Page 46 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
been a useful way of bringing this out. Yet, the entries that
deal with these communities are separate and no attempt at
integration is offered. The absence of the comparative frame­
work tends to allow important questions to recede into the back­
ground.
This brings me to what is, in my opinion, the most egregious
omission from the
Encyclopedia,
and that is that one will not
find here a sustained discussion of Talmud study, its methods
and its purpose, throughout the long and difficult history of
that web of documents. To be sure, in the general “Judaism”
entry one will find discussion of some of the major figures,
and one will also find separate entries for many of them; one
will also find an encyclopedic discussion of the yeshiva, in a
separate entry, that incorporates some of this story. Still a com­
prehensive treatment of “Judaism” that does not have a long
and sustained discussion of how the Talmud was appropriated,
mediated and disseminated throughout its history is quite as­
tonishing. By “Talmud” we refer to a series of documents that,
perhaps more than any other, were revered and reviled, de­
bated and defended. From it was derived the path to God and
holiness that were considered authoritative for generations of
Jews. How it was studied, how people went about determining
its truths is absolutely fundamental to the history of Judaism
and its religious worldview. Why certain forms of learning pre­
vailed at certain times and in certain places and not others is
crucial to our understanding of Judaism as a historical phenom­
enon. Determining to what extent this learning was shaped by
forces outside the Jewish community and to what extent it may
be said to have grown organically is equally fundamental.
PRIMACY OF TALMUD
In my view, a history of Talmud study and exegesis is of
greater import for the understanding of Judaism’s development
than is a history of Jewish biblical exegesis, for with the Talmud
we are dealing with a manner of study and its subsequent lit­
erature that shaped the way myriads of Jews actually lived their
lives. We are talking about a literature that was burned and
censored; a literature, the destruction of whose influence was
considered a
sine qua non
for the modernization of Judaism by
some; a literature for whose views and values Jews have been