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

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

Epilogue
Covenantal Conduct
The Outcome of Performing Israel’s Faith

Law without theology conveyed in lore—exegesis, narrative, topical exposition—yields legalism. It does not fully express Israel’s partnership with God, omitting as it does the theological convictions that animate action. Stated simply: Halakhah without Aggadah—rules without convictions—produces robots, automatons of the law. Theology without law conveyed in rules of normative conduct—Aggadah without Halakhah, beliefs without corresponding behavior—yields not a covenanted community but a radically isolated individual. Theology without social norms does not embody that same partnership, omitting as it does the essential aspect of realizing the covenant in actualities of the workaday world. Covenantal conduct contains imperatives of attitude and belief (“You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might”) and action and behavior (“Love your neighbor as yourself”).

We have examined massive testimonies in support of E. P. Sanders’s view of covenantal nomism. He argues against the idea of Judaism as “a petty legalism, according to which one had to earn the mercy of God by minute observance of irrelevant ordinances.” The relationships between the narrative and theology of idolaters and Israel and between the narrative and theology of repentance and atonement have shown the relevance of ordinances in responding to the grace of God set forth in the Torah. The narrative accounts for the idolaters and their standing and task in world history, the law translates the matter into everyday performance of the faith. The narrative of sin and repentance, atonement and forgiveness, defines the context for the text of the Temple rite, faithfully preserved in synagogue liturgy for the Day of

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