
selves. Tey conceived a model of tle )ewisl community as a religious com-
munity mucl like tleir own and went so far as to legislate tle basic tleo-
logical propositions to wlicl tley expected tle )ews would adlere. Te law
of 6, promulgated by tle provincial assembly of Holland stated tlat tle
)ewisl community must subscribe to a number of beliefs, among wlicl is
tle belief tlat tlere is life after deatl in wlicl good people will receive
tleir recompense and wicked people tleir punislment.
Wletler or not
tle Calvinist leaders in Amsterdam in 66 were really ready to punisl tle
)ewisl community for tle views of a renegade twenty-tlree-year old wlo
lad publisled notling, tle )ewisl community took seriously tle policing
of its tleological borders.
Te impact of Calvinist understandings of proper )ewisl belavior goes
beyond tle issue of )ews merely trying to maintain tleir civic riglts. Spi-
nozas signicance (for our purposes) is tlat le was tle rst serious )ew-
isl tlinker to claim tlat tle Bible is not tle word of Cod and tlat Cod
remained uninvolved in tle listory of Israel. Tese ideas lad a marked but
indirect eect on later )ewisl tlinkers, )ews did not read Spinoza as in any
way part of tleir textual tradition, but lis ideas would become increasingly
inuential over tle next two centuries. Te signicance of tle Amsterdam
community witl wlicl le broke, tlougl, is tlat it ascribed a powerful
role to proper tleological belief, it demanded an ideological commitment.
Torn witl questions of identity and religious boundaries, tle Spanisl and
Portuguese )ews of Amsterdam increasingly began to understand tlem-
selves as members of a distinctly religious (ratler tlan etlnic) community

is1 i is1 z;
dened by proper belief. In tlis we see a larbinger of wlat would become in
Cermany tle ourisling of )ewisl ideology and, in one sense, tle birtl of
)udaism itself.

Te impact of tle Enligltenment on tle )ews, and tle process of )ewisl

emancipation tlrougl wlicl tley gained civic riglts, occurred slowly and
unevenly tlrouglout Europe. France was among tle rst countries to grant
civic riglts to its )ews, only to rescind some of tlese riglts before restoring
tlem again. Some parts of Cermany were far quicker tlan otlers to grant
riglts to )ews, and Eastern European )ews as a rule lagged far belind tleir
Central European cousins. Te unevenness of tlis process can be seen,
for example, in Piedmont, in nortlern Italy, wlere during Spinozas time
tle )ews lived in strong and dynamic communities yet were denied civic
riglts until 8(8.
In tle late eiglteentl century )ews needed a special dispensation to live
in Berlin, tle capital of Prussia. So it is perlaps ironic tlat it was in Ber-
lin tlat tle )ewisl Enligltenment movement, tle Haskalal, would nd its
roots. Te Haskalal developed as one eiglteentl- and nineteentl-century
)ewisl response to tle Enligltenment, a )ewisl attempt to transform )ew-
isl life and culture along modern values. In tle traditional listoriogra-
ply of tle Haskalal, Moses Mendelssoln looms large.
Mendelssoln was
born in ;a, in Dessau and received an education tlat was probably more
or less typical of )ewisl boys at tlat time, consisting primarily of Talmud
and codes. Wlen le was fourteen le left Dessau for Berlinaltlougl le
claimed to be following lis rabbinic teacler, wlo took a pulpit tlere, tle
presence of some early Cerman )ewisl intellectuals may also lave attract-
ed lim. Tese )ewisl tlinkers, wlo were raised and remained tlrouglout
tleir lives traditionally lalaklic, souglt to apply tle values and metlods
of tle Enligltenment to traditional )ewisl texts. Tey wrote plilosoplical
and scientic tracts, primarily in Hebrew, wlicl tley applied, for example,
to tle Babylonian Talmud. Mendelssoln studied sacred texts witl lis rab-
binic mentor as le began plilosoplical studies witl tlese early maskilim
Mendelssolns rst writings, in tle ;os, largely followed tle tlemes and
concerns of tlese early maskilim. He created tle Kohelet Musar, a Hebrew
journal, in wlicl le eclectically cited and commented upon traditional texts

z8 is1 i is1
in order to discuss modern issues. He was drawn to tle rational texts of
tle Seplardim, particularly tle biblical commentaries of tle meplarslim
and tle plilosoplers. Civen tle Enligltenments denigration of mystical
experience, Mendelssolns nearly complete neglect of kabbalistic texts is
not entirely surprising. In ;6o6 le wrote a commentary on Maimonides
tract on logic, altlougl le disagreed witl Maimonides Aristotelianism, le
was drawn to Maimonides attempt at plilosoplical systematization. In tle
late ;6os Mendelssoln began to write plilosoplical explanations (and de-
fenses) of )udaism in Cerman. By ;;o, tlougl, Mendelssoln once again
redirected lis energies.
For tle next tlirteen years Mendelssoln turned to translating and com-
menting on tle Hebrew Bible. Dissatised witl wlat le saw as sloppy Yid-
disl translations of tle Hebrew text as well as witl tle overtly clristologi-
cal translations found in Cerman Bibles (e.g., Lutlers), le started witl a
new translation of tle Psalms into Cerman. In tle course of tlis translation
le began a second translation project, a collaborative translation and com-
mentary on tle Pentateucl.
Entitled Te Book of the Paths of Peace, some-
times known in Hebrew as tle Biur (Commentary), tle latter project of-
fered a full translation into Cerman of tle Pentateucl witl accompanying
commentary, all written in Hebrew script. Tis writing of Cerman in He-
brew script, altlougl by itself supercial, epitomizes tle syntletic nature
of tle Biur and tle tension at its core. Perlaps unsurprisingly, Mendelssoln
and tle otler autlors of tle Biur mucl preferred tle scientic metlods of
tle traditional Andalusian )ewisl biblical commentators, tle meplarslim,
to tlose found in classical midrasl. Tey consistently cited grammatical
and contextual support for tleir interpretations. Yet tle Biurs autlors are
at times more conservative tlan tle meplarslim. Wlere tle meplarslim
are comfortable discarding midraslic interpretations for new contextu-
ally based ones, tle Biur consistently attempts to justify midraslic inter-
pretations by means of tle contextual approacl. Mendelssoln is explicit
on tlis point. Commenting on tle twelftl-century biblical commentator
Raslbam, Mendelssoln wrote, Raslbam delved very deeply into peshuto
shel mikra [tle simple, or contextual, meaning of tle biblical text], some-
times more tlan was appropriate, sucl tlat in tle love of tle straigltfor-
ward [interpretation] le sometimes deviated from tle point of trutl.
Biur tlus arms tle genius of tle rabbinic interpretations of tle Bible
witlout condoning tle assumptions and literary metlods of midrasl,
wlicl would lave seemed foreign and o-putting to most of tleir readers,
)ews and non-)ews alike.
is1 i is1 z,
In ;8, as le was wrapping up lis translation projects (lis own life
would end tlree years later), le turned to a syntletic Cerman work. Jeru-
salem, or On Religious Power and Judaism, became Mendelssolns best-
known work. It is a manifestly political document meant to advance tle
)ewisl case for civic riglts. In it le articulates an interpretation of )uda-
ism and attempts to demonstrate tle compatibility of )udaism (and )ews)
witl Cerman civic society. His basic argument is tlat )udaism is fully
compatible witl tle state. However obvious tlis conclusion miglt seem
to us, it was a clarged issue wlose outcome was by no means clear in late-
eiglteentl-century Central and Western Europe. To )ews le lad to argue
tlat integration into tle state did not pose a tlreat to wlat tley saw as
tleir traditional way of life. To Cermans, wlo argued tlat )ewisl beliefs
and laws (e.g., observance of tle Sabbatl and tle prolibition on intermar-
riage) were incompatible witl full civic participation, le lad to argue tlat
distinctive )ewisl practices were at least neutral in relation to civic riglts.
Jerusalem became one of tle rst modern works to wrestle seriously witl
justifying )ewisl particularity witlin an egalitarian and universal society.
Cerman (or, for tlat matter, contemporary Frencl or American) society,
of course, was lardly universal or secular, frequently universalizing local
Clristian norms as natural morality or law. Wletler or not Mendelssoln
and lis compatriots were aware tlat tlis was a potential line of attack (tley
probably did not), Mendelssoln souglt to develop an argument tlat could
convince botl )ews and non-)ews.
Moses Mendelssoln understood )udaism as a religion. In Jerusalem
Mendelssolns argument is very mucl in dialogue witl current Enliglt-
enment ideas about tle nature of religion. Cod was tle universal creator,
wlose trutls are eternal, natural, and accessible to all. Religion, at its base,
was natural, an acknowledgment of and expression of gratitude to tle be-
necent, transcendent, and universal Cod. All monotleistic religions, in-
cluding )udaism, tlus stood as equal, and equally valid, expressions of tlis
natural religion. Many people today continue to subscribe to tlis notion of
religion, tlat all religions are essentially tle same because tley slare tle
same eternal (often seen as moral) trutls.
A consequence of tlis understanding of tle nature of religion is tlat be-
lief cannot dierentiate one religion from anotler, all proper beliefs slould
be identical. )udaism, le writes, boasts of no exclusive revelation of eter-
nal trutls tlat are indispensable to salvation, of no revealed religion in tle
sense in wlicl tlat term is usually understood.
Tus according to Men-
delssoln wlat dierentiates )udaism is listorical trutl. Te )ews lave a
z6o is1 i is1
distinctive set of ritual, or ceremonial, legislation tlat embodies, in Men-
delssolns reading, tle best of practical wisdom. Te ceremonial law it-
self is a kind of living script, rousing tle mind and leart, full of meaning,
never ceasing to inspire contemplation and to provide tle occasion and
opportunity for oral instruction.
A little later in Jerusalem, Mendelssoln
expands on tlis notion. After demonstrating low faulty permanent signs,
tlat is, language and images, are for tle preservation of tle eternal trutls of
religion, le continues:
In order to remedy tlese defects tle lawgiver of tlis nation gave tle cer-
emonial law. Religious and moral teaclings were to be connected witl
mens everyday activities. Te law, to be sure, did not impel tlem to en-
gage in reection, it prescribed only actions, only doing and not doing.
Te great maxim of tlis constitution seems to lave been: Men must be im-
pelled to perform actions and only induced to engage in reection. Tere-
fore, eacl of tlese prescribed actions, eacl practice, eacl ceremony lad
its meaning, its valid signicance, eacl was closely related to tle specula-
tive knowledge of religion and tle teaclings of morality, and was an oc-
casion for a man in searcl of trutl to reect on tlese sacred matters or to
seek instruction from wise men.
Slaring tle same beliefs and ideas witl all otler genuinely natural reli-
gions, )udaism is distinguisled by its store of practical knowledge, a col-
lection of commandments, tle mitzvot, wlose observance lelps to focus
tle subject on eternal trutls. Mucl like Plilo, wlo lived eiglteen lundred
years before lim, Mendelssoln saw tle purpose of eacl ceremonial law as
some combination of pedagogical and symbolic, a condensed, plysical sign
of a metaplysical trutl. Te law is to add to tle )ews welfare (a position like
Maimonides) wlile at tle same time symbolizing sometling eternally true.
Unlike Plilo, Mendelssoln left unclear precisely low any particular com-
mandment points toward an eternal trutl.
Mendelssolns understanding of )udaism was at once predictable and
radical. It was, rst and foremost, a product of its time. Mendelssoln drew
deeply and explicitly from contemporary non-)ewisl Cerman tlinkers in
order to develop a modern idiom in wlicl le could articulate a tleology
of )udaism. Mendelssolns )udaism emerges as a religion tlat in essence
was like all otlers. Wlile never denying rabbinic autlority, Mendelssoln
slifts tle traditional Aslkenazic focus on Talmudic studies to tle Biblea
move no doubt informed by tle emplasis tlat Protestants (and especially
is1 i is1 z61
Lutlerans) placed on Scripture. It was also predictably rational, lolding no
place for mystical texts or practices. Reading traditional texts tlrougl lis
own listorically contingent lens, Mendelssoln transformed )udaism into a
modern religion.
Reaction to Mendelssolns conception of )udaism was swift and larsl.
Many European rabbis quickly condemned tle Biur. Tis opposition led
printers in tle ;,os to recast tle work more piously, removing critical notes
and adding traditional commentaries, tlese later editions sold well, even in
Eastern Europe. Traditionalists were also alarmed at an understanding tlat
made tle essence of )udaism universal. Not witlout some justication, tley
feared tlat by relegating tle commandments to tle role of pedagogical and
symbolic, Mendelssolns )udaism was a kind of imsy tapestry tlat could
too easily be cast aside in ones searcl for tle universal essential trutls, it
did not lurt tleir argument tlat four out of Mendelssolns six clildren
converted to Clristianity after lis deatl.
Te irony of tlese attacks is tlat Mendelssoln limself remained com-
mitted to botl rabbinic autlority and tle mitzvot. Mendelssolns intellec-
tual slaping of )udaism, in lis eyes, lad few practical ramications on daily
practice. Mendelssoln remained, in all respects, a traditionally observant
)ew. His commitment to rabbinic autlority and tle mitzvot, even wlile le
was at tle same time undermining tle traditional modes of rabbinic inter-
pretation (from wlicl tley derived tleir autlority) and casting tle mitz-
vot as nonessential to )udaism, for most intents and purposes made lim
supercially indistinguislable from tle traditionalists wlo attacked lim.
For tle Biur and some of lis otler works, in fact, le souglt endorsements
from tle leading rabbis. To Cerman intellectuals, wlo were becoming in-
creasingly bold in drawing out tle implications of Mendelssolns tlouglt,
Mendelssoln limself appeared increasingly quaint.
By tle end of tle
eiglteentl and beginning of tle nineteentl century, lis legacy was being
embraced or attacked by )ews wlo tlouglt eitler tlat le compromised lis
)udaism too mucl or tlat lis reforms did not go far enougl.
)ews and non-)ews in tle early nineteentl century were well-aware of
tle clallenge tlat tlis new ideological understanding of )udaism posed
for traditional concepts of Israel, tlat is, wlat it meant to be a )ew. Te
Frencl perlaps saw tle ramications rst. On September a8, ;,, less tlan
a montl after adopting a new constitution, tle Frencl National Assem-
bly declared )ews to be full citizens of tle Republic. Tis declaration was
explicitly based on Enligltenment principles, primarily tlat all men (and,
presumably, women) lad equal access to civic participation. Tis, tlougl,
z6z is1 i is1
was lardly tle end of tle story. Fifteen years later Napoleon remained sus-
picious of tle ability of )ews to fully participate in Frencl society. In 8o6
le convened an assembly of Frencl rabbis and )ewisl notables and posed
to tlem a set of incisive and dicult questions. Among tlem, le asked: Is it
lawful for )ews to marry more tlan one wife: Is divorce valid wlen not pro-
nounced by courts of justice by virtue of laws in contradiction witl tlose
of tle Frencl code: Can a )ewess marry a Clristian, and a )ew a Clristian
woman: Are )ews born in France bound to obey Frencl laws and to con-
form to tle dispositions of tle civil code: Te answers were at times as
elusive as tle questions were pointed, seeking to satisfy tle state tlat )uda-
ism, like all otler religions, was fully compatible witl Frencl identity wlile
still preserving adlerence to tle ceremonial law. Some of tle answers of
tle Paris Sanledrin were straigltforward and lonest: Altlougl Moses
does not explicitly ban polygamy, a decree from around ooo ci forbade it
to )ews in tle West. Otler questions posed more diculty.
Te Sanledrin
stated tlat tlere is no actual legal prolibition against intermarriage be-
tween )ews and Clristians, altlougl tle rabbis disapprove of it: In general
tley would be no more inclined to bless tle union of a )ewess witl a Clris-
tian, or of a )ew witl a Clristian woman, tlan Catlolic priests tlemselves
would be disposed to sanction unions of tlis kind.
Coing on to state tlat
tle )ewisl community could not penalize tle civil marriage of a )ew and
Clristian, tlis answer equates )ews and Catlolics as citizens of tle state
rst witl secondary aliation in a religious community.
Here now was a denition of tle )ew in line witl tle new denition of
)udaism. All lumans are linked by tleir common lumanity and all citizens
of a state by tleir common nationality. Religion is a separable voluntary as-
sociation. )udaism is an ideology to wlicl )ews can subscribe or not.

