Page 47 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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HARR IS /JUDA ISM IN THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGION
39
prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. Yet, if one reads every
relevant entry in this encyclopedia and had no other informa­
tion, one could not help but wonder, what was all the fuss?
A study of the ways in which the Talmud was studied through­
out the centuries might have allowed for an understanding of
the depth of the commitment traditional Jews have to this work.
It might have shown the processes of thought that came to pre­
vail among Jewish intellectuals at different times and places.
Most importantly, it might have shed light on what is, perhaps,
the most basic religious commitment of Jews (or, at least, elite
Jews) — to study and realize the teachings of a text, and thus
to come closer to God — and how it emerged and was express­
ed. Finally, such a study might be helpful in explaining the
emergence of different practices in different Jewish commu­
nities.2 I do not know whether the publishers plan any sup­
plements to the
Encyclopedia,
but if they do, I would hope that
a lengthy treatment of Talmud study would be considered a
priority.
Another striking omission is a discussion of sacrifice as a the­
oretical reality in Judaism (as opposed to the concrete reality
of sacrifice in the Bible), for its inclusion would have been most
edifying in the presentation of Judaism as a religious system,
and would have provided material for the understanding of
the “Jewish approach” to sacred action. For, the fact that, with
the destruction of the Temple, sacrifice fell into desuetude does
not mean it ceased to play a significant role in Jewish religious
thinking. In the mishnaic and talmudic treatment of sacrifice
we find an extraordinary set of theoretical reflections on the
means of approaching God and making oneself worthy before
God. In addition to the talmudic material, sacrifice became and
remained an important theme in medieval Jewish philosophy,
biblical exegesis and kabbalah. Here again, I hope that this im­
2 I am certainly not claiming here that variations in Jewish practice are solely
or even primarily attributable to different approaches to the study o f the
talmudic text rather than to differing historical circumstance. On the con­
trary, it seems that such circumstance was basic to the divergence in practice
and attitudes. Indeed, it may well be the case that methods o f Talmud
study were influenced by the need to accomodate practice to circumstance.
Still, methods o f study and textual analysis, whatever their original
Sitz im
Leben,
once developed, take on lives o f their own and shape subsequent
practice enormously.