Page 45 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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history of these Jewish communities. What he/she will not learn
is what all of this might have meant, and what view of the world,
and God’s and humanity’s place in it, is reflected and subse­
quently shaped by all this “religious” activity. While this is not
altogether the case for the discussion of the philosophers and
mystics, it is the case regarding the halakhists and the religious
and communal institutions. That is, we are not given a sense
of what is reflected in the community’s halakhic activity or in
the power or powerlessness of its religious and lay leaderships.
What does it mean when one submits to the rabbinate, and
what does it mean when one refuses to do so? What view of
life animates such decisions? Surely, the acceptance or rejection
of the authority of the rabbis would tell us much regarding
how Jews viewed their tradition and the place of human beings
in it. Furthermore, it is assumed that certain works are self-
evidently relevant to a discussion of a community’s “Judaism”
and are in need of no further explication. Yet a description
of these works does not necessarily tell us all that we wish to
know. How is “Judaism” reflected in and/or shaped by the com­
mentaries of Rashi or Rashbam? How is “Judaism” reflected
in and/or shaped by the commentaries of Ibn Ezra and
Nahmanides, or scores of other works.
It seems to me that part of the problem with the major essays
in the “Judaism” entry is the organization of them by place
and period, rather than by thematics. That is, one loses the
comparative perspective that might help to elucidate “Judaism”
as a religious system. As an example, there may be very different
views of Torah and its process at work in the commentaries
mentioned above and perhaps even more so in the talmudic
studies that prevailed among Jews within the Islamic and Chris­
tian environments, and some of this is brought out in the article
on the history of Halakhah. These differences are manifest in:
the apparently distinct attitudes toward the power of custom
and precedent; the role of the
“shaqla v’tarya,”
the “give and
take” of the talmudic discussions; the (relative) authority of the
Yerushalmi and Palestinian custom; the style of commentary,
and more. A comparative treatment of the cultural history of
the Jewish communities in the two environments might have