Te concrete ramications of tlis new understanding tlrouglout West-

ern and Central Europe were almost immediate. Toward tle end of 8; a
group of )ews in Hamburg created tle New Israelite Temple Association
and signed a constitution for a new Temple tlat was dedicated almost a
year later. Tey saw tlemselves as restoring public worslip to its deserving
dignity and importance. Te new, dignied service of tle Hamburg Tem-
ple, tley wrote, slould lave a Cerman sermon, and cloral singing to tle
accompaniment of an organ. Dignity, tley continued, slould also apply
to all tlose religious customs and acts of daily life wlicl are sanctied by
is1 i is1 z6
tle clurcl, including marriage and a new conrmation ceremony. Witlin
tlree years tle temple attracted a memberslip of about one lundred fami-
lies, mainly middle-class merclants.
Te liturgy used in tle Hamburg Temple underscored its vision of )uda-
ism as a religion tlat slared basic values witl otler religions. Tere were
now Cerman translations and prayers along witl modications in tle tra-
ditional liturgy tlat deemplasized tle desire to reinstate sacrices. On tle
Sabbatl tley eliminated tle reading from tle Proplets and slortened tle
reading from tle Toral to make more time for tle sermon, wlicl was de-
livered in Cerman. Interestingly, tle Hamburg Temple continued to seat
men and women separately, placing women in tle gallery.
Te response to tlese early reforms came from two directions. Politi-
cally, tle rabbis of Hamburg attempted to assert tleir autlority, appealing
to tle Hamburg assembly to transfer control of tle temple to tle ocial
)ewisl religious autlorities. Altlougl tley won some minor concessions,
tlis appeal failed. Te controversy tlen spilled out of Hamburg and result-
ed in a condemnation, Tese Are tle Words of tle Covenant, publisled
by tle Hamburg Rabbinical Court and signed by many of tle leading rab-
bis of Central Europe. Tese are tle Words of tle Covenant singled out
tlree cardinal sins of tle Hamburg Temple: tley clanged tle liturgy, tley
prayed in tle vernacular (i.e., not in Hebrew), and tley used a musical in-
strument on tle Sabbatl (even tlougl it was played by a non-)ew). Te text
goes on to condemn tleir prayer book especially for deleting traditional
references to tle ingatlering of tle people Israel to Zion at tle end of days
and tleir liturgical practices, taking particular umbrage tlat tle women of
tle Hamburg Temple were allowed to sing in public worslip.
Tis earliest expression of reform was not a wlolesale reevaluation of
)udaism but an attempt to massage liturgical practices to make tlem rel-
evant. Altlougl still far slort of formulating a colerent ideology, tle early
reformers clearly saw tlemselves as )ewisl Cermans, good Cermans of tle
)ewisl religion. Like all good Cermans, tley were pious, tley worslipped
on tleir Sabbatl and leld tle Bible sacred. Tey souglt decorum in tleir
sanctuary and were uncomfortable witl tle rote recitation of Hebrew
prayers tley could not understand. Obviously, prayers tlat elevated Zion as
tle true promised land clasled witl tleir own self-understanding as Cer-
mans. Because tle bulk of tle ceremonial law was postbiblical, it was also
clangeable. If traditional liturgical practices, for example, failed to accom-
plisl tleir goalsas tlose goals were understoodtley slould be brouglt
back into line witl tleir original purpose.
z6 is1 i is1
For tlese early reformers, and in fact most Western and Central Europe-
an )ews of all movements tlrougl tle entire nineteentl century, liturgical
practices were meant to solemnly lonor tle awesome, transcendent, and
universal Cod. Tese early liturgical reforms were intended to streamline
tle service so tlat it miglt focus on and emplasize Cods majesty. Te use
of an organ and cloir invoked solemnity. New, polyplonic cloral compo-
sitions for tle synagogues were commissioned tlrouglout tle nineteentl
century. Weddings, wlicl lave always lad a claotic edge and sexual clarge
to tlem, were domesticated, relegated to tle synagogues, and given for-
mal cloral accompaniments. In 8(; Samuel Naumbourg, wlo was born in
Cermany but wlo composed mucl of tle music used in tle Consistory of
Paris, publisled a two-volume collection of lis compositions, Chants Re-
ligieux des Isralites, most of wlicl are in a decidedly classical mode. Al-
tlougl tle Hamburg Temple was most likely a modest space, synagogue
arclitecture soon grew to matcl tle grandeur of tle music. In tle 86os
grand synagogues opened in Berlin, Paris, and Budapest, among otler
major European centers. Tese synagogues frequently adopted a Moorisl
style, deliberately evoking tle Colden Age of a rational )udaism in wlicl
)ews were seen as active creative participants in tle larger culture. Witl
tleir soaring arclitecture and lierarclical space, tley were meant to em-
plasize tle majesty of Cod ratler tlan love and intimacy. Tis monumen-
tal arclitecture tlus not only marked increased )ewisl self-condence and
integration into European communities but also a tleological stance tlat
stretcled across all of tle emerging )ewisl movements.
Only after tle reforms of Hamburg would a colerent ideology arise to
make sense of and justify tlem. In tle 8os Abralam Ceiger began to for-
mulate a vision of )udaism tlat would anclor tle rise of tle Reform move-
ment. Raised in a traditional )ewisl lome in Frankfurt and laving acquired
botl a traditional and secular education, Ceiger was a prolic writer as
well as a pulpit rabbi. Ceigers early sclolarslip focused on traditional rab-
binic texts, sucl as tle Mislnal and Talmud. Te tlrust of lis sclolarslip
was to slow, in a manner consistent witl tle conclusions of tle Wissen-
sclaft des )udentums movement, tlat tlese texts were listorically contin-
gent, not simple and timeless statements of tle divine will. Ceiger believed
tlat tlere was a powerful essence or spirit to )udaism tlat remained un-
clanged. Dierent )ewisl communities, tlougl, working witlin tleir lis-
torical contexts, would discover dierent ways to express tlis spirit. Te
ancient writings of tle Rabbis were tlen expressions of tle )ewisl spirit,
but not privileged expressions. For Ceiger tle spirit of )udaism was far
is1 i is1 z6
more important tlan any of its texts or traditions. Rituals, for lim, were in-
strumental, wlicl can and slould be adjusted if tley failed to aclieve tleir
goals. Tis stance left little room for a tleory of mitzvot. Subscribing to
an ideal of personal autonomy popularized by Immanuel Kant, Ceiger did
not insist tlat tle mitzvotwlicl le saw as listorically contingentwere
binding on all )ews. Like tle Hamburg reformers and probably most Cer-
man )ews of lis day, le was uncomfortable witl tle notion of Zion as tle
promised land, and le too eliminated sucl references in tle liturgies of tle
synagogues le served.
Ceiger saw lis project as regenerative. He souglt not to tear down but
to build up, to allow tle true )ewisl spirit, wlicl lad ossied in dry rab-
binic texts and antiquated practices, to spring fortl anew. Ceiger lad a no-
tion of a true )ewisl spirit of universal values and lopes, best expressed by
tle proplets of Israel. )ust as tle proplets preacled doing good, lelping
tle poor and needy, and striving toward universal peace, so too slould tle
people Israel today. Ritual tlat does not lead to tlese ends (or to tle pious
worslip of tle sublime divinity) is, at best, meaningless.
Trouglout tle mid-nineteentl century Reform )udaism would be in in-
tellectual ferment. By tle end of tle nineteentl century Reform )udaism
in Cermany would look surprisingly similar to Ceigers vision. Tis under-
standing of Reform )udaism, lowever, was from its very inception attacked
by a more radical wing. Tese tlinkers were, in a sense, merely taking Cei-
gers arguments one step furtler. Neatly summarizing tleir platform into
tlree statements, for example, tle Reformfreunde (Friends of Reform), a
small group founded in Frankfurt in 8(a, asserted:
. We recognize in Mosaism tle possibility of unlimited furtler develop-
a. Te collection called tle Talmud, as well as all tle rabbinic writings and
statutes wlicl rest upon it, possess no binding force for us eitler in dog-
ma or practice.
. We neitler expect nor desire a messial wlo is to lead tle Israelites back
to tle land of Palestine, we recognize no fatlerland otler tlan tlat to
wlicl we belong by birtl or civil status.
Mucl of tle tlird point was already well-establisled, altlougl its explicit
rejection of a personal messial, implicitly in preference for a belief in a fu-
ture messianic era of universal peace, was more controversial. Ceiger would
most likely lave agreed witl tle substance of tle second point, altlougl its
z66 is1 i is1
wording miglt lave made lim uncomfortable, le did see in tlese writings
a genuine expression of tle )ewisl spirit. Te rst point, tlougl, by carry-
ing Ceigers formulation to its logical (but not necessary) conclusion, also
liglliglted its intrinsic aw, namely, tlat it sets no limits. Reducing )uda-
ism entirely to essence, grounded only by belief in a single transcendent
Cod and universal values, tle Reformfreunde were largely condemned by
otler Reform tlinkers. Te issue of limits, tlougl, was not, and continues
not to be, settled among Reform )ews. Wlen some Reformers advocated
tle abolition of circumcision or moving tle observance of Slabbat from
Saturday to Sundaybotl proposals roundly rejected by tle Reform com-
munitytley may lave been pusling tle envelope, but tley did lave an
ideological basis.
From tle beginning of tle Hamburg Temple, as we lave seen, tlese re-
forms encountered sti resistance. Tat resistance too, lowever, owed
from tle same cultural context tlat produced tle Reform movement, be-
fore long, botl tle reformers and tleir ortlodox antagonists were speak-
ing tle same ideological language. Te argument tlat reforms slould not
be made because of tradition, i.e., tlis is low we lave always done it, lad
little weiglt. Seeking to oer a response to tle emerging Reform movement,
traditionalists began to develop tleir own soplisticated justications tlat
drew as mucl on secular culture as did tle writings of tle reformers. Te
most prominent and articulate spokesman of tlis new traditionalist ideol-
ogy was Samson Raplael Hirscl.
Hirscl was born in 8o8 in Hamburg into a traditional family tlat was
quite taken witl Mendelssoln. He remained open to Cerman secular cul-
ture tlrouglout lis life, even studying for a year at tle University of Bonn.
He served a rabbinical pulpit in Oldenburg, became tle district rabbi of
Moravia, and in 8 was invited to take a pulpit in Frankfurt-am-Main,
wlere le remained until lis deatl in 888. In a popular work publisled in
Cerman in 86, Hirscl autlored a direct attack on Reform )udaism, Te
Nineteen Letters on Judaism. He followed tlis book two years later witl
a more densely argued defense of wlat would become known as Modern
Ortlodoxy, entitled Horeb: Essays on Israels Duties in the Diaspora. Tese
works, togetler witl lis commentary on tle Pentateucl, attempt to articu-
late a colerent ideological vision of Ortlodox )udaism.
Hirscl was uncompromising about tle divine origin of lalaklal. Like
Mendelssoln and tle Reformers, le understood )udaism to lave a uni-
versal essence separable from tle lalaklal. Te lalaklot can be classi-
ed according to tlese ligler values, sucl as justice, love, and education.
is1 i is1 z6;

Hirscl, lowever, refused to locate tle value of tle lalaklal in its practical
function or utility, it is not to be followed because it is good for tle indi-
vidual. Halaklal was binding because of its divine origin. Period. Te law
can be explained but it requires no justication, for it was not tle creation
of lumans but of Cod.
Hirscl combined tlis strict approacl to lalaklal witl perlaps a surpris-
ing openness to botl secular knowledge and liturgical innovation. Hirscl
believed tlat tle ideal )ew was a Mensch-Jissroel, Man-Israelite, wlo com-
bined delity to tle divine witl proper social deportment and integration
into tle non-)ewisl world. Hirscl limself appeared almost clean slaven,
o.a An Austrian menoral, made between 88o8,o.
Courtesy of the Abraham and Natalie Percelay Museum, Temple Emanu-El ,
Providence, Rhode Island
Image has been suppressed
z68 is1 i is1
and at least one contemporary portrait slows lim witlout a lead covering.
In lis synagogues le instituted a Cerman sermon and a cloir, wore clerical
robes, insisted on proper decorum, and eliminated tle Kol Nidre prayer
from tle Yom Kippur liturgy because le felt tlat Clristians would mock it.
His rationale for tlese and otler clanges was to divide custom from law,
law miglt be inviolate but its perimeters were bounded.
Like tle Reformers le was glting, Hirscl also put great emplasis on
Scripture at tle expense of rabbinic literature. In addition to lis apologia,
lis commentaries on tle Pentateucl, written in Cerman, are best known.
He edited a new prayer book witl Cerman translations and commentaries.
He never eliminated references to a personal messial and a return to Zion,
as did tle Reformers, but le clearly saw tlese ideas as secondary and in-
nitely deferred.
Tis neo-Ortlodoxy ourisled for a time in Frankfurt-am-Main, al-
tlougl it never attracted most )ews witlin Frankfurt-am-Main and was
weak outside it. Feeling increasingly embattled, after 8;6 Hirscl developed
a more sectarian perspective, arguing for a legal corporate identity for tle
Ortlodox community alone. Tis clange in perspective put a tension into
tle leart of tle movement, wlicl now souglt to embrace tle outside world
as it desired to separate from it.
Hirsls neo-Ortlodoxy was not tle only backlasl to Reform. In Tese
Are tle Words of tle Covenant tle voice of Rabbi Moses Sofer (;68,)
rang louder tlan tle otlers. Te Hatam Sofer, as le came to be known,
lad establisled limself as a skilled Talmudist, laving written many learned
Talmudic commentaries and responsa.
Trouglout tle early nineteentl
century le positioned limself as tle stalwart defender of )udaism against
tle assaults of tle Reformers. On specics lis opposition to tle Reform-
ers varied little from tlose of otler traditionalists. He opposed clanges in
tle liturgy, tle use of Cerman for prayers and sermons, use of an organ
on Slabbat, and, of course, rejection of tle Oral Toral. He also opposed
translating tle Bible into Cerman as well as tle study of modern pliloso-
ply, even as le embraced more practical forms of secular learning sucl as
medicine and matl since tley lad implications for solving lalaklic prob-
lems. Wlat set lim apart from tlese otler opponents of Reform was lis
tleoretical edice.
Te Hatam Sofer understood tle Reformers to be attacking not just spe-
cic aspects of tle tradition but tradition itself. His response was to defend
tradition writ large, eacl and every traditional idea and practice was to be
tlouglt of as if it derived from tle Toral. Religious customs, minhagim,
is1 i is1 z6,
became law. One of lis most forceful articulations of tlis idea came as a
result of an incident tlat lad little to do witl Reform. A rabbinic court,
upon wlicl lappened to sit some Reform sympatlizers, issued a dispen-
sation tlat )ewisl soldiers glting during Passover were permitted to eat
legumes. From a juristic perspective, tlis ruling was undoubtedly correct.
Not only is tle prolibition of eating rice and legumes a custom tlat per-
tains only to Aslkenazic )ews, but for some of tlese soldiers sucl a dispen-
sation was a matter of life or deatl. Te Hatam Sofer, tlougl, opposed it.
Te Aslkenazim, le argued were a single congregation, and any customs
tlat tley took upon tlemselves applied to tle entire congregation and were
eternally valid.
Te Hatam Sofers true legacy as an extreme traditionalist, lowever, is de-
cidedly mixed. As tle rabbi of Pressburg, tle Hatam Sofer was constrained
by a governmental policy tlat recognized only a single, )ewisl communal
organization in wlicl were strong Reform voices as well as tle more mod-
erate views of lis congregation. His more extreme statements, sucl as tle
famous everytling new is forbidden! are tlus more tleoretical tlan prac-
tical, assertions of a distant ouglt. At times envisioning a separatist )ew-
isl community tlat slunned Cerman and secular knowledge, expelled tle
Reform leretics, and could regulate itself according to tle strict norms of
tradition, as le understood it, le was also a pragmatist wlo issued rulings
tlat went against eacl of tlese prescriptions.
Te Hatam Sofers extreme expressions of separatism were largely rle-
torical. He and tle otler traditionalists, were glting against a common
enemy, tle Reformers. By tle 86os, tlougl, lis words rang dierently. By
now Reform lad developed into its own movement and, in tle eyes of tle
traditionalists, lad moved so far outside tle pale tlat it was no longer con-
sidered tlreatening. For tle Hatam Sofers disciples, neo-Ortlodoxy, witl
its attempt to justify tle accommodation of tradition witl modernity, was
more tlreatening. Tey tlus understood and marslaled tle Hatam Sofers
rletoric as an attack on tle neo-Ortlodox.
Tese traditionalist opponents of neo-Ortlodoxy emerged as a new ideo-
logical group in Hungary in 86(6.
Te group quickly coalesced around
a rabbinic ruling tlat slarply attacked positions espoused by tle neo-Or-
tlodox. Tis ruling, issued in 86 in Miclalowce and signed by twenty-ve
rabbis, forbade clanges in traditional synagogue arclitecture or liturgical
practice as well as preacling in Cerman. Synagogues tlat instituted sucl
clanges were deemed louses of leresy, and it was forbidden to enter into
tlem. As tle rift between tlese traditional )ews grew, tle opponents of
z;o is1 i is1
tle neo-Ortlodox increasingly attacked tlem as leretics worse tlan tle
Reform, modern-day Sadducees wlo deceived tle masses witl tleir tra-
ditional veneer but tlen plunged tlem into fatal error. Tey went as far as
branding tle neo-Ortlodox as an erev rav, a mixed multitude. Teir use of
tle term refers to a specic notion, found in Lurianic Kabbalal, tlat locates
tle souls of tle mixed multitude in tle sitra ahara, tle otler side. In tleir
eyes tle neo-Ortlodox lad become existentially evil.
Led by Akiva )osepl Scllesinger (8;,aa), tlis group developed an
ideology to compete witl tlat of neo-Ortlodoxy. Starting from tle Hatam
Sofers more extreme statements, Scllesinger argued for a new form of
traditionalism. Tese neo-traditionalists radically expanded tle scope of
tle lalaklal. Non-normative traditions, like tle contradictory aggadic
passages tlat pepper classical rabbinic literature or even tle Zolar, were
now eclectically read as normative. Scllesinger, for example, took rab-
binic statements against learning Creek wisdom as a blanket prolibition
against learning all forms of secular knowledge, an unprecedented position.
Wlerever tle Talmud does not conict witl tle Zolar, tle lalaklal is
like tle Zolar, le wrote.
Tis fundamentalist way of reading traditionally
non-normative )ewisl texts as normative, altlougl laving some listorical
precedent, lies at tle leart of ultra-Ortlodoxy to tlis day.
In addition to tleir expansion of tle scope of lalaklal, tle neotradi-
tionalists advocated )ewisl social segregation. At a time wlen tlere were
no )ewisl nationalists, Scllesinger broke new ground. Te foundation of
all )ewisl religious life (yahadus), le claimed, was tle willingness of tle
)ewisl community to separate from tlose around it. )ews were to remain
distinctive in name, language, and dress. Yiddisl is, from tle viewpoint of
)ewisl law, just like Hebrew, Scllesinger wrote, advocating an avoidance
of otler vernaculars.
Here Scllesinger again drew normative conclusions
from aggadic texts, tle selection of names, use of vernacular languages,
and most aspects of dress were to tlat time unregulated in tle lalaklal.
Typically, Scllesinger and some of lis compatriots pusled tlis notion to
tle extreme. Witlout distinguisling oneself in name, language, and dress,
one ceases not only to be a good )ew but even to be a )ew altogetler. Like
tle otler )ewisl movements, neo-traditionalism (sometimes called ultra-
Ortlodoxy) grew as a response to modernity, complete witl its own ideo-
logical justications.
Civen tle later development of ultra-Ortlodoxy, witl its neutral if not
lostile stance toward Zionism, it is perlaps ironic tlat Scllesinger is some-
times considered a proto-Zionist. He did, in fact, move to Israel, wlere le
is1 i is1 z;1
attempted to establisl a number of educational institutions before le died
tlere in ,aa. His focus on tle people Israel as single, national body leld
togetler by a supernatural essence drew somewlat from tle ideas of )udal
Halevi, but resembled more tle modern Zionist movement. As we lave
seen, tlrouglout tle nineteentl century Western and Central European
)ews of all kinds minimized, if tley did not simply reject, tle idea tlat )ews
were better o in Zion, tle promised land. One important catalyst for tlis
rejection was tle lope oered by tle Enligltenment and tle gradual po-
litical emancipation of tle )ews, tlat tley miglt become part of tle larger
body politic. By tle end of tle century, some )ews lad despaired of tlis
lope. Normalization of tle )ews lad moved so slowly and unevenly, tley
wondered if it would ever arrive or if )ews would forever be tle foreigners
in tle midst of Europe.
Te Dreyfus aair sparked a response to tlis growing )ewisl unease. In
8,( a Frencl army captain, Alfred Dreyfus, was wrongly convicted of trea-
son. Te case itself, as well as tle public exclanges tlat followed in its wake,
revealed a mucl deeper and darker anti-Semitic vein among tle suppos-
edly enligltened Frencl elite tlan anyone ever imagined existing.
Te Drefus aair prompted Teodor Herzl, an assimilated )ewisl jour-
nalist sent from Austria to cover it, to write a manifesto, Der Judenstaat
(Te Jewish State). Often seen as tle beginning of political Zionism, Te
Jewish State argues tlat )ews could never be at lome in Europe. Te an-
swer, Herzl insisted, was an independent )ewisl lomeland, preferably but
not necessarily in Palestine. Here )ews, under an aristocratic government,
could live in peace as a nation, eacl immigrant community bringing its own
language as, le claims, works in Switzerland. In Herzls eyes Israel was a
nation, no more and only sligltly less tlan any otler national group, sucl
as Cermans, Italians, or tle Frencl. His vision of tle )ewisl nation diered
from tlese otlers, lowever, in tlat le curiously neglected to discuss tle
role of religion in tlis new nation. For Herzl Israel was a nation formed
by tle anti-Semite, a community pusled togetler by outside forces ratler
tlan laving any positive forces internally tlat drew it togetler. Zionism
was not a form of )udaism tlat was missing some elements, it was rst
and foremost a form of political nationalism, witl little connection to tle
past. Zionism arose from European state nationalism.
Herzls plan struck a nerve. Many )ews wlo slared lis disillusionment
witl tle )ewisl question quickly came to support lis ideas and lelped
to organize tle rst Zionist congress in 8,;.
He was, tlougl, quickly
attacked on botl anks. Many European )ews were not as disillusioned
z;z is1 i is1
as Herzl and continued to maintain tlat tley could live ricl lives as )ews
and Europeans. Te Reform movement attacked Herzl for wlat tley saw
as lis rejection of tle promise of tle Enligltenment. Te Ortlodox rab-
bis joined tle Reform rabbis in tleir attack on Zionism for being antago-
nistic to tle messianic promises of )udaism, altlougl tle two groups lad
dierent tlings in mind by tlis condemnation.
Many Ortlodox groups,
of all kinds, quickly grew to see tle attempt to settle Palestine and form
a )ewisl state tlere prior to tle messianic era as sacrilegious, a presump-
tive act against Cods will. For tlese )ews, tle ingatlering of tle )ews to
Israel would take place only in tle messianic era, and tlat would lappen
wlenever Cod willed it, it was a passive esclatology in wlicl lumans lad
little role.
Yet anotler modern )ewisl movement traces its roots to nineteentl-
century Cermany. Heinricl Craetz was one of tle most prominent prac-
titioners of tle inuential but slort-lived Wissensclaft des )udentums
movement, a movement for tle scientic study of )udaism. Encouraging
tle application of modern forms of analysis to traditional )ewisl texts, tlis
early nineteentl-century movement would eventually give rise to tle mod-
ern academic study of )udaism. Unlike sclolars of )udaism in tle modern
university, tlese early practitioners of Wissensclaft were never disen-
gaged, tley saw tleir program as a reslaping of )ewisl identity by reveal-
ing its national essence. Craetzs listory was a national one, meant to de-
velop a story, as scientic and natural as any national listory of its time,
to wlicl modern )ews could subscribe. On one level Craetz autlored lis
listory as an alternative to tle sacred listory of Israelit would create a
new imagined community among tlose wlo slared its new story.
Te institutional success of tle Wissensclaft des )udentums move-
ment fell well slort of tle expectations of its founders. It was never able
to develop a new listorical )ewisl identity, and many of its founders
and tleir families eventually converted to Clristianity. Zeclarias Frankel
(8o8;), lowever, used elements of tle Wissensclaft movement in a
dierent combination. Frankel subscribed to tle basic premise tlat )uda-
ism lad undergone, and continues to undergo, clange in listory. Breaking
early witl tle Reformers, Frankel set lis party against botl tle Reform
and tle Ortlodox:
Tis party bases itself upon rational faitl and recognizes tlat tle task of
)udaism is religious action, but it demands tlat tlis action slall not be
empty of spirit and tlat it not become merely meclanical, expressing itself
is1 i is1 z;
mainly in tle form. It las also reacled tle view tlat religious activity itself
must be brouglt up to a ligler level tlrougl giving weiglt to tle many
meanings witl wlicl it slould be endowed. . . . We must, it feels, take into
consideration tle opposition between faitl and conditions of tle time.
For Frankel, true faitl is eternal, constituting tle essence of )udaism, al-
tlougl lis understanding of tle precise content and contours of tlis es-
sence remained ambiguous. Mucl of tle expression of tlis faitl was, in lis
view, listorically contingent, tle result of continuing negotiation between
sclolars and tle community. Te sclolars wlo wisl to preserve )udaisms
essence, or forms, cannot do so witlout tle consent of tle people. Tis
is tle kernel of lis idea of positive listorical )udaism, tlat )ewisl tradi-
tional texts slould be subjected to critical and listorical inquiry, but tlat
all traditional aspects of )udaism be viewed as positive. Tis became tle
program of tle )discl-Teologiscles Seminar in Breslau, wlicl Frankel
began to direct in 8(. Te )discl-Teologiscles Seminar pioneered tle
combination of secular (listorical) studies witl study of traditional )ewisl
texts as part of a rabbinical education. To a great degree tlis new curricu-
lum was a response to popular demandby tle 8(os a majority of rabbis
in tle major Cerman cities leld doctorates from secular universities, tlus
transforming tle rabbinate.
For all tleir riotous variety, it is tleir emplasis on ideology tlat lolds
togetler tlese )ewisl responses to modernity. )udaism was problematized:
it needed to be explained and justied. Te conditions of modernity com-
pelled )ews to articulate self-consciously wlo tley were as )ews. Te )ewisl
plilosoplers of tle Middle Ages, of course, lad already tried tlis, but under
dierent social conditions, for dierent reasons, and to an underwlelming
response. Te European attempt was mucl more systematic and lad mucl
ligler stakes. Botl non-)ews and )ews needed to be convinced tlat )uda-
ism was modern and relevant.
Te cost of tlis transformation was ideological splintering. Tere lad
always been slarp dierences between )ews of tle same community, but
tle reluctance to systematize tlose disputes as ideological dierences lad
lelped many of tlese communities to avoid fragmentation. Even in Spino-
zas community, in wlicl can be seen tle very beginning of tlese processes
of modernity, only monstrous ideas and deeds could spur tle community
to action. Ideologies lower tle bar. Previously, )ewisl communities could
mark tleir customary dierences tlrougl geograply, for example, identify-
ing as Aslkenazim and Seplardim. By tle end of tle nineteentl century,
z; is1 i is1
tlougl, tley were setting tlemselves o from eacl otler by ideology. Even
practice, or adlerence to lalaklal, lost its role as tle lowest common de-
nominator. Ceiger, Frankel, and Hirscl all exlibited a similar adlerence to
lalaklal, I doubt tlat tley would lave lad any lalaklic objection to eating
in eacl otlers louses. Yet tley feuded bitterly over tleir abstract under-
standing of )udaism. Wlat ideology gains in intellectual precision it loses in
tle notion of tle unity of tle people Israel.

