Performing Israel's Faith: Narrative and Law in Rabbinic Theology

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Law and Theology, Halakhah
and Aggadah

Covenantal nomism is realized in rules of conduct that act out norms of conviction. Chapters 1 and 2, 3 and 4, have twice illustrated that fact, the first set for the relationship of Israel and the idolaters, the second, of Israel and God. But that claim to this point has rested on showing the match between the Aggadic structure and the Halakhic system. The disjuncture of chapters 3 and 4—atonement in theology, atonement in practice—raises the question of whether the Halakhah on its own, not in juxtaposition with the Aggadah, embodies theological convictions, and whether it responds to the mythic monotheism of Scripture’s narrative. Or perhaps a script is always required to link conduct to conviction, to articulate the attitude supposedly inherent in the action.4 This premise carries us to the final exercise, how the law in its concrete and particular formulation constitutes the acting out of an implicit theological statement. We shall see that no script is required for the drama of the Halakhah to take place.

This chapter sets forth a variety of cases in which the law itself, in its very details, embodies the animating theology of monotheism in its narrative formulation by Scripture. It addresses laws that express the covenantal relationship between Israel and God (sections 1 and 2), within Israel’s social order (section 3), and how Israel and God meet within the Israelite household, with special attention to sacred time in the form of the Sabbath (section 4), Passover (section 5), and Tabernacles (section 6). Here covenantal conduct takes Halakhic form: readers do not have to turn to the Aggadah to articulate

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