Notes for Religious Studies 369:
Introduction to Judaism
Centrality of Study as a Relgious Value
- With the cesation of prophecy, God's teachings had to be approached by studying the text of the Bible.
- Application to new situations requires creative methods of interpretation.
- Obligarion to observe the commandments and laws requires that people know those laws.
- Philo: Allegorical method produced synthesis between philosphy and revealed scripture
- Qumran: Pesher applied prophetic texts to their own history and current situations
- Pharisees: Interplay between written and oral traditions.
The Rabbinic era
- Midrash: Flowering of halakhic midrash during Yavneh generations.
- Two main schools of halakhic midrash:
- Rabbi Ishmael: "The Torah speaks in human language"--respect for literal sense of the text. → autonomy of oral traditions.
- Rabbi Akiva: All features of Torah text are significant, apparent redundancies or unusual wordings are there to derive new teachings. → oral tradition is rooted in written.
- Aggadic midrash--largely derived from synagogue sermons.
- Homiletical and Exegetical types.
Medieval approaches to biblical interpretation:
- Continuation of ancient Midrashic method.
- Assumption that biblical texts have multiple meanings.
- Biblical persons and events viewed as typological archetypes: e.g., Esau represents the evil Roman empire. Tendency to portray figures as either absolutely righteous or absolutely evil.
- Concern to provide moral and spiritual guidance, not to recover original meaning of text.
Peshat, "scientific," "contextual" appproach: rational exegesis and linguistic analysis.
- Not found prior to Middle Ages. Influenced by Arab grammatical and rationalistic approaches to Qur'anic exegesis.
- Examines narrative context, literary conventions, etc.
- Originates in Arabic-speaking Jewish communities: Babylonia, Israel, North Africa and Spain.
- Important school of peshat commentators in 11th- and 12th-century France.
A woodcut of Rashi from an old Hebrew Bible printingRabbi Solomon ben Isaac (1040-1105): RaSh"I:
Rabbi Solomon ben Meir (c. 1085 - c. 1174) RaShBa"M:
Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra (c. 1089 - c. 1164):
Traditional and Rationalist approaches to the purpose of the commandments
In the Bible and Rabbinic literature, observance of the commandments is generally depicted as an expression of devotion to God, within the framework of the Covenant.
- Medieval rationalists [e.g., Maimonides] believed that philosophical knowledge of God was the ultimate goal, and that the other commandments were instrumental in achieving that goal (by creating a secure society, instilling qualities of moral discipline, and by teaching correct ideas).
Biblical Studies in the Modern Era
- Spinoza: challenged belief in divine origin of the Torah.
Argued that its purpose was political and utilitarian, and that it does not necessarily contain correct theological doctrines.
- Mendelssohn: Theology and morality are rational and cannot be based on revelaiton . The Torah consists of "revealed legislation."
- Wissenschaft des Jundentums movement: Applying historical, academic methods to the study of Judaism provided justificaiton for reforms or evolutionary approach to Jewish law and tradition.
- Z. Frankel's Positive-historical school: Connecition between Jewish religion and the historical and cultural experiences of the Jewish people.