Page 43 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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HARR IS /JUDA ISM IN THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGION
35
velopment of rabbinic Judaism through the first six centuries
of the Christian Era. In addition to these essays, one will find
entries describing the “modern” denominations of Judaism in
the Western World, as well as Hasidism.
Beyond these central essays there are entries for a range of
Jewish concepts, institutions and holidays. There is a significant
entry on “Halakhah” divided into its history and structure. One
will find lengthy essays on Jewish Thought and on Mysticism.
T h e re are b r ie fer en tries for “Shabbat” (sic), “Sukkot,“
“Kashrut,” “Shavuot,” “Passover” (sic) and other holidays; an
entry on the “Tosafot”; on Jewish-Christian/Jewish-Muslim po­
lemics and on the Jewish “experience” of persecution; and
scores of biographical sketches ranging from biblical personal­
ities through dozens of Tannaim and Amoraim (as well as two
much too brief entries on Tannaim and Amoraim in general),
Gaonim, Rishonim, codiflers, philosophers, mystics and com­
munal leaders. There are also entries on the major Jewish
“sects,” Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Karaites, as one
would expect.
How is one to evaluate all this? Several paths suggest them­
selves. One is to simply evaluate the quality of the various essays
and entries, keeping in mind that the intent is encyclopedic.
Using this criterion, most of the entries are of high quality and
amply and usefully recount the state of research regarding their
particular subjects. There are exceptions to be sure, and these
are usually the result of having the wrong person write the
entry; for example, the entry on Moses Sofer (Hatam Sofer),
which in the
Encyclopedia
is superficial and uninformative,
should have been written by a competent student of Talmud
and Jewish law rather than a social historian. Such a student
would have been able to provide a better estimation of the im­
pact of this seminal figure on the world of Hungarian Jewry
and beyond. Still, most of the entries are informative and usu­
ally contain helpful bibliographies.
QUESTIONABLE APPROACH
A second criterion would be the extent to which the
Ency­
clopedia,
in its presentation of Judaism, fulfills its stated purpose
and/or some other useful purpose. Here things are more prob­
lematic. In the preface to the
Encyclopedia
Eliade writes that,