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Jewish Concepts of Scripture

A Comparative Introduction

Benjamin D. Sommer

Publication Year: 2012

What do Jews think scripture is? How do the People of the Book conceive of the Book of Books? In what ways is it authoritative? Who has the right to interpret it? Is it divinely or humanly written? And have Jews always thought about the Bible in the same way?
 
In seventeen cohesive and rigorously researched essays, this volume traces the way some of the most important Jewish thinkers throughout history have addressed these questions from the rabbinic era through the medieval Islamic world to modern Jewish scholarship. They address why different Jewish thinkers, writers, and communities have turned to the Bible—and what they expect to get from it. Ultimately, argues editor Benjamin D. Sommer, in understanding the ways Jews construct scripture, we begin to understand the ways Jews construct themselves.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

I am grateful to Jennifer Hammer from New York University Press for suggesting that I edit this volume and for her patience. I worked on the volume during sabbaticals at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Tikvah Center for Law and Jewish Civilization at New York University School of Law ...

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1. Introduction: Scriptures in Jewish Tradition, and Traditions as Jewish Scripture

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pp. 1-14

On one level, there is a simple answer to the question “What is scripture for the Jews?” For roughly the past two thousand years, Jews have had a canon of twenty-four books that form the Jewish Bible,1 starting with Genesis and ending with Chronicles.2 Some Jewish groups up until about two thousand years ago accepted additional books as scripture, ...

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2. Concepts of Scripture in the Synagogue Service

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pp. 15-30

For most contemporary Jews, the “Jewish Bible” is a single volume containing the twenty-four books of the Tanakh, which is readily available and accessible through the process of reading. While totally familiar to us, these paired phenomena — the Bible as a book and reading as the primary means of accessing it ...

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3. Concepts of Scripture in Rabbinic Judaism: Oral Torah and Written Torah

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pp. 31-46

If at the center of Judaism is “the book,” meaning the Hebrew/Jewish Bible (TaNaKh),1 at the core of the Jewish Bible is the Torah, the Five Books of Moses (Pentateuch/H. umash), traditionally thought to have been revealed by God via Moses to the Israelites standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai. ...

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4. Concepts of Scripture in the Schools of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Ishmael

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pp. 47-63

Once a year, Israel celebrates “Book Week,” a holiday devoted to the written word, consisting of book fairs in city centers, deep discounts on books, and various interviews and panels of authors, critics, and other literary figures. Alongside the mainstream celebrations, there is also “Torah Book Week,” during which ultraorthodox book vendors ...

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5. Concepts of Scriptural Language in Midrash

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pp. 64-79

Virtually all Jewish conceptions of scripture since late antiquity grow up in the shadow of the rabbinic interpretations known as midrash. Whether by incorporating them, adapting them, or reacting to them, postrabbinic Jewish thinkers who studied the Bible lived in a conceptual world shaped by the midrash. ...

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6. Concepts of Scripture among the Jews of the Medieval Islamic World

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pp. 80-101

The medieval Islamic period brought about great intellectual growth and a flowering of literary creativity among the Jews. Arabic language, thought, and literature, as well as Islamic religion and politics, represented a significant challenge for the Jewish communities who came under Islamic rule and whose social and cultural structures ...

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7. Concepts of Scripture in the School of Rashi

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pp. 102-122

In considering the definition of a “Jewish conception of Scripture,” it is just so right on many levels to begin with Rashi’s Torah commentary: Jewish children have begun their own studies with this work almost since the very generation in which he wrote it. Rashi, or Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac (1040 – 1105), lived in Troyes, in Champagne country in northern France. ...

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8. Concepts of Scripture in Maimonides

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pp. 123-138

There is virtually no facet of present-day Judaism that does not bear the imprint of the formidable intellectual legacy of Moses ben Maimon (1138 – 1204), whether it be in Jewish law (halakha), rabbinics, theology, philosophy, or biblical interpretation. Even the mystical tradition’s (kabbala) inventive re-readings of Scripture ...