Civen tle ideological and intellectual ferment of Western and Central Eu-
rope and tle profound impact tlat tlese ideological developments lad
on Western understandings of )udaism, it is sometimes too easy to over-
look tle fact tlat in tle eiglteentl and nineteentl centuries 8o percent
of tle worlds )ewisl population lived in Eastern Europe. Like tleir West-
ern bretlren, tlese Eastern European )ews were Aslkenazic, tracing tleir
ancestry back to Cermany, and tlus slared botl a language (Yiddisl) and
dependence on tle same group of Aslkenazic rabbinic autlorities. Also
like tleir Western bretlren, tley were confronted witl tle conditions of
modernity. Te slape of tlis confrontation, as well as tleir reaction to it,
lowever, was very dierent.
Wlereas Barucl Spinoza emerged from a community tlat was increas-
ingly feeling tle pressures and opportunities presented by a faitl in rea-
son, Eastern European )ews in tle seventeentl and eiglteentl centuries
were being drawn to Kabbalal. Interest in tle popularization of Kabbalal
among Eastern European )ews exploded in tle seventeentl century. In
tle wake of Sabbatai Zvis messianic mission kabbalistic tracts ooded tle
Eastern European )ewisl market, wlere if tle number of printings and
references to tlem are a reliable indicator tley were widely circulated and
studied. By tle eiglteentl century Kabbalal lad gained sucl autlority
among Eastern European )ews tlat tle leading rabbinic autlorities consis-
tently advocated its study and incorporated kabbalistic concepts and doc-
trines into tleir own lalaklic writings. Even Rabbi Eliyalu ben Sllomo
Zalman (;ao,;), tle Vilna Caon, unquestionably accepted tle force
and autlority of Kabbalal.
Altlougl sclolars sucl as tle Vilna Caon wrestled witl tle esoteric
and maddeningly complex mystical texts sucl as tle Zolar, most )ews en-
countered Kabbalal in a more popular form. Kabbalistic tracts were writ-
ten and translated into Yiddisl for a less sclolarly audience. Otler abridged
is1 i is1 z;
kabbalistic works tlat omitted tle dense tleosoplic speculation of tle
Zolar circulated widely. Kabbalal so deeply penetrated Eastern European
)ewry tlat it inuenced religious practices.
One of tle most noticeable areas of religious practice in wlicl a popular-
ized version of Kabbalal played a role was prayer, particularly tle tekhines,
popular supplications. Many of tlese supplications were autlored by men
and women, primarily in Yiddisl, for a female audience and were very pop-
ular tlrouglout Eastern Europe. Tey were to be recited primarily as part
of tle prototypically female rituals, sucl as immersion in tle ritual batl
following menstruation, tle baking of bread, and tle liglting of Slabbat
candles. Tere were tekhines for otler occasions as well, tlougl, especially
for life cycle events and for penitence, around tle time of tle Higl Holy
Days. Some were also infused witl watered-down kabbalistic concepts.
One woman, for example, identied in tle text as Slifral, wrote a Yiddisl
supplication concerning tle liglting of candles on tle Sabbatl:
Te commandment of Sabbatl candles was given to tle women of tle
loly people tlat tley miglt kindle liglts. Te sages said tlat because
Eve extinguisled tle liglt of tle world and made tle cosmos dark by ler
sin, [women] must kindle liglts for tle Sabbatl. But tlis is tle reason
for it: Because tle Slelter of Peace [ tle Sleklinal] rests on us during
tle Sabbatl, on tle [Sabbatl-]souls, it is tlerefore proper for us to do
below, in tlis form, as it is done above [witlin tle Codlead], to kindle
tle liglts. Terefore, because tle two souls sline on tle Sabbatl, tley
[women] must liglt two candles. . . . Terefore, by kindling tle lamps for
tle loly Sabbatl, we awaken great arousal in tle upper world. And wlen
tle woman kindles tle liglts, it is tting to ler to kindle [tlem] witl joy
and witl wloleleartedness, because it is in lonor of tle Sleklinal and
in lonor of tle Sabbatl and in lonor of tle extra [Sabbatl] soul. Tus sle
will be privileged to lave loly clildren. . . . And by tlis means sle gives
ler lusband long life.
Slifral rejects tle traditional midrasl tlat women today liglt Sabbatl
candles in order to gain atonement for Eves sin. Instead, sle draws from
kabbalistic sources to slow tle supernal eects of liglting tle candles, it
creates desire in tle upper world for unication witl tle Sleklinal. Liglt-
ing Sabbatl candles las cosmic implications.
At tle same time, it does not lurt tlat it lelps ones family directly. Tis
supplication also illustrates anotler, and perlaps tle primary, interest in
z;6 is1 i is1
Kabbalal among Eastern European )ews: its practical implications. Ulti-
mately, most Eastern European )ews saw in Kabbalal practical arts to bring
good fortune or ward o tle evil eye. Tey were far less interested in tleo-
soplic speculation tlat would restore tle Codlead into tle form tlat would
bring about tle coming of tle messial and universal redemption tlan tley
were in lealing tleir sick clild now. Kabbalal became a way to larness
tle divine power against tle cosmic forces of evil tlat ceaselessly lurked. It
is, for example, for practical reasons tlat Eastern European )ews adapted
tle ceremony of tle upsherin. Tis ceremony, literally slearing, refers to
tle rst laircut tlat a boy is to receive, wlen le turns tlree years old. It is
rst attested in kabbalistic sources from tle sixteentl or early seventeentl
century and was tigltly linked to tleosoplic speculation. As practiced by
Eastern European )ews, it was connected to a boys initiation to Toral. At
tle same time tlat tle boy lost lis lair le began to don tle kippah and tal-
lit katan, tle fringed four-cornered garment tlat le slould always wear. He
moves from an undierentiated state into tle state of being maletle act
is in fact explicitly compared to orlah, literally an uncircumcised penis but
also a fruit tree wlose produce is prolibited until tlree years lave passed. It
will now be Toral and its symbols tlat protect tle boy from tle evil forces.
Te upsherin uslered a boy tlrougl tle dangerous and liminal transforma-
tion, lis long locks protecting lim from tle demons until le could don tle
kippal and tallit katan.
Practical Kabbalal ourisled in tlis community precisely because of
its underlying cosmology. Tis was a world in wlicl evil was seen to lave
an ontologically independent existence: tle demons lovered. Unlike most
early rabbinic literature, tle Zolars mytlology was congruent witl tlis
outlook on tle world, neitler Moses Mendelssoln nor Moses Maimonides
would lave recognized it. Kabbalal, tlat is, was attractive to many East-
ern European )ews because it conrmed wlat tley already tlouglt tley
knew about tle world and oered a solution to it. Cerman )ews during tle
Enligltenment lad a fundamentally dierent vision of tle structure of tle
world, one tlat was very mucl at odds witl tle tlreatening, somewlat du-
alistic mytlology of tle Zolar.
Te preference of Eastern European )ews for tlis relatively dark cosmol-
ogy must be understood against tleir demograplic and social situation.
Tere never was any movement in Eastern Europe, unlike Western and
Central Europe, to grant civic riglts to tle )ews. Te )ews were often not
oppressed, but neitler were tley fully integrated into tleir larger surround-
ings in Eastern Europe. Most Eastern European )ews in tle eiglteentl and
is1 i is1 z;;
nineteentl centuries lived in urban environments, and many cities lad a
large )ewisl presence. Yet despite botl tleir concentration (strengtl in
numbers) and tleir relatively good relations witl tleir Clristian neiglbors,
tley rarely felt entirely secure. Tey were economically integrated into tle
Polisl state, but tleir actual safety often depended on tle mercurial tem-
peraments of Polisl nobility. A cosmology tlat understands evil as omni-
present does lelp to make sense of an unstable world occasionally punctu-
ated witl acts of unspeakable terror.
It was also tleir demograplic and social condition tlat made Eastern
European )ews more receptive to tle notion of an intrinsic )ewislness, as
advocated by )udal Halevi and tle Zolar. Te )ew was tlouglt to lave a
special soul, to be a )ew meant to possess tlis divine gift by virtue of ones
birtl. Te acceptance of sucl a notion naturally causes tleological prob-
lems accommodating tle proselyte, but, given tle scarcity of conversions to
)udaism in Eastern Europe during tle eiglteentl and nineteentl centuries,
tlis problem was marginal at best. Popularized Kabbalal tlus also provided
tle resources from wlicl tlese )ews could validate and even valorize tleir
sense of separateness. As always, it would be incorrect to universalize by
saying tlat all )ews or )ewisl communities were committed to tle notion of
an intrinsic )ewisl soul, but tle concept became so widely circulated tlat
tle term Jewish soul found its way into popular slort stories.
To understand tle )ews of Eastern Europe purely as separatist, draw-
ing from tleir tradition in order to react to tle listorical circumstances in
wlicl tley found tlemselves, would be too simplistic. Te majority of )ews
in Eastern Europe lived in religiously and socially diverse environments.
Tey lad social and economic relationslips witl tleir non-)ewisl neigl-
bors. Polisl )ews may lave seen tlemselves as distinct, and not lave been
entirely trusted by non-)ews, but tley were also Poles wlo slared many of
tle same cultural assumptions.
Wlile mucl more sclolarly work needs
to be done in order to conrm tlis impression, )ews and non-)ews tlrougl-
out Eastern Europe appeared to lave slared many fundamental religious
understandings. Te )ewisl stance toward practical Kabbalal, including
prayers, practices, and amulets, looks similar to tle kinds of tlings tlat
contemporary non-)ews were doing in order to ward o tle otler side.
Botl sets of practices, in fact, grew out of a slared cosmology tlat was nev-
ertleless justied in radically dierent ways: wletler it was tle sitra alara
of tle Kabbalal, tle fallen angels and demons of tle Catlolic Clurcl,
or more generalized notions of tle world as a dangerous place, )ews and
non-)ews often slared a conceptual world. Similarly, Eastern Europeans,
z;8 is1 i is1
)ewisl and non-)ewisl, slared basic understandings of gender roles and
tle permissible roles of women in public religion and botl )ews and non-
)ews went tlrougl a period of religious revival at rouglly tle same time in
tle eiglteentl century.
Even tle )ewisl movement of baalei shem, masters of tle name, is best
understood against tlis Eastern European, and especially Polisl, back-
ground. Tese )ewisl slamans, some itinerant and otlers not, oered tleir
practical services to tle populace. Like contemporary non-)ewisl slamans,
tley asserted tlat tley lad access to divine powers, wlicl tley could tlen
larness for tle benet of tleir clients. To do tlis, tle baalei slem, as tleir
appellation suggests, primarily used manipulations of tle divine names,
drawing on tle loary notion (repeated in tle Zolar) tlat to know tle true
name of sometling is also to gain power over it. Te baalei slem gained
reputations as masters of tle practical Kabbalal and were sometimes con-
sulted even by non-)ews wlo souglt to play it safe.
Te most famous of tlese baalei slem, by far, was Israel ben Eliezer. Te
Baal Slem Tov, as le would later be known, was born in 6,8 in Poland.
Despite tle existence of a vast lagiograplical literature tlat arose follow-
ing lis deatl in ;6o, we actually do not possess mucl listorical knowl-
edge of lis life. Unlike most of tle otler baalei slem, Israel ben Eliezer was
also part of a pietistic conventicle. Tese conventicles lad been in existence
in Aslkenazic )ewisl communities since tle Middle Ages, tleir members
were known as Hasidim. At tlat time to be a Hasid, literally pious, meant
to be part of a small and local ascetic and mystical group. Structurally, al-
tlougl not organizationally, tle Hasidim resembled monks, a liglly co-
lesive ascetic (altlougl not sexually abstinent) group of men wlo souglt
personal contact witl tle divine. Leading one sucl group of Hasidim must
also lave added prestige and autlority to Israels reputation as a baal slem,
one wlo tlen applied tlis power for tle good of otlers.
Israel ben Eliezer appears to lave distinguisled limself from tlese tradi-
tional Hasidim tlrougl lis communal concern. Te Baal Slem Tov prayed
not only for lis own benet, or tle benet of lis clients, but also for tle
entire community of Israel. For lim to be a Hasid meant to utilize ones
connection to tle divine for tle good of tle entire community, tle people
Israel become lis client.
Te later legends about tle Baal Slem Tov depict lim as a clarismat-
ic religious entlusiast. He preacled to all )ews tlat one need not be a
sclolar, or even literate, to live in tle presence of Cod. More tlan tle
study of sacred texts or even tle punctilious observance of lalaklal, Cod
is1 i is1 z;,
requires sincere intention. Te portrayal of tle Baal Slem Tov as em-
plasizing inner intentions over external actions may, in fact, speak more
about tlose wlo created and collected tlese legends tlan tley do about
tle genuine teaclings of Israel ben Eliezer. In any case, tley reveal a com-
munity tlat was very mucl part of tle religious revivalist movements
active tlrouglout Poland in tle eiglteentl century. Tese Clristian
movements too were reacting to tle tension inlerent in tleir religious
institutions between inner intention and required external devotion, em-
plasizing tle former over tle latter. True religious devotion was open to
all wlo lad tle proper desire.
To see Israel ben Eliezer as tle founder of wlat would be transformed into
modern-day Hasidism is anaclronistic. Te Baal Slem Tov limself left few
written records, but lis disciples created out of lis teaclings and practice a
distinctive movement. Several of tlese men, sucl as Dov Ber of Mezeritcl,
gatlered around tlemselves groups of younger disciples and attempted
some more successfully tlan otlersto spread tleir version of tle Baal
Slem Tovs message. Tere were important dierences between tlis new
Hasidism spread by tlese various groups, but tley slared several dening
claracteristics. Wlile some Hasidic groups emplasized more tlan otlers
tle value of tle study of tle traditional Aslkenazic curriculummainly
Talmudtley all liglliglted tle role of religious entlusiasm. Tis entlusi-
asm is encapsulated more completely in two tleological propositions pro-
moted by tle Baal Slem Tov, pantleism and devekut. Te teaclings of tle
Baal Slem Tov and lis early followers lave an ambivalent relationslip witl
Lurianic Kabbalal. Against it tley prefer a mystical system tlat emplasizes
Cods all-enveloping presencetle Lurianic emplasis on divine emanation
is devalued. Tis pulls mucl Hasidic tlouglt toward pantleism and more
psyclological understandings of Cods presence. Cod is everywlere, even
witlin tle luman being. Te proper response to Cods presence is devekut,
practices tlat lead to ones cleaving to tle divine. Tese practices are pri-
marily bodily and joyful and focus on tle internal state of tle believer more
tlan on tle formal claracteristics of tle practices.
Tis, lowever, does not mean tlat early Hasidim abandoned Lurianic
Kabbalal. Tey drew upon it to understand tle cosmic consequences of
tleir religious entlusiasm. Popularized notions of Lurianic Kabbalal pro-
vided a model for tlem to emplasize tle role tlat ordinary )ews could play
in repairing tle divine and tlus bringing about tle redemptive age. By lift-
ing tle loly sparks and restoring tlem to tleir rigltful place in tle Cod-
lead tle Hasid is engaged in an active redemptive process. It leld out to
z8o is1 i is1
all )ews, lowever educated, tle possibility of participation in tlis cosmic
repair of tle divine.
Not all )ews, lowever, were quite seen as equal. Among tle more contro-
versial Hasidic doctrines was tlat of tle tzadik. Literally riglteous one, in
earlier rabbinic literature tle term applied vaguely to )ews wlo were con-
sidered exceptionally upriglt in tleir social and religious conduct. In tle
lands of tle Hasidim of tle late eiglteentl and early nineteentl century,
tlougl, it came to denote tle lead of a Hasidic group. Instead of being as-
signed on tle basis of merit as (in tleory) was tle case in rabbinic institu-
tions, it was dynastic: Te previous tzadik would appoint lis successor, wlo
was almost always a son or son-in-law. Drawing on tle model of tle Baal
Slem Tov, tle tzadik was seen as an intercessor witl Cod on belalf of tle
Hasidic group. By virtue of birtl and oce, le lived on a ligler spiritual
plane, lis prayers were more potent tlan tlose of lis followers. Hasidic
groups vary in low mucl power tley ascribed (and continue to ascribe) to
tle tzadik, but some went so far as to seek to toucl tle tzadik or even lis
robe in order to brusl up against divine power.
Hasidic groups also began to develop distinctive ritual practices. Instead
of using tle standard Aslkenazic liturgy, tley switcled to tle Seplardic,
witl tle Lubavitcl using tle mystically tinged liturgy of Isaac Luria, tle
Ari. Tis liturgy contains mystical meditations tlat link some prayers to
kabbalistic acts of tikkun. Tey encouraged plysical movement and ges-
ticulation during prayer if it would increase ones ability to focus.
By tle late eiglteentl century tlese Hasidic groups lad respectable fol-
lowings, and it is not dicult to see wly. Hasidism tapped into botl tle
wider religious revivalist spirit as well as tle specically )ewisl populariza-
tion of Kabbalal. It combined tle idea tlat lumans can larness tle divine
powers for tleir own benet witl a far loftier notion tlat ordinary )ews
could make a cosmic impact. Despite tle power tlat Hasidism vested in
all its adlerents, it also maintained a tangible sign of divine access in tle
tzadik. Te patl to Cod for tle Hasid did not run tlrougl long and arduous
training in tle Talmud but tlrougl lis own leart. Teir emerging ritual
practices lelped tlem to form a unique and distinctive community, foster-
ing a feeling of closenness witlin tle people Israel.
Hasidism was certainly distinct, but it was not on any kind of natural or
predetermined collision course witl tle rabbinic establislment. And lad
Hasidism not incensed tle Vilna Caon, tlese Hasidic circles miglt well
lave coexisted as yet anotler ill-dened group of )ews witlin traditional
)ewisl society. Trougl lis slarp and relentless attacks on tle emerging
is1 i is1 z81
Hasidic movement, tlougl, tle Vilna Caon not only turned tle power of
tle rabbinic establislment against it, but in so doing paradoxically lelped
botl Hasidism and tle mitnagdim (tle opponents of Hasidism) to slape
tleir own distinctive identities.
Te Vilna Caon was arguably tle most well-known and respected rabbi
of all Europe in tle second lalf of tle eiglteentl century.
His status
derived botl from lis prodigious knowledge of traditional rabbinic texts
and lis peculiar lifestyle. To tle Vilna Caon tle liglest worslip of Cod
was realized in tle dialectical study of tle Toral. Toral, in tlis sense,
meant not only tle Talmud and its commentaries but also kabbalistic
writings. His mastery of tle traditional curriculum was so renowned tlat
sclolars were said to lave traveled long distances for an audience witl
lim in order to elucidate textual and lalaklic problems, only to nd tley
sometimes lad a lard time actually gaining tlat audience. Even if tlese
accounts are later exaggerations, tlere is no doubting lis prestige and
inuence. Te Vilna Caon lad no rabbinic oce, nor was le tle lead of
any yesliva or )ewisl educational institution.
Instead, le was an old-
style Hasid, a reclusive, ascetic mystic wlo immersed limself in study.
He was said to lave retired for long periods of seclusion, away from botl
family and community.
Te Vilna Caon slould not, lowever, merely be seen as an exemplar of
a traditional type of rabbinic autlority. He was working witlin traditional
molds, but le also transformed tlem. For tle old-style Hasid, tle goal was
to orient tle self to Cod, study was but one means toward tlat reslaping
of tle self. But tle Vilna Caon elevated study of tle Toral as tle primary
velicle to Cod. Study for its own sake, a value relentlessly articulated in
classical rabbinic texts, was now lifted out of its context and given an al-
most ideological importance. Tis evaluation of tle importance of study
was in fact weakly parallel to tle increasing importance tlat contemporary
universities were placing on abstract and tleoretical knowledge, knowledge
for its own sake.
Altlougl tle later Haskalal tlinkers of Eastern Europe would claim tle
Vilna Caon as one of tlem, lis relationslip to modern Enligltenment val-
ues was weak. He did advocate brancles of secular education sucl as matl-
ematics and some of tle sciences, but only because tlis knowledge could
lelp to elucidate problems found in rabbinic texts. Knowledge for its own
sake, for tle Vilna Caon, never meant tle study of modern metaplysics and
plilosoply, wlicl le larslly condemned. Te Vilna Caon was neitler a
maskil nor a traditional rabbinic sclolar.
z8z is1 i is1
According to legend, tle Vilna Caons opposition to tle new Hasidim
primarily centered on tleir use of tle liturgy of tle Ari and on wlat le saw
as foolisl and disrespectful gestures during prayer. Wlile tlese miglt in
fact be tle immediate causes of lis lostility, tlere were clear underlying
tensions. Te Hasidim were moving in tle opposite direction to tlat of tle
gaon, subordinating study to personal piety and opening tle patl to Cod to
even tle illiterate. Moreover, tley did tlis under tle banner of tle Hasidim,
wlicl must lave been especially galling to tle gaon. According to one tes-
timony, tle gaon said tlat it was a duty to repel [tle Hasidim] and pursue
tlem and reduce tlem and drive tlem from tle land.
Te gaons opposition to tle Hasidim intensied tle conict. Ironically,
it miglt also lave lelped tle far-ung and diverse Hasidic circles to unify
under tle strain of persecution. Local and ad loc customs were clarged
witl tle power of borderlines, and Hasidism, wlile maintaining its diver-
sity, itself began to larden into a discernable movement. Te gaons ban un-
leasled communal persecutions of local Hasidim tlat succeeded in uniting
tlem wlere tle Hasidim tlemselves could not.
Te gaons ban also lelped to unify tlose wlo saw tlemselves as lis dis-
ciples. Tose wlo wisled to follow in tle gaons patl could now identify
as mitnagdim. Altlougl not exactly an ideological platform, zealous op-
position to tle Hasidim served as an easily accessible way to nd common
ground witl otlers wlo wisled to signal tleir adlerence to tle gaon.
Te gaons more enduring legacy, lowever, found a deeper and more sta-
ble lome in tle development of tle Litluanian yesliva. One of lis preemi-
nent disciples, Rabbi Hayyim, establisled a yesliva in Volozlin in tle early
nineteentl century. Te yesliva, located about lalfway between Vilna and
Minsk, crafted an approacl modeled after tlat of tle gaon, at least as un-
derstood by Rabbi Hayyim. It soon developed a stellar reputation, attract-
ing many students and serving as tle model for otler yeslivot tlrouglout
Eastern Europe. Following tle lead of tle gaon, tle yesliva emplasized
Toral study for its own sake, an approacl tlat led to increasingly tleoreti-
cal speculation. Tis was an institutional culmination of a process tlat lad
been building over more tlan a century. Te rise of )ewisl printing allowed
not only for tle spread of popularized kabbalistic works but also for lalakl-
ic tracts. An unforeseen ramication of tlis explosion of printed rabbinic
works was tle weakening of tle oral tradition and rabbinic power to adju-
dicate lalaklic disputes. Te rabbis tlemselves were well aware of tlis, and
at tle time tley vociferously denounced tle spread of tlese printed tracts,
wlicl tley saw as undermining tleir own autlority. Now, instead of con-
is1 i is1 z8
sulting a rabbi for lalaklic guidance, some )ews began to consult printed
texts. Over tle course of time tle easy availability of lalaklic tracts slifted
tle focus of rabbinic activity away from practical issues to more abstract
and tleoretical ones. Instead of reading a Talmudic passage for its lalaklic
or normative implications, tle sclolar became increasingly concerned witl
explaining tle reasoning belind later commentaries on tle passage.
Witlin tle Volozlin Yesliva and its ospring tle tendency toward ab-
stract analysis tlrived. One of its most prominent advocates was Rabbi
Hayyim of Brisk (8,8). He developed a rigorous analytical metlod
tlat focused on tle concepts underlying tle lalaklal. Seeking to explain
low tle lalaklal worked ratler tlan justifying it (wlo, after all, can under-
stand tle divine will:), tle Brisker metlod souglt to recover tle conceptual
underpinnings of tle lalaklal. Tis approacl transforms lalaklal from
a somewlat messy set of norms for living in tle real world into a perfect
system ontologically rooted in tle divine. Halaklal is to be botl lived and
studied for its own sake as a perfectly colerent and eternal system. Rabbi
Hayyims grandson, Rabbi )osepl Dov Soloveitclik, became tle foremost
proponent of tlis approacl in America.
Te students of tle Volozlin Yesliva were expected to pursue tlese
questions witl botl intellectual and plysical rigor. Te intellectual ap-
proacl was similar enougl to modern modes of tlinking tlat many of its
later graduates easily found an intellectual lome in tle Haskalal move-
ment in Eastern Europe. Despite many tensions between tle yesliva and
tle maskilimdue mostly to tle yeslivas steadfast opposition to including
secular studies in its curriculummany of tle maskilim nevertleless spoke
liglly and fondly of tleir educational experience. Tis miglt be somewlat
surprising considering tle ascetic environment, in wlicl students awoke at
r to begin tleir studies, often not concluding until o vr or later.
Te Volozlin Yesliva was closed and reopened several times before
eventually being slut down for good (at least ocially) by tle Russian gov-
ernment in 8,a. Over tle close to one lundred years of its existence, tle
Volozlin Yesliva and tle yeslivot modeled on it gave rise to a new form
of )udaism sometimes known as yesliva )udaism. Revolving around tle
institution of tle yesliva and granting autlority to tle rosh yeshiva (lead
of tle yesliva), tlese )ews made talmud Toral, as tley understood it, tle
focus of tleir religious lives. For tlese )ews, tlis increasingly abstract and
intensive study of tle sacred texts becomes an all-encompassing activity.
Sucl an outlook is fundamentally at odds witl tlose of tlinkers like Men-
delssoln and Hirscl, wlo also saw value and trutl in secular knowledge,
z8 is1 i is1
and tle Hasidim wlo saw sucl study as eitler besides tle point or even
larmful. For tlis emerging yesliva )udaism, on tle otler land, tlere was
no trutl, wortl, or knowledge outside of Toral. Te patl to Cod was lim-
ited to tle rigorous study of a canon of rabbinic texts and tle austere life
tlat was to accompany sucl study. Contemporary rabbis were tlemselves
aware of tle distinctiveness of tlis approacl: A )udaism witlout Toral is
[to Eastern European )ews] wlat a )udaism witlout tle divine service is
to tle Cerman )ews, wrote Rabbi Yeliel Weinberg, an Eastern European
luminary, in ,6.
Tis approacl, as tle listorian David Biale points out, slould be con-
sidered not as tle faitlful continuation of a )ewisl tradition tlat stretcles
back into antiquity, but, like Hasidism and otler forms of )ewisl religious
expression emerging in tle nineteentl century, self-conscious articula-
tions of traditional ways of life in tle face of a clanging world.
Like tle
ideological movements developing in Central and Western Europe, and
tle growing Haskalal movement in Eastern Europe in tle late nineteentl
century, tle Ortlodox forms of )udaism in Eastern Europe increasingly
developed self-conscious identities. To be a member of a yesliva in Litlu-
ania increasingly meant not to be a Hasid, a follower of Hirscl, orleaven
forbida maskil. Ironically, tle two primary means by wlicl yesliva )ews
began to cement tleir self-identity as a distinctive and colerent conserva-
tive movement were quintessentially modern. In ,a, Agudat Yisrael was
created as a political party of yesliva )ews. It was active in Eastern Europe
in tle prewar period (even winning seats in tle Polisl parliament), in tle
Zionist movement, and continues to function (albeit mucl transformed) in
tle political life of tle State of Israel. Additionally, yesliva )ews created tleir
own newspapers, often printed in Hebrew (tle language of tle maskilim),
to compete in tle marketplace of ideas.
Despite tlese attempts to make its ideas more accessible, yesliva )uda-
ism always was an elitist movement. Most Eastern European )ews lad nei-
tler tle inclination nor tle ability to engage in sucl a rigorous intellec-
tual life. Tus tle abstract intellectual debates of tle yesliva by and large
stayed in tle yesliva, tley lad little impact on tle daily lives of most otler
)ews. Tese )ews, sometimes derisively referred to as amkha (your peo-
ple, a reference to Cods people Israel) by tle yesliva elite, led more or
less traditional but unself-consciously )ewisl lives. Tat is, most Eastern
European )ews tlrougl tle nineteentl century observed core )ewisl rituals
(e.g., Slabbat, festivals, kaslrut, basic life cycle rituals) mimetically, tley

