Studies in the Bible and Jewish Thought

Studies in the Bible and Jewish Thought

Studies in the Bible and Jewish Thought

Studies in the Bible and Jewish Thought

Excerpt

Jewish Bible (TANAKH) scholarship has long been a stepchild in the academies of Jewish learning. The talmudic sages held that Bible study was for beginners, while the 19th-century proponents of the modern study of Judaism (Wissenschaft des Judentums) regarded the critical study of the Bible -- largely a Protestant achievement -- as tainted with animosity toward Judaism (which it was and sometimes still is). Jews who entered the field were either joining the enemy or pursuing apologetics. As a result the modern study of the Bible had, until the mid20th century, only a minor input from Jewish scholars. The Jewish student of the 1940s and 1950s who aspired to be a biblical scholar had to overcome internal and external prejudices that appeared as challenges worthy to be met.

Representative of the traditional Jewish attitude is this ranking of the stages of learning attributed to Rabbi Shim'on bar Yohai, one of the great sages of the Mishnah (2nd c. C.E.): "Study of the Bible -- hardly a virtue; of the Mishnah -- for that one is rewarded; of the Talmud -- there is no greater virtue than that" (Pal. Talmud, Shabbat 15c). The Bible is ranked low, explained Rabbi Judah the Pious (12th-c. Germany), "because one pays exclusive attention to the plain sense [of the biblical text, which, unlike the Mishnah and Talmud, is not normative]" (Sefer Hasidim, ed.Wistinetzki, # 748). Yet a bit further on he qualifies this: "At times, study of the Bible is worthier than that of the Talmud -- as when one is among the unlearned or others who do not study Talmud, and if one would not teach them Bible they would learn nothing at all" (ibid., #765). More generous is the hierar-

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