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9. Concepts of Scripture in Nahmanides

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pp. 139-156

R. Moses ben Nahman (1194 – 1270), customarily referred to as Nahmanides or the Ramban, is one of the towering figures of premodern Judaism. Scholar, commentator, halakhist, communal leader, and spokesperson, his career represents the creative intersection of the three primary trends of medieval Judaism: rationalism, traditionalism, and mysticism. ...

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10. Concepts of Scripture in Jewish Mysticism

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pp. 157-178

The correlation between any Jewish theology and the conception of scripture that accompanies it is one of the most characteristic features of Jewish thought.1 All theological systems in Judaism have produced their own conceptions of Torah. These varied conceptions of Torah provide a lens through which one can study the development of Jewish concepts of God. ...

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11. Concepts of Scripture in Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig

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pp. 179-202

The thought of Martin Buber (1878 – 1965) and Franz Rosenzweig (1886 – 1929) continues to exert a profound influence not only on theologians and philosophers of religion, both Jewish and Christian, but on biblical scholars as well. Their work has been foundational for readers who want not so much to deny as to move beyond historical ...

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12. The Pentateuch as Scripture and the Challenge of Biblical Criticism: Responses among Modern Jewish Thinkers and Scholars

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pp. 203-229

The study of the Pentateuch among Jews in the two centuries following the appearance of modern Pentateuchal criticism had no choice but to cope with the fact that the systematic study of the Torah had become an academic enterprise carried out exclusively by Christian scholars and that its results were diametrically opposed to the tradition of Jewish learning.1 ...

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13. Concepts of Scripture in Yehezkel Kaufmann

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pp. 230-246

The empirical conception of the Bible fostered during the Enlightenment advanced the notion that “the Bible is not the key to nature but a part of it; it must therefore be considered according to the same rules as hold for any kind of empirical knowledge.”1 The notion of the Bible as artifact entails a paradigm shift for those who regard it as Scripture ...

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14. Concepts of Scripture in Moshe Greenberg

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pp. 247-266

Moshe Greenberg was born on July 10, 1928, in Philadelphia to Rabbi Simon and Betty (Davis) Greenberg.1 His parents were observant Jews who spoke Hebrew to their children, and he received private tutoring in Jewish texts in the early mornings, before attending public school. ...

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15. Concepts of Scripture in Mordechai Breuer

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pp. 267-279

To most outsiders who have heard of Rabbi Mordechai Breuer’s “theory of aspects” (torat ha-beḥinot), Breuer is a dark figure who has devised for his rigorously Orthodox confreres a counterapproach to biblical criticism so potent that they now thrive on the data that should be poisoning their faith, ...

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16. Scripture and Modern Israeli Literature

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pp. 280-298

The fascinating autobiography of Max Brod offers a witty insight into the role of the Hebrew Bible in the cultural life of the Yishuv, the prestate Jewish community in Palestine. Culled from his long experience (1939 – 68) as the dramaturge of Habima — Israel’s national theater — Brod’s humorous quip critiques ...

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17. Scripture and Israeli Secular Culture

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pp. 299-316

“In the beginning was the word,” was the book — the Hebrew Bible, which provides the foundation of our being. On that foundation Jews built, layer upon layer, the cultural house of the people of Israel: translations of the Bible, the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, Jewish-Hellenistic literature, ...

Glossary

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pp. 317-320

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About the Contributors

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pp. 321-324

Marc Zvi Brettler is the Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies at Brandeis University. He is coeditor of the recently published The Jewish Annotated New Testament and of The Jewish Study Bible, which won a National Jewish Book Award, and he wrote How to Read the Jewish Bible, among other books and articles. ...

Index

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pp. 325-334


E-ISBN-13: 9780814724798
E-ISBN-10: 0814740626
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814740620

Page Count: 347
Publication Year: 2012