is1 i is1 z8
did so in tle ways and witl tle understandings of tleir parents and otlers
in tle communities in wlicl tley were raised. Traditional )ews lad little
place or patience for tle printed strictures of tle lalaklal or tle abstruse
discussions of tle yesliva. Tey miglt lave respected tle learning of tle
yesliva students or been attracted to tle more accessible leanings of tle
Hasidim, but tley lived as neitler. As witl tle generations of )ews before
tlem, tley lived in symbiotic but uneasy tension witl tlose elites wlo saw
tlemselves as tle guardians of tle rabbinic tradition. Sometimes tley
would ignore exlortation for increased lalaklic observance, wlile at otler
timesparticularly in matters of observance of kaslruttley could ex-
ceed tle lalaklic minimum. Wlat a book or rabbi told tlem mattered far
less tlan wlat tley saw in tleir parents lome. For tlese )ews Toral was a
way of life ratler tlan a book.
Tis description is not meant to perpetuate tle mytl of a golden age of
)udaism in Eastern Europe. In ler sacclarine but complex autobiograpli-
cal narrative, Pauline Wengero tells of tle erosion of tle traditional )u-
daism of ler clildlood. Traveling witl ler lusband tlrougl tle Pale in
tle late nineteentl century, sle ends up in St. Petersburg. Te )ewisl com-
munity of St. Petersburg lad been wracked witl internal dissension as
many )ews souglt Western-style religious reforms. Te community nev-
ertleless remained strong enougl to build a monumental synagogue, tle
Cloral Synagogue, wlicl seated twelve lundred and was opened in 8,.
Wengero comments:
Te )ewisl community of St. Petersburg possessed a large, splendid syna-
gogue and two rabbis, one learned in modern studies and one Ortlodox.
But it lad distanced itself considerably from )ewisl custom and tradition.
Te most distinguisled of tle )ews adopted many foreign traditions and
celebrated alien festivals sucl as Clristmas. Of )ewisl lolidays tley ob-
served only Yom Kippur and Pesahand even tlese were in a so-called
modern manner. Many calmly arrived at tle synagogue in a carriage and
took tleir meals on Yom Kippur during tle intermissions.
Sle goes on to say tlat most )ews in St. Petersburg were, actually, faitlful
to tradition. Not ler lusband, lowever, wlom sle describes as forcing ler
to abandon tle traditional ways tlat sle lad loved. Her account is complex
to evaluate: Was sle an unwilling victim of ler lusbands demands, or, as
otler passages of tle memoir suggest, was sle too an accomplice, forging a

z86 is1 i is1
modern )ewisl identity: And certainly sle cannot be seen as representative
of anytling otler tlan a minuscule segment of bourgeois, assimilated Rus-
sian )ews. In any event, Wengero, among otlers, testies to deepening self-
consciousness, and ruptures, in tle traditional )udaism of Eastern Europe.
Against tle odds, well into tle twentietl century, tlis ricl European )ewisl
life not only survived but tlrived. In Warsaw in 8,;, for example, tle cen-
sus counted ao,a6 )ews, comprising .; percent of tle entire population
of Warsawby ,, tle number of )ews in Warsaw lad climbed to ;,ooo,
altlougl tlis represented only a,. percent of tle total population.
in Warsaw predominantly saw tlemselves as Poles, yet in 8,; ve-sixtls of
tlem declared Yiddisl as tleir rst language. Despite tle ability to assimi-
late, and a small vocal group of )ews wlo advocated assimilation, tle )ews
of Warsaw forged a distinctive )ewisl identity.
Nor did tle Communist persecutions seriously clange traditional )ewisl
life. Central Russian autlorities intervened witl )ewisl village, or shtetl, life
in a variety of ways, ranging from taxes and prolibitions on ritually slaugl-
tered meat to penalties for circumcision, but tlese were rarely eective.
)ews in tle Russian cities were more directly aected by tlese attempts at
cultural lomogenization. It was mucl easier to keep tabs on tle Cloral
Synagogue in St. Petersburg tlan on tle sltetl of Turov.
Te Sloal, of course, destroyed wlat assimilation and tle new Commu-
nist government could not. Te Russian plotograpler Roman Vislniacs
pictorial record of Polisl )ews (wlo lad not yet lived under a Communist
regime) on tle eve of tle Holocaust would seem almost quaint if it was not,
in lindsiglt, so lorrifying.
Along witl tle six million )ews murdered by
tle Nazis and tleir collaborators perisled tle ne tlreads of tleir culture,
tle ricl tapestry of European )ewisl life. Later depictions of tlis life, from
Fiddler on the Roof to tle writings of Isaac Baslevis Singer, and even tle
modern novelist )onatlan Safran Foer, miglt romanticize or excoriate it,
but all recognize its loss.
Curiously, altlougl nineteentl- and early twentietl-century European
)ews created distinctively intellectual and book-based religious commu-
nities, tleir enduring legacy was not literary. Unlike )ewisl communities
before tlem, tley did not add to tle )ewisl canon, Craetzs listory never
aclieved tle status of tle Zolar and tle fruit of all tle intensive sclolarslip
of Volozlin is not to be found in any autloritative and revered text. Perlaps
is1 i is1 z8;
in time some of tle texts tlat tlese communities did produce will slowly
acquire sucl an autlority, but even tle writings of tle Vilna Caon are today
rarely studied and even less often lave become tle basis for supercommen-
taries. Tis is not to deny tlat tlese )ews produced texts tlat remain impor-
tant to living )ewisl communities. Slneur Zalman of Liady (;(8), tle
founder of Habad (Lubavitcl) Hasidism, wrote in ;, a systematic treat-
ment of kabbalistic tlouglt known as tle Tanya, modern Lubavitcl Ha-
sidim continue to study and revere it. Israel Meir Kagan (88,), a Polisl
rabbinic sclolar also known as tle Hafetz Hayyim, publisled a widely used
commentary on tle Shulhan Arukh tlat was called tle Mishnah Berurah.
Some Aslkenazic communities accept tlis commentary as lalaklically au-
tloritative. Neitler tlese nor otler literary works from tlis time, tlougl,
lave received widespread acceptance among )ewisl religious communities
not associated witl tle groups from wlicl tleir autlors stemmed.
Instead of books, tle legacy of European )ews of tle nineteentl and early
twentietl century las been tleir institutions. Wletler tle )ewisl move-
ments tlat tlrive today in America, or tle Hasidism of Williamsburg in
Brooklyn or Kfar Habad in Israel, or tle Haredi )udaism of Meal Slearim
in )erusalem or Lakewood, New )ersey, or secular )udaism, or tle academic
study of )udaismall are descended from tle European )ewisl encounter
witl modernity. Tese institutions, botl conceptually and materially, lave
been no less malleable tlan texts, witl modern )ewisl communities re-
slaping tlem in tleir own images.
nis vooi vio witl a word. Wlat is Judaism? Wlere did it
come from, wlat does it signify, and low do we)ews and non-
)ews, religious and secular, academics and notuse it: However
simple tlese questions miglt appear, tle answers to tlem are anytling
but simple or straigltforward. I lave attempted to sketcl my answers not
merely as some abstract and tleoretical formulation, but as it miglt look in
practice. To dene )udaism is to engage tle messy realities of tle )ews wlo
continually recreate it.
Judaism, I lave argued, cannot serve as tle subject of a verb, it cannot
do anytling. )udaism neitler believes nor prescribes, it does not tlink or
say. )ews, not Judaism, lave agency. )udaism cannot, tlerefore, be seen as
possessing some translistorical essence or single dening claracteristic. To
talk of tle )udaism of a particular listorical community makes far more
sense tlan to refer to )udaism writ large.
Tis refusal to understand Judaism as more tlan a collection of religious
communities tlat lave only a family resemblance to eacl otler slould at
tle same time not obscure tle fact tlat tlere is a family resemblance be-
tween tlem. If today many people overemplasize, even by implication, tle
universality of )udaism, otlers err on tle otler side by not taking seriously
tlat )ewisl communities lave almost always seen tlemselves as part of tle
same family and lave a variety of texts and practices tlat link tlem. Tese
claracteristics, wlicl are lardly universal across time and space, nevertle-
less can be clarted. One )ewisl community miglt understand its claim to
be autlentically Israel to be rooted in genetics, wlile anotler commu-
nitys claim miglt be made on tle basis of religious faitl, botl, lowever,

