Page 44 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
“(t)he history of religions is the story of the human encounter
with the sacred — a universal phenomenon made evident in
myriad ways” (Vol. 1, p. xi). It would appear, then, that one
of the central goals of the
Encyclopedias
treatment of Judaism
would be to marshal this evidence, to exhibit the Jewish en­
counter with the sacred. Now even if one believes, as I do, that
Eliade’s “definition” of religion is much too narrow, and his
conviction of universality far too sanguine, it nevertheless re­
mains the case that we are justified in demanding from
The
Encyclopedia of Religion
a presentation of
Judaism
(or, perhaps,
Judaisms, as Jacob Neusner would insist) as a religious system,
with an explication of its symbols and rites, its scriptures and
central theological and anthropological claims.
More often than not, however, the
Encyclopedia
will surround
the discussion of Judaism as a religious system rather than enter
it directly. Thus, many of the articles pertaining to Jewish rites,
holidays, institutions and movements content themselves with
providing definitions of terms and the relevant history as best
it can be reconstructed. But this can only serve as the starting
point for discussion; one must then proceed to analyze or, given
that this is an encyclopedia, summarize the regnant theories,
if any, regarding the specifically “religious” elements that are
encapsulated by these rites, holidays, institutions, etc. Tha t is,
we are, I think, justified in demanding that the entries explain
how their given subject(s) contribute to, and form a part of,
the larger worldview and behavioral pattern(s) that are iden­
tifiable as Jewish.
To be more specific, in the lengthy “Judaism” entry, one will
find much discussion of what is ostensibly “religious” regarding
the various communities discussed. That is, the major religious
institutions — Gaonate, Nagidate, Rabbinate, the
yeshivot,
syn­
agogues,
kehillot;
religious figures — rabbis, commentators, cod-
ifiers, philosophers and mystics; and religious texts — Tosafot,
codes of various kinds, commentaries, philosophical and mys­
tical writings, are all described in detail. There is much learning
evident in these articles, and my criticisms are by no means
to be interpreted as suggesting otherwise. However, it is not
immediately clear how these entries illuminate the phenomenon
called “Judaism,” rather than providing us with a history of
its institutions, virtuosi and texts. The reader of these pieces
will, indeed, learn much regarding the communal and scholarly