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Performing Israel's Faith

Narrative and Law in Rabbinic Theology

Jacob Neusner

Publication Year: 2005

If law alone yields legalism, then religious belief, by itself, fails to create justice. In Performing Israel's Faith, Jacob Neusner shows how Jewish Halakhah (law) and Aggadah (narrative) fit together to form a robust and coherent covenant theology-one directly concerned about this world. Neusner's careful and thorough examination of several key issues within rabbinic Judaism-the nations, idolatry, sin, repentance, and atonement- demonstrates that neither Halakhah nor Aggadah can be fully and rightly understood when the two are isolated from each other. Performing Israel's Faith thus effectively reveals that rabbinic Judaism's true pattern of religion was constituted by a covenant theology comprised by both law and story- a covenant theology whose aim was to restore the sanctification of God's original creation.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-v


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p. vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book carries forward the argument of E. P. Sanders in Paul and Palestinian Judaism1 that, “the fundamental nature of the covenant conception . . . largely accounts for the relative scarcity of appearances of the term ‘covenant’ in Rabbinic literature. The covenant was presupposed, and the Rabbinic discussions were largely directed toward the question of how to fulfill the covenantal obligations.” ...

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pp. 1-5

The law of the Torah sets forth rules of normative conduct—acts of omission or acts of commission—that realize Israel’s partnership with God in the repair of the world. Covenantal conduct is behavior that actualizes a freely entered-into agreement between God and humanity. Judaism, which rests upon the covenant between God and Israel made at Sinai in the Torah, expresses its theology (norms of conviction) in law (norms of conduct). ...

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1 The Aggadic Theology of the Nations

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pp. 7-39

A religious system defines itself by erecting boundaries between those that belong and those that do not. The character of these boundaries delivers the systemic message. Hellenistic Judaism, represented by Philo of Alexandria, differentiated Israelites from Egyptians and identified Israelite culture with that of Rome, for example.1

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2 The Halakhic Theology of Idolatry

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pp. 41-82

This account now turns to the Halakhah that mediates between Israel and the world beyond the boundaries of the people, Israel. The world of the gentiles forms an undifferentiated realm of idolatry, and the definition of the gentile is “an idolater.”3 The Halakhah takes as its task the negotiation between Israelites and the pagan world in which they live. ...

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3 The Aggadic Theology of Sin, Repentance, and Atonement

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pp. 83-121

Judaism deals with both the outside world and the inner life of Israel, the holy people. We have now seen how lore and law negotiate the world of the borders and beyond, so defining Israel in relationship with the gentiles in terms of Israel’s relationship to God. That raises the question: What of that relationship when Israel sins? ...

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4 The Halakhic Theology of Atonement

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pp. 123-163

The rite of the Day of Atonement, which effects atonement for Israel’s sins, in Mishnah-tractate Yoma, amplified by Tosefta-, Yerushalmi-, and Bavlitractate Yoma, takes the form of a narrative of the rite, rather than exposition of normative rules in abstract form. Only at the end does the Halakhah of Yoma turn from narrative to norms of action and attitude, and then it delivers a message that utterly changes the formulation of the topic. ...

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5 Law and Theology, Halakhah and Aggadah

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pp. 165-206

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. ...

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Epilogue - Covenantal Conduct: The Outcome of Performing Israel’s Faith

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pp. 207-214

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. ...


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pp. 213-215

Index of Ancient Sources

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pp. 217-225

Index of Subjects

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pp. 227-230

E-ISBN-13: 9781602581173
E-ISBN-10: 1602581177
Print-ISBN-13: 9781932792256
Print-ISBN-10: 1932792252

Page Count: 230
Publication Year: 2005

Edition: 1st

OCLC Number: 62061203
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Performing Israel's Faith

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Rabbinical literature -- History and criticism.
  • Covenants -- Religious aspects -- Judaism.
  • Gentiles in rabbinical literature.
  • Atonement (Judaism).
  • Jewish law.
  • Aggada -- History and criticism.
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