Page 51 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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HARR IS /JUDA ISM IN THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGION
43
halakhah from the sixteenth through the twentieth century is
not ignored totally, as it is treated in the article on the history
of halakhah. Still, the philosophers, reformers and institutions
builders are also dealt with in survey articles, and yet it was
thought that an additional biographical sketch was in order —
that is, it was thought that it was worthwhile knowing more
about these people and their contributions to Jewish culture
— while this is not the case, for the most part, with the halakhists
and Talmudists.
What are we to make of this? It would appear that Jewish
scholars have not entirely overcome the programmatic devel­
opmental schema that played such a large role in determining
the interests of
Wissenschaft
scholars in the nineteenth century,
although they are far less bound to it than were their pre­
decessors, as we find here, overall, a far more sympathetic treat­
ment of Judaism’s nomistic culture. Further, I cannot help but
think that this particular vision of Judaism is animated by the
conviction that halakhic and talmudic writings become increas­
ingly trivial (both in terms of content and influence) over time.
This is not the place to dispute that view; I would simply suggest
that even were it true, that is, even if the figures behind these
works were the last holdouts of a doomed
ancien regime,
students
of Judaism as a religion are justified in expecting that
The En­
cyclopedia of Religion
provide them with more insight into the
world of halakhic discourse in the modern period.
From the perspective of its treatment of Judaism, then,
The
Encyclopedia of Religion
is not without its problems. It is, however,
an important summary treatment of most aspects of Judaism,
which has drawn on the skills of some of today’s best scholars,
who have presented their findings in a highly readable fashion
from which we can all learn much. For this, the editors, and
Professor Seltzer in particular, are to be congratulated.