Wlitler )udaism:
iviiooui z8,
slare tleir self-identication as Israel. Altlougl )ewisl communities, and
tle individuals witlin tlem, lave widely diverse understandings of basic
tleological concepts, sucl as Cod and Toral, tle vast majority slare tle
assumption tlat to be autlentic tlose beliefs must be grounded in canoni-
cal texts. If texts constitute one form of tradition, a set of practices consti-
tute anotler. Some rituals lave been remarkably persistent (altlougl not
always practicedor practiced regularlyby tle majority of a )ewisl com-
munity), even if interpreted in radically dierent ways. )udaism constitutes
a map of tle ways in wlicl real listorical communities of )ews lave dened
tlemselves and struggled witl tleir tradition.
Tis understanding of )udaism rejects tle conceptual models tlat em-
plasize belief. Sucl an approacl to tle explanation of )udaism is as old as
)udaism itself, wlicl I lave argued was largely forged in eiglteentl- and
nineteentl-century Cermany. )udaism, like Clristianity, was to be seen as
dened by a nite number of meaningful essential beliefs. Wlile it is true
tlat tle slared autloritative texts of tle rabbinic tradition delimit tle pa-
rameters of a conversation, tle coordinates of tle actual beliefs articulated
witlin it are so vast as to be analytically meaningless. To say tlat )udaism
is monotleistic is uncontroversial as long as one is willing to stretcl tle
term monotheistic to include tle divine pantleon lurking belind tle bibli-
cal texts, tle picture of Helios and lis lost on tle synagogue oors of late
antiquity, tle dualism of tle Bahir and tle emanated Cod of tle Zolar, and
tle pantleism of Mordeclai Kaplan and tle early Hasidic movement. Te
religion of Israel slares certain conceptual benclmarks sucl as Cod, Toral,
and Israel, but tle contents of tlese concepts are liglly uid.
I lave also rejected tle traditional assertion tlat it is tle observance
of tle lalaklal tlat serves as )udaisms essential core. It is simply not tle
case tlat all or most )ews prior to tle Enligltenment eitler were lalakli-
cally observant or accepted in any straigltforward way tle lalaklal,
even in tle many communities tlat in principle would lave accepted rab-
binic notions of lalaklal. Te concept of mitzvot las indeed always been
important in most )ewisl communities, and many practices (e.g., cir-
cumcision, Slabbat, kaslrut, lolidays) lave been persistent. As we lave
seen, tlougl, even rabbinic tlinkers are divided about tle purpose of tle
observance of tle commandments, not to mention tle actual details of
tle mitzvot. Until very recently tlere las been no direct line from a lal-
aklic text or code to actual practice, tlis too las been a complex, tense,
and negotiated relationslip. Many )ews lave striven, and continue to
strive, to live tleir lives in accord witl tle will of Cod as expressed in tle
z,o iviiooui
commandments, but lere too tlis leads to enormous latitude in botl
conceptualization and practice.
Moreover, as sclolars lave long recognized, it is impossible to under-
stand tle religious life of a )ewisl community witlout seeing it witlin tle
larger world in wlicl it is situated. )ews do lave a listory as well as a tex-
tual tradition tlat las continued to build tlrouglout time. But )udaism
does not, a communitys religious expression is a product of its refraction
of listorical experience, texts, and traditional practices tlrougl its own
uniquely situated conceptual lens. Abralam )oslua Hesclel once assert-
ed tlat )udaism is a minimum of revelation and a maximum of interpreta-
tion. Hesclel was referring to tle luman understanding and articulation
of tle awesome encounter witl tle divine on Sinai, but tle plrase can
also be seen as liglliglting tle important role of interpretation gen-
erally, of )ews continually remaking and recreating relevance out of tle
resources bequeatled to tlem.
Typically today, most analyses of )udaism ultimately drive toward an
evaluation of )udaisms strengtl. A clapter like tlis miglt normally be
expected to make some kind of statement of )udaisms strengtl or weak-
ness, wletler it is gaining vitality or dying. I lave argued lere for a dierent
kind of analysis tlat makes sucl an evaluation moot. Variety, multivocal-
ity, and interpretation lave been lallmarks of tle )ewisl experience. One
cannot measure tle strengtl of a communitys )udaism by tle percentage
of its members tlat observe one dened set of mitzvot, slare particular
beliefs, or intermarry. As in tle past, )ewisl communities continue to re-
make tlemselves in riotous diversity. Wletler tle dierent manifestations
are correct or not I will discuss later in tlis clapter, but, if listory is any
guide, few of tlese manifestations will survive more tlan a generation or
two. Tat is, if tle model argued for lere las any predictive value, it is tlat
tlose forms of )udaism lacking a self-identity as Israelparticipation (low-
ever dened) in tle conversation informed by a traditional (if uid) canon
or recognition of a set of traditional practicesface a far ligler bar. To tle
extent tlat tley explicitly reject tle conceptual maps of traditional )ewisl
texts, tle secular )udaism of today, like tle Yiddisl-centered Bundist cul-
ture in America in tle rst lalf of tle twentietl century, may lave little
listorical staying power.
Similarly, tlere are no limits to tle possibilities for tle development of
new religious practices. )ews lave always created new practices and rituals,
often witlout rabbinic sanction. Te breaking of a glass under a wedding
canopy, for example, wlicl today is tle symbol par excellence of a )ewisl
iviiooui z,1
wedding, was bitterly opposed by medieval rabbis for centuries, before tley
grudgingly reinterpreted it from its function of scaring demons away to tlat
of recalling tle destruction of tle Temple. An underdetermined practice al-
lowed for its integration into a web of rabbinic meanings tlat contemporary
)ews ultimately found more compelling. Heavy-landedly overdetermined
ritualstlose tlat are tigltly linked to a single interpretationlave far less
clance of survival tlan do tlose tlat emerge organically and are ultimately
drawn into tle canonical texts, wlere tley can even lie dormant for years
before being reinvigorated witl new meaning, like tle Tu bSlevat seder.
Wlitler )udaism: I do not know if we are leading into a postmodern,
post-Zionist, and postideological period or into one of increasingly strong
fundamentalism, botl currents are strong in tle community in wlicl I live.
Even if )ews are being drawn away from ideology, tle institutional and ad-
ministrative structures of tle )ewisl movements in tle United States will
not slut down any time soon. Tey may weaken in some sense of tlis
word and transform tlemselves, but like many sucl institutions tley will
continue to evolve. Tey, along witl tle American )ews wlo may or may
not join tlem, will continue to lave a ricl set of traditional resources for
living a nonideological )ewisl life.
If, on tle otler land, tle )ewisl communities of tle United States and Is-
rael become increasingly fundamentalist, riven by opposing ideologies and
tle demand to take sides, )ews will lave yet anotler ricl set of resources
upon wlicl to draw. Perlaps tle racial tleory of )udal Halevi will continue
to climb in prestige and Maimonides doctrinal litmus test will be revived.
My point, of course, is tlat religious development does not work in
straiglt lines, and certainly not one tlat radiates from tradition. Tere is
no natural or logical ending point to tle rabbinic tradition, it is sprawling,
diverse, and malleable. Te future of )udaism, of course, is not trapped in
tle eitlerior diclotomy presented above. )udaism is not going to become
any single tling, and )ews will continue to struggle witl tleir tradition,
using tlese resources to construct meaningful )ewisl life witlin cultures
and societies tlat rarely are claracterized by a single outlook. )udaism to-
morrow will be like )udaism today and yesterdaya family of communities
struggling to make sense of a common identity and tradition.
)udaism is not sui generis. Te same model tlat I lave developed in
regard to )udaism applies, in one form or anotler, to all religions. Wlat
does it mean, after all, to speak of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or Hin-
duism, not to mention tle scores of otler smaller religions: All developed
in tle nineteentl century from rst-order denitions into terms tlat
z,z iviiooui
denote ideological and essentialized religions. Christianity, for example,
las no more meaning tlan Judaism, it too is wildly diverse. Wletler tle
model tlat looks at issues of identity, textual tradition, and persistent
practices would be fruitful for unpacking Clristian diversity las yet to be
determined, but tle problem is tle same. As I mentioned in tle introduc-
tion, my own understanding of )udaism draws upon Talal Asads attempt
to understand IslamIslam is certainly no more unied tlan )udaism
or Clristianity. Hinduism, as sclolars lave long noted, is virtually a late
nineteentl- and early twentietl-century ction, an attempt by tle colo-
nizing Britisl to make sense of tle diversity of Indian religion, tlus creat-
ing a model tlat many Hindus came to accept. Even otlerwise self-reec-
tive academics frequently invoke religion as if it were a self-explanatory
category tlat is eitler identical witl tle canonical tradition or completely
divorced from it. Its neitler.

I lave meant tlis book as an attempt to understand and explain tle diverse
religious practices of Israel and, by implication, of otler religious traditions
too. I lave not attempted to oer a constructive argument, in tle sense of
arguing for a rst-order denition of )udaism tlat I would like to replace
existing denitions. Nevertleless, tlis book does raise pointed construc-
tive issues tlat, in conclusion, need to be addressed. Here, ratler tlan of-
fering a detacled argument written in tle omnipotent and autloritative
voice of tle tlird person, I would prefer to speak more personally. )ust as
writers slape tleir materials and arguments, so too do tle materials slape
tle writer. I lave learned from tle journey of researcling and writing tlis
book, and wlile otlers will quite legitimately draw dierent conclusions
from tle material presented lere it miglt be wortlwlile to reect on my
own constructive engagement witl tle argument.
One of tle leitmotifs of tlis book las been tle relationslip between
reason and revelation. How are we to understand revelation in liglt of tle
critical analysis of reason: Wlat debt, if any, does reason owe to revelation:
Or, put in more modern and relevant terms, does tle academic and critical
study of religion lave anytling to contribute to religion itself, and does re-
ligion oer anytling to moderns wlo are secular or members of otler faitl
Wlen I go about my job as a sclolar of religion, I bracket, to tle ex-
tent possible, my own religious commitments. As a critical tlinker, I work
iviiooui z,
according to accepted sclolarly conventions, attempting to persuade my
readers on tle basis of reason, and try to follow my evidence lonestly
ratler tlan sloelorning it in order to justify my own lifestyle and tleo-
logical commitments. I am forced to see and grapple witl tle patent in-
colerence of tle Toral, tle relatively marginal place of tle Rabbis in tleir
society, tle pseudepigraplic nature of tle Zolar, and tle malleability of
tradition. I try to make sense of tle rise and fall of rituals and even liturgies
witlin a tleological framework tlat, on occasion, claims divine autlority
and eternal relevance.
At times, tlougl, wlen I am not writing or teacling or otlerwise en-
gaging in my professional responsibilities, tle brackets fall away and I now
must confront tlese same issues as a )ew. Sucl a confrontation is frequently
clallenging, low is one to square tle circle of an understanding of tle
Toral as a redacted text witl a commitment to tle mitzvot: Are tlese two
modes of looking at )udaism to be compartmentalized, left as mutually ex-
clusive options: Or is tlere a way to fuse tle lorizons, to use Hans-Ceorg
Cadamers plrase, to allow tle tension between tlese perspectives to be
creative ratler tlan destructive:
I lave found in tle rabbinic tradition intellectual resources for my own
encounter witl tlis tension. For at least some of tle Rabbis, divine trutl
was too full to be contained by language, all tle more so by a single partic-
ular linguistic formulation. Wlen read witlin tle sprawling conversation
comprised by tleir literature, tle Rabbis oer tle possibility of seeing trutl
in a proposition and its opposite, witl everytling in between. Tey oer
conceptual maps of creative tensions. Tis is wly rabbis tlemselves lave
opposed tle codications of belief and even lalaklal, tle rabbinic tradi-
tion leaves one uneasy witl single, simple answers.
Modern ideological movements cut a straiglt patl tlrougl tle tlicket
of tradition. For many )ews tlis las been a good and necessary tlingin a
world tlat values intellectual colerence, tley package colerent, and mar-
ketable, versions of )udaism. In tle process, tlougl, tley lose tle traditions
tolerance for tensions and contradictions. In tleir domestication of )uda-
ism, witl tle necessary liglliglting of certain aspects of tradition and de-
valuing of otlers, I cannot lelp but feel tlat sometling is lost.
My life is complex, and not only on a cognitive level. I try to make my
way tlrougl tle world, delicately balancing my love for and responsibili-
ties toward my wife, clildren, family, friends, students, country, and Cod
witl my professional life and own more personal needs. I struggle to bal-
ance tle time and money equation, and sometimes simply to meet my bills.
z, iviiooui
I am nagged by self-doubt and tle sense tlat I could and slould do every-
tling better. I suspect tlat I am fairly typical of middle-class, middle-aged,
wlite Americans.
I struggle witl tlese feelings every day, and wlile I lave not yet found
solutions to tlem I lave also come to recognize tlat tle tensions are
tlemselves necessary, tlis is part of wlat denes me as a mature luman
being. For all of its problems, I want complexity in my life. And wlen I
walk into a synagogue, read a popular )ewisl book, listen to a sermon, or
even turn to an article on religion in tle local paper, I nd sometling of-
fensive in tle sometimes implicit request tlat I turn o my critical facul-
ties. My students begin every semester saying tlat religion is personal
and a matter of faitl, laving been conditioned to searcl only for tle
single and simplest trutl in a religion immune from critical inquiries. Our
society las put religion in a box.
I want my religion as complex and messy as tle rest of my life. Wlen
my fatler died, I did not turn to religion for platitudinous comfort but for
a structure for my grief and anger at Cod. Te documentary lypotlesis is
rarely in tle front of my mind wlen I listen to tle weekly Toral reading,
but every once in a wlile it rises from tle deptls to clallenge me. To see
tle listorical and structural parallels between Passover and Easter, or tle
lalaklal and tle Islamic sharia (Islamic law), adds anotler layer of under-
standing and appreciation to my life as a )ew.
It is not lelpful for eitler religious or secular people, )ews or not, to tlink
of religion as pious navet. If sucl a stance lessens tle lumanity of tle
religious, it also deprives tle secular of a ricl set of luman resources. Te
stories of )udaism, Clristianity, Islam, and all otler religions are not sto-
ries of abstract, clildisl systems but of luman beings wrestling witl pro-
foundly luman problems. We do not lave to accept tle answers of a given
faitl community to nd sometling useful in tlem, eitler as individuals or
communities. Wlen I, as an individual, confront tle big questions of life,
deatl, and evil, I want to see wlat answers are out tlereall of tlem. Wlen
I, as a citizen, debate important matters of public policy, I want to lear dif-
ferent perspectives. )ust because I am a )ew wlo rejects tle assertion tlat
Clrist is tle son of Cod and wlo consistently votes for pro-cloice can-
didates does not mean tlat I do not want to be clallenged by or learn from
Catlolic bislops insisting on tle preciousness of all life. Some of tlese re-
sources will be more useful to us tlan otlers, and some miglt be simply
repellent. But to reject tle answers of religious tlinkers just because tley
are religious is to tlrow out tle baby witl tle batlwater.
iviiooui z,
I raised tle issue of judgment. Are all forms of )udaism equally correct:
Can any )ewisl community or ideology witlin it be said to be more au-
tlentic tlan anotler: Trouglout tlis book I lave tried to avoid tlis ques-
tion, laying out some dierent portraits, for tle most part empatletically,
to allow tle reader to judge for lim or lerself. Yet I also recognize tlat tle
lack of judgment can itself be read as a kind of judgment: By not making
judgments am I not promoting relativism tlat recognizes as equally au-
tlentic any and all tlings tlat any )ewisl community may do: Is tlere not
a logically necessary slippage between tle criteria by wlicl I select my data
(i.e., including all communities tlat identify tlemselves as )ewisl) and tle
implied conclusion tlat tley are all valid:
As a sclolar, I lave tle responsibility to avoid judgments of religious au-
tlenticity. I can try to describe, explain, analyze, and critique, but it is not
my joband I believe strongly tlat it is not appropriate for any sclolar of
religionto say wlo is actually riglt or better. Tere is, admittedly, a
degree of relativism inlerent in tlis approacl. At tle same time, I do not
consider myself a relativist. I tlink tlat tlere really is trutl in tle world, to
at least some of wlicl we lave access. Te problem is reconciling listory,
witl its ricl and complex record of )ewisl communities recreating tleir
religious understandings, witl a conviction tlat all is not relative.
Again, it is tle Rabbis, witl tleir multivocal and organic perspective,
wlo lelp me to grapple witl tlis problem. Convinced tlat tlere is indeed
religious trutl, tle Rabbis nevertleless see tlat trutl as so full tlat it is un-
able to contain a single meaning. Wlen I take o my sclolarly lat, I do, ad-
mittedly, nd some forms of )udaism more congenial tlan otlers. But I also
believe, now as a committed )ew, tlat tle competing claims to trutl made
by all tlese forms miglt well be correctall manifestations of some larger,
obscure, but single trutl.
Te qualier in tlat last sentence, tle might, is important to my own ap-
proacl, botl tleological and intellectual. One need not be a relativist to
admit tlat sle or le cannot discern Cods will. To pick one way of doing
tlings does not necessarily mean tlat anotler way of doing tlings is wrong,
tlis is a decision tlat I would prefer to leave in tle lands of leaven. I can be
a certain kind of )ew witlout believing tlat eitler my coreligionists, or tle
members of otler faitl communities, are sinners. For me, religious trutl
claims tlat exclude tle possibility tlat otler religious trutl claims miglt be
correct are tleologically presumptuous.
But recognition of tle extraordinary diversity of )ewisl religious life
tlrougl listory calls also for an intellectual posture of lumility. No single
z,6 iviiooui
work of sclolarslip can possibly begin to do justice to )ewisl diversity
tlrougl tle ages, tle sleer amount and complexity of tle data, tle lin-
guistic skills tlat are necessary to make sense of tle texts, and tle tleo-
retical soplistication needed to slape tlem into sometling colerent are
all daunting. I lave found writing tlis book to be a lumbling experience,
and every day it exposed ever clearer tle deptl of wlat I did not know.
For more tlan two and a lalf millennia, )ews lave struggled to trans-
late tleir traditions in order to make tlem comprelensible in and relevant
to tleir own listorical contexts, and tley continue today to recreate tleir
)udaism. Tis is not a story of some essentialized )ewisl spirit but of tle
luman spirit, of tle ways in wlicl lumans create communities, mark tlose
communities witl dierence, and use tleir own distinctive traditions witl-
in a listorical context to struggle witl universal problems.
Abulaa, Abralam (:(oca. :,): )ewisl mystic, known for lis messianism.
aggadah: All nonlegal rabbinic literature, e.g., stories. Often contrasted witl lal-
Agudatl Ha-Rabbanim: Founded in ,o:, an organization of ultra-Ortlodox rabbis.
agunah: Anclored woman, one wlose lusband can or will not grant ler a divorce.
Alfasi, Rabbi Isaac ben )acob (oo): Also know as tle Rif, lead of tle yesliva in
Lucena (Andalusia) and autlor of Sefer Halakhot.
aliyal: Literally, in Hebrew, ascent, refers to moving to Israel. Can also refer in a
synagogue to ascent to tle bimah to say a blessing over tle Toral reading.
Almolads: Conservative Muslims from Nortl Africa wlo overtlrew tle Almoravids.
Almoravids: Berbers from tle area of Morocco, conservative Muslims.
Am yisrael: People of Israel, a concept of Israel as a colesive social group.
amoraim: Rabbis wlo lived ca. :,o ci,oo.
Amram ben Sleslna (mid-nintl century ci): One of tle geonim, autlored tle earli-
est extant siddur.
Anan ben David (. ;;o ci): Opposed tle rabbinic notion of tle Oral Toral, ulti-
mately seen as tle founder of Karaism.
Apocrypla: Collection of )ewisl texts not included in tle Tanak but accepted into tle
Catlolic Bible.
Aramaic: Semitic language mucl like Hebrew, used as tle ocial language of tle Per-
sian Empire.
Arbaah Turim: Written by Rabbi )acob ben Asler (ca. :;oca. (, Toledo), a law
code upon wlicl tle Shulhan Arukh builds.
Aristobulus: )ewisl-Creek plilosopler wlo probably lived in tle second or rst cen-
turies vci.
Aslkenazim: Tose )ews wlo trace tleir leritage back to medieval Cermany (Ashke-
baal shem: Master of tle name, Eastern European )ewisl wonder worker.

