Early Rabbinic Judaism: Historical Studies in Religion, Literature and Art

Early Rabbinic Judaism: Historical Studies in Religion, Literature and Art

Early Rabbinic Judaism: Historical Studies in Religion, Literature and Art

Early Rabbinic Judaism: Historical Studies in Religion, Literature and Art

Excerpt

Rabbinic Judaism came into being between 70 and 170. It took shape in the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 and within less than a century produced the structures which, with much modulation and expansion, persisted to the present day. In the first two parts of this book I examine central problems in the formation of Rabbinic Judaism, and in the third I deal with the context in which it developed.

Since what makes Rabbinic Judaism distinctive is its concept of the Oral Torah, contained within Mishnah-Tosefta, going back to Sinai and equal with the written Torah revealed to Moses "our rabbi," I begin with the most basic question, the phenomenon of Oral Torah. Rather than citing numerous rabbinic sayings on that subject, I prefer to seek evidence in the character of Mishnah-Tosefta itself. Since it is Mishnah-Tosefta which the rabbis claim is Oral Torah, I ask exactly what is that Oral Torah, and, of greatest importance, how does it relate to the written Torah, the other half of the "one whole Torah" of Our Rabbi Moses? Much more work has to be done on Mishnah- Tosefta, as well as on the Tannaitic Midrashim, before we shall have a fair picture of what Oral Torah actually meant to the second century rabbis. I believe, however, that by taking seriously the rabbis' own claim in behalf of Mishnah-Tosefta--that is, in relationship to what they actually have given us--I have reshaped the definition of the problem. I hope, too, that we may now set aside the circumscribed agendum supplied by earlier historians of Judaism: What in Mishnah is '"early" or "goes back before 70"? The real problem is not what in Mishnah is early, but what Mishnah is.

The next two papers turn to the period in which Rabbinic Judaism as we now know it began to take shape. In the second essay I describe the several responses to the destruction of the Second Temple produced by various groups within Judaism. In the third I take up the problem of shaping viable definitions for both Pharisaism and Rabbinism and attempt to make use of those definitions in analyzing the character of the traditions attributed to the earliest authorities of Yavneh.

Another major problem is presented by the literary traits of the rabbinic sources. It is commonly alleged that when the rabbis spoke . . .

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