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4.0 out of 5 stars Helpful guide to a huge subject, 21 Oct 2013
By 
Jeremy Bevan (West Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Rabbinic Judaism: The Theological System (Paperback)
Though the corpus of rabbinic literature is one of the great achievements of the world's faiths, accessible guides to it are few and far between. Neusner sees it as presenting `a coherent theology, a cogent structure and a logical system to explain the justice of God' (ix), and sets out to make the case accordingly. In a thoughtfully structured way, he describes the oral Torah as presenting the orderly, reasonable and purposeful character of all things seen through the lens of the written Torah - things both as they imperfectly are at present, and as they will be when restored to perfection at the end of all things. A particular strength of Neusner's approach is his use of quotations from a wide range of rabbinic texts to illustrate the development of paradigms or frameworks within which the rabbis reason out solutions to problems.

He rightly stresses the public context of the oral Torah - it's a guide for Israel living out its faith as a `demonstration' to the nations of the responsibilities of its covenant relationship with God. Hence, Israel's rejection of Torah is the worst of sins. By contrast, Jewish responsiveness calls forth `zekhut' (unearned divine grace) to assist it in meeting the requirements of the law, though the rabbis insist that human free will also plays a crucial role at all times. Though essentially conservative in seeking to preserve complementarities `built in' to the order of things (soul/body, heaven/earth, justice/mercy, for example), it does address itself to some quite radical guiding principles for economic life and justice, partly as a way of limiting the advance of disorder in the world. Neusner ends by considering how repentance (teshuva), resurrection (I liked the quotation from Mishnah tractate Sotah 9:15 showing how resurrection follows as a direct consequence of obedience even in small things, like heedfulness to commandments) and a very material conception of the world to come - `olam ha-ba - are characteristics that underpin the work the Messiah will do to restore all things. Again, the focus here is very much on the public and communal order being restored - the world of the oral Torah is not a private one. I'd rate Neusner's book highly as an introduction to what is clearly a huge topic. Not the definitive work, perhaps, but certainly helpful in giving an essential overview for the non-specialist.
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Rabbinic Judaism: The Theological System
Rabbinic Judaism: The Theological System by Jacob Neusner (Paperback - 1 Feb 2003)
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