z,8 oiossvv
Baal Slem Tov: Te Master of tle Cood Name, refers to Israel ben Eliezer (6,8
;6o), usually considered tle founder of Hasidism.
Babylonian Talmud (Bavli): Redacted around ,oo ci, a sprawling work of rabbinic
literature containing commentary on tle Mislnal, law, stories, and dialectical ar-
Bar Koklba: Son of tle star, tle name applied to tle leader of a )ewisl uprising in
Palestine in : ci.
Bar, bat mitzval: Te marking (and sometimes celebration) of a )ewisl clilds attain-
ment of tle age of legal responsibility (twelve for a female, tlirteen for a male).
bimah: Raised dais in a synagogue, on wlicl eitler prayers are led or tle Toral read.
Biur: Translation (nisled ;8), led by Moses Mendelssoln, of tle Toral into Cer-
man, witl commentary.
Book of Beliefs and Opinions: Plilosoplical tract written by Seadyal Ceon in ,.
brit milah: Covenant of circumcision, circumcision of a )ewisl boy wlen eiglt days
old as a mark of Cods covenant witl Abralam and lis descendents.
Cairo Ceniza: Store of ancient )ewisl texts found in tle attic of tle Ben Ezra Syna-
gogue in Cairo.
Canonization: Process or act tlrougl wlicl a text is designated as sacred.
Conservative )udaism: Modern ideological movement tlat seeks to maintain a tradi-
tional but exible stance toward )ewisl law.
creatio ex nihilo: Idea tlat Cod created tle world from notling, tlere was no preex-
istent matter.
Crescas, Hasdai ben Abralam ((o(o): )ewisl plilosopler, autlor of Light of the
Dead Sea scrolls: Assorted ancient texts found near tle Dead Sea tlat are tlouglt to
testify to a )ewisl sect from tle Second Temple period.
devekut: Cleaving, used by Hasidim (drawing on Lurianic Kabbalal) to refer to a
cleaving to Cod.
dhimmi: Islamic category of protected minorities, referring to )ews and Clristians.
Diaspora: Refers to tle land outside of Palestine (land of Israel).
Ecclesiasticus (Ben Siral): Biblical book found today in tle Apocrypla.
Enocl: Minor biblical claracter around wlom a strong apocalyptic tradition grew in
tle Second Temple period, resulting in pseudepigraplical books sucl as Enocl.
eruv: Rabbinic legal institution tlat transforms a public space into a private one
and tlus allows a )ew to carry in it during Slabbat.
esclatology: Concept of tle end of time.
Essenes: )ewisl sect during tle Second Temple period, perlaps tle autlors of tle
Dead Sea scrolls.
Essentialism: Idea tlat a tling las a unique essence.
etrog: Citron, used on Sukkot.
Eyn Sof: Concept of tle innite in kabbalistic tlouglt, tle source out of wlicl tle
serot emanate.
exilarcl: Political leader of tle )ews in Babylonia, tle oce continued into tle Muslim
oiossvv z,,
Ezra: Biblical gure, said to lead exiles from Persia to )erusalem (ca. (:o vci), seems
to lave tle Toral in lis possession.
fatwa: Islamic legal responsum.
Frank, )acob (;:6;,): Polisl leader of an antinomian )ewisl group known epony-
mously as tle Frankists.
Frankel, Zaclarias (8o8;,): Cerman )ew wlo developed a sclool of listorical )u-
daism, a forerunner to Conservative )udaism.
Ceiger, Abralam (8o8;(): Cerman rabbi wlose writings were seminal for tle de-
velopment of tle Reform movement.
Cemara: Rabbinic commentary on tle Mislnal, wlicl togetler witl tle Mislnal
comprise tle Talmud.
gematria: Interpretive teclnique of translating letters into numerical values and tlen
back into otler words tlat lave tle same value.
geonim: Leaders of tle rabbinic academies from ca. ,,o cio,o.
Cersonides (Levi ben Cerslom or tle Ralbag, :88((): )ewisl plilosopler and
autlor of Te Wars of the Lord.
get: )ewisl document of divorce.
Craetz, Heinricl (8;8,): Cerman )ewisl listorian.
Guide of the Perplexed: Written in Arabic by Maimonides, nisled in ,o.
Cusl Emunim: Literally, Block of tle Faitlful, a religious-Zionist movement in Israel.
hadith: Sayings of tle proplet Mulammad.
Haggadal: Liturgy for tle Passover seder.
halakhah: )ewisl law.
Halakhot Gedolot: Ceonic legal guide to tle Babylonian Talmud.
Halakhot Pesukot: Ceonic legal work tlat survives only in fragments.
halav yisrael: Milk of an Israelite, tle idea tlat kosler dairy products need to be pro-
duced and landled only by )ews.
Halevi, )udal (o;,:ca. (o): Spanisl poet and writer, autlor of tle Kuzari.
Hannukal: Eiglt-day minor loliday commemorating of tle rededication of tle Tem-
ple in 6, vci.
Haredi: Trembler, refers today to an ultra-Ortlodox )ew.
Hasidism: Revivalist movement tlat began in eiglteentl-century Poland.
Haskalah: )ewisl Enligltenment of tle eiglteentl and nineteentl centuries.
Hasmoneans: Descendant monarcls of tle Maccabees.
lavdalal: Ceremony marking tle end of tle Sabbatl.
Havural movement: Anti-institutional )ewisl movement in tle United States in tle
,6os and ,;os.
Hebrew Union College. Founded in 88, in Cincinnati, now, after merging witl tle
)ewisl Institute of Religion, tle central seminary for tle training of Reform rabbis
in Nortl America.
Hekhalot literature: Collection of texts from late antiquity or tle geonic period tlat
describe ascents to leaven.
Hellenism: Complex of linguistic, political, and cultural features tlat marked tle
Near East.
oo oiossvv
Herzl, Teodor (86o,o(): Austrian )ew wlo is credited witl founding modern po-
litical Zionism.
Hirsl, Samson Raplael (8o8888): Cerman rabbi normally credited witl founding
neo-Ortlodoxy or Modern Ortlodoxy.
Holocaust: Also known as tle Sloal in Hebrew, refers to tle murder of over six mil-
lion )ews during World War II.
Hoshanna Rabba: Te last day of Sukkot, tlouglt to end tle annual period of judg-
Ibn Ezra, Abralam (o,:6;): Spanisl commentator on tle Tanak, notable for lis
plilological interests.
Ibn Cabirol, Samuel (ca. o:ca. o,8): )ewisl poet and plilosopler, autlor of Fons
Ibn )anal, Abulwalid Merwan (Rabbi )onal, born ca. ,,o ci): A native of Cordoba,
autlor of Te Book of Embroidery and Te Book of Roots, some of tle rst works of
Hebrew grammar.
Israel: Can refer to . )acob, tle biblical claracter, :. )acobs descendents (tle clildren
of Israel), . tle land tlat tle Toral promises to Abralams descendents, (. tle
modern political state.
Isserles, Rabbi Moses (,o,;:): Polisl rabbi wlo glossed tle Shulhan Arukh from
an Aslkenazic perspective.
)acob of Marvege (twelftl to tlirteentl centuries): Autlor of Responsa from Heaven.
Jerusalem, or On Religious Power and Judaism: Moses Mendelssolns best-known
work (;8), a contemporary denition of )udaism and argument for )ewisl civic
)ewisl Teological Seminary of America: Founded in 88; in New York, now tle cen-
tral seminary for tle training of Conservative rabbis in Nortl America.
)oseplus: )ewisl listorian wlo lived in tle rst century ci.
)udal, Rabbi, tle Prince (or Patriarcl): Redacted tle Mislnal and served as some
kind of )ewisl communal leader.
Judenstaat, Der: Te Jewish State, Teodor Herzls Zionist manifesto.
Kabbalal: Tradition, tle distinctive )ewisl mysticism tlat arose in tle Middle Ages
and was exemplied by tle Zolar.
Kabbalat Shabbat: Collection of psalms and lymns recited immediately before Slab-
bat, added by Lurianic kabbalists in tle sixteentl century.
Kagen, Rabbi Israel Meir (88,): Polisl rabbi known as tle Hafetz Hayyim wlo
autlored an inuential commentary on part of tle Shulhan Arukh, tle Mishnah
Kaplan, Mordecai (88,8): American tlinker wlose ideas founded tle Recon-
structionist movement.
Karaism: Movement in tle geonic period tlat rejected tle Oral Toral and autlority
of tle rabbis.
Karo, Rabbi )osepl ((88,;,): Autlor of tle Shulhan Arukh.
kashrut, kosler: )ewisl dietary laws.
oiossvv o1
kelillal: Community, designating tle local, semiautonomous )ewisl communities
of medieval Europe.
ketubbah: Refers primarily to tle statutory payment tlat a lusband (or lis estate)
owes to lis wife on dissolution of tle marriage, can also refer to tle marriage con-
tract itself.
kibbutz: Communal settlement in tle modern State of Israel.
kippah (yarmulke): Form of lead covering traditionally worn by some Eastern Euro-
pean men, and is now a standard custom.
Kol Nidre: Ceonic prayer annulling all vows, traditionally recited tle eve of tle Day
of Atonement.
Kook, Rabbi Abralam Isaac (86,,,): Rabbi in Palestine well-known for lis dis-
tinctive mystical tleology tlat incorporated Zionism.
Kuzari: Written in Arabic by )udal Halevi, a purported dialogue between a king, a
)ew, a Clristian, a Muslim, and a plilosopler.
Lekha Dodi: Kabbalistic lymn written in sixteentl century by Solomon Alkabez, now
incorporated into most modern versions of Kabbalat Shabbat.
Leeser, Isaac (8o6868): Spiritual leader of Mikve Israel in Pliladelplia, retranslated
tle Hebrew Bible into Englisl, publisled by tle )ewisl Publication Society.
Lubavitcl Hasidim. Also known as Habad, a group of Hasidim.
lulav: Buncling of tlree species of foliage, waved togetler on Sukkot.
Luria, Isaac (,(,;:): Kabbalist in Safed, credited witl developing a new kabbalis-
tic system.
maamad: Council of lay leaders in Seplardic communities in Amsterdam and tle
New World.
Maccabean revolt: Uprising against tle Seleucids led in 6, vci by tle Maccabee
Maccabees, Book : Court listory of tle Maccabees and tle Hasmonean kings, prob-
ably originally written in Hebrew around oo vci and now in tle Apocrypla.
Maccabees, Book :: Teological account of tle Macabean uprising, written in tle Di-
aspora, probably in Creek, around oo vci and now in tle Apocrypla.
Maimonides (,:o(): )ewisl plilosopler and legal codier.
mamzer: Clild of an adulterous or incestuous union.
Marranos: Pigs, tle insulting term given in Spain to tle )ewisl converts to Clristi-
anity wlo continued to practice )udaism secretly.
maskilim: Enliglteners, tle active participants of tle Haskalal.
Masoretes, Masoretic Text: Te scribes wlo, during tle geonic period, punctuated
tle Tanak, creating a stable Hebrew text.
matzah: Te unleavened bread eaten on Pesacl.
Mendelssoln, Moses (;:,;86): Cerman )ewisl plilosopler and writer.
Mepharshim: Medieval rabbinic sclolars wlose comments on tle Tanak generally
followed tle peshat metlod.
Messianic )ews: Modern-day )ews wlo accept )esus as tle messial.
mechitza: A partition tlat separates men from women in a place of prayer.
oz oiossvv
Midrasl: A distinctively rabbinic genre of biblical interpretation.
mikveh: A body of water, immersion in wlicl can remove ritual impurity.
minhag: A local, )ewisl custom.
minyan: A prayer quorum, eitler ten )ewisl men, traditionally, or, in modern liberal
)udaism, any combination of ten )ewisl men andior women.
Mislnal: Redacted ca. ::o ci, tle rst work of Oral Toral.
Mishneh Torah: Code of law written by Maimonides in Hebrew, completed in ;8.
mitnagdim: Opponents, referring to tlose wlo opposed Hasidism.
Mitzval, mitzvot (plural): Commandment.
Modern Ortlodox )udaism: A movement founded by Samson Raplael Hirscl in nine-
teentl-century Cermany, seeks to integrate secular knowledge witl tradition.
Nalmanides (Rabbi Moses ben Nalman, ,(ca. :;o): Wrote scriptural and lal-
aklic commentaries, member of conservative kabbalistic circle in Catalonia.
Nebucladnezzar: Babylonian king wlo destroyed tle rst )erusalem Temple in ,86
niddah: Menstruant.
omer: Crain oering tlat immediately follows Passover and begins tle seven week
countdown to Pentecost (Slavuot).
Oral Toral: Rabbinic concept tlat Cods revelation on Sinai included wlat would be-
come tle rabbinic tradition.
Ortlodox Union: Founded in 8,8 as tle Ortlodox )ewisl Congregational Union of
America, it is tle central institution for Modern Ortlodoxy in Nortl America
Palestinian Talmud ()erusalem Talmud, Yeruslalmi): Te Mislnal togetler witl its
amoraic commentary, redacted in Palestine about (oo ci.
Passover (Pesach): Festival of unleavened bread tlat also commemorates tle exodus
from Egypt.
Patrilineal descent: Refers to tle Reform movements decision in ,8 to recognize tle
clildren of )ewisl fatlers and non-)ewisl motlers wlo are committed to )udaism
as )ewisl.
Paul: )ew from Asia Minor wlo believed tlat )esus was tle messial.
Pentecost (Shavuot): Holiday tlat occurs fty days after Passover.
peshat: Contextual approacl to biblical interpretation tlat seeks to employ contem-
porary scientic teclniques.
Plarisees: )ewisl sect of tle Second Temple period, perlaps predecessors of tle
Plilo (ca. o vcio ci): )ewisl plilosopler writing in Creek in Alexandria, Egypt.
Pittsburgl Platform (88,): Important early codication of Reform )udaism in
piyyut: Form of )ewisl liturgical poetry tlat begins in late antiquity.
polytletic: Metlod of categorizing tlings based on overlapping sets of slared clar-
priest (kohen): Ociated in tle Temple wlen it stood, but now only observing vesti-
gial functions. Touglt to be a descendent of Aaron, tlrougl tle fatlers line.
oiossvv o
proplet: One wlo received a direct communication from Cod. Te Rabbis tlouglt
tlat proplecy ceased during tle Second Temple period.
Purim: Minor loliday marked by tle reading of tle book of Estler.
Qumran: Te site near tle Dead Sea wlere tle Dead Sea scrolls were found.
Rabad (Rabbi Abralam ben David of Posquieres, :,,8): Objected to Mai-
monidess codication of tle halakhah.
Rabbanite: During tle geonic period, a supporter of tle rabbinic tradition and institu-
tions, against tle Karaites.
Rabbi Isaac Elclanan Teological Seminary (RIETS): Founded in New York in 8,; to
train Ortlodox rabbis, now part of Yesliva University.
Rabbis: Refers to tle autlors of tle classical rabbinic literature, ca. ;o ci6(o, rabbi
literally means my teacler and las been used as an ocial title from tle rabbinic
period to tle present.
Rasli (Rabbi Sllomo ben Isaac, o(,o,): Preeminent commentator on tle Tanak
and Talmud, lived in Provence.
rebbe: Leader of a Hasidic group (see also tzadik). Te rebbe today often refers to
Menaclem Mendel Sclneerson, tle leader of Lubavitcl, wlo died in ,,(.
Reconstructionist )udaism: Modern ideological movement based on tle ideas of Mor-
decai Kaplan.
Redaction: Process of editing separate documents to make tlem into a single text.
Reform )udaism: Modern ideological movement tlat began in nineteentl-century
Cermany. Today, tle largest of tle modern movements.
Rosl Haslanal: Holiday marking tle )ewisl new year and tle beginning of tle ten
days of repentence. In tle Toral called tle loliday of trumpeting.
Sabbatai Zvi (6:,6;6): Failed messial wlo, toward tle end of lis life, converted
to Islam.
Sadducees: )ewisl sect from tle Second Temple period.
Satmar Hasidim: Now settled primarily in New York, a Hasidic sect.
Scllesinger, Akiva )osepl (8;,::): Leader of Haredi )udaism.
Seadyal ben )osepl: Served as geon of Sura, ,:8,(:.
seder: Ceremonial meal leld on tle rst niglt (or, in tle Diaspora, rst two niglts) of
Passover. Te Haggadal is read during it.
Sefer haBahir: Te Book of Illumination, written in twelftl- or tlirteentl-century
Provence, an early kabbalistic text.
Sefer HaRazim: Book of mystical (and magical) formulae and experiences, written
in late antiquity.
serah, serot: splere, kabbalistic term for tle emanations of tle Codlead.
Seleucids: Hellenistic dynasty based in Syria and winning control over Palestine in
:oo vci.
Seplardim: )ews wlo trace tleir leritage back to medieval Spain (Sepharad ).
Septuagint: Creek translation of tle Toral (and ultimately tle rest of tle Tanak), pre-
pared in Egypt about :oo vci.
Slabbat: )ewisl Sabbatl, starting Friday at sunset and ending Saturday niglt.
o oiossvv
shatnez: Biblical prolibition of mixing wool and linen in tle same garment.
Slearitl Israel: First )ewisl congregation (;o(, New York) founded in America.
Shechinah: Cods presence. Used by kabbalists to denote tle last emanation, closest
to lumans, and Cods feminine side.
sheloshim: Tirty-day period of mourning for a close relative, less restrictive tlan tle
Slema: Deuteronomy 6:(, altlougl can also refer to tle paragrapl tlat follows it to-
getler witl some otler biblical passages. Part of tle traditional )ewisl liturgy.
Shemini Atzeret: Semi-independent loliday immediately following Sukkot.
shiva: Seven-day period of intensive mourning for a close relative.
Slneur Zalman of Liady (;(,8): Founder of Habad (Lubavitcl) Hasidism and
autlor of tle Tanya.
shofar: Trumpet made from a rams lorn and associated especially witl Rosl Hasla-
Shulhan Arukh: )osepl Karos sixteentl-century )ewisl law code.
siddur: Literally, order, )ewisl prayer book.
sitra ahara: Otler side, used by kabbalists to refer to tle power of evil.
Six-Day War: In a slort war in ,6; Israel emerged victorious over ler Arab neiglbors
and occupied )erusalem, tle Colan Heiglts, tle West Bank, Caza, and tle Sinai
Sofer, Rabbi Moses (;68,): Also known as tle Hatam Sofer, urged little accom-
modation of modernity.
Spinoza, Barucl (6:6;;): )ewisl plilosopler in Amsterdam.
sukkal: Bootl in wlicl )ews are to eat (and sleep) during tle loliday of Sukkot.
synagogue: )ewisl prayer louse, usually permanently lousing a scroll of tle Toral.
takkanah: Rabbinic legal decree.
tallit: Four-cornered fringed slawl worn at )ewisl prayer services.
tallit katan: Four-cornered fringed garment traditionally worn by men all tle time,
usually underneatl ones slirt.
Talmud Toral: Activity of studying rabbinic texts, tlouglt by tle rabbis to be a reli-
gious obligation in its own riglt.
Tanak: Corresponds more or less to tle Old Testament. An acronym of its tlree
parts, Toral, Neviim (Proplets), and Ketuvim (Writings).
tannaim: Rabbis wlo lived from ;o cica. :,o.
tekhines: Popular supplications, written mainly in Eastern Europe in tle nineteentl
and early twentietl centuries.
tellin: plylacteries, leatler boxes containing portions of tle Toral tlat are worn by
men during some prayer services as well as in private prayer.
Temple: Usually refers to tle Temple in )erusalem, now a frequent designation for a
Temple Scroll: One of tle Dead Sea scrolls, contains an idealized model of tle )erusa-
lem Temple.
oiossvv o
ten days of repentence: Period between Rosl Haslanal and Yom Kippur.
teshuvah: Can refer to turning, tle act of repentance, or to response, denoting a
rabbinic legal responsum.
tleodicy: Problem of Cods justice.
tleurgy: Use of certain practices and verbal formulas to larness tle divine power to
do ones will.
tlirteen principles of faitl: Maimonidess codication of wlat le saw as tle essential
beliefs of )udaism.
tikkun: Fixing, concept in Lurianic Kabbalal tlat repairs defects in tle Codlead.
Tisha bAv: Minor loliday on tle nintl day of tle montl of Av, a fast day, commemo-
rating tle destruction of botl tle First and Second Temples.
Toral: Can refer to tle Pentateucl, tle scroll on wlicl it is written, or tle entire and
continuing content of Cods revelation.
Tu bShevat: Fifteentl day of tle montl of Slevat, marking tle new year for tle
tzadik: Riglteous one, Hasidim used tlis term to refer to tleir leader, wlom tley
saw as exceptionally loly.
ulama: Islamic sclolarly class.
Union of Reform )udaism: Union of Nortl American Reform congregations.
upsherin: Eastern European custom of cutting tle lair of a )ewisl boy for tle rst
time around lis tlird birtlday.
Vilna Caon (Rabbi Eliyalu ben Sllomo Zalman, ;:o,;): Legendary sclolar and op-
ponent of tle emerging Hasidim.
Vulgate: Latin translation of tle Bible produced by )erome in tle ftl-century ci.
Western Wall: Western retaining wall of tle )erusalem Temple, and today tle most
revered )ewisl loly site.
Wise, Isaac Meyer (8,,oo): Early Reform rabbi in America, founded Hebrew
Union College in 8;,.
Wissensclaft des )udentums: Science of )udaism, tle Cerman movement in tle
nineteentl century to study )udaism academically.
Yavnel: According to tle Rabbis, tle site of tle rst rabbinic academy.
YHWH: Te tetragrammaton, tle four-lettered name of Cod found in tle Toral.
Yiddisl: )ewisl language tlat developed in medieval Cermany but was used by East-
ern European )ews well into tle twentietl century.
yiddishkeit: Denotes )ewisl culture in an Eastern European context.
Yigdal: Metrical Hebrew lymn based on Maimonidess tlirteen principles of faitl,
written in (o( and part of many modern )ewisl liturgies
Yolanan ben Zakkai, Rabban: Credited witl founding tle rabbinic academy at
Yom Kippur: Te Day of Atonement, a major fast day.
Zerubbabel son of Slealtiel: Establisled tle foundations of tle Second Temple ca. ,,
o6 oiossvv
Zion: Anotler term for tle Promised Land.
Zionism: Te political movement to establisl a )ewisl country in Palestine.
Zolar: Mystical, Aramaic commentary on tle Toral, attributed to Rabbi Slimon bar
Yolai but probably written (or compiled) in tle tlirteentl century by Moses de
Despite tle many books tlat claim to introduce )udaism, very few actually wrestle
witl tle denitional issues, and tle few tlat do tend to adopt an implicitly essentialist
perspective. Among tle best of tlese books are Miclael Fislbane, /udaish Revelation
and Its Traditions. Religious Traditions of tle World (San Francisco: Harper and Row,
,8;), Niclolas de Lange, An Introduction to /udaish (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, aooo), )acob Neusner, Te Way of the Torah An Introduction to /udaish.
Religious Life of Man (Belmont, Calif.: Wadswortl, ,88), and Dan Coln-Slerbok,
/udaish History. Belief. and Practice (London: Routledge, aoo). My approacl comes
closest to Neusners, but is also quite distinct from it. Robert M. Seltzer, /ewish People.
/ewish Tought Te /ewish Experience in History (New York: Macmillan, ,8o), re-
mains a classic introduction to )ewisl listory and civilization. An excellent, edited
survey of )ewisl culture, in tle largest sense of tle term, is David Biale, ed., Cultures of
the /ews A !ew History (New York: Sclocken, aooa).
. Erwin Ramsdell Coodenougls massive study was publisled as /ewish Syhbols in
the Greco-Rohan Period. Bollingen Series ; (New York: Pantleon, ,,,68).
)acob Neusners abridged edition, witl an excellent introduction, was publisled
by Princeton University Press in ,88.
a. For an explanation of tle polytletic approacl to religion, see )onatlan Z. Smitl,
Fences and Neiglbors: Some Contours of Early )udaism, in lis book, Ihagining
Religion Iroh Babylon to /onestown. Clicago Studies in tle History of )udaism
(Clicago: University of Clicago Press, ,8a), pp. 8.
. Cliord Ceertz, Te Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic, ,;), pp. 8;
(. For tle concept of imagined communities acting as a colesive force in a society,
see Benedict Anderson, Ihagined Cohhunities Reections on the Origin and
Spread of !ationalish. rev. ed. (London: Verso, ,,).
niniioovvnici o:rs
o8 viviioovvnici o1is
,. Te very denition of religion is contested by its sclolars. See, for example, tle
essays in Guide to the Study of Religion, edited by Willi Braun and Russell T. Mc-
Cutcleon (London: Cassell, aooo), and )onatlan Z. Smitl, Religion, Religions,
Religious, in Mark C. Taylor, ed., Critical Terhs for Religious Studies (Clicago:
University of Clicago Press, ,,8), pp. a6,a8(.
6. See Talal Asad, Te Idea of an Anthropology of Islah (Waslington, D.C.: Center
for Contemporary Arab Studies, ,86).
;. Susan Starr Sered, Wohen as Ritual Experts Te Religious Lives of Elderly /ewish
Wohen in /erusaleh (New York: Oxford University Press, ,,a).
8. Te National )ewisl Population Survey, aoooaoo, can be found at lttp:iiwww.
ujc.orgicontent_display.ltml:ArticleID 6o(6.
,. Haym Soloveitclik, Rupture and Reconstruction: Te Transformation of Con-
temporary Ortlodoxy, Tradition a8.( (,,(): 6(o.
o. For a tleory of ritual, see Catlerine Bell, Ritual Teory. Ritual Practice (New
York: Oxford University Press, ,,a).
1. vvorisii iis
For a snapslot of American and Israeli )ews today, see Samuel C. Freedman, /ew Ver-
sus /ew Te Struggle for the Soul of Aherican /ewry (New York: Simon and Scluster,
aooo). )ack Wertleimer, A People Divided /udaish in Contehporary Aherica (New
York: Basic, ,,) still oers an excellent picture of tle state of tle )ewisl movements
in America. Several etlnograplic accounts of modern )ews are indispensable. Samuel
C. Heilmans many works, especially Synagogue Life A Study in Syhbolic Interaction
(Clicago: University of Clicago Press, ,;6), remain classics. Several books oer sen-
sitive sociological analyses of American and Israeli )udaism: Clarles S. Liebman and
Steven M. Colen, Two Worlds of /udaish Te Israeli and Aherican Experiences (New
Haven: Yale University Press, ,,o), Steven M. Colen and Arnold M. Eisen, Te /ew
Within Self. Iahily. and Cohhunity in Aherica (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, aooo), and Clarles S. Liebman and Elilu Katz, eds., Te /ewishness of Israelis
Responses to the Gutthan Report (Albany: State University of New York Press, ,,;).
For tle listory of American )ews in tlis clapter, I lave relied leavily on )onatlan D.
Sarna, Aherican /udaish A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, ,,().
. )ewisl population gures are notoriously dicult to pin down. Te Aherican
/ewish Yearbook is a good source. Anotler good, but not unbiased, resource is tle
Demograply Web site of tle Department for )ewisl Zionist Education of tle
)ewisl Agency:
a. David and Tamar De Sola Pool, An Old Iaith in the !ew World Portrait of
Shearith Israel. :o,;:,,; (New York: Columbia University Press, ,,,), p. aao.
. On tle development of Reform )udaism, see Miclael A. Meyer, Response to
Modernity A History of the Reforh Movehent in /udaish (New York: Oxford
University Press, ,88), and Dana Evan Kaplan, Aherican Reforh /udaish An
Introduction (New Brunswick, N.).: Rutgers University Press, aoo).
viviioovvnici o1is o,
(. Platforms of tle Reform movement can be found in tle two books mentioned in
note above. Tey can also be found online at tle Central Conference of Ameri-
can Rabbis Web site: lttp:iidata.ccarnet.orgiplatformsi.
,. For an old listory of tle Conservative movement, see Mordecai Waxman, Tradi-
tion and Change Te Develophent of Conservative /udaish (New York: Burning
Busl, ,,8). For a recent demograplic prole, see Sidney Coldstein and Alice
Coldstein, Conservative /ewry in the United States A Sociodehographic Prole
(New York: )ewisl Teological Seminary of America, ,,8). See also )ack Wert-
leimer, ed., /ews in the Center Conservative Synagogues and Teir Mehbers
(New Brunswick, N.).: Rutgers University Press, aooo).
6. On Ortlodox )udaism in America, see especially )erey S. Curock and )acob
). Sclaclter, A Modern Heretic and a Traditional Cohhunity Mordecai M.
Kaplan. Orthodoxy. and Aherican /udaish (New York: Columbia University
Press, ,,;).
;. Te gures on American )ewisl religious observance are from Sarna, Aherican
/udaish, pp. aa(aa,.
8. On tle impact of tle army experience on tle development of American )uda-
ism after ,(,, see Deboral Dasl Moore, GI /ews How World War II Changed a
Generation (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, aoo().
,. Cf. Mordecai M. Kaplan, /udaish as a Civilization Toward a Reconstruction of
Aherican-/ewish Life, reprint edition witl a forward by Arnold Eisen (Pliladel-
plia: )ewisl Publication Society, ,,().
o. A journalistic account of tle state of tle Lubavitcl movement today is Sue
Fislko, Te Rebbes Arhy Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch (New York:
Sclocken, aoo). For tle current Ortlodox attack on Lubavitcl messianists, see
David Berger, Te Rebbe. the Messiah. and the Scandal of Orthodox Indierence
(London: Littman Library of )ewisl Civilization, aoo).
. Tis article was mentioned in tle introduction: Haym Soloveitclik, Rupture
and Reconstruction: Te Transformation of Contemporary Ortlodoxy, Tradi-
tion a8.( (,,(): 6(o.
a. On tle issues surrounding female involvement in Ortlodox (and otler lalaklic
forms of ) )udaism, see, in addition to tle sources mentioned in tle bibliograpli-
cal notes to clapter 6, Raclel Adler, Engendering /udaish An Inclusive Teol-
ogy and Ethics (Pliladelplia: )ewisl Publication Society of America, ,,8), and
Tamar Ross, Expanding the Palace of Torah Orthodoxy and Iehinish (Hanover:
Brandeis University PressiUniversity Press of New England, aoo().
. Te Reform movements resolution on Te Status of Clildren of Mixed Mar-
riages (Marcl ,, ,8), is widely available on tle Web. See tle Resolutions
section of tle CCAR Web site,
(. For various approacles to tle issues tlat lomosexuality raises for tle dierent
religious movements in America, see Steven Creenberg, Wrestling with God and
Men Hohosexuality in the /ewish Tradition (Madison: University of Wisconsin
Press, aoo(), Mosle Slokeid, A Gay Synagogue in !ew York (New York: Colum-
bia University Press, ,,,), Walter )acob and Mosel Zemer, eds., Gender Issues in
1o viviioovvnici o1is
/ewish Law Essays and Responsa (New York: Berglaln, aoo), Cil Nativ, Rabbi,
Bar Kappara, and Homosexuality, Conservative /udaish ,;. (aoo(): 8;,(.
,. Mark Waslofsky, /ewish Living A Guide to Contehporary Reforh Practice (New
York: UAHC Press, aoo), p. ,.
6. Te reports and data from tle aoooo National )ewisl Population Survey
(N)PS) are available online. Summary reports are available on tle United )ewisl
Communities Web site,, and tle full datasets at tle Nortl
American )ewisl Data Bank site, at tlis writing,
N)PS las its critics. For a very dierent interpretation of tle evidence, see Calvin
Coldscleider, Studying the /ewish Iuture. Samuel and Altlea Stroum Lectures in
)ewisl Studies (Seattle: University of Waslington Press, aoo().
;. Steven M. Colen and Arnold M. Eisen, Te /ew Within Self. Iahily. and Coh-
hunity in Aherica (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, aooo), pp. 8,.
8. Ibid., p. 8;.
,. Te listory of tle State of Israel is, of course, contested. See Howard M. Sacler,
A History of Israel Iroh the Rise of Zionish to Our Tihe (New York: Knopf,
,,), Benny Morris, Righteous Victihs A History of the Zionist-Arab Conict.
:88::,,, (New York: Knopf, ,,,). Civen tle fast pace of political development
in tle Middle East, tlere is no up-to-date summary of tle situation, but for one
popular and still relevant presentation, see Tomas L. Friedman, Iroh Beirut to
/erusaleh (New York: Doubleday, ,,o).
ao. Tis book was mentioned in tle introduction: Susan Starr Sered, Wohen as Rit-
ual Experts Te Religious Lives of Elderly /ewish Wohen in /erusaleh (New York:
Oxford University Press, ,,a).
a. For some selections of Kooks writings in Englisl, see Te Essential Writings of
Abrahah Isaac Kook, ed., trans., witl an introduction by Ben Zion Bokser (Am-
ity, N.Y.: Amity House, ,88). Aviezer Ravitzky, Messianish. Zionish. and /ewish
Religious Radicalish (Clicago: University of Clicago Press, ,,6) oers a good
summary of tle religious positions on Zionism.
z. cvi1io iuiisr
Tere are, of course, many introductions to tle Hebrew Bible. At tle same time, tlere
are surprisingly few accessible and responsible guides to tle religion of ancient Israel.
Te standard, altlougl badly dated, listories of biblical Israel are Yelezkiel Kaufmann,
Te Religion of Israel. froh Its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile. trans. and abridged
by Mosle Creenberg (Clicago: University of Clicago Press, ,6o), and )oln Briglt, A
History of Israel. Westminster Aids to tle Study of tle Scriptures (Pliladelplia: West-
minster, ,,,). Modied, and somewlat more accessible introductions can be found
in tle essays in Herslel Slanks, ed., Ancient Israel A Short History froh Abrahah to
the Rohan Destruction of the Tehple. ad ed. (New )ersey: Prentice Hall, ,,,). Riclard
Elliott Freedman, Who Wrote the Bible (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, ,,;),

viviioovvnici o1is 11
provides a liglly readable, entertaining, and informative account of tle creation of tle
Toral (Pentateucl) and tle documentary lypotlesis. Susan Niditcl, Ancient Israelite
Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, ,,;), provides a good introduction to
tle religion of ancient Israel. )on D. Levenson, Sinai and Zion An Entry into the /ewish
Bible. New Voices in Biblical Studies (Minneapolis: Winston, ,8,), provides a liglly
accessible account of biblical tleology. Te /ewish Study Bible Tanakh Translation.
Torah. !eviih. Kethuvih, ed. Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, and Miclael Fislbane
(New York: Oxford University Press, aoo), contains informative commentaries and
essays. Te approacl tlat comes closest to tle model of tlis book is Marc Z. Brettler,
How to Read the Bible (Pliladelplia: )ewisl Publication Society, aoo,). Translations of
tle biblical text used tlrouglout tlis clapter are modied from Tanak (Pliladelplia:
)ewisl Publication Society, ,8,).
. For an account of tle trial of tle Talmud, see )udal Rosentlal, Te Talmud
on Trial, /ewish Quarterly Review (; (,,6,;): ,8;6, (,6,. For Augustines
evaluation of )udaism, see tle discussion by )eremy Colen, Living Letters of the
Law Ideas of the /ew in Medieval Christianity (Berkeley: University of California
Press, ,,,), pp. ,6,.
a. A popular book on tle production of tle King )ames Bible is Adam Nicolson,
Gods Secretaries Te Making of the King /ahes Bible (New York: Harper Collins,
. Tere is not mucl popular literature on )udaism during tle early Second Temple
(Persian) period. )ames D. Purvis, Exile and Return, in Slanks, Ancient Israel
oers a good overview essay. More specialized essays can be found in Te Cah-
bridge History of /udaish, vol. : Introduction Te Persian Period. ed. W. D. Da-
vies and Louis Finkelstein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ,8().
(. Most sclolars today accept tlat tle Toral is listorically ctitious. Tere remains,
lowever, mucl contention about tle listoricity of otler parts of tle Tanak. For
an overview of tlis controversy, see Marc Brettler, Te Copenlagen Sclool: Te
Historiograplical Issues, A/S Review a;: (aoo): a.
,. Ronald S. Hendel, Rehehbering Abrahah Culture. Mehory. and History in the
Hebrew Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, aoo,), oers a soplisticated ac-
count of tle ways in wlicl tle redactors of tle Toral constructed memory. He
also las an essay, Israel Among tle Nations: Biblical Culture in tle Ancient
Near East, in Biale, Cultures of the /ews, pp. (a;,.
6. Israel Knoll, Te Divine Syhphony (Pliladelplia: )ewisl Publication Society,
aoo), is a liglly readable account of tle tleologies of tle Bible. )ack Miles, God
A Biography (New York: Knopf, ,,,), oers a intriguing literary and tleological
analysis of tle Cod of tle Hebrew Bible. Mark Smitl, Te Early History of God
Yahweh and Other Deities in Ancient Israel (New York: Harper and Row, ,,o),
las a more sclolarly approacl. See also )ames L. Kugel, Te God of Old Inside
the Lost World of the Bible (New York: Free, aoo).

1z viviioovvnici o1is
;. Ilana Pardes, Te Biography of Ancient Israel !ational !arratives in the Bible.
Contraversions ( (Berkeley: University of California Press, aooo), las a fruitful
discussion of tle Bible as a national biograply.
8. Tere are several excellent essays dealing witl tle Hebrew Bibles treatment of
religious experience in Artlur Creen, ed., /ewish Spirituality. World Spirituality
(New York: Crossroad, ,8). In tlat volume see tle essays by )on D. Leven-
son, Te )erusalem Temple in Devotional and Visionary Experience, pp. a6,
Miclael Fislbane, Biblical Proplecy as a Religious Plenomenon, pp. 6a8,
and )ames L. Kugel, Topics in tle History of tle Spirituality of tle Psalms, pp.
,. Te story of Eleplantine is told in Bezalel Porten, Archives froh Elephantine
Te Life of an Ancient /ewish Military Colony (Berkeley: University of California
Press, ,68).
o. For an attempt to reconstruct tle lives of Israelite women from tle arclaeo-
logical and meager textual evidence, see Carol Meyers, Discovering Eve Ancient
Israelite Wohen in Context (New York: Oxford University Press, ,88). For a va-
riety of feminist approacles to tle Hebrew Bible, see tle many works of Atlalya
. vi1ii 1nis i iivusiir
Tere are several good introductions to tlis listorical period. Slaye ). D. Colen,
Iroh the Maccabees to the Mishnah (Pliladelplia: Westminster, ,8;), )ames C.
VanderKam, An Introduction to Early /udaish (Crand Rapids: Eerdmans, aoo), )oln
). Collins, Between Athens and /erusaleh /ewish Identity in the Hellenistic Diaspora
(New York: Crossroad, ,8), Elias )osepl Bickerman, Te /ews in the Greek Age (Cam-
bridge: Harvard University Press, ,88), and Ericl. S. Cruen, Diaspora /ews Ahidst
Greeks and Rohans (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, aooa). Cruen also surveys
)ewisl life outside tle land of Israel during tle Creco-Roman period in lis essay Hel-
lenistic )udaism in Biale, Cultures of the /ews, pp. ;;a.
Te texts discussed in tlis clapter are all available in good Englisl translations.
Haggai, Zeclarial, Daniel, Ecclesiastes, Estler, Ezra, and Nelemial are all books
from tle Hebrew Bible. Any edition of tle Apocrypla or tle Old Testament Apoc-
rypla (found separately or as part of a Catlolic Bible) contains tle books of Ben Sira
(Ecclesiasticus) and and a Maccabees. Pseudepigraplical books, sucl as tle books
of Enocl, along witl tle fragments of otler )ewisl writings in Creek (e.g., Aristobu-
lus, Ezekiel tle Tragedian, Letter of Aristeas, ( Maccabees), can be found in )ames
Clarleswortl, ed., Te Old Testahent Pseudepigrapha. a vols. (Carden City, N.Y.:
Doubleday, ,8,8,). Te most readable translations of Plilo and )oseplus can be
found in tle appropriate editions of tle Loeb Classical Library, publisled by Harvard
University Press. Tere are many translations of tle Dead Sea scrollstlat of Ceza
Vermes, Te Cohplete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (New York: Penguin, ,,8), is prob-
ably best for popular reading.
viviioovvnici o1is 1
. On Alexanders invasion of tle Near East and tle political struggles, a good in-
troduction is oered by )oln H. Hayes and Sara R. Mandell, Te /ewish People
in Classical Antiquity Iroh Alexander to Bar Kochba (Louisville: Westminster
)oln Knox, ,,8). A dated, but still very important and accessible, study of tle
Maccabean revolt is Elias ). Bickerman, Te God of the Maccabees Studies on the
Meaning and Origin of the Maccabean Revolt, trans. Horst R. Moelring, Studies
in )udaism in Late Antiquity a (Leiden: Brill, ,;,).
a. Plilo, Allegorical Works .,,, trans. F. H. Colson and C. H. Wlitaker, Loeb Clas-
sical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, ,68,8;), :6;6,.
. Aristobulus, fragment from Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica 8.o.a, trans. A.
Yarbro Collins in Clarleswortl, Te Old Testahent Pseudepigrapha, a:88.
(. Ibid. 8.o.,, a:8,.
,. Plilo, Te Special Laws, .86, trans. F. H. Colson in tle Loeb Classical Library
edition, ;:ao,.
6. Apocalyptic tendencies are usually contrasted witl tle Hellenistic )udaism
found outside tle Land of Israel. Tis division is too simplistic. On apocalyptic
works, )oln ). Collins, Te Apocalyptic Ihagination An Introduction to /ewish
Apocalyptic Literature. Biblical Resource Series (Crand Rapids: Eerdmans, ,,8),
Martla Himmelfarb, Ascent to Heaven in /ewish and Christian Apocalypses (New
York: Oxford University Press, ,,).
;. On tle ricl literature and traditions regarding tle gure of Enocl, see Cabriele
Boccaccini, Beyond the Essene Hypothesis Te Parting of Ways Between Quhran
and Enochic /udaish (Crand Rapids: Eerdmans, ,,8), wlicl las a provocative
altlougl controversial tlesis.
8. For a grand survey of tle exegetical life of Scripture in antiquity, see )ames L. Kugel,
Te Bible as It Was (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, ,,;).
,. On tle Dead Sea scrolls and tle community tlat produced tlem, see Lawrence
H. Scliman. Reclaihing the Dead Sea Scrolls Te History of /udaish. the Back-
ground of Christianity. the Lost Library of Quhran (Pliladelplia: )ewisl Pub-
lication Society, ,,(), and )ames C. VanderKam, Te Dead Sea Scrolls Today
(Crand Rapids: Eerdmans, ,,().
o. One of tle few modern (and responsible) book-lengtl discussions of )ewisl sec-
tarianism during tlis period is Albert I. Baumgarten, Te Ilourishing of /ewish
Sects in the Maccabean Era An Interpretation. Supplements to tle )ournal for
tle Study of )udaism ,, (Leiden: Brill, ,,;). Unsurprisingly, tlere is an enor-
mous literature on tle emergence of Clristianity. For one sucl introduction, see
Alan Segal, Rebeccas Children /udaish and Christianity in the Rohan World
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, ,86).
. 1ni vvvis
Tere is no book-lengtl treatment of tle Rabbis, tleir development, and tleir litera-
ture. Tere are, lowever, several excellent essays and articles tlat treat tlis topic. Two
1 viviioovvnici o1is
essays in Biales Cultures of the /ews survey tle social conditions in wlicl tle Rabbis
worked in tleir two centers: Oded Irslai, Confronting a Clristian Empire: )ewisl
Culture in tle World of Byzantium, pp. 8oaa, and Isaial Cafni, Babylonian Rab-
binic Culture, pp. aaaa6,. See also Cafnis essay, Te World of tle Talmud: From
tle Mislnal to tle Arab Conquest, in Herslel Slanks, ed., Christianity and Rabbinic
/udaish A Parallel History of Teir Origins and Early Develophent (Waslington,
D.C.: Biblical Arclaeology Society, ,,a), pp. aa,a6,. One of tle most recent and so-
plisticated evaluations of tle Rabbis appears in Setl Sclwartz, Ihperialish and /ew-
ish Society. .oo B.C.E. to o;o C.E.. )ews, Clristians, and Muslims from tle Ancient to
tle Modern World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, aoo), especially pp. 6a
;6. Some essays in Barry W. Holtz, ed., Back to the Sources Reading the Classic /ewish
Texts (New York: Summit, ,8() give ne introductions to some of tle literature of
tle Rabbis: Robert Coldenberg, Talmud, pp. a,;,, Barry W. Holtz, Midrasl, pp.
;6a. Milton Steinbergs novel, As a Driven Leaf (New York: Belrman House, ,,6
[ca. ,,]) is entertaining and provides one of tle more vivid, if listorically inaccurate,
portrayal of tle early Rabbis.
. For an interpretation of tle causes of tle Creat Revolt, see Martin Coodman,
Te Ruling Class of /udaea Te Origins of the /ewish Revolt Against Rohe A.D.
oo,o (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ,8;).
a. ( Ezra :a6, trans. B. M. Metzger in Te Old Testahent Pseudepigrapha,
. Ibid. (:a6o, :,o,.
(. Cedalial Alon provocatively argues tlat Yavnel was actually a kind of POW
camp. See lis book, Te /ews in Teir Land in the Talhudic Age. ,oo;o CE, ed.
and trans. Cerslon Levi ()erusalem: Magnes, ,8o), :868. On )ewisl sectari-
anism and tle emergence of tle Rabbis, see Slaye ). D. Colen, Te Signicance
of Yavnel: Plarisees, Rabbis, and tle End of )ewisl Sectarianism, Hebrew Union
College Annual ,, (,8(): a;,.
,. On tle Bar Koklba revolt, see tle essays in Peter Sclfer, ed., Te Bar Kokhba
War Reconsidered !ew Perspectives on the Second /ewish Revolt Against Rohe.
Texte und Studien zum antiken )udentum oo (Tbingen: Molr Siebeck, aoo).
6. Te extent to wlicl tle Rabbis were slaped by tleir Creco-Roman environment
remains an area of sclolarly disagreement. I more fully develop tle parallel be-
tween Rabbis and plilosoplers in my article, And on tle Eartl You Slall Sleep:
Talmud Toral and Rabbinic Asceticism, /ournal of Religion 8 (aoo): ao(aa,.
On tle Mislnal as a legal textbook, see Abralam Coldberg, Te MislnaA
Study Book of Halakla, in Slmuel Safrai, ed., Te Literature of the Sages, Com-
pendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum a. (Pliladelplia: Fortress
Press, ,8;), pp. aa6a.
;. Anotler good introductory essay on midrasl is by )ames L. Kugel, in )ames L.
Kugel and Rowan A. Creer, eds., Early Biblical Interpretation. Library of Early
Clristianity (Pliladelplia: Westminster, ,86). For a fascinating case study of
viviioovvnici o1is 1
tle evolution of a midrasl, see Slalom Spiegel, Te Last Trial On the Legends
and Lore of the Cohhand to Abrahah to Oer Isaac as a Sacrice, trans. witl an
introduction by )udal Coldin (New York: Sclocken, ,6;).
8. Te midrasl is taken from tle Mekhilta dRabbi Ishhael, section BaHodesh (.
A full Englisl translation of tle midrasl can be found in )acob Z. Lauterbacl,
Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishhael. vols. (Pliladelplia: )ewisl Publication Society of
America, ,).
,. Translation from /udaish on Trial /ewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle
Ages, ed. and trans. Hyam Maccoby (London: Littman Library of )ewisl Civiliza-
tion, ,,), p. ,.
o. Te major collections of tannaitic midrasl and tleir Englisl translations are tle
Mekhilta dRabbi Ishhael on Exodus (see tle translation of Lauterbacl, cited
above), tle Sifra on Leviticus, trans. )acob Neusner, Sifra. an Analytical Transla-
tion. Brown )udaic Studies 8(o (Atlanta: Sclolars, ,88), Sifre to !uhbers
An Aherican Translation and Explanation. ed. and trans. )acob Neusner, Brown
)udaic Studies 8, (Atlanta: Sclolars, ,86), and Sifre on Deuteronohy. trans.
Reuven Hammer, Yale )udaica Series a( (New Haven: Yale University Press,
. Marc Hirslman, A Rivalry of Genius /ewish and Christian Biblical Interpreta-
tion in Late Antiquity, trans. Batya Stein (Albany: State University of New York
Press, ,,6), discusses several midraslic passages tlat appear to respond directly
to Clristian attacks.
a. Te primary collections of amoraic midrasl are found in tle Rabbal collection,
but do not include all of tle books in it. Cenesis, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Eccle-
siastes, Rutl, Lamentations, and Song of Songs in particular are considered amo-
raic (tle rest date from a later period). Tese collections are all translated in H.
Freedman and Maurice Simon, eds., Midrash Rabba (London: Soncino, ,,).
. On tle Rabbis of Babylonia, see tle essay by Cafni in Biale, Cultures of the /ews
and )erey L. Rubenstein, Te Culture of the Babylonian Talhud (Baltimore:
)olns Hopkins University Press, aoo).
(. Te best translation of tle entire Babylonian Talmud remains tlat of tle Sonci-
no Press. Parts of tle Steinsaltz Talmud are translated into Englisl, tley lave a
very lelpful commentary. Te Sclottenstein edition of tle Talmud, part of tle
Artscroll series (Brooklyn: Mesoral, ,,oaoo,), too easily renders tle original
languages in accordance witl preconceived tleological notions. On tle printing
of tle Babylonian Talmud, see Marvin ). Heller, Printing the Talhud A History of
the Earliest Printed Editions of the Talhud (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Am Hasefer, ,,a).
. vvviic cociv1s
Tere are several discussions of wlat tle Rabbis believe, altlougl most of tlem
treat rabbinic tlouglt selectively by minimizing tlose aspects tlat are less relevant to
modern sensibilities. David S. Ariel, What Do /ews Believe? Te Spiritual Ioundations
16 viviioovvnici o1is
of /udaish (New York: Sclocken, ,,,), provides a balanced, if partisan, treatment.
Older studies include Ceorge Foot Moore, /udaish in the Iirst Centuries of the Chris-
tian Era Te Age of the Tannaih (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, ,a;,o),
and Eplraim E. Urbacl, Te Sages Teir Concepts and Beliefs, trans. Israel Abralams
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, ,;,). Solomon Scleclter, Aspects of Rab-
binic Teology (Woodstock, VT: )ewisl Liglts, ,, [New York: Sclocken, ,6]) is
still wortlwlile reading. Te notion of organic tleology tlat I use in tlis clapter
derives from Max Kadduslin, Organic Tinking A Study in Rabbinic Tought (New
York: Blocl, ,8), wlicl remains a dicult book.
. On tle development of notions of )ewislness, see Slaye ). D. Colen, Te Begin-
nings of /ewishness Boundaries. Varieties. Uncertainties (Berkeley: University of
California Press, ,,,).
a. On tle concept of tle mitzvot, see Elliot N. Dor, A Living Tree Te Roots and
Growth of /ewish Law (Albany: State University of New York Press, ,88).
6. ri1Zvo1
Tere are several modern guides to tle mitzvot, most of wlicl align relatively
strongly witl an ideological movement. A popular Ortlodox guide is Hayim Donin,
To Be a /ew A Guide to /ewish Observance in Contehporary Life (New York: Basic,
,;a). Some of tle positions of tle Conservative movement are detailed in Isaac
Klein, A Guide to /ewish Religious Practice. Moreslet Series 6 (New York: )ewisl
Teological Seminary of America, ,;,), altlougl mucl las clanged since its pub-
lication. Mark Waslofsky, /ewish Living A Guide to Contehporary Reforh Practice
(New York: UAHC Press, aoo), las recently produced a guide to tle mitzvot for
Reform )ews.
Again, perlaps surprisingly, tle lalaklal of tle Rabbis of antiquity tlemselves las
never been treated syntletically and comprelensively, and tle isolated discussions
of it are rarely accessible to a nonsclolarly audience. Lawrence H. Scliman, Was
Tere a Calilean Halaklal: in Lee I. Levine, ed., Te Galilee in Late Antiquity (New
York: )ewisl Teological Seminary of America, ,,a), pp. (,6, gives a general ac-
count of some religious customs peculiar to tle Calilee.
. For Abralam )oslua Hesclels idea of sacred time, see lis book, Te Sabbath Its
Meaning for Modern Man (New York: Farrar, Staus and Young, ,,).
a. On one aspect of tle dietary laws, see David C. Kraemer, Separating tle Disles:
Te History of a )ewisl Eating Practice, Studies in /ewish Civilization , (aoo,):
. Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Ta-
boo (Harmondwortl: Penguin, ,;o). Sle las signicantly modied ler position
in Leviticus as Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, ,,,).
(. In lis unconventional book, Keitl Hopkins, A World Iull of Gods Pagans. /ews
viviioovvnici o1is 1;
and Christians in the Rohan Ehpire (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, ,,,),
attempts to evoke tle avor of tlis religious world.
,. Plillip Coodman las edited a series of books tlat oer nice collections of origi-
nal sources in Englisl translation on most of tle )ewisl lolidays. Tese antlolo-
gies lave been publisled by tle )ewisl Publication Society of America. An in-
teresting analysis of tle evolution of Passover can be found in Barucl M. Bokser,
Te Origins of the Seder Te Passover Rite and Early Rabbinic /udaish (Berkeley:
University of California Press, ,8().
6. For lis understanding of life cycle events, see Arnold van Cennep, Te Rites of
Passage, trans. Monika B. Vizedom and Cabrielle L. Caee (Clicago: University
of Clicago Press, ,6o).
;. For some studies of )ewisl life cycles, seen from dierent perspectives, see Har-
vey E. Coldberg, /ewish Passages Cycles of /ewish Life (Berkeley: University of
California Press, aoo), and Ivan C. Marcus, Te /ewish Life Cycle (Seattle: Wasl-
ington University Press, aoo().
8. On rabbinic sexuality, see Daniel Boyarin, Carnal Israel Reading Sex in Talhudic
Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, ,,). On marriage, Miclael
L. Satlow, /ewish Marriage in Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
,. Te books on women in tle Talmudic period almost all foreground modern con-
cerns, oering more of a feminist analysis tlan listorical reconstruction. See Blu
Creenberg, On Wohen and /udaish A View froh Tradition (Pliladelplia: )ew-
isl Publication Society of America, ,8), Raclel Biale, Wohen and /ewish Law
An Exploration of Wohens Issues in Halakhic Sources (New York: Sclocken,
,8(), and )uditl Hauptman, Rereading the Rabbis A Wohans Voice (Boulder:
Westview, ,,8).
o. )eremy Colen, Be Iertile and Increase. Iill the Earth and Master It Te Ancient
and Medieval Career of a Biblical Text (Itlaca: Cornell University Press, ,8,),
oers an excellent account of tle rabbinic approacl to procreation.
;. 1ni visi oi viso
On )ews in tlis period, see generally Reuven Firestone, )ewisl Culture in tle Forma-
tive Period of Islam, in Biale, Cultures of the /ews, pp. a6;oa, wlo deals more witl
)ews during tle time of Molammad. Tis clapter relies leavily on Robert Brody, Te
Geonih of Babylonia and the Shaping of Medieval /ewish Culture (New Haven: Yale
University Press, ,,8).
. On tle relationslip of Clristians and )ews in antiquity, see Irslai, Confronting
a Clristian Empire, in Biale, Cultures of the /ews. Irslai reects tle sclolarly
consensus tlat tle )ews were more or less left alone by tle Clristian rulers.
a. Codex Teodosianus 6:8:a,, translated in Amnon Linder, ed., Te /ews in Rohan
Ihperial Legislation (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, ,8;), p. a88.
18 viviioovvnici o1is
. Teodosius II. !ovella , ibid., p. a.
(. On tle incident in Minorca, see Scott Bradbury, ed. and trans., Letter on the Con-
version of the /ews. Severus of Minorca. Oxford Early Clristian Texts (Oxford:
Clarendon, ,,6).
,. Comment on Psalm ,: by )apletl b. Eli, translation in Daniel Frank, ed., Search
Scripture Well Karaite Exegetes and the Origins of the /ewish Bible Cohhentary
in the Islahic East (Leiden: Brill, aoo(), p. a, (witl some stylistic modications).
6. Stylistically modied translation from Leon Nemoy, Karaite Anthology. Yale )u-
daica Series ; (New Haven: Yale University Press, ,,a), pp. ;8.
;. On Islamic scripturalism and its relationslip to Karaism, see Miclael Cook,
Anan and Islam: Te Origins of Karaite Scripturalism, /erusaleh Studies in Ara-
bic and Islah , (,8;): 68.
8. Quoted from Brody, Te Geonih of Babylonia, p. (.
,. On tle competition between Palestinian and Babylonian rabbis in tle period of
tle Rabbis, see Isaial M. Cafni, Land. Center. and Diaspora /ewish Constructs in
Late Antiquity. )ournal for tle Study of tle Pseudepigrapla Supplement Series a
(Sleeld: Sleeld Academic, ,,;).
o. Several translations of piyyutih can be found in T. Carmi, Te Penguin Book
of Hebrew Verse (Harmondswortl: Penguin, ,8). On tle geonic production of
standardized prayer texts, see Lawrence A. Homan, Te Canonization of the
Synagogue Service (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, ,;,).
. Quoted from Brody, Te Geonih of Babylonia, p. a,(.
a. Quoted from Cideon Libson, Halaklal and tle Law in tle Period of tle
Ceonim, in N. S. Heclt, B. S. )ackson, S. M. Passamaneck, Daniela Piattelli, and
Alfredo Rabello, eds., An Introduction to the History and Sources of /ewish Law
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, ,,6), p. a6.
. Quoted from Brody, Te Geonih of Babylonia, pp. a88a8,.
(. Quoted from tle translation of Alexander Altmann of tle Book of Doctrines and
Beliefs, in Hans Lewy, Alexander Altmann, and Isaak Heinemann, eds., Tree
/ewish Philosophers (New York: Atleneum, ,;), p. aa.
,. Ibid., pp. ;8.
6. Ibid.
;. Ibid., p. o.
8. Ibid., p. ;.
,. Quoted from Brody, Te Geonih of Babylonia, p. ao.
ao. Ibid., p. o,.
8. ivor rosis 1o rosis
Tere is an enormous and ricl literature on Andalusia, Andalusian )ews, and Mai-
monides specically. Te standard, introduction to tle )ews of medieval Spain is
Yitzlak Baer, A History of the /ews in Christian Spain, trans. Louis Scloman (Plil-
adelplia: )ewisl Publication Society, ,6), altlougl it is dated and focuses on tle
viviioovvnici o1is 1,
experience in Clristian Spain. More recent discussions include )ane S. Cerber, Te
/ews of Spain A History of the Sephardic Experience (New York: Free, ,,a), and Ray-
mond P. Scleindlin, Wine. Wohen. and Death Medieval Hebrew Poehs on the Good
Life (Pliladelplia: )ewisl Publication Society, ,86). Scleindlin also las an excellent
essay, Merclants and Intellectuals, Rabbis and Poets: )udeo-Arabic Culture in tle
Colden Age of Islam, in Biale, Cultures of the /ews. pp. 86. Maria Rosa Menocal,
Te Ornahent of the Word How Muslihs. /ews. and Christians Created a Culture of
Tolerance in Medieval Spain (Boston: Little, Brown, aooa), paints a beautiful portrait
of cultural and religious interaction in Andalusia.
My readings of Maimonides plilosoply lave been most inuenced by tle various
works of Menalem Kellner, especially Maihonides on /udaish and the /ewish People.
SUNY Series in )ewisl Plilosoply (Albany: State University of New York Press, ,,),
and Must a /ew Believe Anything? Littman Library of )ewisl Civilization (London: Lit-
tman Library of )ewisl Civilization, ,,,). Isadore Twerskys work on Maimonides le-
gal writings remains fundamental. See especially Isadore Twersky, Introduction to the
Code of Maihonides (Mishneh Torah). Yale )udaica Series aa (New Haven: Yale Uni-
versity Press, ,8o). For translations of Maimonides writings, tle main sources are
Isadore Twersky, ed., A Maihonides Reader (New York: Belrman House, ,;a), and
Sllomo Pines, ed. and trans., Te Guide of the Perplexed. a vols. (Clicago: University
of Clicago Press, ,6). Te Mishneh Torah is translated in tle Yale )udaica Series.
. Two essays in Holtz, Back to the Sources. oer excellent introductions to tle
literature discussed lere, Edward L. Creenstein, Medieval Bible Commentar-
ies, pp. aaa,,, and Norbert M. Samuelson, Medieval )ewisl Plilosoply, pp.
a. Guide .,, translation in Pines, Te Guide of the Perplexed. a:68.
. Ibid..,(, :a8.
(. Ibid. .a;, a:,o.
,. For a survey of )ewisl legal activity in medieval Spain, see Eliav Slocletman,
)ewisl Law in Spain and tle Halaklic Activity of Its Sclolars Before oo, in
N. S. Heclt, B. S. )ackson, S. M. Passamaneck, Daniela Piattelli, and Alfredo Ra-
bello, eds., An Introduction to the History and Sources of /ewish Law (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, ,,6), pp. a;a,8.
6. Te translation of tle passage from Ibn Ezra is taken from H. Norman Strickman
and Artlur M. Silver, trans., Ibn Ezras Cohhentary on the Pentateuch, vol. a,
Exodus (Slemot) (New York: Menoral, ,,6), pp. ,o(,o;.
;. )udal Halevi, Kuzari ., trans. Isaak Heinemann in Hans Lewy, Alexander Alt-
mann, and Isaak Heinemann, eds., Tree /ewish Philosophers (New York: Atl-
eneum, ,;), p. , and .a for tle continuation.
8. Ibid. .a,, p. ,.
,. Ibid. .6, p. ;.
o. Ibid., .,.
. Ibid., .;, p. ,o.
zo viviioovvnici o1is
a. Maimonides, Epistle on Martyrdoh, trans. Abralam Halkin, Crisis and Leader-
ship Epistles of Maihonides, witl discussions by David Hartman (Pliladelplia:
)ewisl Publication Society of America, ,8,), p. 6.
. Ibid., p. o.
(. Ibid., p. .
,. Maimonides, Cohhentary on the Mishnah, Sanledrin o:, in Twersky, A Mai-
honides Reader, p. (o(.
6. Ibid., p. (o.
;. Ibid., p. (a.
8. Ibid., p. (aa.
,. Maimonides, Introduction to tle Mishneh Torah, in Twersky, A Maihonides
Reader, p. (o.
ao. Maimonides, Guide, introduction to part , in Pines, Te Guide of the Perplexed.
a. Leo Strauss famously suggested tlat tle Guide is written in a kind of esoteric
code, so tlat it means one tling to tle casual reader but conveys a more radical
message to initiates. Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (Clencoe, Ill.:
Free, ,,a), especially pp. 8,(.
aa. A useful introduction to medieval )ewisl plilosoply is Colette Sirat, A History of
/ewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
a. An annotated Englisl translation of Levi ben Cersloms major plilosoplical
work is available as Seymour Feldman, trans., Te Wars of the Lord. vols. (Plila-
delplia: )ewisl Publication Society of America, ,8(,,,).
,. siiio ooi
Cerslom Sclolem pioneered tle modern study of )ewisl mysticism and lis works
remain deeply relevant. See especially lis collections of essays, Mafor Trends in /ew-
ish Mysticish, rev. ed. (New York: Sclocken, ,(6), and Te Messianic Idea in /uda-
ish. and Other Essays on /ewish Spirituality (New York: Sclocken, ,;). Kabbalal
las been receiving increased attention in recent years, botl popular and academic. In
Englisl, Mosle Idels books, Kabbalah !ew Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University
Press, ,88), and Messianic Mystics (New Haven: Yale University Press, ,,8), attempt
to revise some of Sclolems positions. Especially readable entrances into Kabbalal
are Artlur Creen, A Guide to the Zohar (Stanford: Stanford University Press, aoo(),
and tle essay by Lawrence Fine, Kabbalistic Texts in Holtz, Back to the Sources. pp.
o,,,. A slort selection of texts can be found in Daniel C. Matt, ed., Te Essential
Kabbalah Te Heart of /ewish Mysticish (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, ,,,),
and a mucl longer, well-annotated selection in Isaial Tislby, ed., Te Wisdoh of the
Zohar An Anthology of Texts, trans. David Coldstein, Littman Library of )ewisl Civi-
lization (Oxford: Oxford University Press for Littman Library, ,8,).
viviioovvnici o1is z1
. )osepl Karo, Maggid Mesharih, trans. in Louis )acobs, ed., Te Schocken Book of
/ewish Mystical Testihonies (New York: Sclocken, ,;6), p. ((.
a. Ibid., p. (.
. I